23 January 2020

What unforgettable means from a digital perspective

Originally posted on December 18th, 2019, as part of the The Creative Engagement Group Team Takeover on LinkedIn.

Spencer Conway, Head of Digital & Immersive, and Chris Nicholls, Digital Creative Director, discuss how we at The Creative Engagement Group create unforgettable.

Spen: I’m Spencer Conway, or Spen to my friends. I’m head of Digital and Immersive at The Creative Engagement Group and today I’m chatting to Chris Nicholls, our Digital Creative Director.


Spen: So, Mark’s talked a bit about “Create Unforgettable” in a previous post. If I asked you to describe what unforgettable means from a digital perspective what would you say? What is it?


Chris: Well, it’s not any one thing. It’s a play of multiple factors coming together to create unforgettable digital experiences. I’ve always found film to be an endless source of inspiration. There are so many choreographed components that create an overall mood and impression. From the performances, to the grading and the soundscape. For me, film represents one of our greatest apexes of artistry and one we all feel we’re informed enough to comment on.

The term “digital” is broad, and in many ways more complicated, so I’m not going to dive into any specific platform; however, I will offer my ‘top three’ with film as my vehicle – bear with me!


Spen: By “vehicle” do you mean that we should think of digital experiences in the same way we might think about how films are made?


Chris: Exactly. Call it what you like, essence, quality or craft, the daily digital touchpoints we engage with are carefully honed experiences built on millions of pounds worth of development. It may come as no surprise, but I’ve always had a soft spot for tools that are beautifully constructed to fulfil their humble function – day-in and day-out – be it a chair, a kitchen knife or the latest release of IOS. So, first on my film set would be craft. Users have an almost ‘sixth sense’ when it comes to unearthing it. For a digital experience to work well, you need to focus on the quality and craft of the details. In other words, be clear about the function and fall head over heels for the form. If you’re a client do more than read the script. Interrogate the UI, try every button, test the search and pull everything apart. It’s your product, after all. That burger stack matters much more than you think.

Next in line would be innovation. Some of my favourite film directors were the great innovators of their time, they defined genres. If they couldn’t find the camera they needed, they created one. They had this pioneering spirit to get the film made no matter what the studios thought. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy of Easy Riders Raging Bulls, it’s a fascinating insight into the golden age of film. So, innovation for me is about being brave, about taking a stance and letting the right people experiment. No one likes a reboot, right? The originals in most cases are always the best. Why? Because they set the standard. The guys in my team are a blend of engineers, designers, and developers. But they’re ALL brilliant thinkers. Great digital strives to be pioneering supported by clients who are prepared to trust new thinking and new ways of working to create new experiences. Everyone loves the purity of a great idea, right? It’s universal law. Close your eyes and tell me you can’t recall the Jaws poster? Now try that with the Facebook homepage.


Spen: That’s true.


Chris: While we’re on Jaws, that brings me nicely to my final ingredient of this trilogy and the one that often gets overlooked – sound. Why should our digital experiences be any different? Okay, we may not have the budget to enlist the services of John Williams but with the emergence of so much talent within the homegrown music industry and universities, we have access to form crucial partnerships. Sound, as I have mentioned, is so important, and I’m not talking about da, da, da, dah (Intel). I’m talking about haptic feedback and brand familiarity. Have a look at your favourite app or operating system:  does sound feature? If it does, why do those sounds work? What do they add to the experience? Two simple notes, E and F: the iconic Jaws theme. The heavy breath or slash of a glowing sabre. They conjure thousands of emotions and memories.

I couldn’t end this bit without a nod to my top three. So, in case you’re wondering, Jaws, Sexy Beast and Leon. Guilty film pleasure, Highlander – the one with the ‘Spanish peacock.’


Spen: So, we’ve established you love film and I can see how it relates to creating great digital experiences. That echoes something Mark said earlier about everything being an experience.  There’s so much great work out there so tell me, how do you go about actually creating unforgettable in digital?


Chris: So, I’ve given you some of the ingredients, but how do we combine them and turn them into something unforgettable. Where do we start?

It may be cliched, but the most essential thing to consider with any digital experience is the non-digital – the users or your audience – we’re back to films again! Sometimes as designers and developers we can almost become too familiar with the technology we develop, discuss and refine every day. It’s a language we live and breathe; a constant exchange of ideas and discoveries; but like everything, it’s good to come up for air.

Last week I attended a very productive workshop with a client. We’d introduced them to our left-field approach to their particular people problem which was built around a progressive VR experience. Everything was going well, and it was clear that they were all extremely excited about the opportunity of ‘having a go’ in VR, apart from one lady. She had her hair up, and there was no way she was taking it down for the demo – rightly so. What did this tell me? Think OUTSIDE the user journey and not just the hackneyed headlines or stops along the way. Digital is nothing without the physical. Is it right to wear an Oculus headset for 30 minutes? How should that feel? The physical space, how does that look? How else can we stimulate the senses? There are always physical opportunities or environmental obstacles to consider.

Another ingredient would be the narrative. Stories define us. They allow us to connect and exchange our own experiences and information. Great stories become great once they are shared, then they become conversations. It’s the same when it comes to creating unforgettable digital.

In the digital team, we never think of digital in terms of siloed chapters, we always envisage the work as part of something greater. The word ‘digital’ for me is simply the connective tissue that brings everything together. Those chapters or experiences are just part of a much more extensive library. So, we interrogate the narrative and make sure the conversations are relevant, that they are going to land and make sense to people. When we like things, the word spreads, the story continues. The next part of the story may be minutes away, or it may be in the future – but make time to think about it.

The last thing I’m going to mention is prototyping. Yes, I know it can sometimes feel like an onerous gate to the cool stuff, but it is critical to the success of any digital product. We build grey box environments (grey boxes in the 3D environment to trial the theory) and working demos for clients to test and the experience and interactions. We also enlist preferred suppliers to test for us. But if you want a great digital experience, you need to test and retest on your intended users. When you’re confident your prototype works, build it and test it again!

Creating unforgettable digital experiences for me is quite simple. The micro and the macro. The inventive and the functional. It all coexists. It all needs curious consideration.


Spen: Sounds simple when you say it like that. Before I let you go, what was your first unforgettable digital experience?


Chris: Okay, I may well reveal too much about my age here, but I’m from a time that required cassettes to load games – think Stranger Things. So, most digital-firsts I have experienced existed in parallel with my career as a designer, or at Christmas time as a kid. And like most of us, I have moved with the tech.

Sometimes the advancements in technology bleed and develop at such velocity that it’s easy to forget the past. When I first learnt about AR (augmented reality), it was as if someone said: ‘I’ve invented this thing called film, what do you want to do?’ Well, AR is incredibly powerful, and we’re scratching the surface, but there’s always a lens or iPad in your path.

Recently, I tried an Oculus Quest experience we’re working on. For the first time in a long time, my mind was blown. One of the problems with VR is being tethered to a computer with a graphics card powerful enough to run the experience. The Quest cuts this chord, but that’s not it. Holding a handset in your hands to control the experience has always felt somewhat cumbersome. Any moment now, though, a new release is expected to drop in the form of handset-less interaction.

The removal of handsets will allow for a more intricate and authentic exploration of an environment – think Minority Report. Not essentially being blindfolded will enable people to investigate everything freely. The gloves are off, literally. It feels like the gap between augmented and real is getting tantalisingly closer. Add one to your Christmas list, or ‘borrow’ one from the kids.

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