In its beginning, Random Studio was focused on digital production and the creation of ‘things for the screen’ – websites, microsites and the like. 16 years later, though, the Amsterdam experience design team has one foot in the virtual domain and the other in the physical, a balancing act choreographed in the name of humanizing technology. At Frame Awards 2020, we asked founder Daan Lucas to explain how spatial design can provide a context for technology and interaction to actually build more authentic relationships between brand and audience.
We want to make work that invites people to play, to connect with each other – to be aware of the space that they're in
‘I want to use technology to bring people away from their screens into the physical world,’ Random Studio Daan Lucas said during the talk. ‘We want to make work that invites people to play, to connect with each other – to be aware of the space that they're in. We do that by trying to create new experiences.’ Indeed, Random Studio has orchestrated many an experience in the retail world, with pop-ups, exhibitions and installations for likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Nike and MINI. But Lucas believes that his team’s holistic approach to creating phygital experiences has broad implications for how we perceive – and inhabit – spaces in general.
‘We're thinking about what's happening in the domain that we operate in, and that domain is where people and technology and space start interacting,’ he explained. ‘What we see now is that technology is everywhere – when I started the company, we were still struggling with download issues, you know – we couldn't build a website it was too heavy because it was impossible, and now technology is everywhere. We're consuming digital media in an in a really intense way. Bill Gates said that everything in life will be touched by digital in 15 years – so it is really a digital revolution that is happening now, and we're still in it. It has a huge impact on how we connect as human beings and how we connect with ourselves but also how we connect with the environment that we are currently in.’
It's a lot easier to be present in a space when you use all your senses
Random Studio did research on how our usage of social media, apps and devices have impacted the way this connection happens. One area of study was the ‘simulated’ interaction that outlets like Instagram and Facebook provide, and how our realities are coloured by a constant data stream – of our own creation – fed back to us by tech giants. Another was the phenomenon that the lack of sensory input we get in the virtual realm can affect our true sense of presence: ‘The detector of life becomes a smooth piece of glass, whereas in the real world, I can use my senses – I feel the temperature here, I know where you guys are at, I can sense, I can see, I can smell – it's a lot easier to be present in a space when you use all your senses.’ And they looked in to how devices render spatial boundaries obsolete: with phones, a bathroom becomes an office, a restaurant becomes a friend’s living room and so on. ‘It becomes really hard to connect with space when any space can be any space – you’re always at home but you’re never at home.’
So what does it take to bring people back into the physical world, as Lucas aims for? A modular infrastructure can go a long way: his team wrote a piece of software that connects hardware such as climate control, speakers, sensors and lighting to help brands achieve interactive spaces that are both tactile and technical. With that kind of flexibility and opportunity for customization, Lucas explained, brands can think about the experience they want to provide down to the smallest details – and rather than consumers having to adjust to the space they’re in, the space adjusts to them. Intimidating, unwelcoming stores turn into approachable environments: they feel human.
I'm very interested to see if we can create spaces where you feel invited and so become part of the space
Now, the studio is experimenting with haptic technologies to get people more comfortable with interacting with screens in public settings. ‘I'm very interested to see if we can create spaces where you feel invited and so become part of the space – there then comes a dialogue between the brand and you as a visitor so that you’re actually not a visitor anymore, you become a participant to it. I think this is definitely where things are moving.’