Experience Design Trends: Multiple Screens
The days of a single screen are long gone. Consumers now engage with brands and content across a number of devices: television, tablets, desktop, phones, and even wearables have emerged as a viable option. The shift in media consumption has caused digital designers and developers to innovate in an entirely new way.
For this final installment in a four-part series on experience design trends, I spoke with three SoDA member companies that are industry pioneers in multi-screen digital experiences: INDG, Big Spaceship, and Digital Kitchen. (SoDA is a global, invitation-only network of leading digital shops and production companies, and I’m its communications manager.)
Headquartered in Amsterdam, INDG develops technology that enables engaging digital product experiences. I spoke with their team’s CMO, Micha Savelsbergh, and art director Dima Neiaglov. Based in Brooklyn, studied by Harvard, and highly collaborative, Big Spaceship brings together product design, brand communications, social connections, and content to help businesses thrive. From their team, I spoke with Chelsea Perino, global strategist from their Seoul office. Digital Kitchen is a content-first creative and digital agency with offices in Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles. I spoke with Anthony Vitagliano (director of experience design) and Colin Davis (VP of production).
Create: What types of changes do brands and agencies just entering this realm need to make?
INDG: Although it may seem a weird thing to say, the best thing for multi-screen, in our opinion, is to look at existing screens. When the iPad appeared, multi-screen experiences became instantly available for everybody, but it took some time to accept that. At first, the iPad seemed to be yet another isolated device, albeit an interesting one. People use a lot of devices that haven’t still become a part of multi-screen experiences: smart wearables, mobile gaming consoles, and other connected devices with displays.
What we’ve also been thinking a lot about is scale. One can find a lot of great multi-screen stuff on award sites or around the web, but those are hero experiences for hero products. What about the long tail? What about color and model variations? Don’t they deserve the same beautiful experiences?
Big Spaceship: The most important thing to recognize is that no experience exists independently anymore, and also that people consume information in different ways depending on the channel. Consumers don’t just attend an event, or watch a commercial, or see a social post — they experience a combination of all of these, and often simultaneously. This means that the opportunity to reach consumers across multiple touchpoints is ever-present; this also means that consistency across all those channels is that much more important. Brands need to first understand how consumers use each channel and then develop content that enhances those experiences. Understanding that a commercial is not necessarily what consumers want to watch on YouTube or that an above-the-line product ad might not work well on Instagram, but still being able to tell a consistent brand story across all channels is key.
Digital Kitchen: The core of good experiential projects is context. Understand your audience and what they are trying to do and create content and experiences that enhance that goal rather than interrupt it. By connecting your brand to something that the audience loves and helping them to enjoy or experience it better, you connect your brand to something they love.
There is something to be said for spectacle, but without the heart and deep thinking behind it, it can too easily tip into a noise (e.g., Times Square). The more you can create content that connects at an emotional level, the more durable and lasting your content will be — spectacle needs to be refreshed often.
Create: Can you share a multi-screen digital experience you are proud of, and why?
INDG: The Marks & Spencer project we did a while ago is one of the purest examples of a multi-screen experience we produced. It was based on our product called Roombuilder. In-store, M&S sales assistants used iPads to build a customized room and then fill it with furniture available for purchase. Shoppers observed on a large screen as, step-by-step, their room was designed and furnished according to their taste and budget. After that, it was a simple step to just say, “Yes, I want all that.”
Big Spaceship: For one of our partner’s global product launches, we employed a multi-screen plan to help reach consumers across a variety of verticals. First, a live event utilized VR to create an immersive, shared experience for all 5,000 attendees. In addition, that event was live-streamed across our partner’s owned social channels and website, as well as broadcast via our media partners. Simultaneously, we launched pre-planned content in the form of videos, GIFs, static content, and 360-degree content, which coincided with announcements made during the live event in order to provide more detailed information to consumers in real time. Last, we partnered with multiple social creators to develop supplemental content on their own channels to add another layer of credibility and authenticity. By using a multi-screen approach, we were able to reach new audiences and extend our message to those audiences multiple times through different touch points. This ultimately achieved an integrated ecosystem of brand information that existed both in real time and after the conclusion, allowing for consumers who were not present for the live event to participate after the fact, and for those passionate followers to re-experience the content again.
