Limbic Media

Limbic Media

Category: Technology

From Glowflow to Burning Man: The Evolution of Interactive Media

Want to learn more about interactive media? Contact us about Aurora.

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On day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, onlookers were captivated by a computer-generated recreation of Tupac Shakur to perform with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The animation used projection mapping in combination with a theatrical technique called “Pepper’s Ghost” to create a 3D holographic effect. The project employed a team of 20 artists, lighting designers, and technicians to create an unexpected, immersive audience experience.

Festival season is upon us, and with it comes more opportunities to showcase and explore interactive media. From music, to performance art, to technology-based installations, the event lead-up is a full-time engagement for artists, technologists, and festival organizers seeking to stand out in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Technology has hugely influenced festivals’ ability to engage audiences with interactive media. Where has this attraction for interactive and technology-driven media come from, and how is it impacting other public spaces?

 

Computer mapped Tupac

Virtual Tupac at Coachella 2012

 

Interactive Media is Not A New Concept

Technological developments of the last half-century have breathed a new novelty into the concept of interactivity. Physically and emotionally participating in entertainment, which was the norm, became less common after the relatively recent advent of “passive” entertainment, like television and cinema.

 

“The reason we suddenly need such a word [as interactivity] is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television.

Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theater, music sport — the performers and audience were together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for.

We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.”

—Douglas Adams, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

 

Technology moved us away from interactive media, and ironically, technology is orienting us back to those original values when it comes to art and leisure—perhaps in an even bigger way than before TV. As much as technology has the power to isolate us, interactive media today is also more accessible, more invigorating on a multisensory level, and more likely to establish a genuine human connection than ever before.

 

Technology Has Revitalized Interactive Media

Using technology to create new forms of interactive media goes back to the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 60s, Morton Leonard Heilig was one of the first to create VR in response to the passive experience of cinema.

 

“Without the active participation of a spectator, there can be no transfer of consciousness, no art.”

—Morton Leonard Heilig

 

Sensorama, which was patented in 1962, was a prototype for what he imagined would become “experience theatre.” It combined a stereoscopic 3D colour display, stereo sound, fans, olfactory dispensers, and tilted, vibrational seating to provide single viewers with a multisensory experience over the course of a short film. Heilig was unable to find funding to get Sensorama to industry players, and the project dissolved.

 

virtual reality sensorama Morton heeling

Morton Heilig’s Sensorama

 

7 years later, Myron Krueger developed one of the earliest forms of computer-based interactive art. Glowflow was first installed at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Gallery. Pressure-sensitive pads were activated by viewers’ footsteps, triggering a real-time visual response from phosphorescent tubes and aural response from a Moog synthesizer. Glowflow was one of such interactive environments that lead to Krueger’s cornerstone project, Videoplace, in 1988. Videoplace is an artificial reality laboratory that creates reactionary light art out of viewers’ motion.

Much of Krueger’s work was motivated by a desire to redesign computers by addressing features that take away from an inherent human desire to connect and interact.

 

“There were things I resented about computers. I resented the fact that I had to sit down to use them. I resented the fact that I was using a hundred-year-old device to operate them—a keyboard—and the fact…that it was denying that I had a body of any kind, and that it was all perceptual, sort of, symbolic.”

—Myron Krueger

 

interactive media virtual reality Myron Krueger

Myron Krueger’s Videoplace

 

Krueger modeled Videoplace after the relationship that artists and musicians have with their tools, seeking to create a type of computer that people could experience rather than use for the sole purpose of efficiency. The first rendition of Videoplace superimposed Krueger’s hand-drawn data tablet doodles onto a screen in the Memorial Union Gallery a mile away. The doodles would appear to interact with viewers’ shadows, which were also projected onto the screen in real-time. Almost by accident, Krueger noticed that viewers were most engaged when their motion appeared to create the doodles.

 

“We discovered that there was this very natural desire to identify with the image on the screen. Their image was them, and they expected it to do things in the video world as much as it did in the physical world. It was as if evolution had prepared us for seeing ourselves on television screens combined with computer images.”

 

Suddenly, here was a real, tangible example of how technology had the potential to bring human connection full-circle—back to what interactive media had done for us prior to the age of passive media. From VR to public art, interactive media has come a long way since Videoplace.

 

Burning Man: A Lasting Example Interactive Media’s “Rebirth”

Unlike static art, interactive media is unique by involving the viewer in its creation, forming a platform for human connection and community. Passive media is presented with the intention of presenting audiences with a static piece to derive meaning from, rather than involving their participation in the media’s creation and forming a community from that involvement. A good example of the rebirth of interactive media, especially as it relates to the growth of art festivals, is Burning Man.

On June 22, 1986, Larry Harvey and Jerry James built an 8-foot human figure out of scrap wood in their Noe Valley basement. They hauled the wooden man down to Baker Beach and quickly drew an audience of close to 40 people as flames engulfed the figure. Before you could say gasoline, the spontaneous hootenanny was singing a fire-themed tune on the fly, and a woman was literally hand-in-hand with the pyro-masterpiece.

 

“That was the first spontaneous performance…that was the first geometric increase of Burning Man. What we had instantly created was a community. And…you know if we had done it as an art event, people would have come, and come to the gallery or something, and said ‘It’s very interesting, perhaps a little derivative, what are you going to do next?’”

—Lee Harvey

 

The festival has since grown into a 70,000-person gathering based on the values of immediacy, participation, communal effort, radical self-expression and self-reliance, egalitarianism, and creativity—so unsurprisingly, the festival has become a global platform for the convergence of art and innovative interactive media, informing values within the tech industry (and perhaps vice versa). What began as a novel concept associated with underground movements became its own city with the power to impact the culture and values behind one of North America’s largest industries.

 

 

Interactive Media’s Impact

Aside from influential Burners taking those core values back to the office after Labour Day each year, the impact of cultural phenomena like Burning Man has been a driving force behind the evolution of interactive media. Interactive media has re-infiltrated mainstream society, evolving in just a few decades from what was once associated with counterculture and festivals or niche, university-affiliated galleries like Videoplace.

Interactive technology and art are increasingly incorporated into civic space and public institutions like art galleries, science centres, shopping malls, and schools. Those behind designing and coordinating these spaces are realizing the advantage that interactivity has over passive forms of media in community building and increasing a return audience. Growing public values in interactive media are also expanding the tech industry, leveraging advances in interactive technologies like wearable tech, sound-to-light mapping, motion-tracking, VR and AI.

 

interactive public art

Montréal’s Impulsedezeen.com photo

 

Passive media is still the norm for a culture built on Netflix. But the values behind traditional forms of interactive media has been experiencing a rebirth over the last few decades, thanks to innovators like Myron Krueger and events like Burning Man—and the technology behind our ability to realize those values is growing every day.

An Interactive Lighting Case Study with Aurora

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Real estate developers often invest in hoardings for big projects—on-site marketing signage that describes future developments. As opposed to online, radio, and print ads, hoardings are highly cost-effective marketing investments for developers, providing large-scale project awareness 24/7. Vancouver-based developer Belford Properties took their hoarding for Sun Towers Metrotown to the next level. Faced with the challenge of promoting Sun Towers while building long-term community relationships throughout the development, Belford partnered with a local organization and turned the hoarding into an interactive public art display.

The result was a 30×170-foot billboard combining community art with interactive technology. The billboard transformed public space across from BC’s largest shopping centre, Metropolis at Metrotown, into an interactive boulevard. The Metrotown project inspired Limbic Media’s Interactive Art Wall concept, an engaging art installation with multiple applications for civic space, retail and holiday displays, and any organization looking to increase ROI through public engagement and community placemaking. This week, we are taking you through Limbic Media’s process for this project, from the initial collaboration and concept to the final installation.

