International event to shine a light on collaboration between science, tech and engineering sectors with the arts

Key industries across the globe are being invited to take part in a major event examining how merging traditional scientific, technology and engineering sectors with the arts can boost business innovation and economic growth.

 

Birmingham City University will host the STEAM Conference on 13 July 2021 with the aim of bringing together business leaders, technicians, artists and academics from around the world to learn new approaches to business or research.

 

The event will include demonstrations, talks and workshops with internationally renowned practitioners and innovators including Mr Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman of the Hero Enterprise, Nadav Hochman, The Associate Director of Gray Area Foundation, Liliane Wong, Head of Interior Architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, and more.

 

Among innovative approaches to connecting the arts with the traditional technical subjects, the conference will showcase projects including:

 

  • The use of LEGO construction kits in a business education context by designing ice-breaking teamwork activities for both undergraduate and masters’ students.
  • A 3D-printed violin bow equipped with sensors to enhance teaching and performance for musicians.

 

Birmingham City University is known for its role in promoting the value and impact of STEAM-thinking, which places the arts at the centre of traditional subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

 

The University’s STEAMhouse project provides a space for collaboration on new projects and ideas, and the second phase is set to open in a rejuvenated historic building in Birmingham’s Eastside, which had previously stood derelict.

 

The project has also enjoyed international partnership with the Hero Group to launch a STEAMhouse base in India.

 

Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University, said: “As economies start to recover from the impact of the pandemic, innovation and creativity will need to be at the forefront of this process.

 

“STEAM thinking has an important role to play in driving forwards new ideas and new businesses that will create jobs, boost the economy and change the way we live and work.

 

“By bringing together people from across the globe in a range of disciplines to explore ideas, this conference will provide a platform for artists, innovators and researchers to learn, communicate and collaborate.”

 

Booking for the Conference is now open and researchers, teachers, innovators, industry representatives, artists and scientists are invited to register for the event.

Book your place here.

 

STEAMhouse Grants coming 23rd July

Key industries across the globe are being invited to take part in a major event examining how merging traditional scientific, technology and engineering sectors with the arts can boost business innovation and economic growth.

 

Birmingham City University will host the STEAM Conference on 13 July 2021 with the aim of bringing together business leaders, technicians, artists and academics from around the world to learn new approaches to business or research.

 

The event will include demonstrations, talks and workshops with internationally renowned practitioners and innovators including Mr Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman of the Hero Enterprise, Nadav Hochman, The Associate Director of Gray Area Foundation, Liliane Wong, Head of Interior Architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, and more.

 

Among innovative approaches to connecting the arts with the traditional technical subjects, the conference will showcase projects including:

 

  • The use of LEGO construction kits in a business education context by designing ice-breaking teamwork activities for both undergraduate and masters’ students.
  • A 3D-printed violin bow equipped with sensors to enhance teaching and performance for musicians.

 

Birmingham City University is known for its role in promoting the value and impact of STEAM-thinking, which places the arts at the centre of traditional subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

 

The University’s STEAMhouse project provides a space for collaboration on new projects and ideas, and the second phase is set to open in a rejuvenated historic building in Birmingham’s Eastside, which had previously stood derelict.

 

The project has also enjoyed international partnership with the Hero Group to launch a STEAMhouse base in India.

 

Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University, said: “As economies start to recover from the impact of the pandemic, innovation and creativity will need to be at the forefront of this process.

 

“STEAM thinking has an important role to play in driving forwards new ideas and new businesses that will create jobs, boost the economy and change the way we live and work.

 

“By bringing together people from across the globe in a range of disciplines to explore ideas, this conference will provide a platform for artists, innovators and researchers to learn, communicate and collaborate.”

 

Booking for the Conference is now open and researchers, teachers, innovators, industry representatives, artists and scientists are invited to register for the event.

Book your place here.

 

Q&A with the Gray Area Foundation

In this post, we chat with Nadav Hochman, Associate Director of the Gray Area Foundation, to learn more about their interdisciplinary convergences between Art and STEM practices and research, and his involvement with the International STEAM Conference 21.


Could you explain why the convergence of Art with STEM practices and research is important to you?

I think what draws me to pursue these interdisciplinary convergences, which are often more difficult than traditional established practices, is the question of innovation. 

