Silka Miesnieks: Designing for an Immersive World

As more disruptive technology emerges, this generation of designers will be tasked with creating the products and services that enable truly immersive experiences.

Digital experiences are jumping off the screen and infusing everyday objects and real-world happenings with the magic of immersive technology — virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), voice recognition, and more.

So what happens when the screen essentially disappears, and the whole world becomes digitally interactive? That’s a question Silka Miesnieks, head of the Adobe Design Lab, has been asking and exploring for more than 15 years.

Silka Miesnieks, head of the Adobe Design Lab

The answer, she says, is always changing, and depends greatly on the next generation of designers and the design tools they’ll have to work with. “As these technologies converge, they’ll require new content and interfaces, and it all has to be designed. That’s where the Adobe Design Lab comes in. Our mission is to prototype the future for Adobe’s immersive design products and services — like a SWAT team of inventors. We develop the tools, technologies, and techniques that designers will need to create immersive realities in the future.”

A unique passion for design.

Before she joined Adobe earlier this year, Silka was already a well-known expert and entrepreneur in immersive design. She’s been a UX designer, an information architect, a creative director, and a founder of several startups.

She also founded one startup, Dekko, with a mission to create natural AR experiences by solving some of the hardest interaction issues facing the industry.

It’s a set of experiences and combination of talents that makes Silka especially well-suited for shaping the future of immersive design. Her passion for it, however, comes from a more personal place — grappling with the challenges of dyslexia as a child.

“It can be hard for a kid to be dyslexic,” she notes. “People think of you as less intelligent, though of course that’s not true. In fact, one of the advantages dyslexics have is that we can more easily think and learn spatially, and we often have an easier time putting things together.”

It’s a perspective that’s especially relevant to the design challenges her team is focused on today. She explains, “Immersive technology is pushing digital interaction out from the screen into a new dimension — spatial design, with the potential to place digital experiences in the world all around us.”

Michael Cragg, Silka Miesnieks, and Yaniv de Ridder collaborate on ideas at the Adobe Design Lab.

Distance and proximity, for example, become especially important. You have to think about relative scale and personal space, since experiences that appear to come “too close” make people uncomfortable.

Interaction is another challenge. Two-dimensional screens are easy to interact with via tools — like keyboards, remotes, game controllers, or the touch of a finger — while fully immersive experiences require more natural interaction with objects via gesture and voice.

A new language for design.

“The immersive design language hasn’t really been invented yet,” Silka explains. “We haven’t worked out how to create tension, how to pull on people’s heartstrings. How to really create suspense. There’s so much potential to share emotional experiences and create empathy for the reality of others. If we give designers the right tools and environment, they’ll solve these problems along the way.”

To that end, Silka’s team is focused on more than just adding immersive design to existing tools. They’re also focused on simplifying workflows so a broader community of designers can participate, partnering with publishers so that there are more places to publish immersive content, and building brand-new tools for design that leverage immersive technologies more centrally in the creative process.

Researchers at the Adobe Design Lab imagine and innovate the design tools that will be needed for a world immersed in digital experiences.

Their task is to push the boundaries of how designers everywhere create content. “Immersive design removes the screen between your physical and digital worlds, so ultimately what we’re focused on is allowing designers to create sensory-driven experiences that are more powerful and compelling than what they’ve been able to do before,” she says.

Ultimately, the future of immersive design — whether VR, AR, or something else — will be shaped by this new community of designers working together with researchers, engineers, publishers, and consumers learning to speak a new common language of design.

The chance to invent the tools that make it all possible is what led Silka to Adobe. “Designers play an important role in making the world a better place, and now we have an opportunity to create experiences outside the boundaries of the screen,” she says. “But it’s going to require more complex interactions, a lot of new content and new tools to create it all. Adobe cares about designers, and the rest of the industry is really looking to us to create the next generation of design tools, so I feel like this is the most important place I can be.”