Limbic Media

Limbic Media

Tag: multisensory

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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Santa slays: Why holiday shopping mall displays are worth investing in

As cherry trees begin blossoming along Victoria’s boulevards, thoughts of Christmas planning are at least several months down the road for the average person. However, big-time holiday event planners like shopping malls and other public centers are already getting the ball rolling for the 2018 season.

Our previous article discussed how shopping malls are adapting their public spaces to survive coming generations. Malls are finding themselves in a consumer landscape that is spending more on multisensory experiences and online shopping, and they must adapt their public spaces accordingly. Christmas is the most lucrative time of the year to invest in that change, and the easiest way to do it is through interactive holiday displays. This is the second in our series on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.

 

Santa reading his list

 

Offline Displays Offer Something That E-Commerce Can’t 

With an increased move to e-commerce, fearful malls are making or breaking their success by transforming their public spaces into immersive art displays and edutainment centers that incorporate participatory technology. Since the recession in 2008, consumers have less disposable income but are also more inclined to spend experientially.

 

Recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace.

 

Now that the millennial generation is becoming parents, they are channeling those experiential values through their kids as well. Shopping malls are waking up to the fact that offering interactive components to their space not only attracts customers but keeps them returning. These displays offer something consumers can’t get by shopping online, and they’re willing to take the trip to brick-and-mortar stores to get the experience.

Shopping online is seen as a big threat to offline material consumption. For the time being, however, recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace—and all it takes is a short visit to shopping malls in early December to see that there is still a huge demand for over the holidays. Investing in non-retail, interactive public displays provides a huge opportunity for shopping malls to raise their profile not only during the season but for the rest of the year.

While adapting space to meet these needs is worth the year-round investment, shopping malls create displays during the Christmas season almost by default—so standing out and creating something that other public or offline spaces aren’t is critical to stay afloat. You just can’t get a spot on Santa’s lap over the web.

 

Christmas shopping mall

 

It’s a Win-Win For Consumers and Non-Retail Business

It’s no surprise that shopping malls make a killing over the holidays. However, a deeper look into the holiday display industry reveals a seasonal employment sector that is surprisingly lucrative. When you picture the 5000 mall Santas that are estimated to be employed across the United States every holiday season, it’s the stuff of an obscure holiday-themed VICE documentary on American subcultures. Mall Santas rake in anything from $10,000-$60,000 USD over the five to six-week holiday season, some even earning $500 USD per hour.  

And it’s not just Santas that benefit from seasonal employment. There are at least two professional Santa Claus schools in the United States—one in Denver, Colorado, and the “Harvard” of Santa Schools, employing faculties that have been pumping out an annual class of bearded graduates as early as 1937. Behind every holiday mall display is also a team of event planners, photographers, lighting installers, set designers, and assistants to attend the millions of Santa-display customers every year.

 

One mall can earn up to $1-million per season directly from a single Santa display. That doesn’t include the retail revenue from visitors who shopped while they came in to see the display.

 

Santa mall displays are becoming more sophisticated and interactive than ever before. The aforementioned Santa schools include workshops on the latest gadgets to get Santas familiarized with the kind of edutainment kids are after, and to offer an extra level of interactivity on site. Phone alerts allow customers to avoid lineups or queue specifically for a black, white, Asian, or ASL-speaking Santa. Some bigger malls even have themed interactive Frozen or Shrek displays to occupy customers while they wait. Holiday displays are more engaging for visitors and as a result, increasingly profitable for their organizers.

 

Counting money

 

The ROI is Huge

The ROI of having an engaging holiday-themed display at a shopping mall is staggering. One mall can earn up to $1-million per season directly from a single Santa display. That doesn’t include the retail revenue from visitors who shopped while they came in to see the display. The trade group International Council of Shopping Centers found that 70% of shoppers made purchases while they were at the mall specifically to see Santa. If an interactive display has the potential to draw that kind of return for six weeks of the year, it makes sense that shopping malls are investing more in non-seasonal immersive art and participatory displays.

Monetary returns on investing in displays are convincing, but there’s also huge value in intangible returns that is overlooked, especially when aesthetics are often perceived as secondary to profits.

A mixed-use building in LA’s Koreatown neighbourhood, housing residential and retail space over a busy subway, invested $75,000—or 0.06% of the development’s total cost—into a large-scale mural on the building’s facade. The public art ended up getting featured on the cover of LA Times’ news and culture section, not only marketing the display but also giving the developer invaluable international recognition as a cultural influencer. The display ended up in dozens of publications, became a popular location for photo and video shoot and news backdrops, and served as a marketing image for the transit authority.

Similarly, the California Department of Transportation developed an HQ in a nearby neighbourhood. The development required 1% of its total cost to be dedicated to public art, as mandated by the State of California. The result was an installation of architectural neon and argon light tubes that emulate car tail lights in motion. The public art was a big hit. The Department receives a regular income from photographers and filmmakers who use the space as a site (there are definite Bladerunner vibes), and the architectural light installation has gained a global reputation in the public art world.

 

…not investing in the impact of public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

 

While these examples aren’t holiday-themed (displays can usually be adapted quite easily, however), they confirm that the ROI for non-retail investments in public space is well worth it, both fiscally and intangibly—and these public art examples aren’t even interactive! When displays, holiday-themed or otherwise, are raised to a participatory level that the public can actually engage with, that value is elevated even more. Not only does it benefit those commissioning and creating the art, but it also fosters a sense of community and placemaking for those in direct contact with it.

 

Present addressed from Santa

 

The Takeaways

In an uncertain offline retail market, some shopping malls might balk at the idea of investing a substantial sum of money into holiday displays. However, in line with Henry Ford’s saying that a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time, not investing in the impact of public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

Holiday displays like Santas that offer a mixture of public art, interactivity, and technology helps malls stand out from other public spaces, profit the most from retail and employ more people seasonally. Because holiday displays also have the potential to raise a shopping mall’s profile, investments into public art, particularly interactive public art, are well worth the return if they can also adapt to non-seasonal audiences that value multisensory experiences outside the home.

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