Part 3: Age of Re:Engagement

Future Digital Engagement

An undeniable desire to re-identify and reconnect with what it means to be human is driving heightened consumer desire for tactile interaction, sensory stimulation and social experiences. Welcome to the age of Re:Engagement.

People are increasingly questioning the long-term impact of tech usage on our behaviour and mental health, fuelling heightened levels of distrust in the global tech giants. Coinciding with this cultural shift is the dominance of maturing digital-native generations and tech-dependent lifestyles. A new landscape is now emerging, where consumers are re-embracing reality to fulfil their human cravings, whilst also unwilling to compromise on the connectivity of their experiences. So what does this means for digital platforms, content and engagement strategies?

As the last feature in our re:engagement series, following on from previous articles on Retail & Brand Spaces and Experiential and Sustainable Activations; we explore how the renewed focus by brands to connect and immerse people on a more humanised level is opening up new possibilities for the future of digital engagement.

New Humanised Interfaces & Platforms

The interplay between being human and the rise of technology is, and will continue to be, one of the dominant themes of the next decade. As people increasingly question the negative side-effects of surging tech-integration and the control we are ultimately handing over to a select few global corporations, as highlighted in Silicon States by Lucie Greene; humanised innovation strategies are helping to drive meaningful change.

With people shunning Facebook over privacy concerns, rising backlash against Instagram influencers and brands like LUSH quitting social media altogether - “tired of competing with algorithms”- there is growing appetite for new platforms of engagement. Demonstrating where the digital landscape is moving are new peer-to-peer commerce platforms such as NTWRK, and fraternity initiatives such as Diesel’s SIDE:BIZ (which empowers and rewards consumer advocacy), both of which are disrupting the way people are thinking about e-commerce by putting consumers in control.

Also progressively addressing our digital anxieties, Sony’s ‘Affinity in Autonomy’ at Milan Design Week 2019 explored a future in which AI and robotics forge empathetic connections with humans. The experience immersed visitors in a journey of five interactions with AI, showcasing how robotics can detect movements, react to emotions, and then search for responses. This plays into the global shift by tech brands who are reverse engineering digital products and interfaces; using affinity, presence and emotion to facilitate a more humanised relationship with the next generation of consumer technologies.

"Humanised innovation strategies are helping to drive meaningful change."

The Possibilities of Design x Data

Tapping into the human desire for emotion-led and multi-sensory experiences, both Google and Samsung made a statement on the global design stage at Milan Design Week 2019, showcasing immersive and experimental, data-driven installations. Spanning themes such as the ways technology and data can be used to further understand and enhance spatial design, and the creation of hyper-personalised and responsive experiences with spaces and objects, both brands sought to stimulate debate, challenge perceptions and influence change.

Following in its footsteps, another prominent design event was influenced by the tech debate. 2019’s Venice Biennale saw Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘Data-Verse’ installation immerse visitors in a visual and sonic orchestration of data from scientific institutions such as NASA, CERN and the Human Genome Project. This installation explores tangible representations of the vast sum of information populating our environment and being processed by the human brain.

But as privacy paranoia drives greater disconnect between brands and consumers, moving forward brands will have to demonstrate that they are utilising data responsibly - not just for the benefit of their bottom line. Possibilities such as data being an integral part of the design process, helping create physical environments that can react and respond to individual needs or mind states, will start to introduce new and imaginative ways for consumers to engage with brands and the world around us.

The Opportunities of Virtual Escapism

As mentioned in our first article, people are innately social animals that need to satisfy their key human characteristics of play, socialisation, curiosity and status. We crave belonging, exhilaration and tactility, and these basic human desires are fuelling the revival of the 'life away from home' trend as well as the emerging Virtual Experience Economy.

As a result gaming, hospitality, leisure and retail are now converging, creating new opportunities for brands, artists and consumers alike. A great example of this is the recently opened Otherworld VR arcade in London which features communal islands alongside individual ‘Immersion Rooms’. Curbing social isolation, visitors are able to socialise in the real and the virtual worlds whilst getting immersed in the sensory experience personal to their in-game encounters. The strength of this concept is that it merges human interaction, elevated entertainment and progressive sensory experiences that entice people out of their homes.

Also successfully tapping into the possibilities of the virtual world; earlier this year DJ Marshmello held a virtual DJ set inside gaming phenomenon Fortnite. This strategic tactic demonstrates the commercial potential and opportunities of the virtual world for brands and cultural events - imagine a mixed reality Coachella or a virtual Game of Thrones episode or even a virtual product drop competition (think retail’s version of Ready Player One) – the possibilities are endless!

As advancements in technology and culture evolve, we believe human resonance will rival speed and convenience as a key driver of innovation in digital content, data, platforms, engagement and spatial design.

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