What to Do When You Don’t Have an XR Designer

Careful design is an essential element of any XR product or experience. Here, Innovation Manager Harry Conway shares his advice on applying certain design principles and methods of thinking to your future XR project.

Extended Reality technologies, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality, offer exciting possibilities for businesses to reach new audiences, tell compelling stories, and engage customers in unique and captivating ways. However, if you’ve never ventured into the XR realm before, it can seem like uncharted territory. So, where should you begin?

When considering XR technologies for your project, it’s crucial to recognize the extraordinary advantages they bring to the table. XR should never feel like a mere bolt-on but should seamlessly enhance your messaging and storytelling in a way that no other technology can replicate. The goal is to create an experience that is brimming with joy, wonder, and that indescribable “wow” factor.

Think in terms of scale, space, and sound. For instance, in XR, you can craft a sculpture the size of a building and allow users to explore it from any angle they desire. There are few platforms or technologies that offer such limitless possibilities, making XR a powerful tool for creating unforgettable, immersive experiences that leave a lasting impact.


Why Content Design Matters in XR

If you’ve ever witnessed a user struggling with a new XR product or service, you’d likely find that the confusion often lies in the content or the interface. This is where content designers come to the rescue. Their job is to understand user needs and create concise, straightforward content that helps users achieve their goals while providing the wow factor. Clarity in content becomes paramount, especially when you’re dealing with new technologies and novel hardware.

But what if you don’t have a dedicated content designer? Don’t worry; you can still apply the principles to make your XR project successful.


If you’re new to commissioning an XR experience, you may want to consider the following points:

  1. Ensure Clear Messaging and User Guidance: XR interface design plays a crucial role in guiding users through immersive environments. Think of it as designing a video game where users explore a garden with boundaries that are seamlessly integrated into the experience. Clarity of messaging and user guidance is paramount in helping users navigate and interact within the XR space.


  1. Keep It Text Light: XR is all about visceral sensory experiences; this is your language and your medium. Embrace the power of visuals, sounds, and interactions to convey information. Minimize text to create a more immersive and engaging XR experience.


  1. Embrace Multi-Platform Functionality: XR technologies often span multiple platforms and devices. It’s crucial not to exclude audiences from the start. Ensure your design is adaptable and inclusive, catering to various XR hardware and software setups. A seamless, consistent experience across platforms is key to engaging a broader audience.


  1. Set Realistic Expectations: XR projects can get expensive, especially when dealing with animation and character rigging. Consider how to tell your story efficiently and cleverly within your budget constraints. Sometimes, less can be more, and innovative approaches can yield fantastic results without breaking the bank.


  1. Explore Varied XR Experiences: Immerse yourself in as many diverse XR experiences as possible to understand the full scope of what’s possible and where certain experiences may have fallen short. The more you explore, the better equipped you’ll be to design your own XR projects, drawing from the wealth of experiences to create something truly exceptional.

The good news is that you don’t need an extravagant budget to achieve these goals. Often, it’s about collaborating with the right experts in XR interface design, streamlining complex content, and ensuring accessibility for all users, making your XR project a success.


Be Open to the Right Solution

It’s essential for businesses exploring XR technologies to remain open to the idea that XR might not always be the best fit for their goals. The worst mistake one can make is attempting to shoehorn technology into a solution that doesn’t exist. Sometimes, traditional methods or other digital solutions may better serve your purpose. So, when embarking on your XR journey, always ensure that the technology aligns seamlessly with your objectives and doesn’t force a square peg into a round hole. Flexibility and adaptability are key as you navigate this exciting realm of innovation.

In the XR space, your content and storytelling can make or break the user experience. By focusing on user needs, clarity, and accessibility, you can create XR products and experiences that captivate and engage your audience. Don’t let inexperience hold you back; embrace the XR journey with the power of content and design on your side.


Ready to Dive into the XR World? Contact STEAMhouse Today!

If you’re eager to explore the art of the possible in the XR space and embark on the journey of commissioning your own XR experience, look no further than STEAMhouse. We’re here to guide you through the immersive world of Extended Reality, helping you unlock new opportunities to captivate, engage, and amaze your audience.