Digital Kitchen: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas stands out as one of our most successful projects. The project started originally as doing the content for a massive 408-screen experience for the hotel’s lobby. We were given a lot of control of architecting what the arc of the content is over a day and were able to help create the mood from the moment people step through the door. But our work expanded to helping set the entire on-premise experience, not just the lobby. That same nugget was extended to broadcast, print, and digital, so a similar type of experience was available to those not able to be on-premise. Thus, we were able to extend the experience beyond the check-in and continue it in the elevators, rooms, casino, dining, etc. We were very lucky that the ratio of marketing to branding content was very low, so we could focus on creating a consistent experience that embodied the Cosmopolitan’s brand: “The right amount of wrong.”
But all of that would have been for naught if it didn’t drive revenue — and our work was a huge component in helping keep the Cosmopolitan at the top tier of a crowded marketplace, driving demand for their unique take on luxury in Las Vegas.
We were able to distill the brand into an immersive, hugely impactful experience in the lobby and then extend that throughout the rest of their experience, both before and after being at the resort.
Create: What is the potential for multi-screen experiences to unite people in new and different ways? Are there technology advances that still need to be made for that potential to be realized?
INDG: With social features being discussed for more than ten years now, it’s interesting that a lot of interactive stuff is still one-to-one. It’s true for offline installations; e.g., in museums or stores. It’s true for browsers. It’s true for iPads.
A gaming console is an archetypal example to the contrary. When used by multiple people simultaneously, it provides a different experience.
We still don’t have anything like a gaming console in the world of multiple screens, at least as a widespread design pattern. When we do have that pattern, though, our product experiences will change significantly to account for several simultaneous users.
Big Spaceship: Especially when it comes to live events, the multi-screen experience has a ton of potential. Creating an integrated ecosystem allows people to document and participate both in real life and digitally, and this allows brands to facilitate shared experiences on a mass scale. Technologies like VR and live streaming have only served to further extend and make those experiences more meaningful, and as these technologies are refined, they will be able to bridge even more gaps and connect people from even more walks of life.
Digital Kitchen: We think of technology not as a set of ones and zeroes but as the glue between people, emotions, and stories. Often we get obsessed with the U’s, I’s and X’s of experience (UI, UX), but we often forget about a core human need we all have within life experiences: a sense of belonging.
Creating a sense of belonging is key to creating a truly meaningful experience. If I make the effort to commit to an interaction, the response I get back can make or break my experience. Do I feel accepted within this interaction or is it something that pushes me away? You only have a moment to make people feel like they belong, and if you don’t, they leave. At its heart, experience design is an exercise in making people feel like they belong. Our work within the hospitality industry has taught us the importance of belonging and the true power it has.
Create: What are three things you've learned about crafting multi-screen experiences that other agencies and brands entering this world should know?
- A multi-screen experience often uses a personal device, which goes from being isolated to being connected. A typical solution of this opposition is to provide a separate context for multi-screen experience, like a controlling app for an iPad, for example. However, seamless experiences like AirPlay that are available in any app prove to be more beneficial. That said, producing a seamless experience is harder to do, as privacy and context should be accounted for. Going back to the M&S case as an example, you don’t want your budget information from a home-planning app to be available to a salesperson, but sharing design is desirable and beneficial.
- Every asset is, or should, or will be reusable. It’s nice to have a landing page or a Facebook video as a thing in itself. That said, even an experienced agency has limited opportunity to predict how distribution channels work together for this or that product. It helps to produce assets with a view to be used in all media: on the web, in videos, in printed advertising, and so on.
- Producing multi-screen experiences is intensive. Maintenance can also become expensive, on top of that. Every bit of knowledge that a brand or an agency received while developing an experience should be documented and this knowledge should be available to everybody in the company.
- Behave like consumers: As more and more channels (and thus more opportunities for multiscreen experiences) are developed, it’s increasingly important for brands to understand how consumers use these different channels. If your message is not optimized, it won’t be relevant, and that will make it difficult for consumers to understand what your brand stands for and how it fits into their lives.
- Mobile is first screen: It’s not that TV is dead, but mobile culture is dominating and an optimized mobile experience should be high on the list of things to consider when developing any brand strategy and campaign content.
- Every interaction matters: Your brand isn’t what you say it is. What it is in consumers’ minds is what it is. It’s for this reason that people want to develop meaningful relationships with the brands they support and be a part of a community of like-minded people; it’s the brand’s responsibility to build and foster that community. Implementing a multi-screen strategy that enables sharing and builds connections will turn consumers into advocates.
- Encourage exploration and play. The best and most indelible experience are those where there is a sense of discovery and surprise. Use the space to create experiences where the viewer can explore and help create the experience.
