Mixed customer needs require mixed reality solutions

Waleed El Zoghbi | 09/15/2021

Designing for a post-pandemic world means designing for a fluid existence. We know learning, working, socializing and shopping will likely take shape through a hybrid of digital interactions and in-person experiences for a long time to come.

Mixed reality solutions offer new answers to your customers’ changing needs in this unique environment — if you can bring folks around to explore the potential. That paradigm shift begins when we reduce the friction that new tools often represent to create mixed reality solutions that feel effortlessly seamless.

Think about art. When you connect with a painting in such a way that you can actually feel what the artist was trying to communicate, the medium itself disappears while the emotion remains.

Consider texting. When you intuitively reach for your phone to effortlessly share that photo with grandma, the device itself fades into the background. It’s the ease and simplicity of the experience that resonates.

If we can move mixed reality in that direction, we can help users seize on these tools — and their many use cases well beyond entertainment — to learn, work, socialize or shop better, even as the world around us ebbs and flows in a state of flux. Shifting the technical complexity of mixed reality solutions behind the scenes allows users to experience these tools more effectively. This is about designing less, while providing users the same understanding of how to use these solutions well.

Embedding three tenets within your design process can help you transform perceptions around mixed reality tools and encourage broader adoption as we continue to rely on virtual experiences in all aspects of our day:

Focus on designs that are enabled by tech but led by human needs. Tech is always changing. But it tends to evolve down a particular path. How so? Solutions that are feature or outcome led can find users tumbling down a veritable rabbit hole of narrowly defined innovation vectors. When smaller microchips and smaller batteries enabled smaller phone sizes, innovation trended toward the smallest phone possible, whether that was useful or not. That vector hit a limit before ultimately shifting to focus on bigger screen sizes, thus bigger phones (phablet, anyone?).

Focusing mixed reality development and design around human realities instead can move organizations away from that predictable path to deliver better overall experiences. Going forward, teams will need to connect naturally in the boardroom — even if half the group ultimately continues to work from home. Teachers will need to bring students into a lab — even if they’re isolating remotely. Building mixed reality capabilities that help folks close those gaps can prove the tools out with a much broader audience.

Dig into the tech people already have to do more with it. We now have more tech to work with than at any other time in history. Our phones alone offer up a plethora of under-used possibilities that, given the right design, even low-tech users can capitalize on. Shifting the narrative around those capabilities by designing helpful new ways for people to make use of them can help your customers understand the power of mixed reality.

Consider the possibilities of onboarding someone to a team through a mixed reality tour of the office — one that brings them into the room alongside other new recruits. Imagine the ways you could train someone to use heavy equipment safely without jeopardizing a construction site. Doing more with the tools people already have to build out the potential use cases is a step towards eliminating the sticking points around mixed reality adoption.

Embrace mixed reality as a means of cultivating inclusive design. When the pandemic made accessibility a challenge for the general population, we solved for it quickly. Overnight, everything from picking up groceries to accessing health services became a struggle for people who’d never faced these kinds of limitations before. Suddenly, businesses repositioned accessibility from nice-to-have to absolute necessity.

The way we addressed those burning issues through powerfully innovative solutions for the masses now shows there’s no reason we can’t design for accessibility across the broader spectrum of need. That includes the 15% of the world’s population who already lived with some form of a disability long before the pandemic began. That’s more than 1 billion people for whom barriers will continue to exist long after the temporary challenges of the pandemic subside.

Because mixed reality disrupts typical ways of doing things, we can employ it now to deliberately design end-to-end experiences that are fundamentally more inclusive for all people. That could mean navigating everything from office work to social services with an ease of access that’s never been possible. Bridging passionate advocacy for digital accessibility with mixed reality uses that enable more people to access services, experiences and products could be a real game changer in the post-pandemic world.

Right now, we can capitalize on the hybrid nature of the way things are to show the world how they could be. So many of us have been innovating day over day throughout the pandemic. Harness that momentum. Reposition experience design through a mixed reality lens. Push the limits of what you know and change up conceptual models of design. Get a holistic view that connects the technical architecture with the ethical framework of your design.

Above all — start prototyping now.