 

 

A Concept for Community Building

 

“If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”

 

This is the proverb that initially inspired Belford to collaborate with Burnaby Neighbourhood House, a volunteer-driven social service agency. BNH supports programs and services that address local community needs. Understanding that youth have an enormous impact on community futures, the two organizations joined forces to support youth art education over the course of Belford’s 3-year development.

 

“Belford believes that youth can have a huge impact on community, helping to shape the future with new ideas through education and art. An investment in youth and education is much more rewarding than one can imagine, especially in the community that they grow up in. That type of investment is something we keenly sought out, hoping to work with an organization that places such an importance on education and art with children in the neighbourhood. We found that organization, Burnaby Neighbourhood House, and let the kids do their thing.”

—Belford Properties

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study Public Art

 

Their vision resulted in a public art concept surrounding the theme of rain + sunshine = growth to encourage yearly donations to BNH’s youth art programs. The 3-year project has three phases: the first, inspired by Greater Vancouver’s notoriously heavy rainfall, features umbrellas and rainbows. The second phase, scheduled for Spring 2019, features sunshine-themed drawings, and the third will display the fruits of that nourishment—growing flowers, bees, and nature. BNH and Belford commissioned art for the first phase to children currently in BNH arts programs. Their pieces were then scaled to fit the hoarding.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Interactive public art not only fosters a sense of community and placemaking, but also increases brand awareness, foot traffic, public safety in surrounding areas, and overall ROI. Hangar 18, the project’s design and branding consultant, reached out to us to create an interactive lighting component for the billboard.

 

Designing and Integrating the Aurora Platform

Limbic Media’s role was to design the lighting component of the installation and integrate an Aurora system with a coin box to allow for donations. The vision was to literally “make it rain” when coins are inserted, offering passers-by a lightshow in exchange for their donations. Limbic Media used Hangar 18’s concept drawing as a template for the lighting design.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Our team at Limbic Media was responsible for designing the layout of Minleon Pebble Light strands over the concept art, spec out project requirements, and do custom programming to evoke rainfall and rainbow effects. The project required 61 light strands of various lengths, totaling 2,075 pebble lights. Projects of this scale require multiple Network Distribution Boxes (NDBs) along with a network switch to effectively supply power and data from Aurora across all the lights. The next step was to parse the billboard’s light strands into 9 sections; one section of light strands for each NDB. Because all the technical components would be hidden behind the billboard, the project also required leader cables of various lengths to connect the beginning of each light strand with its respective NDB.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

The Interactive Art Wall was Limbic Media’s first time integrating Aurora with a coin box. Our lead design engineer created a new Aurora pattern to achieve a rainfall effect for the pebble lights. The coin box was then integrated with its own microcontroller, programmed to speak to Aurora: in resting mode, Aurora tells the light strands to evoke a subtle version of the rainfall pattern. When coins are donated to the box, it triggers an algorithm that intensifies the rainfall pattern’s brightness and speed, slowly diminishing until the the more subtle resting pattern is achieved.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Limbic Media’s design process was a team effort, involving sales staff, engineers, and a technical lead to spec out and price the project—all while liaising with Hangar 18 and Belford to meet the project’s vision and timeline. Once the installation was set up at Limbic Media and passed for QA, we sent the equipment with our lead design engineer to oversee and support the onsite installation process alongside Belford, and make final tweaks to the project’s custom programming.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Project Outcomes

The Interactive Art Wall was a huge success as an alternative to the average hoarding. Unlike a regular marketing billboard, the display’s interactivity increased a community-building ROI in addition to potential monetary gains. Lighting and interactivity leveraged Belford’s marketing for the Sun Towers development by encouraging public participation in the display and also increased awareness of BNH and their impact on community initiatives. By providing an opportunity for hashtags and social media engagement, the interactive display created an additional marketing tool for both Belford and BNH. The interactive hoarding captured Belford’s vision as a developer that is mindful of its surrounding community and involved in its long-term, people-based goals.

 

“With the addition of these beautifully installed LED lights around the drawings on the wall, we are able to raise public awareness not only in the daytime but also attract lots of attention at night. Our Art Wall has soon become a popular sight visiting point in the area which gives us chances to interact with the public. The lights are one of the key elements in this charity fundraising event. On behalf of Belford Properties, we are very pleased with how the addition of the lighting has attracted a tremendous amount of attention to our Charity Art Wall project.”

—Chris Ba, Belford Properties

 

Providing a reward for donations to the initiative in the form of a light show also piqued public interest from passers-by in a way that stand-alone donations boxes can’t. The hoarding brightened the thoroughfare at Beresford Street, potentially increasing return foot traffic to the area. Overall, interactivity at the Metrotown installation played a crucial role in placemaking and fostering community development out of what would otherwise remain a typical urban development on an ordinary roadway. If you find yourself near Metrotown Station over the next few years, check out the installation, make a donation, and be sure to share your interaction on social media with #celebratebby.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

The Interactive Art Wall concept has potential across multiple applications. Light fixture styles and custom patterns can be adapted for unique themes and mounted against a variety of backdrops and settings. If you are interested in combining interactivity with a similar concept or initiative, contact us today to brainstorm ideas.

 

Photos by Mandy Jin at WeTopia.

CASC 2018 Conference: LHULH’UTS’UT’EN

Representatives from Canadian science centres and museums came together last week to embody LHULH’UTS’UT’EN—working together—at this year’s Canadian Association of Science Centres‘ 2018 conference. CASC attendees came to Prince George this year to seek inspiration, network, and learn about the challenges facing science centres and museums across the country.

Limbic Media’s Marketing Associate, Deanna Foster, and Lead Design Engineer, Gabrielle Odowichuk, attended the event with an Aurora Jam Tent (check out our Aurora Jam Tent video from Tectoria 2018). Here are a few highlights from their time up north.

 

CASC 2018 Conference

 

Welcome Reception

This year’s CASC attendees had a chance to be kids again in the Two Rivers Art Gallery’s Maker Space. Activities ranged from felting, to learning code, to traditional Lheidli T’enneh wood carving. Participants also enjoyed traditional drumming by the talented Khast’an drummers. Check them out for a truly mesmerizing show!

 

CASC 2018 Conference

 

The Way-Late Play Date

Clad in their finest plaid, CASC-goers were invited to eat, drink and wield some good ‘ol saws and axes. Logger sports and a relay race kicked off the night, followed by dancing and Northern BC’s finest brews. The Exploration Place provided an interactive setting to network and learn about industry trends and challenges. Highlight of the evening? Chocolate-covered bacon.

 

CASC 2018 Conference

 

The Exhibitors

Limbic Media’s Jam Tent, an Aurora-lit enclosure filled with musical instruments, was among a variety of science and museum exhibitors. Little Ray’s Nature Centres (aka. Average-sized Ray’s Nature Centres) provides permanent and traveling hands-on, zoological education exhibits. Sadly, Shane from Little Ray’s was unable to bring a sloth to CASC—but here’s hoping for next year.

Big shoutout to Pathfinders Designs, who was a huge help in Limbic Media’s Jam Tent setup. Pathfinders, based on Vancouver Island, designs and creates wooden science kits.

 

CASC 2018 Conference

 

CASC 2018 was an exciting reminder of the open-mindedness and innovative thinking of Canada’s industry leaders in science centres and museums. Each attendee left with new connections and inspiring ideas for their home audiences. We had a lot of fun seeing everyone have jam time in our Aurora Jam Tent, and hope to see sound-to-light interactivity infiltrating more science centres and museums across the country in the next year!

