Design Standards for Place-Based Immersive Experiences

Lead Research Organisation: Glasgow School of Art
Department Name: School of Simulation and Visualisation


The i-word, "immersion", is increasingly in demand from clients in visitor and cultural attractions. This can mean many things, including large video-mapped installations, 360 films, ambisonic sound or explorations into VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) in-site specific contexts. However, we find that there are a number of obstacles to its wider take-up: audience perception, technical constraints, the day-to-day operational concerns of managers, investment in technology and the demands of creating truly immersive media.

Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and digital studio ISOdesign propose an interdisciplinary pilot project in the context of a 'Next Generation of Immersive Experiences' that takes a holistic view of the issues around practical design, development and deployment of an Immersive Experience related to the themes of Place and Memory. It will focus on creating a prototype immersive exhibit using the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art as an exemplar.

Our proposed outputs as part of the project will be not only be a digital AR/VR experience, but also a preliminary set of standards relating to this technology which will help mitigate real and perceived obstacles that currently obstruct deployment of this technology more widely throughout the sector for diverse user-groups.

This is an innovative approach to furthering the deployment of a new generation of immersive content, experiences, and services across the creative industries in that it focuses not solely on the end-user but on how industry professionals are critical voices that must be included in the conversation if projects are to be successful.

Planned Impact

To reiterate in the context of Impact, the main research and development activities we propose to undertake within this project are three-fold;
-To create a digital immersive experience using AR and VR techniques based on the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art building as a case-study,
-To undertake user-testing consultations with diverse groups/individuals regarding potential obstacles for embracing/deploying immersive technologies,
-To create a set of preliminary industry standards for the use of Immersive technologies in terms of architectural/heritage/ arts interpretation.

The Impact of each of these, the beneficiaries and how they might benefit are summarised as follows [please see also the 'Academic and Non-Academic beneficiaries' section of this form and Pathways to Impact attachment]:

Adult heritage/museum/cultural visitors and users: Our proposed research will impact this group as it will facilitate the more wide-spread availability and utilisation of immersive experiences for 'general users' through overcoming obstacles and potential barriers to the use, exploitation and scaling up of research outputs in the VR/AR/Immersive world. In essence, developing a set of standards will allow heritage professionals to more easily utilise the technology, to bring VR/AR immersive experiences to the fore for a general audience to engage with, enjoy and be inspired by.

Children [primary aged; 8-11]: Children require a tailored response in relation to experiencing Immersive environments; by undertaking specific user-testing with groups of children (and teachers/carers) we can attempt to create standards for the unique requirements of children in terms of technical issues such as difference in ocular range, and qualitative issues such as engagement with narrative in different ways. This will open up immersive experiences for children in an engaging, accessible, safe way and have a huge impact on their experience of AR/VR.

Teenage & young-adult audiences: A major potential impact of creating a pilot Immersive Experience using the Mackintosh building is to have an impact on new audiences in the understanding and appreciation of culture, heritage, architecture and design. Young-adult and teenage audiences in particular are historically more challenging to engage in heritage activities, and new and innovative new technologies such as VR/AR potentially provide a more successful way of engaging with this audience group. The project plan will include a comprehensive engagement plan promoting the digital content to young adult audience sectors in specific, targeted ways.

Design Industry professionals: Through developing a set of industry standards this project can potentially assist professional designers and developers involved with this technology to overcome and better understand the complexities involved in creating and deploying AR/VR/Immersive experiences, allowing it to be exploited more widely and more successfully amongst audiences.

Industry professionals, Architecture sector: Page\Park architects, the firm undertaking the conservation of the Mackintosh building, will participate in our user-testing and have expressed an interest in the unique aspect of this research project in that it utilises BIM data and other digital assets produced as part of a major building conservation project in new and innovative ways. Project outcomes will be disseminated via architecture profession networks to encourage future exploration of this field.

Industry heritage professionals including specifically International: We will undertake user-testing with museum designers, visitor experience operators, exhibitions staff and an international heritage manager in the context of this group being facilitators, key stakeholders and influencers in terms of the practical deployment of Immersive Experiences.


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Description For our Next Generation of Immersive Experiences award we used a user-centred design approach to develop an immersive, story-driven VR experience around the restoration (and subsequent destruction) of sculptural casts within Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Building.

As a result of our methodological approach we have developed a user-centred linear VR experience, approximately 5 minutes in duration, where users are taken through a series of virtual spaces where they learn about the history, mythology, initial damage, restoration and ultimate destruction of one of the key plaster casts, the Laocoon. By using object and environmental scans and digital materials from the GSA archive we have created a rich, emotionally engaging recreation of the Laocoon's history
Exploitation Route We hope that the initial set of user design guidelines we developed for this project could be used by designers and developers to further inform the development of immersive experiences for a wider range of audiences in a museum context.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description As the project finished recently, there are signs of emerging impact. For example, the industrial partner we worked with on the project is now using the initial framework we developed in their other commercial projects. In addition, we now wish to extend the work and outcomes of this first project by engaging in a series of dissemination and impact activities around our concept of a virtual learning environment:. The aim of this virtual studio is to allow distinct user groups such as art students, school children, visitors to galleries and museums the opportunity to "deep dive" into content rich immersive virtual environments using a range of archival assets such as 3D object scans, videos, images and digital documents. These activities are centred on the central aims of designing and evaluating a proof-of-concept virtual learning studio environment and explore new business models and potential revenue streams from this type of application in art and design education (tertiary and secondary school) and wider audience engagement for cultural institutions.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

Description Studio 39: A Virtual Reality Learning Environment
Amount £32,137 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010548/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 10/2019
Description I was interviewed by the BBC in February 2019 to discuss my project and this was shown on BBC breakfast news. I was also invited to be part of the UKRI Research Mission to SXSW in March 2019 where I showcased m the immersive experience.. In addition, we have also taken to immersive experience into schools as well. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact BBC news - interviewed by for BBC breakfast where they showed part of our immersive experience demo as part of their package
UKRI Research Mission to SXSW - I was invited to be part of this delegation to showcase the best examples of research work in immersive experiences in the UK. Over 260 people attended the official event .
Milngavie primary school - took the immersive experience demo to this school and spoke about the project to a group of primary 7 schoolchildren (57 pupils) and allowed them to try the demo
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description This event was called Beyond: The R & D conferences for the creative industries which was held in Edinburgh in November 20-21st 2019. This event was organised by the AHRC creative industries team. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was asked to showcase the VR experience that was the main output from my Design standards project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019