Environments Studio: Reflections (p2)

11/29: Digital Comes to Physical

As the prevalence of digital media in our physical environments increases daily, what is the role and/or responsibility of designers in shaping our environments?

My friend recently bought a pair of sneakers (she was excited, they were on sale) that were advertised as “iridescent.” In normal daylight or indoor lighting, they appear shiny and a little holographic, but when you take a picture with flash, they are completely illuminated in the photo. It’s fun, and it makes it more exciting to share her shoes through Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, once you find out how they work, just being around her shoes makes you want to take out your phone and interact with them. Although this is just a single product and not an entire environment, her shoes kept reminding me of this prompt and the idea of daily hybrid environments. What if more and more of our clothing, or the general textiles around us, could create an experience augmented by technology?

That Nike footwear designer that decided to create these flashy shoes was probably thinking about the advantages of being popular and shareable on social media. More and more, I see fashion/footwear/packaging/product designers creating things that look especially good in little squares, because they realize how important social media is to a company’s marketing strategy.

Expanding now to environment design, I think its critical that designers are aware of the global online sharing culture when they are creating physical spaces. I’ve read a couple recent articles about modern stage design, and a lot of concert designers are focusing on what the event will look like in someone’s feed, to the point where that is a significant tenet in the overall user experience.

There are good and bad things to social media, but one aspect I’m personally most critical of is the fact that it can pull you almost completely out of the physical world in into a virtual “hole.” As an environment designer, I think it is important to create experiences that encourage a person to use their smart device, or technology in general, as a tool to engage in the physical world. I think this is where AR, especially mixed reality, really fits in, since it (hopefully) enriches a person’s interaction in space but doesn’t pull them too far from actual reality. I hope that with my future designs, I will push experience in the direction of humanity, and hopefully counteract the toxic part of social media right now.

Written by

Designer. Currently at Asana, previously at Khan Academy. Language + Data + Digital + Print.

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