– a brief backstory – a brief backstory

At a trade fair for custom interior design, with thousands attending, how can you give attendees a personalised experience?

John Allsopp
A brief note about us …

Can you imagine a better world to live or work in, and would like to experience it 'on location'?

We’re building a toolbox to make it possible!

We want to democratise spatial practices (architecture, urban design and the like) by using systems borrowed from games and storytelling, in real places, to allow users of those spaces to experience alternative realties for where they live and work.

These experiences will be structured so that supporters, creators and communities can collaborate, and collectively own the output of their explorations.

Through the psychological benefits of experiencing agency in your day-to-day environment, and the material benefits of shared ownership, the ultimate goal is for the experiences to have lasting value and to precipitate real change.

Our piece " is a build" has more. is a guild (part 1)
We are building to democratise spatial practices - to connect, empower & facilitate.

Building worlds

Our previous posts set out initial thoughts on what a guild of worldbuilders might look like, how it might be structured behind the scenes and critically, why we might need it in the first place.

It may also help to ground these thoughts with a real-world example.

A call to adventure

Decorex International is one of Europe’s leading events for interior design professionals. I was approached by the event production team to create an installation as a physical destination to help pull attendees through the enormous event hall.

London Olympia floor plan - installation footprint circled / lavender
London Olympia floor plan - installation footprint circled / lavender

The key to this opportunity was identifying its potential. We were approached as an architecture firm, but read the invitation through the lens of Tricia Austin’s definition of Narrative Environments.

Email invitation (left) and definition of narrative environments (right)
Email invitation (left) and definition of narrative environments (right)

The result was an installation that brought interiors to life using storytelling and augmented reality. The logistics and mode of execution have directly influenced what we propose to do with


The challenges along the journey towards delivering the installation provided hints of problems and solutions that would be conceived to address:

  1. Team building
    Together with myself as architect, we had Shupin Liu (spatial experience designer) and Sophya Welle (Biological scientist, educator & illustrator), from the MA Narrative Environments (MANE) programme at Central Saint Martins (CSM).

    From the outside looking in, it might not have been obvious where we might quickly find potential multidisciplinary collaborators. CSM was a ready source.

    From the inside looking out, given that Narrative Environments design is an emerging practice, real-world projects for students and graduates are limited. Design Encounter was an outlet.

    Therefore, the MANE cohort played the role of community and our architecture practice that of host.

    Beyond our MANE collaborators, we worked very closely with the UBM/Informa organisers, augmented reality developers Catalyst, set builders Soultions2 and others.
  2. Legal wrapper
    The logistical conduit between the MANE community and the trade fair installation was provided by our hosting architectural practice, taking legal responsibility for the two post-graduate students as placements, situating them under the various insurance umbrellas of the company.

    As this was an internal stage set, the statutory requirements were not as demanding as they might have been for say a bricks and mortar construction project, but there was a fair degree of architectural, professional responsibility involved. This too was dealt with via the entity of the practice.
  3. Hybrid spatial practices
    We were given temporary responsibility (4 days) for a limited footprint of commercial real estate which would soon see another use.

    Our approach, involving employment of a narrative environment, allowed us to inhabit that space temporarily, provide an experience in line with the theme of the overall event and leave attendees with both a tangible record and emotional memory of their experience.
Extract from the 'story matrix' (breakdown of the experience)

The Design Encounter experience

The brief condensed to a question:
At a trade fair for custom interior design, with thousands attending, how can you give attendees a personalised experience?

The installation was developed in response to the challenge to create a personal experience for visitors at this event, which celebrates personalised design.

The visitor's journey begins with an invitation to explore and react to the interior design by identifying items that they like, towards an ultimate goal of revealing one of four 'secret' gardens at the end of the journey that matches their personality type, and is influenced by their choices.

Installation entrance lobby video

The experience is made possible with the free and purpose-built Decorex Deign Encounter app, which visitors can log in to with their ticket. The app allows users to pin augmented reality 'likes' on items in the rooms, logging their preferences and allowing them to discover more about the designers, the products, and the suppliers who made them.

Meanwhile, through this activity, visitors build a personality profile in the background. The garden of the visual finale is also revealed through augmented reality.

Checking in and using augmented reality to like products
Room by designer Natalia Miyar (left) & recorded likes in app (right)
Room by designer Natalia Miyar (left) & recorded likes in app (right)
One of four immersive 'secret gardens'
One of four immersive 'secret gardens'

Almost twenty years ago, social media brought us the concept of the up-vote, or ‘like’ - on screen. Design Encounter took that paradigm from the flat screen into the three dimensions of the real world.

Their brief

As we have borrowed storytelling devices, we can also categorise with genre.

Design Encounter, a work-for-hire project, sits within the realm of retail and marketing, serving the exhibiting interior designers, their product suppliers and the event organisers themselves. It was our answer to their brief ...

Our brief

... which brings us to why we are here.

Our goal is to self–initiate and set our own brief, production-house style, towards a broader playing field of opportunities. We are particularly keen to develop the capacity to produce impact projects with purpose, that reflect values that collectives feel strongly about - this with our core values of meaningful collaboration in mind.

Author K.M. Weiland speaks of "the lie that the character believes" – that propels the protagonist along a character arc from what they want to what they need.

Our evolution will be, self-consciously, a journey, with ourselves as protagonists, experiencing a character arc that takes us to an unknown destination.

The source of our call to this adventure is a bundle of four books that, together, hint at new possibilities for spatial practices.

They are:

  1. Dark Matter & Trojan Horses by Dan Hill
    ... strategic design

  2. The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond
    ... the open source movement

  3. Narrative Environments & Experience Design by Tricia Austin
    ... space as a medium of communication

  4. Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
    ... gameplay as an environment for transformation

Along our journey, we will continue to review bundles of books of four, collected by theme and/or purpose.

Be sure to subscribe to our journal so you don't miss them!


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