Immersion, immersive design, and themed spaces have become interchangeable expressions that all hint at the same idea: an experience that takes you away from your reality. That is a difficult task in an age where people are increasingly critical of theatrical detail, and increasingly aware that the experience is designed to shape their perceptions. With those factors working against you at every turn, how do you convince someone that they have been transported to another world?
The truth of immersion is that it doesn’t need to be complete, or flawless. While experts in the field will be able to point out inconsistencies and flaws in an immersive space, those details are not evident when the space is experienced holistically, by an average person. The goal of the space is to convince ENOUGH of the mind that reality has changed so that the mind can begin to fill in the gaps, flaws, and inconsistencies with its own rationale.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
People experience an immersive suspension of disbelief while watching a film, where light and sound transport their minds into a new reality within the plot. But where film and other media have a linear journey and a fixed runtime to tell their story, the experience of space must be immediately immersive and deliver a consistent experience no matter the pace or direction of a guest.
True immersion is possible because of the power of the mind. In themed spaces, we are passively aware that we’re surrounded by the wires and plumbing that breathe life into the space, but that awareness is easily overcome by the mind’s willingness to believe. Our brains gravitate toward the simpler reality, where concerns like “what am I going to eat for my next meal” and “I’ll have to go back to work when this is over” are replaced with simple, immediate thoughts like “I’m in a forest. I wonder what’s around the corner?”
Suffice to say, a person may not always realize when they’ve become “immersed”, but they will always be aware of when they are not immersed. The following entries are advice on achieving immersion from Ruben Perez, Plantscape Commercial Silk’s lead Architect, who has developed themed spaces all over North America.
SELL THE STORY – Immersive design is not only about building a highly detailed and highly polished environment. The ultimate purpose of a themed space is to sell a cohesive, believable story that follows its own internal logic. Every addition to the space must be examined under the lens of the story, and find a justification for itself within the active mythology of the experience.
SEE THE SPACE FROM MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES – People coming from different backgrounds will appreciate your immersive space in different ways. For example, you may consider plants to simply be plants, while any botanist or landscape designer could tell you that coniferous trees have no place in a jungle setting – that’s something that could ruin the experience from their nuanced perspective. The more eyes you have on a project, the more secure it becomes in its ability to suspend disbelief.
DON’T BREAK – In most cases, the golden rule is to maintain immersion without breaking it. Some experiences go so far as to completely remove the influence of the outside world by creating spaces without windows or visual connection so that even the effects of night and day or the flow of time can be catered to the experience. At a minimum, this means you must avoid obvious “reminders” of the real world, such as exposed wires, plumbing, or utilities.
DETAILS MATTER – While an immersive space does not require perfection, the average guest expects a certain level of detail that holds up to inspection. Green plants can no longer be “represented” by leaf-shaped pieces of plastic, and must instead adhere to rules set by nature that consider texture, growth patterns, nuanced coloration, and pose.