It is important to remember that when we talk about innovation today we often mean commercialised innovation, primarily technological. To most people, innovation is an industrial and economic mechanism to achieve more economic efficiency. And in this state of affairs, invention, ingenuity or imagination per se are not enough. There has to be an active use of the invention in order for it to become innovative – in order for benefits to accrue. And when there is no innovation without applicable market value, the creative abilities of an individual or a group is always in the service of organisations, industrial development, and economic growth.

But this understanding is recent. If we look back prior to 20th-century capitalist history, innovation included other understandings, values, and practices. Until early in the twentieth century, invention, ingenuity, and imagination were discussed as symbols of culture or civilization and as attributes of geniuses, and their contribution to the progress of the race. 

I think that the main role of the interdisciplinary integration of art, humanities, social sciences, accurate sciences, and technology is to broaden and democratise the understanding of our innovation as more than just technological. As such, they force us to consider and recognise the different possible sources of innovations  – such as artists, designers, users – and the wide range of necessary values of innovation in providing solutions to social needs and problems  – including inclusivity, diversity, and ethics. 

In my view, innovation achieves its full potential and role when it successfully bridges the applicable with the imaginative, the economical with the socially, culturally and ecologically responsible. And this is the most crucial role we can play – extending the discourses on, and practices of innovation to more spheres of society.

What values and attitudes do you think are crucial for meaningful collaborations between STEAM practitioners?

Generally, the values and structures needed for meaningful collaborations have been explored extensively in academic and professional contexts in recent years, with insights pointing towards elements such as trust and open-mindedness. But let’s look more closely at one particular form of interdisciplinary collaboration: artists working with technologists, in which both groups often hold an inherently different set of values, training, and ways of thinking which makes things a bit more complicated. 

When it comes to artists’ value proposition to technologists, for example, I would mention emotionality, criticality, and comfort with ambiguity. I believe the artistic process can help push companies towards developing technology products and services that encourage more authentic emotional connections. Whether this is by leveraging new hardware to help us see the world in a more empathetic way or helping design software that emphasises our shared societal bonds, artists have a specific ability to see and then respond to the human condition in a way that can help tech companies create new businesses that people feel good about supporting.  

The rate at which tech has come to dictate so much of our daily lives has surprised even those creating that tech. Digital technology’s sudden reshaping of our communities and societies has resulted in a litany of unintended consequences that tech companies are now struggling to address. Solutions to these problems require not only deft business acumen to redirect entire product verticals but also philosophical clarity into what direction they should be redirected into and why. This is a role particularly well-suited to artists and their training in holistic, synthetic thinking and knack for investigating the bigger picture implications of technologies. And as these implications become ever-more urgent, the critical need for artistic thinkers in these companies becomes ever-more evident. 

Lastly, the ability to sit with the unknown, to collaborate, to build structure as you’re creating – these are assets that one learns as an artist, and are very directly translatable to the issues of the world right now even in scenarios that have nothing to do with art. Working with artists allows engineers to consider problems outside of their usual perspective, which is an invaluable tool when striving to innovate.

On the other hand, artists themselves also stand to benefit from these collaborations. As an often teleologically-focused discipline, artists’ roles in society have historically been both under constant threat and open to constant reinvention. The growing integration of artistic practices with emerging technological developments represents a radical new role for the arts in our contemporary digital economy, one that both cherishes the inherent value of the discipline and challenges it to constructively evolve. On a more individual level, these sorts of collaborations allow artists to not just comment on the changing world around us but directly shape its continued reconstruction, deepening their role in public and private life. And through learning to collaborate with scientists and technologists, artists gain critical business skills that both benefit their personal artistic practices and augment their potential for continued work with tech companies. 

Can you tell us more about the Gray Area Foundation? What is it you are trying to achieve there? 

Gray Area is a 21st-century countercultural hub catalysing creative action for social transformation. We attract technically literate, experimental, and risk-taking creative practitioners whose work doesn’t find easy support within traditional arts organisations. We support these diverse practitioners—including BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and immigrants—by holding space for their unique practices, backgrounds, visions, and experiences so that they may deeply collaborate and create new forms and meanings through the arts. Because this diversity of thought and perspective is a core requirement for the type of collaboration we foster, we continually try to increase engagement with varied audiences through community partnerships, subsidise participation in our events and education programs, and ensure representation within all of our programming. 