 

CASC 2018 Aurora sound-to-light engine reacting to music

 

Contact us today to plan a Jam Tent for your next event!

How to Maximize your Investment in Holiday Lighting

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We talked to Darren Vader, a holiday lighting installation expert, in our last blog to discover the biggest trends and challenges facing the industry today. Darren’s business focuses mainly on commercial lighting installations, retail/wholesale, and cutting-edge technology in the lighting industry.

This week we want to focus more on small-scale residential or small business lighting installations. Residential lighting made $27-billion in revenues for the 2017 season across the United States, and is growing every year. We received feedback from WeHangChristmasLights.com and JVS Christmas Lighting to gain some insight for this article on the residential installation arena.

There is a huge demand for holiday lighting installation services, and the industry is growing beyond just Christmas-themed displays. Quality custom installations from reputable installers are not cheap—but planning the right design offers potential for installations with year-round appeal. Versatile, high-quality installations enhance your home’s aesthetic and can have a significant ROI for small businesses looking to stand out. If you budget for professional holiday lighting installations each year, here’s how to maximize your investment.

 

Holiday lighting

Government Street, Victoria, BC—Derek Resch Photo


Consider lighting installations that aren’t Christmas-specific.

Victoria, BC’s main drag along Government Street is lined with light-adorned trees. Season after season, the lights remain, but the colours change depending on the season; soft white for strolls on warm Summer nights, orange for Halloween, and alternating red and green for the holidays. The lights add an aesthetic appeal to the city’s downtown core and drive foot traffic even after the shops are closed.

Smaller-scale lighting installation customers tend to invest in Christmas-themed projects with an installation life of 2-3 months at most. New trends and technologies in the lighting industry are allowing for more adaptable installations that make better use of your investment.

According to Josh Trees of WeHangChristmasLights.com, Halloween, event, wedding, and other non-Christmas events are some of the largest growing aspects of smaller-scale installation projects. This shows a willingness for customers to think past lighting displays as a traditionally Christmas-focused endeavour and become more integrated into other events or residential décor. The huge commercial market for lighting in non-Christmas events and festivals is trickling down to the smaller-scale installation market. Technologies like RGB and light interactivity is making it possible for these projects to easily evoke different moods depending on the time of year and audience without having to redesign or reinstall the display.

RGB Lighting is one of the fastest-growing segments of the holiday lighting installation industry. RGB lights combine red, green and blue light to create a full range of colour options from a controller, making installations much more versatile. The same RGB light installation you invested in to set mood-lighting for your patio and landscaping in the summer can then be easily controlled to create Christmas or Halloween-themed lighting, for example. This allows you to keep your installation up year-round and reinvent the lighting’s appeal, whether it’s for the patio of a cafe or a private home audience.

 

Hire an installation company and make sure they’re certified.

Thousands of people each year receive treatment for holiday-related decoration injuries. Holiday lighting installations can result in property damage or even injury when done DIY-style or conducted by unqualified installers that are more focused on providing a cheaper service than a quality service. Small-scale residential installers are constantly dealing with installations that need to be set up quickly in harsh weather conditions in the safest way possible and returning client properties to their initial state.

According to Josh Trees, the biggest challenge facing the industry today is unqualified installers that are dropping their prices at the expense of installation quality and safety. By investing in a highly qualified, certified installer, you not only get a quality design and hassle-free service, but also benefit the industry as a whole.

If you are investing money into a lighting installation, hire a company that is certified by CLIPA (Christmas Light Installation Pros Association). CLIPA installers have been trained and tested on installation techniques and are certified to ensure that:

  • Lights are removed on time
  • Maintenance issues are troubleshooted and resolved quickly
  • Installations are configured and power-routed properly
  • Safety is a top priority and all necessary tools and equipment are provided
  • Quality installations are designed effectively with ideas and consulting provided
  • There is no property damage left after the installation
  • Their company is properly insured for lighting installations
  • Installation designs are of high-quality for all of the following::
    • Commercial and residential rooflines
    • Trees, bushes, landscapes
    • Sidewalk and driveway perimeters
    • Windows, doors, archways and dormers
    • Pillars, fences and gates
    • Wreaths, sprays and garlands

 

Wehangchristmaslights.com Photo

 

Budget and plan for your installation far in advance.

Most smaller-scale lighting installers deal with short lead-times before the winter holiday season, which means installations can be rushed with shorter daylight times, bad weather and tight deadlines. Adaptable RGB installations that look as good for Summer events as they do for Christmas beat rush times and spread your investment out over a longer period.

Planning versatile installs in advance also provides installers with revenue in the off-season, and gives them time to invest in a quality custom design. Installers are well aware of industry trends and new lighting technology, especially early in the season, so if your goal is to be the Joneses, your property will be trend-setting in your area.

 

Pay attention to what commercial lighting installers and companies are doing.

If you want to stay ahead of the game with your holiday lighting installations, look to the bigger commercial installers—the companies tackling festivals and public spaces—for industry trends. The commercial lighting industry almost always informs trends happening in residential and small-scale holiday lighting businesses. For 2018, RGB LEDs, interactivity, synchronized sound-to-light, and multisensory installations are trending.

Observing lighting installation trends in commercial spaces is the best way to set trends and be cutting-edge for residential and small-scale installations. If you’re a small business, staying on top of these trends is a good way to maximize your investment in lighting installations, set your business apart from the others, drive traffic to your business and increase your ROI.

 

 

Holidays are increasingly commercialized each year, which means the demand for holiday lighting is growing and installation planning and execution is happening earlier each season. The industry is seeing growth in RGB lighting, and most installers now also design non-winter holidays and event lighting. If you’re looking for a way to enhance your home’s architecture or landscaping, but also stand out in your neighbourhood for seasonal holidays and events, invest in a professionally-installed, controllable RGB display. Lighting technologies and certified installers are making it easier to maximize your investment and still look great for any season.

 

Interview: Challenges and Trends Facing the Holiday Lighting Installation Industry

Planning holiday lighting installations might be off the average homeowner’s radar for several more months—but for those in the commercial holiday lighting industry, projects are already in the planning phase. We talked to Darren Vader of Lumyn Immersive Media about the challenges and trends facing the holiday lighting and installation industry. Darren is the founder of The Christmas Light Emporium and Extreme Lightscapes, and has years of experience in the holiday installation industry.

 

What do your companies do, and is it possible to survive year-round in the holiday lighting industry?

This depends on what aspect of the season lighting industry a company is involved in. I see the market as having basically three top level segments: residential services, commercial services and retail/wholesale/commercial product sales.

My companies are involved in technology design and consulting for commercial projects and retail/wholesale product sales. I focus heavily on creating the highest perceived value possible. This allows me to design higher-end displays, pieces and light shows using the highest quality components available, while often implementing technology that is light years ahead of others in the market. All of these things mean I have a longer sales cycle—way longer than those who focus on residential and a good bit longer that those who only focus on commercial installation. So for me, it is absolutely a year-round focus. I spend the first half of the year selling new projects and the second half of the year doing onsite consulting/installation and managing our retail operation.

 

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers.

 

For residential services, we are chiefly talking about Christmas light installers. It is not common to see a full time, year-round business with no other revenue stream. The most successful residential installers will have a few key staff that are full time/year-round and a vastly higher number of staff that are seasonal only. They also tend to pad revenue with other services such as landscaping or landscape lighting. I always tell my friends in the residential space who are successful that it’s not their skill at light installation that makes them good at what they do—it’s the fact that they are masters of logistics.

