Blog: Can technology become a barrier to engagement?

Mark Gass, global creative director at live communications agency WRG gives his thoughts on the potential barriers of event technology.

Ricoh's stand at Drupa 2016
Ricoh's stand at Drupa 2016

If you came to our stand for Ricoh at this year's Drupa, you might have noticed something a bit odd about it. There was something missing. After wandering around a bit you might have been able to put your finger on it; where were all the screens, the VR headsets, the interactive touchscreens, the motion-detection games and so on that you’d seen on all the other stands? You would have noticed that they were missing because they weren’t there.

Why? What were we thinking? Was it because we were frightened by technology? Or was it because we didn’t understand it? Or we couldn’t afford it? Or was it even more shocking than that: we believed we didn’t need it?

Now that might strike some as a kind of heresy nowadays but hear us out. Anyone who’s seen our work knows we love a bit of kit. Used in the right way it can be incredibly powerful. But is it always the only way?

The wow factor

The problem is our ‘wow’ levels are set pretty high these days. The world is awash with technology and there’s very little nowadays that you can’t do on a smartphone. AR, VR, 360 degree views, whatever.... when it comes to stands it has to be pretty amazing to even raise a ‘share’. To borrow a great line from Pixar’s The Incredibles, ‘when everyone’s super, no one will be.’

Worst of all, we’re all wired for ‘instant’ nowadays. Even 140 characters is too long for the Snapchat generation. We struggle to stay engaged for long enough to take the content in. Interactive technology, surprisingly, also tends to get low levels of engagement at shows. Why? Is it because it lacks novelty? Or is it because we can’t be bothered to figure it out? Or is it because it wants to access our social media accounts? And do we avoid that VR experience because it might make us look silly? Do we quietly back away or avoid it and look for someone to talk to?

Can technology become a barrier to engagement?

That’s why after looking closely at what we wanted to say we decided to give technology a pass this time and go old school. We went large on print and environmental graphics. And not just because it was a print show. We like print because it’s clear. It works. It’s comfortable. It doesn’t erect barriers. It also gave our messaging gravitas. When a subject is really important we still tend to print it out to take away and read at our leisure. Print is also very tactile. It has weight. We can feel it. It somehow feels more human and this linked into something even more special: it helped start conversations. Honest to God, real conversations with a human.

It didn’t just stop at print. In each of the zones on the stand we had a hub with huge benches rammed with all sorts of other executions. Even the digital workflow systems were printed on a huge wall as an environmental graphic. The expectation might have been that it would be on an interactive screen but it wasn’t. That’s what made it stand out. And what about the experience? Weren’t we worried that we might come over as old-fashioned and dull? Actually the feedback was great. The stand felt more relaxed and
friendly. Think browsing Waterstones versus Dixons. You get the point.

So what did we learn?

A great compelling story is what grabs the attention, not necessarily the screen or device you use to tell it on. Tech can be quite a solitary experience if you’re not careful. Above all, don’t be afraid of seeming out of touch if you choose to go low-tech. It can be very refreshing. You won’t overwhelm your visitors, there will be no barriers to engagement and best of all, they may leave with something they’ll really value: a real human experience. Isn’t that why they came in the first place?

Comment below to let us know what you think.

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