Our experts are ready to collaborate with you, providing insights and support to turn your XR ideas into reality. Don’t hesitate to reach out and take that first step into the future of digital storytelling and engagement.


Email: steamhouse@bcu.ac.uk

STEAMhouse wins Innovation Award

STEAMhouse has won the prestigious Technology Innovation Champion – Organisation award at the Innovation Awards 2023

STEAMhouse, powered by Birmingham City University, was opened in October 2022 at a cost of £75 million. With dedicated facilities including product development, maker space, business incubation, and specialist AR/VR discovery services; and through working with collaborative research partnerships, the innovation centre has helped bridge a regional gap in provision to drive innovative solutions to complex societal challenges, using science, digital transformation and creativity to underpin progress. 

The Innovation Awards were created to recognise, celebrate and reward companies, individuals and organisations dedicated to innovation. 

Richard Scutt, Head of Growth and Incubation at STEAMhouse, said ‘This year’s ceremony secured the highest ever number of nominees with over 22,000 people posting over 90,000 votes. 

STEAMhouse was shortlisted alongside some leading examples of organisation-led innovation such as Wolverhampton University’s Spark Innovation Hub. After we were nominated, it then went to a public vote which reduced the shortlist to 5. We were then interviewed by a panel of judges who assessed what we did to nurture and promote innovation, so it was fantastic to secure the win.’ 

STEAMhouse announced as winners at Innovation Awards 2023

 Richard continued ‘In terms of entrepreneurship and innovation the judges saw how we supported students and graduates through the annual hatchery programme designed for those with an innovative and exciting business idea who wish to develop it into a viable business. In part due to the success of STEAM-based business support, BCU (which powers STEAMhouse) is ranked 14th nationally and 1st in the West Midlands for business start-ups.  

They also saw first-hand our support for local entrepreneurs and businesses using our Incubator and Accelerator, Production and Studio spaces as well as our programme of Events, business Innovation Services and Membership options. They also cited the vibe and buzz of STEAMhouse which is fostering innovation through a unique collaboration between students, graduates, academics and local businesses.’ 

 The awards raised the fantastic sum of £8,473.50 for Acorns Children’s Hospice on the night, Friday 27 October 2023. BCU was also shortlisted for Manufacturing Innovation Champion for the Help to Grow scheme, whilst the SuperTech project, for which BCU  is the accountable body, was nominated under Tech Innovation Champion. 

Link to the original article can be found here.

Argentine Creative Bootcamp – Co-Curated by STEAMhouse



Argentine Exponential Design. Creative Bootcamp  is an intensive training program co-produced by the British Council and Bunge y Born Foundation, developed for the first time in Argentina to enhance the skills of local companies and entrepreneurs in the creative industries. The program was delivered in partnership with STEAMhouse, an Innovation Centre powered by Birmingham City University to curate the contents from the UK, and curators Florencia Lovera and Wustavo Quiroga designing the contents from Latin America.


In its first edition, 15 companies were selected from over 100 applicants, coming from areas such as industrial and product design, research and development of differentiated materials, fashion and textiles, contemporary crafts and interior design. The companies are Casa Capital, Mantara, Lola y Chango, Espina Corona, Bambuniverso, Blackñandú, Hifas biocreaciones, Mansha, ADN Sustentable, Sadaels, Claudia Santanera, Dacal, Velasco, Mutan and Oda Biovajilla.


During 6 months they received intensive training and mentoring sessions from British and Argentinean professionals. The results were presented at the closing event on the 3rd and 4th  October in at the ArtLab Buenos Aires, in a pitching format before a jury of investors, representatives of accelerators and universities, from which 3 companies were selected to receive seed funding from the programme. The investment will be used to strengthen the positive impact at a social and environmental level, and the implementation of new technologies. The final day was open to the public with presentations on global impact experiences delivered by British professionals Lucy Hardcastle and Patrick Stevenson, leaders of experimental and digital design.

Driving competency in the construction industry following the Grenfell disaster

On 20th September, participants from across the Built Environment came together at STEAMhouse to discuss the urgent need to adapt the way they do business, in light of the significant legislative changes coming into force on the 1st October under the Building Safety Act. This requires all employers to ensure their workforce is ‘competent’ to carry out their duties.