Over the last decade, we have refined our cultural ecosystem model to engage our community at multiple entry points into our public performances and events, education, and incubation. This creative, economic, and community engine represents a complete creative development path that accepts people at any level and provides the necessary support to learn, present, and teach to new incoming audiences as they grow. As a countercultural space, Gray Area seeks to increase diversity and representation with the gentrified dialogs of technology through featuring marginalised artists and highlighting social justice, ethics, ecology, and decolonialism throughout our programming. By doing so we hope to make anyone who enters our space feel welcome, comfortable, and accepted as an audience or collaborators.

You will be speaking at #STEAMconf21 under the theme of ‘Collaboration through Community’, can you give us any hints about what is in store?

In my talk I will try to highlight my journey of exploration at the intersection of art, technology and science working with different communities of practice. I will present collaborative projects from the last decade in academia and cultural institutions and try to articulate my understandings on what really makes a successful and impactful collaboration. As I hinted earlier, what has become clear to me over the years is that the value of integrated art forms within science, technology and industry, it’s not so much about how the arts can contribute to new products or services, but rather that it empowers new forms of knowledge exchange and developments that are more sustainable, inclusive, democratic and responsible. And this is what cultural innovation is all about. 


We would like to thank Nadav for taking the time to talk with us, and I don’t think we’re the only ones anticipating, what is set to be, an extremely insightful and inspiring talk during next month’s event.

If you would like to secure your place at this year’s International STEAM Conference, or maybe you just want to discover what’s in store, then please click here to visit the dedicated events page.

Talking Tool STEAM Sprint with William Tuke Research Foundation

Designing a digital tool for young people that facilitates therapeutic conversations

“The partnership with STEAMhouse has allowed us to develop, progress and advance our Talking Tool project. The project sought to bring together young people, researchers, professionals and experts in the area of mental health and digital technologies to develop a mental health resource that would support young people with emerging mental health problems. Thanks to the STEAM Sprint, the project progressed from an abstract idea to an early clickable prototype.”

Dr Anamaria Churchman Chartered Psychologist and Researcher William Tuke Research Foundation

Limited provision to support young people with their mental health

In the United Kingdom, adolescents’ mental health is never far from the news and presents an ever-growing concern. Before COVID hit the world, prevalence reports showed that one in six school-aged children suffered from a mental health problem (NHS Digital, 2020).

Not only do mental health problems directly impact an individual’s quality of life, they also pose a huge burden on the public economy. It’s been estimated that the social and economic costs related to mental ill health reach around £119 billion per year (O’shea and Bell, 2020), (Centre for Mental Health, 2020). More specifically, the cost for offering support to children 5 to 15 years old experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties has been estimated to reach £1.47 billion annually (Snell et al., 2013).

Despite alarming statistics which identify young people as the most vulnerable age group that may suffer from mental health issues, access to appropriate and effective mental health services is very poor (McGorry, Bates and Birchwood, 2013) and prior to the pandemic, only a third of children with a diagnosable condition accessed NHS mental health support (National Audit Office, 2018). With limited accessible provision, many young people have reported turning to family and friends for support but family and friends have stated that they lack the skills and ability to support them.

 

An idea with promise

Dr Anamaria Churchman is co-founder of the William Tuke Research Foundation, a research organisation that marries together novel, innovative mental health research with ambitious, grassroots community projects.

The idea for the STEAM Sprint started after Ana ran a project in schools where young people received counselling. The young people she worked with suggested that an easier, more accessible way for them to receive support should be created. Ana and her team worked with young people to create a paper ‘talking tool’ that facilitated therapeutic conversations between young people and their parents. The solution showed promise but young people suggested adapting the tool to create a digital version they could also use with their peers. Without knowing where to start, Ana approached STEAMhouse to help her advance the concept.

 

Why a STEAM Sprint was the right choice

A STEAM Sprint is a flexible design-thinking framework that can be used to help our clients tackle product, service, or social problems and test new ideas using creative problem solving methods. It’s an intense effort that brings together a team of diverse stakeholders to work collaboratively on solving the problem. The results of a sprint set the direction for a new product, service or project.