- Leverage technology to customize the experience. The convergence of rendering engines, sensors, and videos has created the opportunity for brands to create experiences that evolve and adapt to their audience. From personalization to just creating new content based on time-of-day or other data sources, the possibilities are literally endless. There will always be a place for pre-rendered, high-fidelity video content, but it misses an opportunity to make the experience relevant and fresh over time.
- Start with what you want the take-away feeling to be. Many of our clients come to us with a space or an ad buy and ask us to create experiences for their audience. Unfortunately, that means the format and technology has already been selected without an understanding of the core feeling you want the audience to leave with — often that can compete with the technology-first planning process that many clients start with. By flipping it, and working with that feeling, you can often save time and money by not investing in hardware or technology that doesn’t help drive to that goal.
Create: What’s next for your team on the multi-screen digital experiences front? Any upcoming projects or exploration that you’re excited to share?
INDG: When clients and fellow agencies read our slogan — “Every product playable” — they naturally focus on the “playable” part. But we actually try to stress “every.” Large budgets are normally being allocated toward hero products — new smartphones, expensive cars, top-of-the-line consumer electronics items.
We push for something else entirely: to present any and all products via multi-screen experiences, regardless of the price or market position.
So we have been providing our clients with two new ways to do it, both of which have fixed prices and delivery time: A “master 3D model” is a service to create all standard bits of product content within a week. The “PEX Player” is a rich product detail page that works on multiple screens within a month.
Our ultimate goal is to have all products in the world in 3D. We mitigate our creative ambition for a better future, where you can learn as much about a moderately priced smartphone as you can now learn about top smartphones.
Big Spaceship: The multi-screen experience is something that Big Spaceship always keeps at the forefront of our minds, not only when developing a campaign strategy for our clients, but also when it comes to internal agency collaboration. We feel that utilizing a multi-screen strategy is also essential in optimizing the organization experience, especially because many agency projects involve people located in different time zones. Whether it’s to create a more personal connection during meetings, streamline data sharing and visualization, or ensure that agency-wide presentations are more immersive, Big Spaceship is constantly thinking about ways to better connect people and make experiences more interactive and meaningful.
Digital Kitchen: I’m most excited about translating data into emotion. We have so much data at our fingertips today and it's exciting to play with how you can distill it down into core emotional expressions. How can we elevate beyond the practical or utilitarian uses of data and translate its communication that speaks to people’s hearts? Mountains of data have the power to personalize an experience unlike anything we’ve seen before, but the approach to how data is utilized is more of an art than it is a science. When you can personalize a story, it’s the most powerful weapon in connecting with your audience. Data gives endless ways to individualize an emotional response — in real-time!
Create: What are some of the biggest trends for multi-screen digital experiences that should be embraced (and ones that should be avoided) in the coming year?
INDG: The year, it feels, was relatively calm with respect to multi-screen experiences, with experiments in VR dominating the field of offline interactive installations.
As always, quite a lot is happening in the TV and VOD area.
Personalization — always a weak spot in terms of implementation — seems to gain more momentum with brands, which hopefully will result in some very interesting multi-screen projects during the next year.
The biggest thing of this year, we believe, was the jack-less iPhone, which hints at no-screen audio augmented reality supposed to work in contexts where screens are unavailable, such as when driving. This creates a new challenge even for experienced agencies. What used to be multi-screen will now become multi-sensory and introduce a lot of new ways to interact with the world.
Big Spaceship: VR is a trend that we are seeing gain traction, and this is exciting. It enables brands to create even more immersive, interactive experiences that help consumers feel like they are a part of the actual brand story. Now, people don’t need to be physically present to experience a brand’s campaign — VR brings the brand into people’s homes and creates more context for what the brand stands for. Augmented reality, on the other hand, had a good run but the user experience isn’t seamless, can be buggy, and is difficult to develop. Brands should focus on developing content that is easy to consume and that is optimized per channel.
Digital Kitchen: Paradoxically, embrace the idea that the world does not need more screens — if you treat the multi-screen experience as a really big TV, then you are missing a huge opportunity. Everyone has screens all around them, all the time (in their pocket, in the subway, in elevators, in their homes, on their desk, and on and on). Break free from the 16x9 format and stop thinking of it as a screen that needs programming, and start thinking of it more as an evolving sculpture. This helps keep your content from becoming stale (reducing on refresh costs) as well as inherently creating a different dynamic between the viewer and the screen.
Keep the multi-experience more magic and less jumbotron.
Catch up on the first three articles in this series: “Where It’s At: An Interview with Two Place-Based Experience Designers,” “Demystifying the Craft and Promise of VR,” and “Experience Design Trends: The Internet of Things.”