The Grenfell tragedy claimed the lives of 72 innocent people. Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, describing how a ‘long run-up of incompetence’ led to the deadly events, and that every death was ‘avoidable’.

The associated introduction of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and the national oversight of construction product regulation within the Office for Product Safety Standards (OPSS), aims to encourage increased competence. The BSR and OPSS will be given powers to enforce the rules and act against those that break them.

Whilst the changes are welcome and many know why change is needed, we heard there is a lack of awareness and clarity in what the changes mean and how to get to a place of compliance and competence.

‘Since the Great Fire of London in 1666 politicians have legislated by disaster, driven by a huge public outcry following events such as the Summerland fire on the Isle of Wight in 1973, the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985, the fire at Kings Cross station in 1987 and most recently the inferno at Grenfell.  The Building Safety Act 2022 aims to create a change in culture, behaviour and working practices across the Built Environment to ensure that through increased competence the events which happened at Grenfell can never happen again.”

Mike Leonard – Building Alliance, Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University 

Enter STEAMhouse…

Our STEAM Challenge event was designed to enable cross-industry conversation and collaboration, resulting in actionable outcomes that enable businesses to respond to this gargantuan task.

Keynotes from the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and Office for Product Safety Standards (OPSS) set the scene providing an opportunity for businesses to work directly with those setting out the new agenda, giving space to exchange knowledge, (respectfully!) challenge one another and share perspectives to find common ground to work together.

Participants from across the industry, including materials manufactures, installers, designers and engineers in roles from marketing to technical then worked collaboratively to get to know the problem better and asked themselves the big question, what does competence actually mean?

We heard that the act provides a ‘new era’ for the Built Environment and an opportunity to step away from ‘Grandfather rights’ (thank you for bringing that phrase to our attention!) to a progressive, inclusive and bespoke way of developing and maintaining skills.

Knowing what you don’t know and having the confidence to say ‘that’s not my skill but I know who’s it is” can lead to a shift in behaviours and create a culture of responsibility, pride and trust that breaks the ‘model of cheap wins’.

“From a regulator’s perspective I would say the key to meeting the new requirements under the Building Safety Act 2022 and the new fire safety legislation which will come into effect at the same time is ‘design, design, design’. From now on, it won’t be possible to put a spade in the ground until the building design has been approved by BSR.”

Andrew Moore – Head of Operations, Building Safety Regulator, part of the Health and Safety Executive.

We gave space to challenging the current model of skills training and heard best in class examples of learning that works, from bitesize micro modules and evidence based on site experience to self paced web based courses and independent accreditation.

Later we moved into action planning, using STEAMhouse tools to identify weaknesses and opportunities to get to a place of competence. Whilst much of this is confidential, we heard overwhelmingly that a human-centred approach is essential in creating a vision for this new era of change.

We must support not only those doing the jobs to take pride in their roles, but at all stages from design to build remember that these aren’t just buildings, they are the spaces and places where people live and work.

If we’ve learned anything from the tragedies that led to where we are now, it’s that we all have a responsibility to create a Built Environment to be proud of.

‘OPSS is delighted to see construction product manufacturers and suppliers collaborating to ensure the competence of their workforce. It’s this sort of cooperation that will help the UK deliver better, safer buildings.”

Duncan Johnson – Deputy Director, Construction Products Regulation, Office for Product Safety Standards.

Amazing sponsorship opportunity for an established artist

Amazing RESIDENCY opportunity for an EARLY CAREER artist


🌟 Are you an early career artist in Birmingham/West Midlands? We’ve got an AMAZING opportunity for you at STEAMhouse. Thanks to a visionary business committed to empowering artists, we’re offering a FREE 6-month full-time Residency and Maker/Studio Membership at STEAMhouse. 🎨🏭

🔥 Fuel your creativity and join our vibrant community:

✅ Access state-of-the-art tools and facilities 5 days a week
✅ Collaborate with diverse professionals for innovative ideas
✅ Dive into bespoke workshops, events, and skill-building sessions
✅ Thrive in a creative community built on collaboration

At STEAMhouse, we’re all about experimentation, pushing boundaries, and nurturing fresh insights! 🚀

This residency embodies our core principles: Conversation, Exploration, Collaboration, Openness, and Newness. 🤝🌐

📅 Application Deadline: 5th October 📣 Interview date for Applicants successfully shortlisted: 13th October

Don’t miss this golden opportunity to supercharge your artistry! Apply now HERE  🌟🎨

STEAMhouse hosts Project 80 report presentation on Sustainable Homes

STEAMhouse saw an excellent turnout for the presentation of the Project 80 Eco Drive Interim Report which details learnings and outcomes from the very first ‘at-scale’ demonstrator of the Future Homes Standard.