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers. This is especially true in the residential holiday lighting installation market where a huge majority of service providers are small teams just trying to monetize on a season-by-season basis, and do not run full-time seasonal lighting operations. There are a lot of larger, successful companies in this space, but there are far more who are 1—4 person, seasonal-only operations just looking for “right-now revenue.”

 

Commercial Holiday LED Lighting Installation

Extreme Lightscapes: New Orleans Christmas in the District

 

Commercial service providers typically are able to command a higher price point for their services because it requires an advanced set of skills and new logistical challenges. The venues are almost always much larger. The installation time, equipment and logistics of working in public spaces are far more complex than in the residential space. I would say that a majority of companies specializing in large commercial installations are likely to be full-time, year-round operations even if with a limited staff. This is the segment within which technology specialists such as myself and my companies exist. Technology services and consulting for complex lighting installations is an underserved niche market that requires a very unique combination of right-brain/left-brain thinking.

Retail/Wholesale/Commercial Product Sales: this is where a good bit of the real magic happens. Manufacturers and retail/wholesale entities who have the foresight to create new and exciting products for use by commercial and residential installers are the ones who drive innovation in the seasonal lighting industry. Often they are being pushed by folks like myself and others in the residential and commercial services space who are constantly demanding new and innovative products. All of the larger commercial product companies are certainly year-round operations. There are a few retailers of seasonal lighting who are able to operate full-time as well. But most of them are supplementing with some level of marketing toward patio/landscape lighting, event lighting or even municipal and general lighting products.

Regardless of which segment of the seasonal lighting industry a company participates, I believe that whether or not a company can make a full time/year-round business out of it is chiefly based on their ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value. You have to build a reputation as being one of the best in the industry nationally or even internationally in order to command top dollar and top margins, and afford to work on Christmas all year long!

 

Commercial holiday lighting installation

Photo: Extreme Lightscapes

 

How do seasonal holiday installers survive in the off-season?

Residential installers who do not run a company full-time are very often firemen, policemen, landscapers or otherwise employed in an opposing seasonal field. Residential installation companies who are full time will almost always also offer landscape or landscape lighting services to keep some cash flow rolling during other parts of the year.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing holiday installers today?

As a business owner, I think the biggest challenges are:

  • Increasing product costs from overseas manufacturers
  • Difficulty in keeping up with changes in technology and its knowledge curve
  • Maintaining the ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value

 

How do you see those challenges being addressed?

Manufacturing of holiday lighting on the high end has somewhat shifted to Europe, but that makes the cost very high. I think that in the future we will see some of the larger European companies open manufacturing facilities in the U.S.. I already see some U.S. companies in the commercial product space who are taking European style and having similar designs produced in Asia at a much lower price point. When it comes to the basic components—lighting, technology and supplies – if costs of production continue to increase in Asia, I see the possibility of U.S. distributors moving production to places like Mexico and the Philippines or other areas where cost can be brought back down a bit.

Keeping up with technology will always be a challenge. It is a generational thing. Just like my generation was the first Internet generation, we are now getting “schooled” by our kids, who are the first social media generation. In a similar fashion, I was part of the first generation of seasonal lighting technologists. I am very often getting “schooled” by the next/younger generation of technologists who, for example, are fluent with and have pushed the limits of what can be achieved with RGB lighting and control systems. At some point I feel like we have to move beyond being hands on with it ourselves and focus more on the theoretical—coming up with visions, inventions and ideas that are superior to what exist right now—and then hire the next/younger generation to build out those visions! Much like the Apple, Steve Jobs approach to technology.

 

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space.

 

Maintaining the ability to bring to market designs and technologies that have a high-perceived value, I think, is just a matter of never getting bored. You have to absolutely love seasonal lighting. When you stop loving it more than everyone else, you will stop caring about creating things with a high-perceived value. If you don’t value your ideas, neither will anyone else.

 

Multi-sensory LED light tunnel

Extreme Lightscapes Tunnel

 

What current trends are you seeing in installation projects?

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space. The human condition is so complex, and getting more so year by year, that people are becoming desensitized to what we have known as common visual and audio stimulants. The world is so audibly and visually “noisy” that we have to cut through all the mess by offering interactive displays, immersive environments and advanced sensory experiences in order to capture people’s attention, bring their minds into a peaceful zone (or a party zone, or a reflective zone, or whatever happens to be appropriate for the environment) and give them something important that will tell a story on behalf of the producer.

 

If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

When it comes to how: RGB RGB RGB RGB. European design. Video mapping—both using traditional projectors and more recently by using RGB pixel grids and feeding them video content. Sound, motion reactivity, physical interaction, etc.

 

What are the differences in the demands you get from commercial vs. residential clients?

I would say that commercial installers are being hit with all of the tending demand we just mentioned. They are being asked to execute these interactive and immersive visions within often very tight budgets. Residential installers I think have a completely different challenge. Residential buyers are notoriously “best price” shoppers without much regard to who the best person is for the job.

 

Up to how much do clients pay (residential vs. commercial) for their installations?

This is all over the map. I focus on commercial projects. My average project is probably around $100,000 with a huge range of $50,000-$1million, with a mean budget probably around $50,000-$75,000.

For residential installers, the range is also very wide. Most of the non-full-time, one-man operations are also wildly undercutting the full-time installers and and probably average around $200-$300 and focus on 1-story or smaller 2-story neighborhoods. At the same time, I know several full-time residential installation companies who have a $1,000 minimum per project and they are extremely successful. Their clients are typically wealthy neighborhoods and small commercial venues (small shopping centers, stand alone restaurants, etc).

 

Do you ever have clients request holiday installs that are also adaptable for year-round use?

Rarely. This is something that I am trying to educate my customers on. A seasonal display that is truly designed to bring out the feeling of the holidays is never going to be something you want left up all year long in its entirety. But we almost always are including components within those displays that most certainly could and should be considered for permanent, all-year use. This is especially true of some of the interactive displays and many components that use RGB lighting systems or projection. These systems are relatively easy to create new content for changing times of the year.

 

LED Christmas tree light show

Extreme Lightscapes Installation at Dallas Zoo

 

What role does new technology play in your business?

Massive. It’s all I do. This is what makes my company unique. There are not many of us in the seasonal lighting business who only focus on new technology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything else, but new technology is always what we lead with and it is what my companies are known for. There are only a small handful of others who approach seasonal lighting this way who are full-time operators. If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

Is interactivity a growing component of the holiday lighting install industry?

Absolutely. And not just with technology. One of the most popular types of display pieces I have included in my designs recently has been 3-dimensional pieces that people can walk through or touch. This year I am pushing these limits with the vision to bring to market solutions that are both 3-dimensional walk-through piece and immersive, multi-sensory experiences. I fully believe that this is where the market is heading. And there are a million different ways to bring this vision to fruition. I believe that the immersive movement will last for a while into the future.

 

What are some examples of interactive installations you’ve done?

Walk-through ornaments, stars, tunnels, light show tunnels, sound-to-light, Santa set built inside a light-show tree, next step—multi-sensory displays!

 

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Adventures in Perception: Aurora

Limbic Media’s Project Technical Lead, Jason Sanche, recently wrote about Aurora in a paper for a university course on Neuroaesthetics. Jason is finishing his Computer Science degree at the University of Victoria and couldn’t have timed this article better with our recent posts about multisensory technologies and their effect on brain development and behavior. The following was adapted from a series of papers exploring perceptual experiences inspired by the artists’ discoveries and insights with specific artworks, and in this case, Aurora.

