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Tag: interactive technology

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 UseHeads-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.

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.


Brian Solis

Photo: Leading Authorities

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.”

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 Jam Tent-Discover Tectoria 2018

Photo: CrackerJackFlash

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.

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.


Photo: Colossal

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.


Carrot Reward Program-Phone

Photo: Healthy Families BC

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.

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.


Interacting with Pokemon Go

Photo: The Arabian Marketer

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.

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.


Photo: Marina Nazario/ Business Insider

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.

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.


Photo: Business Wire

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.

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.


Photo: brandchannel

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.

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. 



Photo: Matthew Carasella/Bloomingdale’s

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: Patrick Bingham-Hall

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 place making and drawing in customers.

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.


Photos: Active Lab

7. Experiential-only retailers

The Grand Front, a six-storey 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.

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 largely ageing 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 basic conversation. The robot is useful in 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.

Interactive Technology and the Future of Shopping Malls as Public Spaces


 Just blocks from Limbic Media in Victoria, BC stands a $72 million construction site that will become a shiny new Mayfair Shopping Centre next fall. It might be hard to find reasoning behind such an investment when the smell of death seems to be in the air with shopping malls. Are shopping malls just another blip on the capitalist timeline, like newspapers or drive-ins? Or are they a cultural necessity that needs to adapt to a changing consumer landscape? An in-depth look at successful shopping malls in today’s market points to the latter—and they’re adapting through technology, interactivity, and place making. This is the first in a series of Limbic Media articles on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.

Where does shopping mall culture come from?

The role of shopping malls has shifted from generation to generation. Unless you’re riding a roller coaster at the West Edmonton Mall, we now usually think of shopping malls strictly as consumption centres; places we can’t afford to be lured into for the sake of browsing or hanging out, unless we’re in-and-out for something specific. In 2012, venture capitalist Chris Dixon wrote that the future of “offline commerce will serve only two purposes: immediacy (stuff you need right away), and experiences (showroom, fun venues). All other commerce will happen online.” With this changing tide, it’s easy to forget the history behind shopping malls as social placemakers.


The earliest shopping malls in North America opened in the 1920s to mirror the automobile industry’s rise. Malls provided easy car-accessible centres for family outings. As suburban invasions of the 1950s moved people away from social hubs in city centres, architects like Victor Gruen, famous for pioneering shopping mall design, saw this cultural shift as an opportunity. Malls could drive consumer traffic by getting people out of their cars and into  commercial spaces conducive to public social interaction in a landscape where there was none. If people had an interactive and engaging place to shop in, they would keep coming back.


By the early 1980s, large centres like the West Edmonton Mall usually contained social, non-retail areas like open-air restaurants, skating rinks and even themed amusement parks. Around this time, shopping malls were eating up 50% of retail profits across the United States.


Why are shopping malls “dying?”

Flash forward to the post-recession years. Retail outlets like Sears, Macy’s, and Target, the anchor stores of shopping malls, have been filing bankruptcy and closing their doors en masse. When it comes to the demise of shopping malls, in concurrence with Dixon’s prediction, online retail is blamed as the culprit.


People are spending more of their dollars online for its convenience and the credibility that online reviews provide. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon’s sales grew from $16 billion to $80 billion, almost four times what Sears made in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce accounted for 11.6% of total retail sales that same year, which seems fairly in-line with the number of mall closures—predicted at 15% over the next decade in the United States.


Accusing e-commerce exclusively for killing malls is probably an oversimplification. Mall visits declined about 50% in the few years after 2008. With the economic crash, people generally had less disposable income—but their attitudes about consumption, especially among millennials, also changed. People increasingly value multisensory experiences over, or alongside of, the attainment of goods.


There’s also the issue of real estate. When anchor stores like Sears and Target close, they leave hundreds of thousands of empty square footage for over-built malls to fill. Finding tenants who are willing to sign expensive leases in a less-than-promising retail market is hard, and malls have to shutter. It might be more accurate to say then that shopping mall deaths are due more directly to the misuse and cost of space rather than a massive move of pedestrian traffic to an online marketplace, at least for the time being.


The increasing death of shopping malls seems concomitant with the death of a certain sense of community that malls originally set out to encourage in the 1950s. Inner cities are becoming more unaffordable and more communities are dispersed in urban sprawls. People have less time to join or establish community groups because they are working ever harder to support themselves and their families, and they now have online social platforms to engage in at their convenience. Ironically, the increase of virtual connection has left us feeling no less socially isolated—some would argue even more isolated—than before the rise of social platforms via the internet.



What are malls doing to reverse the trend?

The new demand for experiential consumption combined with real estate barriers means that shopping malls need to reinvent their spaces if they hope to survive the coming generations. Malls with the same stores and brands on repeat are boring to customers. Centers need to create unique experiences and spaces to attract visitors and keep them returning.


One solution is to embrace digital technologies that are seen as a threat to offline shopping and use them to transform shopping malls into multisensory experiences. Malls are reimagining their public spaces into entertainment centres where audiences can participate. By offering this kind of social currency to consumers who value multisensory experiences over physical products, shopping malls increase return foot traffic. Another approach is to add learning components to multisensory displays. Visitors are given opportunities to learn about products while they’re engaging with them, which is especially effective with younger audiences.


In the last decade, shopping malls have seen a rising demand for “edutainment.” Edutainment centers combine themed entertainment with experiential learning and high-tech games. 53.8% of all indoor entertainment centers in the world, mainly by the companies Legoland Discovery Centers and KidZania, opened between 2010-2015. This growth reflects the positive effect that combining immersive edutainment and technology with retail have on returning visitors and overall demand for multi-use shopping malls. Because of increased vacancies from anchor store failure, edutainers also don’t have to worry about purchasing land or creating infrastructure for their business—it’s a win-win situation.


But shopping malls don’t have to go so far as full-fledged edutainment centers to increase foot traffic. Spaces filled not only with art, but immersive art and displays, are the most likely to attract and keep visitors around. Brands and commercial spaces are catching onto the idea of placemaking by using interactive and immersive art to engage and educate audiences about their products. To create a narrative for the new Ford Fiesta, Ford created a pitch-black maze to create a tactile experience and a 360º mapping projection to virtually immerse viewers in the new model.


North American retail outlets are catching up to new immersive technologies to offer shoppers mall experiences that they can’t achieve at home or through e-commerce. Interactive mirrors, navigation touch-screens platforms, robots, augmented reality displays and smartphone apps are being adopted by shopping malls to create an emotive, participatory experience for consumers. Interactive technologies like apps also help malls keep track of foot traffic and find out what’s working.


What is the future of shopping malls as public spaces?

Ironically, the future of shopping malls relies on a combination of both emerging and traditional values: creating interactive, engaging experiences through technology, and using them to foster a sense of connection and community that malls seem to have lost since their inception.


If malls hope to survive, they need to invest in non-retail spaces that involve people and focus on community-centric marketing and placemaking. Without necessarily investing in massive edutainment ventures or technologies, the return of investing in public art and displays is huge, even if its main purpose is merely to raise the space’s profile and attract foot traffic. Much to the reprieve of shopping malls, the demand for non-retail experiences is still very much alive and well, even if brick-and-mortar retail is on the decline as an exclusive use of space. 

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