Eco Drive is a groundbreaking sustainable development of 12 properties in Handsworth, Birmingham. Constructed by Bromsgrove-based construction firm Tricas, the homes have been occupied by tenants of Midland Heart Housing association for the last 12 months.

The project represents a highly effective partnership between BCU, housing providers, housebuilders, suppliers and residents, whilst generating a plethora of recommendations for policymakers and industry.

Professor Nasser Sherkat, Head of BCU’s Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment opened the event with a welcome address.

Joe Reeves and Tony Hopkins from Midland Heart Housing Association then described the sustainability concepts behind the pioneering Eco Drive housing development, which has delivered beautiful properties specifically designed to produce at least 70% fewer CO2 emissions in line with the Future Homes Standard.

Professor David Boyd and Dr Monica Mateo Garcia presented a brilliantly informative session on Project 80’s learnings and outcomes. Fascinating (and occasionally unexpected) occupier lifestyle insights have been revealed through real-time monitoring of energy usage and air quality, together with feedback from face-to-face tenant interviews.

Visiting BCU Professor and CEO of Building Alliance Mike Leonard then shared an overview of the impressively wide-ranging portfolio of other programs currently being undertaken by the Centre for Future Homes.

For the final session of a thoroughly enjoyable event, the speakers convened for a lively audience Q & A.

For those who couldn’t make it to the Eco Drive presentation but would be interested in the Interim Report’s findings, you can download the entire document here.

Holly Hendry sculpture unveiled at STEAMhouse

On a fantastic evening at STEAMhouse, a specially-invited audience celebrated the official unveiling of Lip-sync, a new sculpture created by artist Holly Hendry.

This beautiful work of art is the first public sculpture commissioned by Birmingham City University and it now stands proudly outside the STEAMhouse building at the junction of Jennens Road and Cardigan Street.

Holly gave a fascinating talk about what inspired ‘Lip-sync’ and guided a rapt audience through the inception and development of the piece.

Tributes were delivered by BCU Vice-Chancellor Philip Plowden, IEE Director Joanna Birch and GBSLEP Chair Anita Bhalla.

If you haven’t yet seen ‘Lip-sync’ in real life, do yourself a favour and go. While you’re there, drop into STEAMhouse and see all the other great things that are happening!

STEAMhouse artists reflect on successful completion of Skills Bootcamp

The first schedule of Skills Bootcamps delivered by Birmingham City University (BCU) concluded recently and were a huge success, attracting learners from a wide range of disciplines including urban planning, architecture, built environment and the arts.

Skills Bootcamps are part of the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee and are funded by the Department for Education. Those delivered by BCU are supported by West Midlands Combined Authority.

Two of the Skills Bootcampers were former STEAMhouse Create program artists Julia Snowdin and Ildiko Nagy. Both successfully completed the Climate Literacy for Sustainable Futures course.

We spoke to Julia and Ildiko to hear their impressions of the inaugural Skills Bootcamps and how they plan to apply new methodologies in their respective practices.

Ildiko Nagy

“I’m an artist who works with natural and recycled materials. I heard about the Skills Bootcamp in an email from STEAMhouse and I instantly thought “Yes this is it! I’m going to sign up!”

On the Bootcamp, we’ve learned about a lot of environmental issues and about the climate emergency. Personally the way I think I can contribute to this is on a local level, so I’m going to start working with local communities and introducing them to everything I learned here. I’ll provide workshops where people can learn new skills, appreciate nature, spend more time with nature and as a result make their own lives better.

My hope is that this will change the system from the bottom up rather than ‘top down’.

I’d definitely recommend the Climate Literacy Skills Bootcamp to everyone – in fact I think it should be taught in early years because we are facing huge issues. We all need to connect and create change for a greener future. It’s very important that people understand how much damage they might be doing to the planet.