 

Aurora QA Station

 

Aurora: An Exploration in Perception

This article is an exploration of my perceptual and aesthetic experience of Aurora, a software platform developed by Limbic Media to map intricate sound qualities to light. Aurora listens and recognizes subtleties of sound and displays sound as patterns and shapes within two- and three-dimensional matrices of LED light. Aurora elegantly visualizes music with the subtlety of a musician’s ear.

Sounds have incredible texture, depth and emotional resonance, but these facets of sound often go unnoticed. Input from other senses, thoughts, and emotions, especially with the proliferation of screens, continually eclipses our simple awareness of sound. Subtleties get sublimated into the background of our experience. However, the act of listening attentively realigns the mind with time in a  constant, steady, somatic-acoustic present awareness. By showing sound as light, Aurora leverages the domination of visual stimuli and brings attention to sound.

Aurora’s hardware technology is, as Marshall McLuhan would say, an extension of our senses. In the same way, Aurora’s software is an extension of our minds and its neural and perceptual networks. Aurora performs similarly to synaesthesia—a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. We naturally create images when hearing sounds, which might be an inherited survival trait to anticipate danger from threatening sounds. Incredibly, it also applies to appealing sounds like beautiful music. With our eyes closed and our attention narrowed in on music and the field of mental images, a synaesthetic effect involuntarily transforms sound into mental imagery. Aurora extends this phenomenon into shared space.

The following is a subjective exploration of this idea as a written stream of consciousness about the experience of Aurora reacting to a piece of music:

 

As the music streams from its digital storage on a cloud of distributed data into the physical network of this room, through my computer, through the mixer and into Aurora which, in real time, processes the signal through digital filters, determined by code, transformed into patterns and colors imitating the harmonies, rhythms and beats, transmuted into bursts of photons varied by a full visible spectrum of color and coordinated patterns with the complexity of the wave patterns in the ocean and captured by my eyes, translated in the optical nerve back into electrical impulses, and again, in real time, perceived as what I believe is sentient to the experience and understood as meaningful. As I write and watch the dancing lights, making the music more beautiful, I perceive and write and know this harmony of embodied sensory experience augmented by technology-as-art.

 

The study of neuroaesthetics looks at how the mind perceives and attaches meaning to art, beauty, and ugliness, how we fixate on and identify value, and how art produces emotional reactions. A system like Aurora provides a rich and fascinating angle to explore interactivity in neuroaesthetics, and specifically how the perceptual feedback of sound visualization plays into the brain’s implicit synaesthesia.

When sound-to-image happens externally, how does that affect our internal imagination of sounds and music? How important is sound-to-image synaesthesia to our ability to thrive culturally and socially? Can technology like Aurora produce a shared synaesthesia similar to shared public experiences during a film, concert or theatre performance? In participatory public theatre like Sleep No More, the play creates an immersive experience by breaking down divisions between actors and the audience. Can Aurora similarly produce immersive shared participatory musical synaesthetic experiences? The potential is there.

 

Innovation Tree, Victoria, BC

 

Art’s Role in Imagined Embodiment

Imagined embodiment has been a common theme throughout my explorations in perception. The mind constantly reinterprets its sense of self and embodiment in the world through imagination and dreaming, and the habitual sense of self is usually reinforced if we are unconscious of this process. However, with the right attention and tenacity, we can have full control over our self identity and full freedom from its limiting influence on our inhibitions. Anyone can imagine themselves as anything or anyone, and with enough practice, anyone can act beyond their usual identity. Most people enjoy an occasional respite from the trappings of their identity through events like halloween, masquerade parties, games, and to some extent, books and films that transport us into characters we can safely identify with.

One important role of art is to challenge and disrupt habitual identity through the perceptual experience of imagined embodiment, and made possible by mirror neurons. Conscious engagement in this process through art can introduce viewers to new horizons in self-knowledge.

 

PGNB Prismo 2017

 

Interactive Digital Art and Synaesthesia as a Method of Embodiment

The most relevant method of imagined embodiment to Aurora involves the exploration of synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a unique doorway from the visual to the aural. If we pay attention to sound and its effects on the imagination, it has the potential to create a transformative experience and disrupt habitual sensory perception. Experiencing synaesthesia consciously by meditating on music or sound and absorbing mental imagery restores attentive listening and its meditative benefits. Interactive digital art like Aurora uses technology to leverage synaesthesia and bring audiences back to the present through attentive listening.

Aurora’s lights react to sound the way our mind would visually imagine the source of any sound. The nature of sound and the act of listening have a unique quality that visual perception does not—sound disappears nearly as soon as it is heard; it is more ephemeral and decays quickly through friction unlike most visual objects, which tend to persist until they are destroyed, or decay over longer periods. Because sound does not persist very long, attention to sound created a synchronization to the ineffable flow of time: the steady, consistent arising and dissolving of the soundscape. By perceiving sound as light we tune into the act of listening which is an important way of staying balanced and present in a sensorially fractured world. This allows the mind to be present in time, which is its natural state.

 

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From Education to Branding: The Rise of Multisensory Experiences in Technology

Once upon a time, Redcliffe Elementary School in South Carolina was experiencing issues not unlike many North American public schools. Despite their focus on achievement in standardized testing, Redcliffe had the lowest test scores in their district. Instead of beefing up their academic approach, they decided to invest more in multisensory education that amalgamated traditional studying with visual arts, music, and dance. Within six years, their test scores were in the district’s top 5%.

The idea of integrating all five senses into learning is not a new idea, but the market for multisensory technology is quickly expanding as we more deeply acknowledge how it enhances human experience. Multisensory technology has played a big role in our discussions on heads-up vs. heads-down technology and how each influences us socially. While there are benefits to both, heads-down technology seems to dominate our consumption. There’s an underlying fear of the effects an imbalance of heads-down stimulation has on our behavior and cognitive ability, especially among children.

 

Multisensory education has so much success because it single-handedly addresses a variety of classroom learning styles, increasing the chance that lessons will be retained for each student.

 

If we want product design, business models, educational tools, and social platforms to create a balance, multisensory technology offers solutions. Why are multisensory experiences so attractive to businesses and consumers looking to fill that niche?

 

What is research saying about multisensory experiences?

Most of us have had this experience at some point: you catch a whiff of something that sends you reeling in visual, emotional, and perhaps even auditory memories surrounding that smell. Our most established and vivid memories are multisensory. We form memories based on situational context, and that includes cues from all five senses and any relevant emotional associations. The growing popularity of multisensory experiences in everything from autism therapies to retail spaces is based not only on its inherent appeal and entertainment value, but a body of research focused on multisensory experiences and their ability to form lasting memories. The most logical place to measure the effect of multisensory stimuli on memory and learning is in childhood classrooms.

There’s plenty of literature out there to support the use of multisensory activities in classroom learning environments, especially from a young age:

  • A study that trained writing students with audio-visual methods looked at the effects of multisensory education on children with dyslexia. The study found that the approach improved students’ performance whether or not they were dyslexic.
  • Teaching letters to children and measuring their phonemic awareness was much more effective when researchers added a visual-tactile component to their delivery.
  • Incorporating full-spectrum lighting and changing colour schemes into learning environments has the potential to reduce stress and enhance student focus.
  • Playing music in conjunction with lessons tends to improve spatial-temporal reasoning, which is useful for understanding proportions and geometry.