Every STEAM Sprint starts with a compelling design challenge and we worked with Ana to frame a challenge that we knew we could assemble a team around:

“How might we tackle the lack of mental health provision by creating a digital ‘talking tool’ that facilitates therapeutic conversations between young people aged 11-16 years and their friends?”

 

It was important to Ana and her team that the development of the idea included young people every step of the way, and she wanted to include as many diverse perspectives as possible. This collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach is what sets STEAM sprints apart. Throughout the sprint, we collaborated with young people, researchers, professionals in mental health and digital technologies, and STEAMhouse members.

 

How we developed a prototype

Ana’s research had shown that young people benefited from a psychological talking therapy called Method of Levels (MOL) due to its client-focused approach that allowed young people to choose when and how often to attend sessions. MOL seeks to increase people’s awareness of their goals and potential conflict. The overall aim is to help people find solutions to enable them to realise their goals.

We needed to translate the MOL approach into a mobile experience that would be equally useful, usable, desirable, and impactful for young people. To get there, we adopted a user experience (UX) design approach to create a clickable mobile prototype.

STEAM Sprint participants came together to collaborate across eight two-hour online workshops designed for people to learn about UX by doing it. The sprint was supported by guidance and mentoring from Birmingham based technology consultancy, Studio Victoria. These collaborative sessions were complemented by development tasks, completed in-between workshops, with support from the STEAMhouse product development team.

The result

The solution we created is a demonstration prototype app that can be loaded onto any smartphone for user testing.

 

Currently called Haven, the app is a confidential and secure safe-space that helps users chat about problems with their friends. Users can invite friends who know them best and create private hubs where they can give help and get help. Hubs include step-by-step chat guidance based on Method of Levels – a recognised form of therapy that helps people overcome problems by understanding goals and finding ways to achieve them.

 

What’s next?

At STEAMhouse, we’re here to support people and their ideas to flourish. We always recommend that promising prototypes created during a STEAM Sprint continue to be tested with real users and iterated to make improvements, Ana and her team will be using the prototype to begin testing its efficacy with young people.

As a result of the collaborative process and the realisation of a prototype, Ana’s team has been awarded funding from eNurture to progress with the development of the talking tool app.

To find out more about Ana’s research or to find out how you might get involved, contact her at ana@williamtuke.org

“I would not have been able to make any progress on the project so I’m really glad we were introduced to STEAMhouse. Also, it kept me motivated to keep chasing funding and I was so pleased when Enurture decided to fund us”

– Dr Anamaria Churchman Chartered Psychologist and Researcher William Tuke Research Foundation

 

With thanks

Every STEAM Sprint is a collaborative effort, thank you to all our participants and contributors:

  • Studio Victoria – Birmingham-based technology consultancy
  • The Prince’s Trust – Dewi Prichard-Jones and Peter Hennessey (East Bergholt High School)
  • STEAMhouse members – Sophie Hedderwick, Artist; Yejide Adeoye, YA Creates;
  • Ania Nierobisz, Artist/Theatre Maker/VR in Education.
  • All the fantastic young people who contributed their time, energy and creativity.

 

Start your own STEAM Sprint

STEAM Sprints are intensive design sprints that enable teams to tackle product, service, or social challenges and test new ideas using creative problem solving methods. If you, your business, or organisation have a critical business or social challenge that you’d like to tackle fast, get in touch to find out how we can support.

 

 

References

Churchman, A., Mansell, W., & Tai, S. (2019). A school-based feasibility study of method of levels: a novel form of client-led counselling. Pastoral Care in Education, 3944, 1–16.

https://doi.org/10.1080/02643944.2019.1642375

Churchman A, Mansell W, Al- Nufoury Y, Tai, S. (2019) A qualitative analysis of young people’s experiences of receiving a novel, client-led, psychological therapy in school. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research, (March), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1002/capr.12259

Churchman, A., Mansell, W., & Tai, S. (2020). A process-focused case series of a school-based intervention aimed at giving young people choice and control over their attendance and their goals in therapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 1-22.

Churchman, A., Mansell, W., & Tai, S. (2020). The development of a parent–child activity based on the principles of perceptual control theory. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 13.

Churchman, A., Mansell, W., & Tai, S. (2020). Experiences of adolescents and their guardians with a school-based combined individual and dyadic intervention. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 1-16.

