Cory Clarke Discusses the Next Generation of Interactivity at SEGD Xlab 2016

The Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) has long been a leading voice in the world of design, driven by the mission to create unifying experiences through the lens of the visual communications. At SEGD’s annual Xlab conference, professionals from across the globe gather to peculate and discuss the future of design and technology.

This year, Cory Clarke, Partner and Technology Practice Lead at VSA, joins the event as he hosts a discussion on how a new generation of interaction will (and really has already begun to) shape digital experiences. Interested in learning more about the future of this space, we decided to sit down with Cory to discuss this subject.

Q: It seems like this upcoming generation of interaction has everybody talking—designers, developers and marketers alike. What about this new age of technology sets it apart from those previous?

While technology for more immersive, off-screen experiences has been available for  for quite some time now, the commoditization of these technologies is changing the way we market. Conversational interactions are becoming increasingly more popular with hardware like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, lowering the barrier between consumer and content/products. This type of experience is much more fluid than previous digital experiences, eliminating the “middle man” (i.e., phones and computers) that require the user to initiate an interaction.

What’s more, these devices can be  more contextually aware of the user, their surroundings and what their needs are. Object, motion and facial recognition allow for a more universally accessible experience, again requiring less of the user.

Q: Where are we seeing these new experiences implemented, and how are they being used?

Not surprisingly, a lot of these experiences are being led  by  the “Internet of Things” and the startups around it. Another area we’re seeing take advantage of these developments is with retailers, hospitality and business that bridge both online and offline. . These companies are looking at their buyer journey from an omni-channel perspective and thinking, how can these experiences open up new touchpoints and sales channels? And, these retailers are starting to think of digital and physical channels not just as additive complements, but multipliers of each other that create experiences greater than either one alone. Using experiential interactions, businesses can create more shopping experiences that expand beyond both ecommerce and physical stores.

Q: What are some of the unique ways you’ve seen brands/businesses leveraging this type of spatial interaction?

Some of the coolest executions I’ve seen in this space are the most technically simple, but serve the user in a very specific context. For example, TESCO (a Korean grocery chain in subways and UK airports) created an installation that aimed to increase sales with minimal real estate investment. To do this, they developed interactive digital displays targeted at commuters. The displays looked like a typical grocery store shelf with all the staple products, and commuters passing by could pick out items for purchase. The items would then be delivered to their home, waiting for them when they arrive. This interaction is simple in terms of technology, but it brilliantly serves the context in which it’s placed—consumers in a rush to get home, stuck waiting for their transportation to arrive.

Q: The technology driving these new forms of interaction have been available for a while, what do you think is allowing for more mainstream application of them now?

Simply put, the business rules are changing around the applications of these. There are two factors contributing to the growth of experiential interfaces: (1) The barrier for entry is much lower and (2) a shift attribution models.

While the technologies that process voice and gesture interaction (audio/visual recognition and natural language processing) have existed for a while, they haven’t been readily available before. In the past, if you wanted to do natural language processing, you would need a deep understanding of the science behind it. Now, there are SaaS APIs such as IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Flow that make it easy to add this intelligent interaction to any application.

Additionally, business and retailers are breaking down the silos between digital and physical channels of revenue attribution. They’re realizing that typical buying behavior runs across channels, meaning that a consumer might see something online, go to the store and try it out, then buy it via their phone. That omni-channel buyer journey requires that attribution models shift to show revenue across all channels. This means there’s incentive to share spend across channels, finding ways for investments to have impact in online and offline scenarios—and these experiential interfaces live at that intersection.

Q: What advice can you offer to help marketers prepare for this new age of technology?

Marketers need to be thinking well beyond the screen now, and should instead be focusing on how the developing experiential space can help their efforts reach more people in a more efficient manner. These interactive experiences are really augmenting human touch points, making them more impactful and valuable. They also require less push toward the consumer and offer more in-context availability, which makes products and content more timely and relevant to the consumer.

Q: We’ve said it before—Design is having its moment. What are some of the biggest changes we are seeing in the world of design as this new generation of interaction advances?

We’re really seeing the biggest change in design with the emergence  of “zero-user interface” platforms (i.e., the Echo). Without a screen (or any visual elements at all), how do brands convey their identity? Designers and marketers alike are having to re-evaluate how they uphold their brand behaviors, as the definition of design continues to shift further away from identity and visuals, and more into the experiential interaction.

Cory’s panel, Next Gen Interaction: Next Gen Thinking, will take place Friday, Oct. 28 at 4:20 p.m. Visit the SEGD Xlab website to purchase tickets or learn more.

Cory has pursued a career that bridges the technology and design fields, and he continues to steer technology innovation for VSA. His experience ranges from technology VP at an internet startup and leading his own software consultancy to academic research and teaching at Columbia University and Pratt Institute. He also holds several patents in software and building design. In 2006, Cory co-founded Tender Creative, which became part of VSA Partners in fall of 2012. He was the digital lead on VSA’s work with MAC Cosmetics, Rolex and Ralph Lauren.