Hansen Belyea Blog
Friday, July 14, 2017

Connecting to Understand

By Hansen Belyea

Virtual Reality. That term is polar you either love it or hate it. I was the latter, before I heard Thomas Wester speak. When you think of VR, it is typically centered around gamers and the tech industry. Then when Mr. Wester came on stage and talked about the idea of digitally walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, I was intrigued. He spoke about this underground movement of VR being used for empathy and understanding. He made a case that if technology is in the right hands, then it has an exorbitant amount of power behind it.
There are multiple organizations using VR to communicate to a broader audience. Project Empathy, Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and an Alzheimer’s research institute in the UK are all using VR to convey understanding of situations that happen daily. In the last example, we are guided through everyday tasks as an older woman who has developed Alzheimer’s, such as making tea and forgetting the order, or walking home by herself. In this experience you are a part of this reality and hear how the panic sets in. The VR is transporting you to feel how frustrating these daily tasks can be and pulling a heart string or two while watching exactly how it feels.
Developers are creating applications of this technology that is allowing us to walk down a street as a white male and then immediately walk the same street as a black female. The technology is just beginning to incorporate daily differences you don’t normally think about. It is starting to create visuals that us as designers may overlook on a daily basis and allowing us to truly connect with our audience in the most effective way.
With the breakthroughs in VR we are coming closer to truly understanding and advancing beyond a gaming platform. It’s interesting to consider what VR could mean not only for us as individuals having empathy, but as marketers better understanding and relating to our audiences.