Is the World Ready for 5D Design? It May Be Time for Brands to Take Experience to the Next Dimension

Promoting products in a way that appears to transcend space and time

Are we ready for 5D design? Getty Images

Modern brands and products are layered with complexity, and for that very reason, are more dynamic than ever. This creates multi-dimensional challenges, each in need of a great new design solution. At the same time, they’re also developing humanistic names and personalities, which in turn hint at and even create co-dependent relationships. They increasingly take up physical, digital and invisible spaces, and some even expect us to talk boldly with them. This requires creatives and marketers to invent deeper interactions, which must be learned by all parties over time.

In the next phases of life, we’ll continue listening and looking via devices, nearing subdermal applications where we may even share the same skin (cue the next Hollywood blockbuster). We’ll likely continue with objects observing us 24/7, searching our histories, predicting our futures and even learning our quirks. So how do you design for this expanding universe? It’s what I call designing in 5D.

At this point in time, we’re no longer bound to design in classic 2D and 3D formats or even 4D (think time and space), something we consider to be centered in “experience design.” All of these formats typically manifest through classic mediums like pictures, storyboards, animations, models and video. Which is why if you want to differentiate your brand, you’ll want to consider ways to include elements from a more fluid, subjective fifth dimension.

Often, 5D is academically represented as a space with five dimensions, a mathematical abstraction and/or theory that unifies the fundamental interactions of nature. For design’s sake, I’ve co-opted the 5D term to try to capture the challenges of designing brands and products that include the standard dimensions but now need to transcend both time and space, tap into historic influence, create evolving personalities, project a future vision, contain predictive relationships or even blend all of these together.

Creating clear process considerations, tools and tricks will further enable you to tackle the complexity of modern programs.

Even simple, non-technical, non-smart featured products like furniture, apparel or packaging may soon need a 5D consideration. As a designer focused on improving the human experience through the design of brands and products, I have to contemplate these complexities regularly while attempting to design products for the future. This means homing in on the acronym soup of AR, VR, AI, IOT, ML and so on.

I’ve found it’s best to start with a defined initial checklist of human-centered objectives and a couple of 5D considerations to compare against at the start and periodically run through as a gut check, updating as you learn what’s working. Here are four ever-evolving considerations I use while developing almost every design-centered solution.

Seek out instructors

Given that most consumer products and brands are designed for middle-market enthusiasts and are not limited to early adopters or influencers, we should always seek out the instructors or teachers in a new reality audience. Once identified, we need to provide them the tools needed to help onboard others to these new, layered, sometimes complex 5D experiences.

Here’s an example: I might need sports psychologists to create an onboarding quick-start narrative to fully show enthusiasts the benefits of utilizing all of the features of a new lifelogging wearable or mental fitness app.

Add familiarity

Familiar experiences, form factors, colors, etc., are comforting to people when interacting with new realities. When introducing a bold new product or technology, it often helps to relate it to something familiar so it’s more rapidly adopted by the audience. Try to identify a historical connection or something in their culture that would help an audience open their minds or hearts to new experiences. Sometimes connections are rooted in user data, while other times, cues from nature or simple human understanding will suffice.

A basic example is creating a robot that’s pet-like to make the technology seem friendly and unassuming. The product may still be complex, but the execution is recognizable and less intimidating.

Quick storyboarding

As complex as new brand and product experiences can become, it helps to quickly storyboard the basic human interactions first to inform any prototyping you may need. Whiteboards, plus pictures or video, are great ways to map out interactions from start to finish without the time and expense of high-fidelity production. Starting with the most important points you hope to learn, assign the most appropriate prototyping tool and be prepared to storyboard a few times before settling on the best execution.

For example, if the challenge was to have someone cook one of their favorite professional chef meals using a new predictive audio device that emanates from their connected utensils, I’ve found that starting with a step-by-step storyboard should uncover many of the interaction points that help reveal the most important points for prototyping physically, digitally, etc. This is also when many of the 2D, 3D, 4D and perhaps even 5D experiences will reveal themselves.

Customize personality

Beyond the physical, digital and interactive elements, take time to conceptualize the personality of a project. Your project personality may ultimately need to be customized to give people choice. Product and brand personalities can be authoritative, confident, friendly, complex, covert, overt or perhaps a combination, just like with real human personalities. Consider a new child prosthetic that has an audible companion, where instead of a robo-teacher, the child might respond better if the device sounded more like Mrs. Doubtfire or Bart Simpson. Such customization will give people a greater sense of control and comfort with complex new realities, perhaps even by allowing them to create the voice themselves and give it a name, if that’s what they might prefer.

Designing modern programs is becoming increasingly complex, so I highly recommend defining or adopting a consistent, personal process and guiding considerations. This will help any team tackle multi-dimensional challenges. Taking the time to review your process after each program—a process post-mortem—will help you evolve and align your teams before each new program and build their confidence. And creating clear process considerations, tools and tricks will further enable you to tackle the complexity of modern programs, hopefully providing you with more time to formulate creative and human life enhancements as we move ever deeper into a 5D world.

Brett Lovelady founded ASTRO in 1994 to blend design, technology and cultural insights into a series of iconic, market-defining consumer products and brands.