Five ways design is changing the way we are entertained

Design is evolving the entertainment landscape at a phenomenal rate and in this piece we look at the impact of virtual reality, multi-sensory design and other influential trends.

Kidzania – an example of the Retailtainment trend

The connected world is driving our experience of entertainment. That entertainment needs to be more exciting and engaging than ever before and is typically curated and linked to social media. The pervasiveness of digital is the mega trend shaping the way consumers live and includes how they want to be entertained. The onus is on the provider – museum, theatre, festival, shop, game, app – to make the attraction or activity high quality, personalised and shareable.

Virtual reality

Inspired by British astronaut Tim Peake’s recent International Space Station voyage, NASA’s current mission to Jupiter and an intergalactic style revival in the fashion sphere, the Space Age is in vogue.

Alton Towers launched the world’s first virtual reality roller coaster earlier this year. The ride, Galactica is billed as a combination of physical flight and an emotional journey into space. The visuals have been designed to be synchronised to the thrilling twists, turns and loops of the rollercoaster and to recreate the sensation of hurtling through space. Visitors ride in a prone position along the 840-metre long track, to recreate the feeling of flying.


“For two minutes, our guests will be transported into space and we believe Galactica showcases the future for theme parks around the world – it’s a complete game changer,” said Alton Towers Resorts marketing director Gill Riley, at the time of launch. “Galactica uses ground breaking technology to give riders a breathtaking and completely unique rollercoaster experience.”

Museums and theatres are also using virtual reality technology in innovative ways that draw in the crowds and keep their brand front of mind. The British Museum recently partnered with Samsung and its Samsung Gear VR devices in a recreation of a Bronze Age site complete with 3D scans of items from the museum’s collection. At Somerset House, an exhibition centred on music artist Björk, Björk Digital, uses VR headsets in an attempt to forge greater emotional engagement between the audience and the work.

And The National Theatre, which sees virtual reality as an opportunity to engage existing audiences in different ways, has opened an Immersive Storytelling Studio to design and create richer and deeper visitor experiences.

Immersive gaming apps

A recent PWC report underlines how media is evolving to a direct-to-consumer world and the importance of the smartphone where it says “users spend two out of every three minutes of their digital media time and where apps dominate.” AR gaming apps include elements of both reality and fantasy. They leverage a smartphone’s GPS and camera functionality to provide a rich and engaging experience.


Based on the iconic Pokémon franchise designed for Nintendo Game Boy in the 1990s, Pokémon Go is an extremely successful augmented reality game built around the idea of inviting users to find and catch Pokémon characters in their real world surroundings. Pokémon Go is a multiplayer app, which uses geolocation technology. The game’s design encourages exploration, outdoor exercise and real world social connections and has had over 500 million downloads globally since it launched in July 2016.

Players explore their neighbourhoods and surrounding communities to “discover” Pokémon alongside friends and other players. They do this via an augmented reality map that tracks their movements in the real world. The craze has resulted in news headlines including drivers falling off cliffs trying to catch the characters and a new trend in babies being named after them: Roselia, Eevee and Onyx to name a few.

Milti-sensory design

Using emerging technologies, museums and cultural events are designing experiences that blend the senses to take audiences to new places – both enriching and refreshing traditional cultural experiences. Our senses are intertwined. Vision does not function independently from touch, taste or smell. Combining it with other senses can heighten a primarily visual entertainment experience.

In London, the new year of 2014 was ushered in by a multi-sensory fireworks display, including explosives people could touch and feel as well as see and hear. As red pyrotechnics exploded at the city’s Southbank area that night, the spectators were engulfed in a strawberry-flavoured cloud. There were also thousands of enormous bubbles filled with Seville orange flavoured smoke and edible banana confetti.

DISTRIBUTED FOR VODAFONE: Thousands of people attending New Year’s Eve celebrations in London, United Kingdom, on Tuesday 31 Dec. 2013 experienced the world's first multi-sensory fireworks display as Vodafone, in partnership with the Mayor of London, had created a spectacular display on the banks of the River Thames that they were able to taste and smell, as well as see and hear. New Year's Eve revelers could see, smell and taste clouds of apple, cherry and strawberry mist, peach snow, ‘floating oranges’ – thousands of enormous bubbles filled with Seville orange flavoured smoke. This coincided with the launch of Vodafone's London New Year’s Eve fireworks app, which used the smartphone camera and display to offer people all over the world an augmented reality experience synchronised with the display on the banks of the River Thames.  (Richard Chambury/AP Images for Vodafone)
Richard Chambury/AP Images for Vodafone

At last year’s art and music Merge Festival, also on London’s Southbank, visitors could enter an installation titled ‘The Chamber of Wishes’ where bioluminescence, one of the ocean’s great mysteries, was presented through a series of glass wishing bells filled with water containing the bioluminescent algae. They also experienced a mist-like atmosphere and the scents of the sea.

Novel and exciting experiences motivate people to share with their friends via social media and the “shareability” of immersive design content is built into each cultural experience.


The value of experience is now widely acknowledged as a key pillar of design for retail. As part of drive by the retail sphere to engage consumers in the physical store environment, shops are exploring new identities as places that deliver events, exhibitions, gigs and other happenings. It is also a place where the digital and the real world fuse. Retail specialist Mintel in its recent Fashion: Technology and Innovation report finds that 35% of consumers agree that new technology such as virtual reality headsets and iPads in-store would make the shopping experience more fun. This rises to 58% of young males aged 16-24 and 47% of men aged 25-44.

Aiming to serve a local community of tech fans, Apple’s new San Francisco flagship combines education, entertainment and community. A store that, in the words of the tech giant’s VP of retail Angela Ahrendts “Becomes one with the community.” Seeking to wow younger consumers, toyshop Hamley’s’ Moscow store opened in a blaze of glory last year with exciting hands-on features. These include a Go-Kart track, a full-scale replica of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon and a huge castle for children to explore.


Meanwhile, a Victorian-themed pub located at the end of the London Dungeon Museum attraction provides merchandise alongside authentic tipples, while music hall favourites are belted out on a piano and actors interact with the public.

Located in Westfield Shopping Centre, London, Kidzania is billed as  “a child-size city where the kids are in charge”. At this mini theme park adults can kick back while children get the chance to take part in more than 60 real-life role plays including the jobs of a dentist, surgeon or airline pilot.

Personalised entertainment services

Personalisation arguably offers a guiding light within the noisy world of choice consumers inhabit now. The wealth of consumer data now available to brands is helping to shape new products and services tailored to the individual.  In this ilk, personalised entertainment services are revolutionising the way we consume music, film and more.

Within the digital music stratosphere there is a profusion of streaming services with more content than we can listen to in a lifetime. Relying on algorithms – to recommend the right tunes to the right people – results in perfectly tailored playlists and maximum consumer engagement for the audiophile. For example, with its user-friendly desktop and smartphone apps, music streaming service Spotify seeks to woo users with daily and weekly playlists.

The Discover Weekly function on Spotify
The Discover Weekly function on Spotify

Each month brings new television shows and films to the Netflix site. Whether an individual has a penchant for the highly addictive Narcos crime drama; political intrigue in powerhouse series House of Cards or a taste for cooking documentary Chef’s Table, Netflix’s clever collaborative filtering techniques can give them more of what they like. Netflix – the world’s leading internet television network with over 86 million members in over 190 countries – leverages algorithms to recommend additional content and keep users tuning in.

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