What if you could bring the experience of an inspirational space to your own computer, or even mobile phone? This was the challenge for my graduation project at Mirabeau, a Cognizant Digital Business. It was all focused at the Digital Studio in Amsterdam, the inspiration and customer hub. Right at the start of the project the COVID-19 limitations were enforced in the Digital Studio, which changed both the needs and urgency of making something inspirational, no matter where you are. This article describes my journey and results.
The Digital Studio is dedicated as a great place to innovate, experiment and offer experiences to visitors and employees. Part of the studio experience is showing future technologies and new business opportunities. We call our applied innovation cases ‘demos’, as they are demonstrations on how future technologies might be applied in new and human centered ways.
Although the changing limitations of the COVID-19 situation was a good reason and testbed for my project, it started out as a way to extend the experience of the digital studio to the homes and offices of our customers and partners. The online experience is of course very interesting for remote visits, cutting down on travel times and making it more accessible for more people. We also found that we could deliver a more tailored and scalable experience for our various audiences.
The value of a visit to the studio
My first mission was to find out how to translate a physical visit to the Digital Studio to a fully online experience. So, I first had to discover what makes these tours valuable in the first place. To get those insights I have spoken to over 30 people ranging from ‘tour organizers’, client partners, domain experts and of course the audience of the various tours: clients, prospects, event visitors, new employees, partners and students like myself.
From the interviews and workshops, I learned that the most enjoyed aspects of the tour are its flexible and personal nature and its social function to get to know each other and exchange insights and ideas. The informal and relaxed conversation with tour-guides and their ability to adapt to the interests and areas of expertise of visitors are much appreciated.
Based on my research and in collaboration with the coaches of Mirabeau, a Cognizant Digital Business, I defined three key principles for the design of an online visiting experience:
- Spontaneous exploration
- Human experience
- Personal story
These principles lead to the insight that it is important that you can immerse yourself in 360 degrees and explore a tour at your own pace. We also wanted to match the visitor’s interests, facilitate the human connection and get a sense of personality. Finally, the experience should be tailored made to the visitors so they would want to share it with others. This would be the foundation of the to be made concept. But before could create one concept I needed to explore various scenarios and present them to my coaches and stake holders.
With these key insights, I set out to develop a concept that could serve as a viable online alternative. I researched how museums and companies turned their physical spaces into online interactive experiences during and before lockdown measures. I found many wonderful new initiatives, but I also wanted this to be more than a temporary measure to account for the current unavailability of the studio. We wanted this concept to be something that could be built upon and expanded in the future.
I went through a number of ideas; from interactive video game-like sandboxes to other narrative-driven online tours but ended up with an idea somewhere in the middle. This idea was to make a 3D environment resembling the studio in which a guide character gives a tour through a conversation between you and your guide. There is a basic narrative, but you can explore points of interest to which the conversation will adapt. In addition, you can see who is visiting the space at the same time and interact with them, including our very own tour guide and colleagues. This way you can visit the studio either taking the time to explore at leisure, or in a social setting with real people.
Testing the concept
To test the concepts, I have made prototypes that helped shape and illustrate above concept. Each prototype was build using a different platform since none solution in the market offers what I had in mind. For example, I used the Adobe Hubs platform to create a version of the studio as a social experience with a real person guiding you around and talking about the demos.
On the Matterport platform, we made a prototype that you can explore on your own and discover at your own pace, while also having the option of a guided tour.
Designs & Final Prototype
Having made and shared these prototypes it was time to flesh out the flow and features of the final concept. I needed to be able to show what a virtual visit would actually look like and determine what parts of the concept the prototypes did not address? I took the ideas envisioned in the concept and some developed in the earlier prototypes and made the following visualizations:
The concept would work something like this: When a visitor would visit the Digital Studio they can try out our demos and interact with them directly. To account for all the different types of physical interactions, I made the demos in the online studio in essence characters that use a conversational interface to emulate what the interaction would be like.
Here are a few other visualizations:
Start of a tour, allowing you to choose your guide, each with a different perspective
Multiple users including visitors and guides all in the same space
The final prototype provided us with a couple of important insights. For example: it was quite difficult to navigate a 3D space than anticipated. Furthermore, I noticed that the space needed more liveliness like people, sounds and interaction. Due to the limitations of the prototype, there was not quite enough content to explore and not enough dynamic adaptation for the conversations to feel engaging.
Based on the outcomes of the prototype tests with our customers, we created a roadmap for the implementation phase. Starting with building the basic interaction model, followed by creating interactive demos’ and adding more content to discover and finally expanding conversational richness.
Meanwhile our interactive department created a 360 tour for one of our clients and we expect that the design and built activities of more virtual tours will increase the coming months. We anticipate the 360 tours to be used as an alternative for visiting our physical Digital Studio, but also adding more value in terms of (brand) experience and connect with your clients and visitors in an alternative, fun, inspiring and personal way.
If you want to know more about this project, please connect with Hayo Rubingh via firstname.lastname@example.org.