It’s said the best way to learn a new language is by throwing yourself into the environment completely: total immersion.
A growing cadre of brands is applying that idea to experiences on their websites.
The approach — immersive web design — blends traditional informative qualities with entertainment elements. In-depth graphics, integrated video and interactive features help make visitors forget they’re browsing a web page. “These experiences create fun and intrigue and become more memorable for the visitor,” says Aron Ezra, CEO of online marketing company OfferCraft.
Ezra says immersive design is undergoing a renaissance of sorts today, thanks to technology acceleration. As the industry moves toward HTML5 and bandwidth rises, even complex immersive sites can load quickly.
Other industry pros agree. And, Ezra notes, when an immersive element is added to a website, the site tends to see double-digit bumps in sales conversion metrics.
Is it time for you to explore the approach?
Interactivity, motion, sound
“The key ingredients to an immersive website experience are creative interactivity, motion and sound,” says Randy Mitchelson, a vice president at web design firm iPartnerMedia.
Mitchelson points to the Google-developed Inside Abbey Road site as a superior example.
Inside Abby Road takes visitors on a tour of the recording studio made famous by the Beatles. Its blend of history and great music leads visitors to quickly lose themselves in the experience, which is precisely the idea.
Of course, it’s easy to get sucked in listening to The Beatles. Few brands have such a powerful draw. No worries, suggests Ezra. The best immersive sites “find a balance between richness and usefulness,” he says.
For example, the Unit9-produced site Lifesaver, built on behalf of the UK’s Resuscitation Council, is designed to teach basic first aid skills to web visitors. While the site is built around full-screen interactive video, it can largely be enjoyed with limited audio.
Making it easy
Beyond rich multimedia, immersive websites are popular because they help the user do something that would ordinarily be quite complex. “The goal with designing a UI is always to create something that is more powerful than it looks, and something that feels easier than it is,” says Kyle Crumrine, principal designer at Eventbrite.
Consider Eventbrite’s Reserved Seating Event Designer, which enables users to visualize an auditorium or other venue, then plan different tiers of seating within it. With pen and paper, this would be an overwhelming task. “One of our mantras during the seat designer’s creation was that we wanted to do a lot of the heavy lifting for our users,” Crumrine says.
The Vans Customer Shoes designer and AAA’s TripTik road-trip planning system similarly leverage immersive design to make complex work simpler.
Why isn’t every site immersive?
Beyond any legacy technology limitations, immersive doesn’t always make sense for the user experience.
For example, when people are looking for a fast experience. “Immersion is a distraction any time the experience is supposed to be primarily transactional,” Ezra says.
Immersive web design also can be expensive, requiring teams of creatives with different skill sets working together. While today a high-quality traditional website can easily be built for $1,000, “a truly unique experience with animation, games, and personalized user experiences can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more,” says Ezra.
Still, says Mitchelson: “They absolutely make financial sense for large brands, as their immersive nature helps increase engagement, brand awareness, and conversions overall compared to traditional landing pages and microsites.”
As long as the immersive experience is mobile friendly.