I’m going to shuffle out on limb here, and take a moment to ask when exactly we decided everything – from a reception lobby to an exhibition to any old corner of a field at an outdoor event – needed to be an ‘immersive experience’?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to see (and sometimes experience) amazing spaces of all shapes and sizes which have been thoughtfully designed to wow me. Or distract, or provoke or teach me something come to that.

And we do need more great (and small) experiences – physical places and spaces – to cheer us up or help us learn about something. But can we not describe every broom cupboard or scrubby piece of ‘public realm’ (don’t get me started on that. And when exactly did any old bit of open space suddenly become this? It’s not the term per se that catches but the idea that it offers some token of ownership when it clearly doesn’t. ‘It’s not your realm, but aren’t I public spirited to allow you to use this bit? But not that bit. That’s not yours.’ Anyway) as an ‘immersive experience’.

Being immersed – involving yourself deeply in a particular activity – isn’t what these spaces do. They’re fleeting. Ephemeral. Attention-grabbing. The effect is short-lived and while it lives on in your mind, I bet the very moment you’re inside an ‘immersive experience’ you reach for your mobile. Attracted, yes. But not immersed.

For me the ability to ignore that distraction while you’re doing something? That’s an immersive experience, right there.

And most things are designed to distract rather than help us learn something.

A truly immersive experience – like writing, listening to music, daydreaming – while not significant ‘events’, transport us and leave us slightly transformed (hopefully for the better) as a result.

So before you jump into trying to find the right words for something, had a careful think about the best way of describing it. I appreciate it’s hard when you’re trying to grab people’s attention to something, you want to hit the spot and the buzzword’s are always handy.

But I’m afraid that sometimes an egress aperture solution is just a door.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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