Churchman, A., Mansell, W., & Tai, S. (2020). A school-based case series to examine the feasibility and

acceptability of a PCT-informed psychological intervention that combines client-led counselling (Method of levels) and a parent–child activity (Shared goals). British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 1-16.

NHS Digital (2020) Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020: Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey [Online] Available from:

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2020-wave-1-follow-up [Accessed 1 February 2021].

McGorry, P. D., Bates, T. and Birchwood, M. (2013) ‘Designing youth mental health services for the 21st century: examples from Australia, Ireland and the UK’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(s54), pp. s30–s35. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.119214.

O’shea, N. and Bell, A. (2020) Briefing: A Spending Review for wellbeing, Centre for mental health. National Audit Office (2018) ‘Improving children and young people’s mental health services’. Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Improving-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-services.pdf

STEAM Sprint: Re-designing learning experiences in response to COVID

We recently invited students from Birmingham City University’s Academic Award Scheme to take part in a series of collaborative online design-thinking workshops.

Our aim was to bring people together from across disciplines to explore how they might use collaboration and creative problem-solving techniques in the development of their own product, service, or business ideas. To do this we set up a live brief that asked students to re-design the learning experience at the university as a response to the COVID crisis.

“My favourite part was where we all engaged in developing ideas and used techniques to reach a conclusion on what responded to the problem best.”

STEAM Sprint Student Participant

What we did

Sixteen participants came together to collaborate across three two-hour online workshops, designed and facilitated by STEAMhouse. The focus of the work meant crafting activities that would enable the group to learn about the fundamentals of design-thinking by working on real world problems. Students worked individually and in teams to move through the first three phases of the design thinking process; Discovery, Definition, and Idea Generation.

First off, students worked together to design their research. They defined their objectives and decided on methods that might uncover meaningful insights about the problem area. Most students opted for qualitative interviews so we used one of the workshops to interview each other, then worked together to analyse and synthesise what we’d learnt. The exercise highlighted a number of commonplace problems that students were experiencing which we then flipped into opportunity spaces to design new solutions. By using a prioritisation matrix, students were able to determine which problem they should work on before writing their problem statement and moving on to idea generation.

The workshops continued with an intensive ideation session where participants worked individually and together, using creative thinking techniques to generate ideas fast. The group came up with 60+ new ideas to tackle the problems they’d identified, then worked together to find common themes and build on promising directions. By using voting and prioritisation techniques they decided on 3 ideas that would be easy to implement and have a high impact on the problem they were trying to solve. To conclude the sessions, participating students reflected together on how they might use some of the methods they’d learnt about in their current projects.

 

After the workshops, 89% of participants said they’d recommend the workshops to a friend and 78% said they’ll use design-thinking methods in their own projects.

The best bit for me was Discovery and Understanding – getting to understand the problem and the target audience.

AAS Student Participant

If you’re a business, student or graduate and you’d like to learn more about design-thinking and other collaborative problem-solving methods get in touch or apply to join STEAMhouse today!

Alternatively, join our mailing list to receive regular tips and advice.

Why AR can make an impact on your business if used effectively!

AR VS. VR IN INDUSTRY

Augmented reality supplements, rather than supplants, the real world, and this is the crucial difference between “AR” and “VR”. Virtual reality is a replacement realm, whereas Augmented Reality is where direct, indirect or live views of the physical world are augmented with digital imagery. This digital imagery is overlaid onto the user’s view of the physical world via a digital device with a camera providing the live view, and the digital screen offering a plane or platform for the overlaid image to appear on.

The chances are you have experienced some forms of basic AR even if you haven’t realised it at the time. Examples of AR include Heads-up-Displays, Snapchat filters and PokemonGo – often used to “augment” the world with a visual form of entertainment or information, AR has many more possibilities for development. Although they sound similar, their technologies develop and bleed into one another. Through the incorporation of AR over a physical environment, different spatial experiences are therefore facilitated that open up different possibilities for the information we gather and the way we interact with our different environments.

