IKEA, and their human-centric approach to the metaverse – Part 2

Omnichannel Podcast Episode 17

In this episode, we hear from Timi Stoop-Alcala, the Principal Content Strategist at IKEA. 

She and Noz Urbina discuss what the metaverse is, how it relates to human usability, and how IKEA is focusing on being human-centric in the metaverse and beyond.

Of course, it’s always user first, but before that, it’s model and content structure first approach so that we don’t end up just pouring content in a container into a visual design so that it becomes the container itself. Timi Stoop-Alcala

It's always user first, but before that, it's model and content structure first approach.” @delunna / @NozUrbina #Omnichannel Podcast. #CX #CustomerExperience Share on X

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Noz Urbina
Noz Urbina
Urbina Consulting

Full session transcript



Noz Urbina 42:05

So what does IKEA want to do next? What is your kind of longer-term goals? Do you have any specific thoughts about where you think you’re going to take the metaverse?

Timi Stoop-Alcala  42:14

Well, I am for experienced design at least in one of our Centers of Expertise. Actually is the strategic experience designers research team, and they’re you right away. A lot of interesting folks there that maybe you would love to connect with. And we are partnering we are collaborating with them on just on the whole, you know, emerging tech and what are the driving factors for change that we need to look at because we’re always looking at it from the human perspective, right? And in terms of the next steps, I can only speak for what we think is important right now and that is really to generate understanding and framing of what it is and why is it important for us and how is this going to help and support the many people and so

Noz Urbina  43:16

within IKEA you’re trying to build that understanding?

Timi Stoop-Alcala  43:19

Yeah. A lot of teams, of course, research teams and product teams that are looking into spatial computing you know, and of course, you’re also in touch with other partner with other companies on more on the technology side, but you might even experience design. It’s about that’s great, first, the shared language around this. Let’s understand what it means. And let’s ask critical questions. And then also that’s why we’re partnering with weather, strategy and research friends. What’s the content perspective here? Because I think most of the time, you know when you start talking about metaverse, it’s really about that becomes about the technology and the platform and everything but, you know, it’s really about content right? I think that was it you said hope I’m not putting in correctly that what is the metaverse but content, content, it’s made of content, right? We’re all made of content and that whole thinking around I think there’s also a big need to Okay, let me rephrase it. We start with a shared understanding of a common language because we need once we understand it, then, then we need to see what are the changes we have to do or to undergo for us to be ready to be successful and deliver experiences in the metaverse and then we go into the path of, you know, my mind shifts and behaviour change in the way we create content, then it becomes more tangible because this problem is a problem now, like how do we start changing the way we think and create content? It’s already a challenge now. I think it’s even going to be more you know, a challenge if we do not start thinking of how this is going. How is the how metaverse is gonna change this or what would be demanded of us to really be relevant in this space? Because we don’t want to just create just, you know, content for the metaverse. It needs to

Noz Urbina  45:32

metaverse for metaverse sake.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  45:33

Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly why we like let’s talk about this and let’s have conversations. And let’s start with defining things and even just the definition. It’s, there’s a lot of, it’s hard to define it. It’s changing. Like it’s a great start, like what you how you define it, and then also okay, what is important for us, how do we start working for this? How do we prepare like, that’s those 3d assets in place? That’s great. But other things like how do we imagine what would be the pipeline, you know, for metaverse content? And what are we doing now? What needs to you know what needs to change? So it’s a lot about change management, they think, and it’s not new and then that notion of something like high tech, low metaverse suddenly, you know, gets pulled to the ground because then you realize, oh, you have to work with teams and people. What do they need to understand? So you might remember from when social media you know, started evolving and then businesses didn’t know how to work with it. And there were a lot of doubts can it be you know, part of a core you know, proposition? It’s just something outside but now everybody knows.

