Immersive design and the power of visualization

2012 April 26

Some websites and web apps are using what I call “immersive design.” I have been researching blogs and magazines in hope for a proper name, and it seems that it is referred as “full-screen background“. I do not like this name because I do not find it descriptive enough. Technically, all backgrounds are filling the full screen, otherwise websites would look like crap. So I had to come up with my own name, immersive design, and a definition for it:

Immersive design is the use of a full-screen background image as the main design feature in a website, with the goal of creating a strong emotional impact on the user.

The term “immersive” puts more weight on the intent rather than the means. A full-screen background image is just a technical detail. The feeling of emotional immersion in the website is the real marketing value.

In this article, I am explaining why I am convinced that immersive design is one of the strongest yet underrated on-line marketing tools. I am also showing a few examples of immersive designs that I have been collecting while surfing the Internet.

The concept of Visualization

I’ll start with a long quote taken from the Visualization section of Josh Kaufman’s book “The Personal MBA“:

As soon as you step into the lot of a car dealership, the salesperson you work with has a single, clear objective: convince you to get behind the wheel of a vehicle for a test drive. Until you’re actually driving the car […] you’re capable of rationally comparing makes and models, features and prices. […] Once you’re actually behind the wheel of a car, however, the emotional parts of your mind take control. You start to imagine what your life would be like if you owned this vehicle. […] You’ve stopped comparing and started wanting.

If you encourage your prospects to Visualize what their life will look like after purchasing, you increase the probability that they’ll purchase from you. The best way to help your customers Visualize is to expose them to as much sensory information as possible — the information their mind uses to conclude, “I want this.”

How does Visualization translates into the startup/webapp world? Let’s take a few examples.

Immersive design applied to entertainment and travel

Imagine you are selling DVDs and Blu-rays. So what you want is to show your prospects what will the high-quality of a Blu-ray movie looks like, so they can visualize. On computers and TV sets, movies are played full-sreen, therefore the best way for you to make your prospect visualize is to integrate the final results, a high-quality full-screen image, into the design of you sales website. This is done using immersive design.

Another example would be travel websites. All travel websites look the same, with boring boxes for dates and cities. But if someone is browsing a travel website, it is because that someone wants to be on vacation already! Therefore the best chance to make this person visualize is to give her a full-screen photo of the place she wants to go. If you put that person right where she wants to be, there is no doubt she’ll use her credit card!

Why is immersive design effective

Below are the key elements in favor of immersive design. Note that I am not basing the content of this paragraph on any statistically-tested research, but just on my own personal opinion.

1. It allows the prospects to visualize and project themselves into the future. Everything that’s imagined has the same value in the brain as reality (I read that in some psychology book, but can’t find the reference — if you have the reference for that, email me). So but putting the user right where he wants to be, one brings this hypothetical possibility into the realm of what’s actually real, therefore reducing the number of steps towards a sale.

2. It create a strong emotional experience for the user. Just like explained in Josh Kaufman’s section on visualization, it’s all about sensory experience. From my own personal experience, I have always felt the same thing when landing on a website with immersive design. The flow of my thoughts suddenly stops, and I spend a couple of second contemplating the awesome picture that’s given to me. I suppose that the “rational” part of my brain just disconnects, and the “emotional” part of my brain kicks in. Marketers press on our emotional triggers so that we don’t consider offers rationally.

3. It breaks the monotony of an Internet surfing session. All websites look almost the same today. They are all A/B tested and converging towards the same graphic conventions, and people became very conservative with design in the past few years. A user would see some tabs at the top, a few menus of the left, and so on. And then, that user clicks some link and lands on a page that uses immersive design, and BAM! All the user can see now is a full-screen high-quality image, which breaks the monotone information flow he was previously stuck into. This is grabbing her attention, and she instantly becomes more receptive to what this site has to say.

4. It is easier to create and implement correctly compared to other styles. With immersive design, there is no much room for design mistakes, because your design are the actual high-quality pictures of what you are selling. All what’s left are a few text areas, a few buttons to navigate between products and a few buttons to buy the products.


Here are a few screenshots of websites I have stumbled upon that are using immersive design. Click on the images to enlarge.


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