All R&D, no spin-offs
R&D has a great way of embedding one thing in another, in another, then turning it into something completely unexpected. Sometimes these combinations and embeddings don’t last the test of time, like calculator watches:
Other combinations of things have become the norm and we don’t really remember the before times, like when MP3 players and phones (and calculators, and cameras, and digital organizers, etc etc) merged into the almighty smartphone:
Now these are pretty normal device combinations to us now, and I think we sometimes forget people are busy everyday trying to make the next smartphone (and hopefully not the next calculator watch). But, it’s awesome that there are still really incredible things happening on that front that everyone should be checking out. Everything from every window becoming a solar panel, when RGB LEDs met WiFi and light bulbs, or learning thermostats. These are really just a few amazing things that are being developed/are already developed and in full flight on the market.
But what about the mass markets?
But where are these cool combinations happening in immersive design? Why are there not amazing immersive design products on the market in full force? Why is every installation a start-to-finish custom job? Can the industry develop over the long-term like this?
So many other technology-based industries have one side of the industry working on R&D and prototypes, making really cool & unusual tech demos, and then there is another side of the industry working on spin-offs. Spin-offs are R&D/prototypes that are polished and taken to market, usually by a third-party that didn’t originally develop the prototype. Something I find that we’re missing in immersive design is this spin-off/polish path. Everything we do feels unstable, built-from-scratch, and is innately one-off. I don’t think there’s a problem if part of the industry does this while the other part works on polishing and standardizing products/services, but it definitely feels dangerous if the whole industry just sits on the R&D/one-off side of things.
Many groups are putting together amazing prototypes or R&D projects, such as MIT Media Labs, but after a while the projects are either forgotten when the students graduate, or they fizzle out as interest is put into other/newer projects. A similar situation occurs in installation design and development. Client projects are essentially custom built from the ground up every single time. You try to reuse whatever you can from previous works, but it’s often moot. Neither of these situations seem to bode well for longevity of an industry.
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So what do we do?
Hard to say, but here’s some things that might help would be more focus on product development than services. Or more push for a-la-carte services combined with custom services, instead of always-custom solutions. These may not sound like the “artistic” things to do, and we have a great number of artists in the field that are important to push boundaries, but I think for the long term sustainability of immersive design, the average person needs to be able to go into an Ikea and buy an immersive home suite for their living room or kitchen. We can’t just always work for large agencies and gigantic brands.