Noz Urbina  46:50

It was the whole thing. It was cat videos and you know, yes, and it was it relevant.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  46:57

Sorry, when I got the videos still persists. The power of cats and the internet. I think that’s the ultimate content strategy. Getting aside? Yeah. Now that we are faced with the same thing, I feel like in terms of day-to-day, you know, work. What does this mean in terms of our centre of expertise, what do we need to do? And how do we start educating or how do we start getting people curious and looking at it as something that also is interesting for them? Because I think if you’re not working directly with either the text or you know, if you’re in the store, for example, house, it’s going to be relevant for you. It is going to be relevant because you’re in the physical space, and that’s why it’s exciting. And then just making sure that we, we know what we’re talking about, and then understanding the changes that need to happen. And also start looking at content really as objects. And by that, I mean, they are representations are real things in the world. They’re not just a thing that we like, think or invent. Because we think, Oh, this is going to fit this nice, you know, component on the screen. It really needs to be based on real-world concepts and relationships because that’s going to help us develop better metaverse experiences and, and do extend the thought. That’s why I think also storytelling as a core competence needs to really be developed and I know storytelling is already you know, everybody knows how important it is. But hopefully, the metaverse really does take on like a, you know, another dimension because we need to start thinking of the in the meantime, parts of the story. You know not everything will be chronological. And you know, especially if we want our participants or users to have shared experiences, how do we really design this environment better and the whole story behind it? So all the mechanisms of storytelling, I feel like we need to, you know, we need to look at that again and how will this apply to the way we think about metaverse experiences? Yeah, so there are two things because not everybody’s still understanding, I think or appreciating how content should be structured into you know, these intelligent building blocks. And these are building blocks of the stories that you want to pray and experience. You want to pray into the metaverse.

Noz Urbina  49:38

I love that. So you touched on so many things there. First of all, I want to tell people that if they look if they Google for New York Times interactive, they can get several lovely examples and I’ll try to put them in the show notes about where you can see as simple as, for example, tracking climate change data. And you can as you scroll down through the different regional descriptions as the climate change data, it’s being superimposed on this 3d Globe. That kind of rotates to the countries of the region that they’re talking about and overlays the data the on the maps and stuff. And then there’s a beautiful example about birds, where as you scroll down, the birds that they’re talking about the kind of are there and they actually flutter around and if you move your mouse that kind of just above their heads in reaction to interact. Yeah, and there’s and then when we’re talking to very telling really important like New York Times, way t stories, there’s they do, they do, they do a piece on the Tulsa race massacre, which again, is like a human trafficking story. These are real deep human stories, and they and they transport you through, you know, a significant historical event and the way that they kind of stole respect for this. Try to make it a real thing is that they, instead of scrolling down a story, like scrolling down an article page, yeah, you’re, as you scroll like, Well, I tried to describe it as they’ve reimagined the scroll as a hallway. And you walk through the story at the pace that you want, and as you walk through now, images come up and text comes up and then the key point where you get into understanding what Tulsa was and what happened to it. You’re actually doing a flyover or a walkthrough of the town itself. And you know that the buildings light up and you see what, who lived there and who had a business there and what happened to them and you kind of walk through the main street of the town and you can stop at any point you can go walk backwards, walk forwards, and this is all being done with the control of the scrollbar and so it’s an incredible they’ve they’re like the people that the New York Times interactive department is a great place to see how metaverse future-friendly experiences are being developed for all sorts of reasons, important social, and historical reasons. Simply communicative ones, or there’s great variety there. If you want to check those out. I really recommend

Timi Stoop-Alcala  52:34

definitely check those out. And I think that’s something also very again, another great thing to help prepare teams for this. Look at great examples, but also look at other examples. Just try to see where are we right now. And yeah, we’ll start there. Because I think that’s also where you know seeing those things experiencing those things will spark you know, the connections.

Noz Urbina  52:57

Yeah. What can we do with it? Yeah, yeah, I think you also touched upon something super important, which is this intelligent content in the background. So the that connects with it connects in a very important way because connects with a user-driven, experience-driven way with a very technical concept, which is we’re seeing the rise of, of in the mainstreaming, I should say, because it’s been around for decades. of domain modelling, content modelling, semantic web ontology, ontologies, and graph databases, all these technologies that have a human-centred understanding of the content. They don’t understand it as pages and widgets, but rather as what it actually is and how it relates to itself. So there’s such a thing as a piece of furniture and furniture have types and they have rooms that they go in and they have uses and those uses go with personas and tasks and those those those personas have interactions that had interactions have interaction data, which then drives personalization, like the full web of the understanding and the full complexity of content. You can’t do that very well in an age-based environment. And so the graph you know, I’m not going to get into graph databases, but graphs and ontology is a lot of taxonomies. All a lot of these words, semantic web a lot. Of these words that you might be hearing. They’re all the way that we do that. They’re all the way that we bring that human understanding into the technology so that it can, it can help us build human-centric experiences.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  54:35