People retain information better when they’re educated with their individual learning style. Multisensory education has so much success because it single-handedly addresses a variety of classroom learning styles, increasing the chance that lessons will be retained for each student. By addressing multiple learning styles, it also increases the variety of neural pathways stimulated in the brain, which is important for early brain development and learning. Classrooms that incorporate more multisensory teaching methods generally see higher rates of comprehension than ones that use uncoupled senses in their curriculum.

The issue of comprehension came up in our last post as well. Technology, especially tools like the internet, is thought of primarily as a heads-down influence. Even though this is often regarded as a negative thing, research has pointed out its ability to train our brains to sift through information quickly and jump from one piece to the next more efficiently—but this comes at the expense of in-depth comprehension. Multisensory approaches are encouraging us to rethink the role of technology as an aid to vastly improve comprehension rather than diminish it.

 

How are these discoveries affecting the market?

It’s no surprise that multisensory experiences are increasingly utilized by companies who understand how to infiltrate consumers’ memories and emotions. Consumers also invest more of their time and money than ever into experiences rather than consumer goods. As a result, brands are integrating multisensory technologies into their products and marketing campaigns, especially in brick-and-mortar settings. The future of retail, entertainment, education, and even some forms of therapy lies in multisensory technology.

 

There is still huge potential for multisensory experiences to grow in brand marketing. 48% of Asian marketers use a multisensory approach, followed by 28% in North America and only 13% in Western Europe.

 

A 2015 survey by the Event Marketing Institute found that 98% of consumers surveyed were more likely to purchase a product or service if it was marketed through an experiential, multisensory campaign. 81% were motivated to visit an experiential marketing campaign because of its potential to give something back to the consumer. The Institute also found that on average, companies will increase their experiential and multisensory marketing campaigns by 6.1% in 2015; a number that has likely increased in the last few years. There is still huge potential for multisensory experiences to grow in brand marketing. 48% of Asian marketers use a multisensory approach, followed by 28% in North America and only 13% in Western Europe.

People are more invested in multisensory technology and experiences over material goods because of its ability to enhance deeper connections, memories, and learning in our distraction-laden and isolating world. The more brands, educational institutions, and other influential sectors pick up on this trend, the more multisensory technology will become an essential part of everyday human experience.

 

What else does multisensory technology have to offer?

This article has focused mainly on the benefits of multisensory experiences in terms of research and the implications that research has on educational models and marketing. There’s a plethora of reasons for the rise of multisensory technology that don’t necessarily require the justification of research, though. Multisensory technology provides avenues for public, heads-up social engagement. It creates opportunities to form communities and transform underutilized public space into social hubs. It adds unique components to products and services that people don’t normally experience at home, and it creates a niche for various sectors, like shopping malls or civic bodies, to increase the return of their investments both fiscally and culturally.

Both research and mainstream media’s rhetoric on technology’s social influence seems to agree that “heads-down” technology favours certain reflex-based skills (hand-eye coordination, fast-paced problem solving, visual-spatial processing, to name a few) at the expense of deeper comprehension, connection and focus. Multisensory technology is unique from that experience alone. It satisfies the same skills that heads-down technology offers by offering instant gratification and an abundance of stimuli to process—but it also captivates us, holds our attention, and enhances our ability to learn and make social connections. In other words, multisensory design brings out the best parts of how we consume technology.

 

Looking for a multisensory solution to a project? Contact us today to learn more about Aurora.

Heads-up vs. Heads-down Technology: Impacts On Brain Development

When it comes to brain development, technology gets a bad rap. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, compares our new ways of interacting to a backwards evolution:

 

“We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.”

 

Last week’s blog tailed off with a different comparison. We suggested the connection between heads-up technology, which forms genuine social connections, and how those technologies reflect early childhood experiences. This week delves more into the question of how technology impacts brain development, especially when parsed by what we like to call heads-up and heads-down varieties. This is pertinent among children who are now spending their formative years engaged with technology. Technology observably impacts our social habits, but more easily overlooked is how it physically rewires our brain.

 

Nicholas Carr

Photo: Antenna

 

How is technology “rewiring” our brains?

The speed at which technology is changing and entering our world means that research on how it psychologically influences us can’t possibly keep up. But one thing is likely—technology is rewiring our (and especially our children’s) brains in ways that we haven’t yet encountered and don’t fully understand.

A 2007 UCLA study measured brain activity of experienced vs. non-experienced web-users in their prefrontal cortexes, areas associated with problem-solving and decision-making. The study found localized brain activity in experienced users much higher than their counterparts, even though brain activity was comparable across all participants when exposed to non-internet-based reading tasks. After instructing the non-users to engage in internet use for one hour per day for six days, the study was repeated and found comparable brain activity across all users.

 

That isn’t to say that internet exposure, or technology in general, is necessarily rewiring our brains in bad ways, just different ways.

 

Even though this is only a single study in a large body of research on technology and brain activity, it just goes to show the incredible plasticity of our brains and how quickly technology exposure has a physical and yet subconscious influence on our social and sensory experiences. It’s also worth noting whether studies of this type differentiate what we’d consider heads-up or heads-down technology; this particular study on internet use would definitely fall under the latter type.

 

Child Brain Development

Photo: The News International

 

That isn’t to say that internet exposure, or technology in general, is necessarily rewiring our brains in bad ways, just different ways. Using technologies like the internet has a tendency to frequently redirect our attention, forcing our brain to spend energy reorienting itself at the expense of comprehension. These sacrifices are known to researchers as switching costs. Considering the overload of advertising, hyperlinks, and other visual re-directors, it’s no surprise that humans are cognitively paying a higher price for switching costs than ever before.

 

The pros and cons of heads-down technology on brain development

If the influence of technology burdens us with switching costs, what are the benefits of technology, especially of the heads-down variety, in rewiring our brains? Nicholas Carr, a fan of Neolithic metaphors, describes the cognitive skills brought on by internet consumption as “primitive mental functions:”

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Reflex response
  • Visual-cue processing
  • Fast-paced problem solving
  • Credibility assessment
  • Pattern detection

While these influences have their benefits, they are seemingly more base than socially interactive in their enhancement of human brain function. Evidently, a balance of the two is ideal for healthy brain development, especially in children. Patricia Greenfield, a developmental psychologist at UCLA reviewed over 40 studies in 2009 to assess the effects of technology and media on intelligence and learning. According to Greenfield, the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills” has come at the expense of “deep processing,” “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection”—skills that, one could argue, are more relevant to forming our social tendencies early on in life.

 

Balancing technology and brain development

We’ve already discussed how heads-up technology is designed to encourage face-to-face interaction in social settings. It engages users with their surrounding environment rather than isolating their attention spans. In terms of technology rewiring our brains, there are parallels between heads-down technology and the visual-spatial skills it enhances, and heads-up technology and the “deep processing” skills Greenfield speaks of.

 

Multisensory tech encourages our brains to fire on all cylinders rather than tune out certain aspects of brain development, and could be good for encouraging critical thinking and focusing attention in young brains that respond well to non-conventional learning styles.

 

In an ideal world, humans would have the self-awareness and control to use both technology types in healthy amounts and encourage the same use among their children. “Heads-up technology” is only a novel idea because it is usually the exception rather than the norm, however. Heads-down tech just seems to be more widely accessible and leaves us more susceptible to unhealthy, addictive tendencies. If we hope to avoid the detrimental effects this has on our (and our kids’) brain development, there needs to be more research on what separates heads-up from heads-down technology and how the use of each is “good” for brain development.

