Immersion, storytelling and experience: Reasons not to rely on technology

In designing content experiences and stories, your goal should be to make the method as invisible as possible. An immersive experience is one that has no barriers. Yet we fail to create great experiences, or great stories. Let’s look at what this really means.

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Image used under license. (Source.)

What are barriers to seamless experience?

Technology, as much as we all love it, can put a lot of barriers in front of us. Those of us in first world cities don’t tend to see them as much as everyone else. (Unless you’re hard of hearing, have poor eyesight, or are actually disabled.) Accessibility is one massive barrier to overcome. But so is just getting past ourselves.

Technology barriers include poor (slow, patchy, interrupted) internet connections, no internet connections, old browsers, no speakers, slow machines, just to name a few. Simply by having outdated browsers you will have an inability to see media, interact with media, and/​or get the full gist of what is going on. If you only have experiences available online, there will be those who can’t have them at all.

But people are also barriers. We are our own worst enemies. We structure websites poorly (i.e. in ways that suit us instead of ways that suit our audiences); we design forms that ask for non-​essential information; we don’t think about an experience from search to completion. And then if we gain business leads, our non-​internet-​facing systems are poor, our customer service is bad, and on it goes.

At every stage there is something to trip us up.

Instead of fixing seamless experiences, we also tend to focus on non-​essential things, like creating a story. Many believe that the technology is going to make it better. It won’t.

The way the story is told is more important than its format

If you are striving to design a great experience, and your brand is driving down Storytelling Lane, remember that the immersive quality of a story is in the telling. It’s not the technology.

You can’t rely on the technology to create great stories for you. Only the art of writing and developing stories will do that.

As Frank Rose points out in a similar discussion about immersive media and storytelling,

We become immersed because the artistry taps into an aspect of human nature that goes far beyond the mere desire to be entertained.

And, furthermore, he states that:

Companies whose leaders can’t quite decide ‘who we are’ will not have such a guidepost [to corporate identity].

He’s right. If the story you tell yourself to stay on the right path is a contradiction, any story that you put into the world isn’t going to be authentic or as effective. And if your story is not entertaining — as all stories must be — or the technology gets in its way, then the entire experience will crumble at your feet.

You can’t expect story to create immersion if the experience is poor. The two go hand-​in-​hand, are in fact interdependent. Paradoxically, you can get better results with a great experience and no story than you can with story and a crappy experience.

Are you ready for immersive content?

The best advice I can give you is to stop and think before you start chasing the holy grail of immersion. It might not be right for you yet, especially if the experiences you create will detract from what you’re creating. To find out, take this quiz and see where your attention really needs to go »

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