Kelsey Schwenk is Engagement Director at Studio Thick. Thick partner with progressive businesses and organisations to reimagine their strategies, products and services for a brighter future. Kelsey leads client partnerships, guides innovation, and ensures we’re having a diverse impact on the world. We got excited with Kelsey recently talking about our experiments in virtual reality, so we spoke over Hangouts about how the world will use VR, why agencies like Thick will utilise it, and how creatives like The X Gene will execute it.
Simon J Green: Thanks for joining me Kels! So first, tell me about the exposure you and Thick have had to VR so far, even if it’s only a little. It is an emerging comms channel, after all!
Kelsey Schwenk: In our office we have an Oculus that we’ve been playing around with, but we keep up to date on what’s going on in the world with it, mostly. At the V21 Conference this year, it’s all anyone was talking about. It’s interesting – most people were looking for ways to use the tech to do something cool, not the other way around. I’m thinking it should be, “Here, I have this problem, I wish I had a way to solve it” and have VR be the solution.
S: So at the moment VR is an answer to a question no one’s yet asking? That’s why I think relationships with agencies like Thick are important. You are finding the problems businesses have. Being aware of VR’s limitations and opportunities means you can see if those problems might be solved by VR.
K: One group wanted to simulate off-roading in a truck, so they created this elaborate experience… when it probably would have cost less to just drive the truck off road in real life. It is like creating a really elaborate kids ride, and gaming was the big push, obviously.
S: Seems like the easiest way to get people aware and inside the experience. I’ve seen a VR rally driving experience. You sit next to the driver as he goes nuts in the dirt. Virtual Reality Ventures, our VR partner, always use the rollercoaster demo to quickly give people an idea of the tech.
K: One of the best examples I’ve heard of is actually not “customer” facing though. It was an agency using VR to show their clients what their designs would look like in a concept store that didn’t exist yet, so they could ‘feel’ what the space looked like before committing to the design.
Meeting Robert Redford
Ivy League universities have been moving those globe-style live-action cameras
through their campuses, to give newly admitted students the chance to walk through before they actually get there. Tours of places and sites seems like the most obvious application – do you think it’s crucial for increasing the public’s awareness of the tech?
K: Awareness isn’t the issue… it’s access. And finding the right application that is going to make everyone out there download the app or get Google Cardboard. Tourism is an easy application for the tech, particularly for experiences where photos and videos don’t sell the experience enough. I think it has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream though – it’s almost a novelty at the moment. I could actually see it being more beneficial to having remote meetings where interpersonal exchanges are key. It’s just not the same on a web-cam.
S: What does the virtual reality space give: or more, what do you want from remote meetings, that you don’t get with today’s experience?
K: It allows you to be/move naturally, as you would in real space – you don’t have to alter your natural behaviours (other than wearing a headset). So conversations would flow more naturally, I think. And seeing reactions and emotions. When you’re giving a presentation to a blank screen, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing a good job.
S: So you could turn to someone and speak, and that would be a cue to everyone else, a cue that’s missing from today’s remote meetings?
K: Exactly! But I see entertainment as the driver – that’s where the innovation will come from.
S: True! In movies, meetings are always held with VR figures, but really it’s for the exact same reason we’re discussing: so the viewer (and the fake people in the SHIELD Security Council) can see who’s talking to whom, and convey meaning beyond a face and words.
Stories That Explode in Virtual Reality
K: So is YouTube
. I think it’s going to change the types of videos we see… just like GoPro did a few years ago. Hopefully, by democratising the technology, we can allow the innovative creators in the world a new vehicle/medium to show their stuff.
S: When we’ve been playing with VR, we’ve been pushing the live action(moving cameras through a space, and letting the user move through that, instead of 3D models, environments and animations). Experimenting with how the viewer will experience the content, how we get them to look where we need them to look to tell story. But when we think as producers or for business development, we’re acutely aware that the browser-based, flattened version of interaction is most likely.
K: It’s a whole new level of cinematography. I think that’s the difference between a GIF and a movie. Both are valid forms of entertainment, but for entirely different purposes… (and budgets).
S: Almost like arthouse cinema and blockbusters – a smaller selection of dedicated audience will take up the full virtual reality experience. But when we want lots of people to see it, Facebook and YouTube will be our besties.
K: Yup. As long as they can make it easy to access and understand and create.
Telling stories through this VR medium: we’ve been pointed to some excellent white papers by the video game industry on how to direct stories in a sandbox world
They’ve been playing with it the longest, I think. I remember seeing demos of it at PAX years ago
The Creative Struggle
S: So for those creators you’re talking about – agencies like Thick will be the ones making use of us to find solutions to client problems. What do the creators need to know, and what do the clients need to know, to make that work best?
K: The biggest thing is to find the problem to solve. Not invent a problem just because you want to use the tech. Finding an experience or a story that you want to tell that you just can’t do any other way. Otherwise it’s just playing to a fad. In the work we do at Thick, it’s finding the right channel to communicate your insights, or testing something out that would be too expensive to build otherwise! That’s probably how I see us using it in the future: using it as a tool, not the end experience.
S: Testing in a Virtual Reality sandbox. With VR audiences.
K: …and then translating that into ‘real life’, yes. Like a prototype.
S: You’d get the global audiences of the internet in a more ‘real’ appearance.
K: Well, you can test context. So you know what it’s like to be searching on a mobile phone on a busy tram. Or how you walk through a concept store, or at a construction site. It all depends on the context of your solution.
S: We could test movies in a virtual cinema, and build into the program the ability of the audience that logs in to still play with their phone – and see how bored people get of the movie. How much time is spent actually watching the screen.
K: The context in which we use our screens is very important (and often overlooked) in design and testing.
Wrap It Up Kids
S: Well thank you very much Kelsey. This is all excellent, juicy stuff. Anything you want to add in summary?
K: Just that I’m excited to see what the masses do with this tech – I have a feeling we won’t know the real potential until we make it super accessible to everyone.
S: We need the VR version of what the iPhone did for smart phones.
K: Or GoPro for video, yes.