That is so crucial and our team really is into finding ways to collaborate with finding ways to work with our knowledge graphs or is also developing knowledge. Because exactly because of this that we need, how else can we sustain actually content development? I think if we do not start treating it as knowledge, resources, and turning it into connected, you know, content. And so, for me, so you’re weaving these conversations around, okay, we prepare for the future. And why is, you know, why did we start to look at content as objects? Well, this is why it’s all about, especially with the kid’s knowledge and home furnishing, you know, how do we make sure that this is this knowledge is accessible, reusable, and findable? And then how do we turn how do we use that, you know, to turn our content into smarter really building blocks are aware of itself and those will help, you know, will work harder for us. And that’s really a big shift in that whole thinking about content. That’s one of the challenges that we’re facing today. How do we do that? How do we know, let’s show examples? How can we start with that? Yes.

Noz Urbina  55:56

Yeah, so I will, I’ll bring him the concept that has been very successful. The concepts that have been very successful for us in our implementations with companies like IKEA is journey mapping, and jobs to be done like really getting a good research, research-backed, methodical description of who are we talking about. What are they really trying to accomplish? And then what is their experience look like? What is the map of that experience today? Not those stupid diagrams you get on the internet have like a line where like you see an email newsletter and then I click a thing and then I look at a brochure. And then now I do a download with smiley faces and stuff, but something much richer that maps the user questions to their goals to the channels that they’re using to the specific content requirements that support those goals, and then what call to actions you want to do and then how you will measure success. That’s what I when I say journey map. That’s what I’m talking about.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  56:52

I love that, especially the questions part. Yeah, we got to forget about that. And that’s directly related to a pool of big beautiful questions. We need.

Noz Urbina  57:04

Exactly, so questions over time. You know, it’s an equation question over time questions every time Yeah, yeah. And so that’s how we help put it all together in a way that kind of gets like everyone in the company can kind of get that. Here are the questions over time. Here’s what we’re trying to address. Over time, rather than here’s what we want to publish wishes are the completely backwards way. Like here’s what I want to scream about, is the old way of, of doing content. Here are the questions we’re trying to answer for our users to help them towards our objective. That’s the modern way of thinking about that, and then it maps directly to them. Okay, well, if this is their question, what’s the component of content that might answer that and what are the different ways that I need to express that answer? I’m not going to do PDFs. images, text, metaverse, 3d environments, there might be many expressions of how they might how and where that might answer that question. But the question remains consistent because that’s what the person is trying, to answer to get them to the next stage. So that’s super helpful and remains relevant. Yeah, yes, it’s in the end, it kind of it brings content to the front, through a user experience lens, you know, and then the next thing we do is what we call content prototypes, which is, actually before we get into designing interfaces and doing UI prototypes, and building software prototypes. Let’s just take the words and the images and say if we were to make this into a different kind of experience, how would we then break it down? So we’ve got our questions over time. So all right. How would we answer that? Let’s take what we currently have, transform it, you know, rewrite it, augment it, add stuff, take away stuff, and then package it up so that it properly addresses those questions. Now, what would that content look like? And you can do that without doing any user interface. You can just do that. We’ve done it in Word documents. And then we show the users the before and after, and you can do like a usability lab on the content, no, no UI, no search, none of that stuff. Just how does this content address your questions versus that this content and that can really you can come back with numbers and go look, this is the impact of just changing the content. Now let’s imagine what would happen if we layered SEO and UI design and all that good stuff on top of it.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  59:44

That’s another thing that you know you can start doing next week and that will help you, you know, be relevant and be successful when you do go into the metaverse or whatever other you know, things that may come up in the future. But that’s what that’s the whole content will. Of course, it’s always user first but you know, model first, content structure first approach. So that we don’t end up just pouring things in the pouring content in a container to a visual design comes becomes the container itself. The content is the container in a way so yeah, that’s what inspires us. And I think that’s also where we’re focusing on so that we, we start preparing for these kinds of experiences. And again, the metaverse is one part of the whole experience that we are developing for people.

