Imagine, if you can, a three-story-high, multi-sensory tower, sitting, like a downed spaceship on New York City’s 5th Avenue. Visible from the street and impossible to ignore, bright white lights call attention to 29 huge LED displays and 30 directional speakers blaring heartbeat sound effects to the narration of Olympic medalist and New York Marathon champion Shalone Flanagan. She breathlessly describes the feel of her shoes hitting the pavement and her ponytail rhythmically banging against her jersey.
Then, to a mix of flashing lights and a cacophony of images, BMX stuntman Nigel Sylvester recounts his first visit to Times Square. So went the Beacon Sculpture set up by Hovercraft Studio for Nike's House of Innovation store in New York City, one of many art-meets-commerce, shopping-meets-digital experiences that Portland, Oregon’s Hovercraft Studio has done for their clients (and especially for the US sports giant).
“We are decoupling the notion that digital in retail means creating an intersection or relationship with a screen of some kind,” says Zack Teachout, who founded the company in 2009 after cutting his teeth on the East Coast with important work in retail and environmental design. “Whether it’s a touch screen, an LED streaming content or one in the palm of your own hand,” Teachout continues, “we’ve been folding more and more physical interfaces and hands free interactions into our projects and have had some exciting results as the technologies have been less overt and more seamlessly integrated to elevate an experience.”
Coming out of Covid, we’re expecting to see people excited to get out and experience brick and mortar, especially from brands that are adapting to the new landscape and giving purpose beyond transaction.” Another example of this is the AR experience Hovercraft installed (again) at Nke's House of Innovation: Nike shoppers can use their mobile phones to learn more about Nike products and interact with animated wildlife. By walking through an interactive geozone with a digital checklist, shoppers can track their progress through a series of AR challenges. By using their phones to scan QR codes located on the floor as they move throughout the space, shoppers will reveal animated figures and product information. Upon completion, they are rewarded with a physical gift brought to them by a masked store associate and a digital AR model of the Nike 'ACG Hiker' mascot they can keep on their phone.
Using past research and design elements to help brands get comfortable and fit their budgets has become part of Hovercraft’s day to day mission to bring all aspects of retail together in a state of technological awe. “A lot of the work we do goes beyond the transactional relationship that brands and customers have traditionally had in brick and mortar. This is critical because ecomm now dominates this relationship space because of convenience, selection and availability.” And Hovercraft plans to continue blowing our minds, making shopping fun again in a world champing at the bit to get back out into brick and mortar retail. Now that’s something we didn’t think we’d hear in 2021.