 

Photo: Super Glam Moms

 

Multisensory technology and brain development

One area of research that studies the influence of what we’d consider heads-up technology on brain development focuses on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and multisensory experiences. One such study, conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, found that children diagnosed with ASD do not process multisensory information as effectively or quickly as other children in that age group. This kind of research points to why there is a burgeoning industry of multisensory experiences and therapies geared toward families living with autism. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, for example, hosts a regular multisensory program. One of the Yeshiva study authors went as far as to compare multisensory integration therapies to a “military-industrial complex.”

While there is definitely more room for research on the direct impacts of multisensory and heads-up technology on our brains, perhaps the approach’s popularity has more to do with the impacts of heads-up technology regardless of a diagnosis like ASD. Multisensory tech encourages our brains to fire on all cylinders rather than tune out certain aspects of brain development, and could be good for encouraging critical thinking and focusing attention in young brains that respond well to non-conventional learning styles. Continued research in this area will help us decide how to balance our exposure to various kinds of technology and approach product design, especially for children.

This week’s article evolved into what feels more like a research paper than your average blog, closing with more questions than solutions and answers. We know relatively little about the long-term effects that technology consumption has on the human brain, and we know even less about those effects when you try separating technology into categories like heads-up and heads-down. At the end of the day, a healthy dose of both types is likely ideal for well-rounded brain development, and we’re seeing a growing emphasis on engaging, multisensory technologies to influence that development, especially among children and those with disorders like autism.

One way of delving further into this topic is by looking more specifically into the science behind multisensory experiences. Public spaces are investing more into services and displays that captivate and engage audiences on auditory, visual, tactile, and even olfactory levels. Tune in next week to find out more about what’s behind the growing appeal for multisensory technologies.

 

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Which Technologies Enhance Human Connection?

“What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.”

—Wendell Phillips

 

No matter the era, technology has both a positive and negative impact on our lives. It all depends, of course, on how it’s used.

Most of America, apparently, would agree with that statement. When asked what the Digital Revolution’s impact has been on the overall quality of life in a 2015 Heartland Monitor poll, 62% of our participating neighbours believed that it has a mixed positive and negative impact. Less than half felt it was socially isolating and detrimental to forming communities.

It’s hard to measure the true impacts of technology, particularly social platforms, but there is undoubtedly huge potential for technology to benefit our connectivity as social creatures. What types of technology enrich our social connections? Over the next few weeks, Limbic Media will discuss how technology influences us socially.

 

Cellphone Use

 

Heads-Up vs. Heads-Down Technology

Opinions in that Heartland poll were, unsurprisingly, more divided when parsed by demographics such as age, education, employment status and whether or not the participant had children. Even with a subjective question like “does technology help or hinder us,”  people still have very straightforward opinions about how tech negatively affects relationships, whether app addiction affects our social life or the danger of distraction has an impending threat to our survival.

 

Heads-up tech focuses our attention on our surroundings and encourages shared experiences

 

Most conversations about human connection and technology, however, seem to lump “technology” into a single category. Evidently, not all technology affects how we interact with each other in the same way. It really comes down to the specific product, and again, how we decide to use it.

Since we don’t have time to discuss the effect of individual products on human connection, we can simplify things by describing most social technology as “heads-up” or “heads-down” (or a combination of both). Heads-up tech focuses our attention on our surroundings and encourages shared experiences, while heads-down tech tunes out our surroundings. Both types are beneficial in the right doses and settings, but for the purpose of expanding real-life human connection, heads-up is the better approach.

 

Shared Experience Models Are Gaining Traction

More companies are engaging with heads-up technology and shared experience models to satisfy customers’ needs for genuine connections. Thinkers like Brian Solis, author of What’s the Future of Business? are emphasizing the presence of shared experiences in company products, services, and internal relations:

 

“No matter how much or fast technology (social, mobile, real-time) is thrust upon your markets, the one thing that remains constant is that people will use it to connect with one another, learn, and discover, create and curate, and most importantly, share and feel experiences.”

 

Brian Solis

Photo: Leading Authorities

 

Technologies that serve our need for connection in positive and real ways not only benefit the public, then, but also the longevity of companies that understand the importance of social connections in their business models. We can all benefit from products that force heads-up connections by virtue of their design—what are some tangible examples of companies and products that embody this approach to social technology?

 

Aurora and Social Wearables

Limbic Media’s very own Aurora (released last fall) and Social Wearables (yet to be officially released), are both designed as heads-up social platforms. Aurora, the world’s most advanced sound-to-light mapping platform, uses interactive sound, light, and technology in public spaces to encourage social engagement through art. Anyone with the free Aurora app can connect with the product’s lighting design AI and control how light shows interact with its audience in real-time. In future releases, Aurora will be able  to respond to motion and social media hashtags to influence lighting effects (#blue to change light colour, for example). Aurora is a heads-up social technology that can apply to a variety of social settings.

 

Aurora Jam Tent-Discover Tectoria 2018

Photo: CrackerJackFlash

 

Currently in development, Social Wearables acts as a digital icebreaker. It’s designed to enhance networking opportunities and encourage face-to-face connections in social gatherings like conferences. Social Wearables is a light pendant coloured with RGB LED Lights; when wearers touch their pendant with ones of different colours, it vibrates and collects new shades until they Capture the Rainbow, the first in an upcoming catalog of games. The Social Wearables technology gets people’s attention up, brings people to you and provides a social context for approaching someone you’ve never talked to before.

 

Interactive Seesaws

Cities like Montreal and Chicago have seen the appearance of interactive seesaws in their city centres. Impulse acts like an urban instrument; the weight and motion of see-sawers create a totally unique composition of sound and light for each duo. The multisensory creation is emitted from each seesaw with speakers and LEDs, and projected in real-time onto surrounding buildings. The heads-up installation is a collaboration between Toronto-based Lateral Office, Montreal’s CS Design and engineering EGB Group. The seesaws are a good example of taking an age-old social platform—playgrounds—and using technology to reinvent it into a public social experience for all ages.

 

interactive public art

Impulse — Photo courtesy of dezeen.com

 

Heads-up Apps

Aurora and Impulse are good examples of how heads-up social technology is changing our approach to public space, but what about heads-up technology you can fit in your pocket? People’s desire for more genuine connections is making an impact on app design. Apps that encourage social interaction, physical activity and just plain old getting off your phone are becoming more popular.

The rise in anti-app apps reveals people’s awareness of their overuse of heads-down technology. Apps like Offtime, Moment and Flipd provide users with analytics on their technology consumption, especially with social platforms like Facebook, and encourage you to focus on other social activities and tasks.

 

Carrot Reward Program-Phone

Photo: Healthy Families BC

 

There’s also a vast selection of heads-up apps that act as fitness trackers, designed to encourage social connections through physical activity. Hotseat is a good example of a physical activity app that recognizes the importance of short, frequent breaks at the workplace. Its goal is to to get employees away from their screens for short bursts throughout the day and enhance colleague relationships through exercise and competition. Similarly, Carrot connects friends to create collaborative fitness goals. Successful challenges are met with rewards points for experiential programs like SCENE and Aeroplan Miles.

 

Augmented Reality Apps

Pokémon Go’s popularity spurred conversations on how augmented reality games and apps reflect our social tendencies. Even though Pokémon Go encourages players to get outside and interact face-to-face with players, a UBC study found that the least successful players tend to self-identify as introverted and socially awkward. The research points to a niche in gaming or other apps—adapting augmented reality to maximize social opportunities, especially for those that struggle to make genuine connections. The most widely used AR apps certainly help people interact with their environment, but there is huge potential for augmented reality to target users that are seeking social interaction specifically.

Technology has made our world more connected than ever before. Ironically, the ease of that connection has left many feeling no more genuinely connected to others. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of life is obtaining meaningful human connections. Engaging more with heads-up technology over tech that socially isolates us helps bridge the gap between the quantity and quality of our interactions.