Noz Urbina  1:00:38

Fantastic. Okay. So we’re just coming on time now. You coming back to how we originally kind of met and how the scouting kind of got we got inspired to have you on the on podcast you placed them into the conference slack discussions and questions inspired by Chris Arkin Berg. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about who Chris Eichenberg was what you know, how you got inspired by him why you found it memorable, and engaging, and what and I’m gonna I want to bring up some of those questions in a second a little bit about that Chris Harkin Berg and what that was all about.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:01:15

Well, this was like, I think 10 years ago or around the time so he was one of the, like, technology, computing guys that I was following online. I saw this article I think it’s from I remember correctly, breaking open the cloud heads in an augmented world is what I put in my blog. And because I saw that, you know, and I started blogging about it, and I just liked the way that he was posting questions around usability and, you know, human usability and how technology should be followed, following the, how we evolve evolution from that perspective. And I found that so interesting, all of those kinds of things yet, we’re talking about, you know, like, more about technology and you know, some a lot of the other articles before we just focus on the tech itself when he was making the connection to human evolution. So I really liked that part.

Noz Urbina  1:02:21

Right. Well, there’s, that was I think, the question that I wanted to kind of bring back to you is your question you posed in the group how are these technologies in line with the deeper evolutionary needs the human needs of human beings and I’m interested in your thoughts that take us home here.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:02:40

Yeah. Well, you know, especially like when extended makes all of this metaverse it’s not just you’re not just you know, experiencing things in on a screen interface. It’s going to be a lot of blending with where you are exactly, and what you know, you’re here and now. And yeah, so just thinking of how is this experience going to affect the way I feel or how it makes me dizzy. Am I going to feel tired or confused if I start being in these kinds of experiences because I know that’s it How does it make me feel? So all of that all of those things, you know, emotions and physical conditions, and to continue to be considering that more and knowing how things work, you know, in your physical spaces, I think that’s so important. From the human, like the evolutionary side, I would say, I’m more I was also more just interested more on the, like the seeing or the way we look at things and the like the I also read somewhere around the pleasure of spectatorship. This window with these kinds of realities. It’s, it’s based on the fascination for the visual, and if, if that’s the case, will that help us be better humans? I think you can have you know, you can answer that in many ways, I think, yeah, it will be temporary. But it can also be like this, it doesn’t mean that we’re just looking at the surface of things because it’s just the visual aspect. How will that help? I guess, accessibility for example. These are all just questions I’m asking. I don’t know the answers, but that’s why I thought, you know, this whole discussion on metaverse and how it really affects us as humans, it brings those questions up. Yeah,

Noz Urbina  1:04:45

I think I had a very interesting experience talking about the metaverse I teach. I teach in the master’s degree program at the University on content strategy. And the last day of the last physical session where we actually got together with the students. I did I did an hour on the metaverse at the end of the day. And it was amazing and it was great and beautiful in a way that I almost couldn’t get through the points I was trying to make because the students were so interested in equity and accessibility, that, you know, like how can we make this how can we make sure that everyone is able to participate? How can we make sure that this is available and designed properly for everyone, which is, you know, I not taking away from the importance of those questions, but it is it’s so much part of the way that we are especially the younger generation of content professionals are driving how to design things. It’s so present, and it’s what I kind of got to was that it’s the same questions as we have for the internet. You know, a video is a video a podcast is a podcast show you there are only there are ways that you can make the content that’s in a podcast accessible to someone who has challenges with for example, a hearing sense or a video someone has a challenge with the visuals visual sense, but you are always providing them with an in you’re providing them with an inroad, which is suitable for their situation. You cannot make a video not a video and you cannot make audio not audio. So there’s a limit like we can make the experience accessible in the content accessible, but there’s no way to make something that inherently is one way and can is designed and exists to stimulate that sense available to someone who doesn’t have that sense. It’s not part of their reality. So it’s not about you know, it’s the same accessibility discussion extends into the metaverse. It’s not I don’t think it’s a whole new accessibility discussion.What do you say about how it supports human needs? I think I am very inspired by that question to have to look at something where you know, there’s a lot of research about how young people are actually saying social media is hurting me. You know, they’re they are saying you know, that this, you know, I am addicted. I can’t get off it, but it makes me depressed like when we were kids, and we played video games all day or we watch too much TV you know, our parents had to pry us off of it. We never kind of walked in and sadly setting you to know, I played too much supermario today I’m getting depressed like it’s different. It’s not there’s a lot of people who are tempted to go Oh yeah, well, we had screen addiction when we were kids. It’s a different thing and the metaverse will be a different thing again, and we have to be sensitive to that. It will have negatives which are new and it will I think will also have positives that are new. That will be bringing back live 3d multimodal multi-sensory experience rather than text which I think has inherent problems as a way of interfacing with our communities and with the world. It brings back more reality in a way you know because it is multimodal because it it’s multi-sensory. It’s more like real interaction. Like if you’ve never been in the metaverse, it’s hard to say but I can tell you even if you’re going in and talking to someone’s avatar, and that avatar is a giant chicken saying to someone’s giant chicken face, something that you would tweet in a text is not the same. Like you see their body language reaction to being in a physical room. You know to for to have them do to kind of be able to kind of like if you turned away for them to be able to walk back in your space and go What did you say? Like yeah, it will change I think for the better. That kind of interaction is because we’re taking away the wall of safety that text creates and the anonymity of asynchronous communication. So I think there are lots of beautiful things which by bream Bay are more ergonomic and are more about extending real human senses into the digital world. It will bring back things that we we’ve lost with the internet and with

