Last week I gave a presentation about trends we’ve been seeing in conversations with our clients since the lockdowns began. A few people who missed that presentation have asked about it, so I’ve decided to write up the contents here for anyone else who’s interested.

To get the most out of this article, it’s helpful to understand the work we do here at Spinifex, so if you’re not familiar with that have a quick look at our portfolio – we create uniquely engaging digital experiences that help our clients better engage with their customers, and we very often do that in physical spaces like events, theme parks and corporate offices.

Four Trends

Obviously the appeal of and demand for large public spaces is way down. And we’ve seen a commensurate increase in interest for smaller, less public spaces such as Customer Experience Centers. We’ve been building CECs for clients for years, but we’re starting to see new demand in this space to make up for the lack of large customer-facing events. CECs allow companies to create controlled environments and to limit access to those spaces with pre-vetted visitor lists. Moreover, they can create and enforce robust policies and procedures for those visitors, ensuring that everyone is able to feel safe within the CEC.

Touchscreens have long been a staple of digital experiences in general, and permanent installations in particular. And they probably won’t be completely replaced anytime soon, but with the current concerns about virus transmission, another unsurprising trend is an increasing interest in alternatives for touchscreens. That’s primarily led to implementation of more voice-based interfaces. Voice interaction completely eliminates physical contact, which is key. This trend is buoyed by improving technologies in the underlying AI that processes voice input, as well as by users’ increasing comfort with voice interactions thanks to the increased adoption of Alexa, Siri and other digital assistants.

For nerds like me who geek out over the types of futuristic interfaces we’ve been dreaming up in movies and games, it might seem surprising that we haven’t also seen a similar increase in demand for gesture-based interactions. But with a little thought it does make sense – almost 20 years after Minority Report, there’s really still no commonly agreed-upon gestural lexicon. That missing element pretty much precludes the creation of a gesture interface that would be simple and intuitive for untrained users. So implementation of gesture within CECs remains fairly niche.

Another fairly unsurprising and related trend is concern about shared devices in general. And so we’ve seen far more concentration on creating interaction models than can be consumed on customers’ own smartphones. This is something we’ve been doing for many years at large tradeshows, but it works nicely for CECs and other permanent installations as well. These browser-based interfaces can make use of Wi-Fi geofencing and can utilize captive portals, which provides a lot of control and reporting capabilities. And they can be used to provide interaction with other large-format screens installed into the space – LED walls, projection systems, LCD arrays, etc.

Even more than before the coronavirus crisis, we’re finding that our clients want to get away from the conventional and find opportunities to be innovative in their messaging strategies. In addition to wanting to engage their customers in new ways, they also want to be highly considerate of those customers’ new preferences and new concerns. And above all they want to make sure that they can provide peace of mind while still maintaining their all-important customer relationships.

Three Form Factors

On top of these broad trends we’ve observed, I wanted to dig a little deeper into a few specific form factors that we’ve seen come up over and over again in our recent client conversations.

First is the implementation of UV light sanitizing technologies. We’ve seen many clients implement hand-held UV wands for disinfecting surfaces that may get touched by multiple people. We’ve also had numerous conversations about products like Cleanbox that use UV to sanitize shared devices like VR headsets at a fairly high throughput. And we’ve even seen plans for permanently installed UV lights into rooms to allow them to have a sanitize cycle in between groups of visitors. It’s hard to say whether this will all be a brief fad or a more permanent trend, but it does seem prudent to provide some plan for sanitizing shared spaces in the near and intermediate terms.

One exciting form factor we’ve seen a lot of interest in is the pop-out tractor trailer. Even prior to Covid-19 we’ve created several mobile exhibitions like this, but given that it could be quite some time before the world of trade shows and other public events comes back to normal, creating your customer experience within a truck instead of a tradeshow booth is a compelling option for many brands. There’s a surprisingly large space inside once both sides are expanded, and we can use the same sorts of exhibit design techniques we’d use for a museum to create an engaging but linear and physically distanced customer experience. And they can be quite efficient to operate, allowing a single person to drive, set-up and manage the entire experience.

Another form factor we’ve been asked about a lot lately is the pop-up drive-in cinema. Obviously drive-in theaters are on-trend right now and in many places they are helping to replace traditional movie theaters. It’s a great way to gather together a relatively large number of people into a shared experience but keep them physically distanced within their own vehicles. And they appeal to people’s sense of comfort right now, with their americana and post-war vibe. But just because you gather those people around a large screen doesn’t mean you need to show them a movie (or only show them a movie) – you can use a captive portal and a browser-based UI to serve up an interactive experience, just like you might inside your Customer Experience Center.

So those are some of the trends we’ve been seeing in conversations with our clients. I hope it’s been useful to you. And if you’re interested in implementing any of these types of experiences, feel free to reach out!

In case you’re interested in seeing the visuals from my deck, it’s up on SlideShare here.