What can real-life design learn from virtual worlds?
19 July 2019
Leaps in technology have brought our everyday lives closer to the storylines of science fiction films.
We can speak face-to-face with people thousands of miles away, print buildings, and order an unthinkable number of products to our doorsteps with a digital assistant using just our voice.
But if films are a glimpse into the experiences that await us, viewers take heed. Stephen Spielberg’s virtual reality adventure Ready Player One is set in a dystopian world some 25 years from now, where the real world has become such a harsh and difficult place to exist that most people choose to spend their waking lives in a virtual reality universe called the OASIS.
This movie’s premise prompts us to think about the value of place in our increasingly virtual world. If reality is in fact better than illusion, then what are we doing to differentiate the real-world places where we live, learn, work, and socialize?
We need to create meaningful and memorable experiences that people want to be a part of. This means designing places from the user perspective, and fundamentally changing our thinking about place as a service or experience, rather than a container and contents.
And so, here are five key themes from Ready Player One that have real world implications.
1. Experience is an ecosystem
The OASIS provides a compelling virtual reality universe with a seamless user experience. As people work, shop, go to school, and play, they are rewarded as they gain experiences. These rewards can be redeemed for goods and services which further enhance the user experience.
The take-away: We need to start thinking about buildings and places more holistically as a complex set of interdependent experiences, services and rewards that make up an overall ecosystem. Managing all of the systems together in this way makes the experience much more compelling for the user.
2. Think physical and digital
In Ready Player One, virtual-reality technology includes wearable tech that lets you feel and touch virtual objects and omni-directional treadmills that provide a compelling user experience by blurring the lines between virtual reality and the real world.
The take-away: The digital experience is often an afterthought when we design physical places, but increasingly digital and physical must be integrated to create a seamless experience. For example, ordering a coffee-to-go via an app, paying for it, and picking it up with no queue and a personal greeting from the barista feels great. Better still if loyalty is rewarded with bonuses or discounts.
3. Tailored journeys
In the OASIS, people can be whoever they want to be — whatever appearance, ethnicity, gender, or species. The OASIS is an open-world game where individuals can ‘choose their own adventure’.
The take-away: The more we can personalize things, the better the experience. Understanding the unique needs of individuals and tailoring journeys is the first step when conceiving experiences or services that people will love.
The movie reminds us that individualism and accomplishment are ultimately hollow without a connection to others. In the end, the masses who inhabit the OASIS — or the collective ‘voice of the customer’ — ultimately triumph in governing the OASIS by the people and for the people.
The take-away: It’s important we work closely with users to co-create experiences from the collective user perspective rather than a singular institutional point of view. It’s about really listening to the voice of the customer and exploring and designing proposed concepts together with them.
5. Unplug and reconnect
In the end, the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, explains that his greatest regret was shying away from the real world. He wishes to have spent more time there, because reality may be the only place it is possible to find true happiness.
The take-away: Online cannot be the only place where people find a sense of belonging. We must encourage people to take time to maintain meaningful relationships and participate in memorable real world experiences. Good design must facilitate these experiences.