 

Interacting with Pokemon Go

Photo: The Arabian Marketer

 

People resonate with technology that fills the need for real, tangible connections rather than shallow ones. There seems to be an overarching theme with products and businesses that emphasize these shared experience models. From Seesaws to Pokémon Go, we are attracted to heads-up technology that mimics childlike ways of interacting with the world. Children aren’t as capable of tuning out their surroundings; they are field experts at creating connections with the world with zero barriers. Companies that are looking to incorporate more shared experiences into their products and services might need to consider social technologies that can be appreciated by kids and adults alike.

 

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8 Interactive Technologies of Future Shopping Malls

When Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store opened in SoHo in 2015, the retailer was known primarily for selling bags. Since introducing interactive technology for their customers on the floor, clothing sales tripled their expectations within a year.

Interactive technology in retail has been the driving theme behind our previous two blogs on shopping malls. We detailed how the offline retail industry has changed over the last decade and how it can adapt, in or out of lucrative holiday seasons. In addition to the impact of e-commerce and economic downturns, people’s spending habits have been influenced by an increasing desire for multisensory experiences, often in offline spaces.

Investing in interactive public art has a huge ROI both fiscally and culturally for their surrounding communities and businesses. Establishing a returning audience through these experiences is the answer to shopping malls’ survival. What exactly do these experiences look like in today’s malls? In the third and final article in our shopping mall series, we’re going to look at six different technologies you can find in the world’s most cutting-edge and successful shopping malls.

 

1. Interactive Mirrors

Oh, the drudgery of standing in line for a changing room only to be harassed by a sales associate as you struggle with a top—brands are now using interactivity to make changing room experiences fun and unique. Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in Manhattan implemented touch-screen mirrors that display your items and let you adjust the lighting. You can also request different sizes via touch-screen from your sales associate, who lets you know in real-time when they’re en route.

 

Photo: Marina Nazario/ Business Insider

 

Touch-screen mirrors are a good example of how retail spaces are mimicking the interactive aspects of e-commerce. Rebecca Minkoff’s store houses interactive mirrors with eBay’s inventory management software. The mirrors act like virtual personal style assistants, making suggestions and telling customers exactly what’s in stock. The interactivity also helps the company track spending habits while increasing sales.

 

2. Virtual Try-on

Less widespread than interactive mirrors is the virtual try-on mirror released by Samsung in 2015. The idea is to set up mirrors in non-retail spaces that provide customers with a hassle-free, interactive way to engage with products without stepping foot inside a store.

 

Photo: Business Wire

 

A  similar product was more recently patented by Amazon and acts like a full-body Snapchat filter that integrates virtual try-on with backdrops in various locations. The company claims to use the world’s most advanced technology in light and projection to bring online shopping models to an offline, participatory audience.

 

3. Interactive Window Displays

Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan installed an interactive window display for Father’s Day in 2015. The goal of the project was to stop foot traffic by offering a captivating participatory experience. It also provided an opportunity to make sales out of convenience; if customers liked the products they experienced, they could make purchases without taking extra time to go inside.

 

Photo: brandchannel

 

Similarly, French shoe retailer Repetto drew in foot traffic by using motion-tracking technology in an interactive window display. Audience motion created a holographic catalogue that reacted in real-time with customers. 

 

4. Immersive Screens

Microsoft deploys immersive screens in their stores that wrap around the entire retail space. A server synchronizes the images as they flow from screen to screen so the experience isn’t localized to one portion of the floor. The immersive display benefits stores in their versatility. They offer product information, educate viewers on tech topics, provide audio-visual entertainment, invite participation through activities like gaming, and update customers on localized events and news.

 

Photo: Matthew Carasella/Bloomingdale’s

 

5. Combining High-Tech Architecture and Light

Since the beginning, shopping malls have focused on interior space and retail, often neglecting their exterior appeal. Incorporating interactive public art, technology, light, and design into mall exteriors is another effective way of placemaking and drawing in customers.

 

Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall

 

The Bugis+ shopping mall in Singapore invested as much into its facade as its interior, and the result is a piece of architecture that is hard to pass by. The building features a curved, crystal-mesh facade. Lighting is integrated into the mesh and controlled with custom software to make it sparkle during the day and glow after sundown. It was designed to involve its surrounding community in an interactive experience; artists and the public can project messages and art into the crystalline architecture on a large-scale. This not only drives mall traffic but establishes the mall as a cultural and artistic place-maker in the region.

 

6. Sound and Light Shows and Simulated Experiences

The Mall of America offers a free 9-minute interactive light show every night that focuses on engaging and entertaining younger audiences. The show features lighting that is programmed to a variety of music styles. It can be viewed from various levels of the Mall’s concourse, but those dancing to the music on the ground floor experience spotlights and other lighting effects interacting with their movement in real-time. According to this mom, the multisensory show is effective in driving return traffic, especially for families seeking a unique, emotive experience.

 

 

Multisensory experiences are heightened even more intensely at MOA’s FlyOver America. At a small price, you can virtually tour the country’s most iconic landscapes and landmarks in an experience not unlike Brave New World’s feelies, with weather and scents incorporated with sound and visuals.

 

7. Experiential-only Retailers

The Grand Front, a six-story shopping mall in Osaka, Japan, sets itself apart from most other shopping malls on the planet through interactive technology. You won’t find your typical mall anchor stores at Grand Front—to get a lease there, retail spaces must offer technologically innovative, immersive experiences for consumers. Big brands exhibit concept stores that tackle innovative themes rather than their run-of-the-mill products.

 

Photos: Active Lab

 

The mall also houses the Innovation Lab, which showcases startup businesses that use mall-goers as guinea pigs to beta-test products like the aforementioned interactive mirrors. Grand Front Osaka also has a Knowledge Capital devoted to edutainment, bridging the gap between retail and multisensory experience. The mall is part of a larger goal not only to resurrect shopping mall longevity but to stimulate a declining tech sector among the city’s large aging population.

 

8. Robots

A 4-foot humanoid robot has started spicing up retail spaces around the world. “Pepper” is touted as the world’s first robot that understands and recognizes facial expressions, voice, body language and emotion, and is capable of carrying out a basic conversation. The robot is useful for a variety of settings including the home, but introducing the robot to retail space helps welcome and direct foot traffic in conjunction with human staff.

The robot has the added non-human benefits of interactively entertaining kids while their parents are browsing, and following up with customers after retail exchanges. The impact of Pepper on retail space is so promising that the first 1000 Peppers sold within their first minute on the market for about $1600 USD a piece.

Perhaps the most intriguing interactive component to Pepper in a retail space is its ability to style. The robot is programmed to understand how inventories of clothing items fit different body types and provide detailed personal style advice to individual customers. Too shy to get an opinion from a stranger? Just ask Pepper.

 

 

If you could describe the future of shopping malls in three words, they would be interactive public spaces. The world’s most thriving shopping centres stay ahead by offering technology and experiences that e-commerce can’t.

It’s not realistic for all shopping malls to adopt these expensive interactive technologies like robots and touch-screen mirrors—but making relatively small installation investments provides opportunities to engage with customers in new ways and create offline social platforms. These will have a huge impact on the success of shopping malls, not only economically, but culturally in their communities.

Any way you slice it, years of overbuilding means that not every mall will survive the coming generations. Those that do will undoubtedly make use of technology, art, and interactivity in their public spaces.

 

To learn more about a Limbic Media product that’s making public spaces interactive, check out Aurora.

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