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:09:35

social media. That’s a great reflection because it’s, as you said, it’s multi-sensory. So there are many ways of expressing yourself. Whereas indeed, if you’re bound to only words, you know, only to one thing, I mean that has its

Noz Urbina  1:09:52

own not only words, text, text, because it’s different text. That’s true. That’s true. Yeah, the text is technology words, words. These are our words, but the text is a technology we have invented to capture them and communicate them in a particular way.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:10:05

Right. And now we kind of mix that actually like using words something but because and there’s a bit this is going a bit sideways, but you know there’s this tendency to make things more concise, more, shorter and Bucha feels sometimes it’s a bit theoretical. Because some things need to be you know, need to time to, to evolve and for you to understand you will not understand something right away and that’s okay. But now that you’re saying Indeed the difference of text and words that you know, that I can relate more into Yeah, we need a better design that not just text, other ways to bring the experience, get the senses, other senses into it. And of course, we can do that like just on a page, but something like a metaverse that’s possible. Then they all gain a deeper level of understanding and making, you know, enriching the meaning of things around us. It actually would help that I still have a positive view of them.

Noz Urbina  1:11:12

Fantastic. All right. Well, I think we’re going to make this into a two-episode one because this has been a fantastic conversation. I had so much fun. I just want to close this off and say I hope everyone had a really engaging conversation. I would love to hear your comments, you know please do like and subscribe on whatever channel you’re hearing this on. Tell your friends of course share and check out OmnichannelX.digital for more. This is an exciting time. You know, I think we’re seeing the rise of a new medium. You know, like it was like 100 years ago when you were seeing the rise of film for the first time. And then film became filled with audio with colour and then with audio. Actually another way around first with audio and then with colour. So we’re in the same way that we’ve seen whole industries specialisms types of artists rise with that new medium we are seeing the new same thing again and we’ll see in the same way that different mediums displace others, the metaverse will become its own thing and we’ll have a whole new language and set of skills come with it. But our skills today as content people will be transportable, understanding user experience, understanding user needs, storytelling, and then on the technical side, you know metadata design, content modelling, database design. Systems, integration, all that stuff, personalization analytics, all will still be just as true and just as important. So I want to thank you so much, Timmy, for joining us today. It’s been fantastic having you. Sure. I’m so glad we got to have you. Maybe we’ll have you back one day and maybe one of your colleagues and we have a wider discussion.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:13:02

Yes, I’d love to continue the conversation. Thank you so much for having me.

Noz Urbina  1:13:08

My pleasure. My pleasure. And I hope and assume that I’ll see you at this coming omnichannel. So thank you to everybody. And I hope you had a good episode. Let us know what you think via comments via email via whatever medium you like, because of course, we’re all about the omnichannel. So see you next time. Thank you, Timmy.

Timi Stoop-Alcala  1:13:54

Thank you. I enjoyed talking to you so much.