One consequence of living in a digital era is that design is no longer solely the preserve of the physical realm. Immaterial objects – from apps to interfaces, video games and websites – have become a thriving space for designers to show their creative flair and technical ability.
Design trends, such as the windows-based user interfaces of PCs or Apple’s rejection of skeuomorphism, have defined the aesthetics of our digital lives and shaped our experiences of work and play.
More recently, the design sector has been playing with newer tools: virtual reality and augmented reality (VR and AR) – technologies that herald entirely new encounters and, potentially, new worlds.
In the case of VR, 2016 seems destined to be a seminal year. The consumer market is being flooded with prototype and plug-and-play VR headsets, including Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, PlayStation VR and Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Unsurprisingly then, companies, institutions and individuals have started exploring how the technology could enhance fields from communication and education to shopping and advertising.
Some British companies have already shown how virtual reality could significantly innovate storytelling in gaming and in the movie industry; create new social experiences; transform the way we think about theatrical productions; and become an entirely new method of receiving training in complex disciplines such as anatomy and surgery.
And it is increasingly clear how VR and AR are about more than just novelty or visual pyrotechnics – they are about experience, feelings and emotions. As one of the nominating judges, CEO and co-founder of Visualise, Henry Stuart, puts it: “VR has an immense ability to connect emotionally with its viewer.”
Similarly, Samantha Kingston, co-founder of Virtual Umbrella, says that some VR experiences can even “challenge your moral perception”.
Granted, we have a way to go before these tools are adopted en masse. VR headsets are still expensive and technically imperfect, with limited polished products and apps. But WIRED likes to acknowledge the achievements that will become the harbingers of the future.
That is why our third category in the WIRED Audi Innovation Awards is dedicated to Innovation in Experience Design – with a particular focus on the fields of VR and AR. We want to celebrate the companies, individuals and institutions that are using technology to change the way we all experience the world – whether in meatspace or the new versions of reality.
Stuart heads up Visualise, a VR agency delivering ground-breaking virtual reality.
Nelly Ben Hayoun
A 2015 WIRED Innovation Fellow and the founder of the International Space Orchestra.
Pursey runs Flying Object, a creative agency for videos, installations and interactive work.
Jones pioneers 360° journalism and immersive storytelling using VR platforms.
Luis heads up the London studio of IDEO, the global design company.
Kingston co-founded Virtual Umbrella, a London-based VR experience agency.
McGee co-founded special-effects firm Framestore, which worked on Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Grandon is the head of the digital team at gov.uk, the single access point of HM Government services.
Breaking Fourth creates VR dramas and immersive theatre productions, in which the barrier between the audience and stage is removed. Its debut, Ctrl, launched in July at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Marshmallow Laser Feast
MLF uses digital visual tools to create art installations and commercial projects, including for VR education, and a visual software that predicts ageing. Its clients include Saatchi & Saatchi and McLaren.
what3words produces a unique combination of three words to identify every 3m2 on the planet. The startup aims to solve multiple problems that stem from poor global addressing and badly mapped rural locations.
Founded by Ed Barton, Curiscope is democratising augmented- and virtual-reality experiences, and making education more interactive with its Virtuali-Tee biology app. The app was first funded on Kickstarter.
Digital studio ustwo develops games and apps, such as Monument Valley and Land’s End, and technical platforms like Wayfindr – an audio navigation system for partially sighted and blind people. Other projects include music discovery platform DICE, and thought journal Moodnotes.
A science-fiction artist, filmmaker and body architect, Lucy McRae’s recent projects include The Astronaut Aerobics Institute – a fictional futuristic day spa prepping the human body for space travel.
Using ultrasound, Ultrahaptics is able to create tactile sensations in mid-air. Without needing gloves or attachments, tactile feelings are projected on to users’ hands, enabling touch-free control systems.
Founded by Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl, the collaborative design lab creates immersive works, such as a horticultural spa and a public dome from which to view a projection of the cosmos. Clients include Paul McCartney, EDF, Swarovski, Lexus Hybrid and TED.