I firmly believe that people’s carbon footprint is directly relatable to wellbeing. The more time we can spend in nature and the more activities we can do like cycling and walking, it will not only benefit our mental health but the climate too.”

Julia Snowdin

“I’m an installation artist. I make playable and playful installations for families, working with galleries like the Baltic and with festivals like Art in the Park. I work outside predominantly!

For a long time, I’d been wanting to understand the environmental impact of the work that I create and how I could do better. I got an email about the Climate Literacy Skills Bootcamp and I immediately thought ‘That’s perfect for me. It could help me begin this journey and understand how I can reduce my footprint as an artist.”

The big takeaway from Skills Bootcamp that I’m going to bring to my job is circular design. That means thinking about installation design from the beginning and looking at the materials I’m using.

Could I re-use materials that I’ve already got in stock, could I look at using recyclable alternatives, are there previously-used materials out there that I could source?

I like to use steel, so could that steel go back to the manufacturer to be melted down and used again? I also use a lot of Perspex, so I know that can be returned, ground down and made into new Perspex.

Then in the way I construct the installation, can it all be taken apart and used again? Can I create something that’s tour-able so it goes on to other locations rather than just being used once for the first commission? Once we get to the end of the cycle could I then gift the piece on to a school, for example?

I’d absolutely recommend the Skills Bootcamp to others. Some of the sessions were really inspiring to me and I’ve learned so much, especially that climate action comes into the everyday. Really, just give it a go!

I think it’s vitally important that everyone considers how they can reduce their carbon footprint in their working lives. Maybe in how they commute to work and once they’re at work, how they might inspire their colleagues to do the same thing and implement new climate policies in the workplace.

This is something we’ve all got to think about, it’s not something we can ignore. It’s real and it’s happening.”

STEAMhouse welcomes its first sculpture!

A new public sculpture has been installed outside STEAMhouse!

In 2022 we invited artist Holly Hendry to develop a sculpture for STEAMhouse, the first public artwork that the University has commissioned for the City Centre Campus. We are really excited that Lip Sync is now in place on the corner of Cardigan Street and Jennens Road.

Made from rolled, formed and laser cut steel with smaller hand-cast elements, the brightly coloured sculpture’s surface features cartoonish, body-like shapes co-developed with students from Birmingham City University and pupils from Chandos Primary School in Highgate in a series of drawing workshops.

Details, marks and shapes from the workshops were fed into computer software where they were simplified, and amalgamated into a colourful, sheet rubber-like ribbon which weaves through a series of industrial rollers seeming to appear from, and disappear into, the ground. If you get up close you will see that Lip Sync’s surface is made of a puzzle of individual elements that are rolled and fixed together, different parts engineered, coloured, stretched, and flattened by multiple industrial processes.

Holly’s work uses the language of slapstick and cartoons to create joyful and materially rich sculptures which explore the role of the human body in industrialisation and encourage us to think about our current, and future, experiences of being human in relation to new and expanding digital technologies. This is her first permanent public artwork. Working with project curators Eastside Projects she has put together this series of prompts, thoughts and ideas to use as starting points when looking at the work. If you’re coming along to STEAMhouse, take a look and reflect…


Flattened. Extruded. Condensed. Material. Physical. Tangible. Steel mimicking rubber Looping down and around beneath our feet, like the mechanics of the building – the air conditioning, the data cables, the water supply. Tensions between bodies and machines, mechanisation and digitalisation. Steam rollered through the computer Computing – the act of calculating or reckoning A group activity, physical bodies working things out together Following a fixed set of calculations and rules Individual acts become collective, leading from one to another. Tiny details, marks and gestures emerging from many conversations, little elements from somebody else’s hand Bodies dispersed through mark making The history of this building is of bicycles and rubber. Machines enabling forward motion, extensions of the body. Technological augmentation. The structure of a Jacquard loom – the original computer. Controlled by the punch of a hole. From far away an image, a painting or a drawing. On closer inspection a puzzle of small parts; drawings, cutouts, and layers folded into a continuous loop. Punctuated by cast elements – perhaps teeth or vertebrae. Digital processes physicalised in the making. Handmade drawings pushed into simplified lines and gestures, reflecting the language of advertising and traffic signs. Breathe