The process of AR

Initialising an AR experience requires a trigger; such as an image otherwise known as a ‘marker’.  These markers may either consist of a singular 2D image, multiple images or an object. However, marker images must be distinct and unique in that there is a high degree of contrast in colour, and makes use of differing shapes and shadows to enable the AR application to distinguish this trigger from its environment. The same principles apply to objects, in that the more unique the form is, with a strong contrast of colour and shapes used on the surface of the object, the more likely it is that the trigger will be recognised. These markers are stored in a database, which is accessed when the AR application is initialised. This image is cross referenced when a potential image is identified by the application in the physical world and if successfully matched launches the AR experience.  The realms of marker-based AR also extend to external environments, in that AR developers are able to use landscapes and buildings as triggers based on their distinctive form. However, it is worth noting that lighting and weather conditions will impact how successful the marker image is able to be identified and matched by the AR application due to the changes to its appearance when compared to the original trigger image located on the database.

Photo of iPad displaying digital design

Development in AR

Recent advancements in AR development have provided some potential solutions to these atmospheric and environmental challenges together with removing the requirement to use a marker image to launch an AR experience. The emergence of SLAM (Simultaneous, Localisation And Mapping) technology which allows AR applications to chart and map physical environments via features points by enabling the user’s device to locate itself in that physical setting and then initiate the overlaying and placement of digital objects in those spaces. This instant tracking of the physical world supports both scene and 3D object recognition, to enable a broad range of creative possibilities of digital object placement and interaction in AR experiences. Prior to the emergence of SLAM, if developers wanted to create a ‘markerless’ experience then they would have to rely on geolocating capabilities through the use of GPS coordinates to chart the positioning of scenes, however, whilst this was relatively successful in external environments, the use of GPS at times suffered from limitations with regards to accuracy, and it was not possible to create AR experiences with great success within internal settings using this technology.

There are a variety of different examples of AR that can be simply accessed from a smartphone or digital device.

Story-telling AR

In entertainment, we can see fantasy books such as “Between Worlds” that have illustrations that become the “trigger” image. By downloading the app, users can point their mobile phone at the trigger image and their world is augmented via their camera screen to host a 3D location, animal, or environment from the story. These visuals are interactive – tapping the image on the smartphone screen will elicit a response – perhaps a roar from a beast, or interactive displays with more information. This form of AR therefore becomes a form of transmedia storytelling – where a story is told across different mediums, and the more of those you interact with the more information you gain about that story, or world.

Other uses might be more educational, such as the Open University, BBC and Zappar collaboration to create AR interactive models of the human brain, heart, and liver. By downloading the Zappar trigger images and using these in class, students can see a 3D image of these organs, rotate them, click on them, view them as both “healthy” and “unhealthy” and gain a perspective on these internal organs that many would be unlikely to otherwise have.

 

Products and Services

When it comes to products and services, however, the use of augmented reality is diverse. The overlay and interaction with the physical environments enables some unique ways for certain products to be trialled. For example, the Dulux paint app uses augmented reality to map your walls through your phone camera and on your phone screen you can change the colours of your walls to try out different colours on your wall, and, ultimately, help you decide what paint to buy.

IKEA similarly uses AR to allow you to view products in your own home, helping you visualise that product in a virtual “try before you buy”. Other examples include using AR to allow buys to “try on” jewellery before buying, using their smartphone to look at their hand, for example, and see the ring you are considering buying and what it would look like on you.

These kinds of ideas can demonstrate how you can use AR to improve your business. You might want to think about how AR could add a new lens to your story, perhaps providing more information, or allowing interaction with different elements. Perhaps there is an educational need that AR can fill – other examples might be using the camera lens to “look” at different things, and more information appear about those things, whatever they may be. Or you might have a unique product that you want users to be able to visualise more clearly. What information would you like your users to have? What interaction would you like them to be able to perform? What product or service would you like them to have the chance to try out?

Photo of phone taking a picture of furniture.

Covid-19 has created unique possibilities for the future of AR – as we move away from high-street shopping this is only being exacerbated by national lockdowns and social distancing concerns. In this changing landscape, an AR experience may allow different ways for consumers to engage with products and services.

The benefits of AR are mainly to do with accessibility – if the user has a smartphone then no other hardware is required. Similarly, a number of different apps exist for the creation and development of AR that do not require coding knowledge (examples include AugmaniaZap worksTorch, and Adobe Aero).

