• Transform magazine
  • November 29, 2021

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Reinventing the creative skill set for the experience economy

Jack Ashdown Creative Director B&W

Jack Ashdown, creative director of digital agency Great State, writes about the increasingly important role of sensory technologies and the need for creative agencies and designers to embrace AR if they want to survive in the future. He argues that creating a visual design architecture based on people’s perceived aesthetic preferences will move the agencies with these creative skills into the hands of brands who are looking to stand out.

The past year has fuelled our use of tech platforms for immersive experiences as people have been subjected to staring at four walls for the majority of the day. So it follows that brands are now starting to think about reinventing digital experiences to transport people out of their confinement and into more creative and immersive scenarios as the internet, accelerated by lockdown, has fundamentally become the alternative “real world”. It can be argued that experiences are today’s new social currency, products and services are no longer enough on their own.

Sensory technologies embedded within the smartphones and smarter speakers in our homes are enabling organisations to perceive and then even predict the mood, interest and tastes of individual users, to build these new experiences and services around. These types of technologies, supplemented by AR, virtual reality (VR), Zero UI and audio have predominantly been used in gaming and entertainment but are quickly evolving in areas such as retail and fitness as consumers and brands test out and acclimatise to new experiences. To make these sensory technologies work for both consumers and brands requires some evolution in the world of creativity. Creatives are having to adapt their skills to changing consumer wants and needs and there's an opportunity for digital agencies to demonstrate the creative leadership more commonly associated with ad agencies.

AR, in terms of facial overlays, through to facial recognition is something that has become increasingly popular, especially for Gen Z, and on social media platforms. The likes of Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok all offer a multitude of “filters” which transform your face or background into something entirely different, creating a whole new image. Big brands like Amazon are starting to latch on; for example, Amazon is opening a London hair salon to test AR and other retail technologies which include customers virtually trying on different hair colours before committing to a new shade.

ASOS is also a major retail brand entering the world of AR, as it launched ‘See My Fit’, using AR to ‘digitally fit’ clothing onto models, enhancing the customer experience. Voice and audio is another sensory area that is exploding amongst consumers as people turn to podcasts and voice-controlled devices like Amazon Alexa, Siri, Google Home and Cortana. Brands should now look to create a brand ‘voice’ as brand commerce and marketing becomes increasingly direct and fluid, or channel-agnostic, across platforms.

It may be tempting for UX designers to write sensory and immersive technology off as a fad that isn’t going to become part of their remit and avoid becoming too deeply invested, but actually, given the sky’s the limit when it comes to potential uses for technology like this, they’d be fools not to ‘immerse’ themselves in it. Not only will designers be learning the tools which are trailblazing the next generation of the ‘experience economy’, but they’ll also be learning and then shaping how this tech is changing the way consumers interact with brands, devices and services. To be able to create a visual design architecture based on people’s perceived aesthetic preferences or state of mind, will move the agencies with these creative skills into the hands of brands who are looking to stand out.

There are of course certain challenges brands and UX designers may face when implementing and adopting technologies such as facial recognition and behavioural analytics around ethical use, privacy, deep-fake and accessibility. Some companies have already banned such technologies, but these moves ultimately push for more standardization and regulation in their development and execution. It’s on all of us in the industry to develop standards to help ensure ethical and responsible technology design.

Creativity is at its best when it’s responding to the world we live in and adapting to evolving trends, needs and focuses. People want to feel more engaged when interacting with brands and it’s no longer about just ‘getting the job done’. Very few brands are really exploring how to push this new tech to tell stories and communicate - but it’s set to be the new battleground for creatives.