Downfall of AR

Yet, one of the main drawbacks of AR is that there is no centralised app that “reads” all trigger images or locations. In order to engage with an AR creation, the user will need to have the appropriate app downloaded that correlates with the software or platform that was used to create it. This is unlike, for example, QR codes, which can all be read with one QR code reader or smart camera. In order to try and overcome this drawback, the next development in AR is Web AR, that uses the mobile phone browser as the platform to host the AR product. This removal of the barrier that exists with the need to search for,  download and install applications on to mobile devices, whether they be tablets, or mobile phones saves valuable storage space, but also offers a level of convenience to the user.  The evolution of AR as the technology becomes more sophisticated with advancements in tracking capabilities and the removal of access barriers makes this area of immersive media an exciting frontier of creativity which has only just started to be explored.

If you want to learn more about AR and use it in your business then , get in touch or apply to join STEAMhouse today! Alternatively, join our mailing list to receive regular tips and advice.

As we prepare for the post-pandemic era – is your business ecommerce ready?

Over the past decade, consumers have been demanding faster and more convenient ways to shop, as is evident from the growth of major online platforms such as eBay, Amazon and Etsy. But there can be no doubt that 2020 has accelerated this growing trend. Between the first and second quarter of 2020, ecommerce in the UK rose from 20% to 31%, with a noticeable uplift in ecommerce by organisations where previously there was little demand.

Photo of person using a mobile device

Farmers have looked to sell their produce directly, and restaurants have transitioned to a take-away only service. And now, with many retailers struggling to keep up with demand, there’s a perfect opportunity to build a profitable business model with the right ecommerce strategy in place. So, how prepared is your business to reach this new audience?

Ecommerce for small and emerging businesses

Modern technology means it’s now easier than ever for businesses to get online and start selling immediately. Popular website builders such as GoDaddy now offer ecommerce features, allowing businesses to sell and promote products across all social spaces and marketplaces – including Instagram and Amazon, which are great platforms for reaching mass audiences.

WooCommerce  has soared in popularity in recent years and can be added to any WordPress site via a plugin, allowing customers to set up an online store in minutes. It even enables businesses to manage their store from the WooCommerce mobile app. Another well-known platform is Shopify, providing sellers with 24/7 expert advice and support, as well as SEO and marketing assistance. With over 70 professional themes to chose from, the finished product looks great. Meanwhile, Wix eCommerce ranks highly, with its ease of use and wide range of features, including the ability to sell across multiple platforms from one integrated dashboard.

Image of two hands exchanging bank card and shopping bag

Some big names in the industry have gone one step further in supporting businesses during this difficult time. eBay.uk has introduced a number of seller protection strategies including removing negative customer feedback and late delivery counts for unavoidable delayed orders (for instance via Royal Mail or other couriers).

The role of social media in ecommerce

Social platforms are vital tools for any start-up or SME looking to gain a competitive edge. They are uniquely designed to reach a target yet captive audience in just a few clicks, with 44% of the UK online population accessing Facebook more than once a day. Facebook in particular is an extremely powerful tool, providing a one-stop-shop for business owners to post video content to market products; communicate directly with customers (via Messenger); add a call-to-action button; and leverage Facebook Analytics to provide insight into customer behaviour and interaction.

image of iPhone with open apps

Integrating ecommerce into your website

If you’ve established a loyal following on your website and aren’t comfortable investing in a new platform, adding an ecommerce function to your pre-existing site could be the answer. Step 1 – if your website allows it, install a plugin such as WooCommerce. Step 2 – add some basic ecommerce features such as a shopping cart and payment gateways (e.g. Paypal and Sage). You could also add a Shopify Buy Now Button, which will allow you to add products to any site or blog page. Step 3 – take advantage of Facebook ecommerce, a simple and effective way of getting your product to market. Simply set up a business page and click ‘Add Shop Section’.

Next steps for ecommerce?

You could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed at the choices available. However, there’s lots of help and advice out there including comparison sites and how-to guides. If you haven’t done so already, also check out the STEAMhouse events page, where, throughout the year, you’ll find lots of sessions on social media and building your online presence. For further business support, you can also contact the STEAMhouse Incubator and speak to one of our in-house advisors.

If you’d like support with your ecommerce strategy, get in touch or apply to join STEAMhouse today! Alternatively, join our mailing list to receive regular tips and advice.