Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Crossmediascapes: Inaugural lecture by Harry van Vliet

21 Nov 2014 16:55 | Communication

Harry van Vliet, Professor of Experience Design for Crossmedia Content (Crossmedia), gave his inaugural lecture on 4 November 2014. He opened with: “This professorship should never have been created,” and spent the next 45 minutes convincingly disproving that statement.

“The term ‘crossmedia’ is out of fashion. Perhaps the professorship should have been called ‘transmedia’, with me as an ‘omnichannel specialist,’ although that description is also under attack,” said Harry van Vliet as he started his inaugural address. “Coming up with a new term suggests that the problems and issues of the ‘old’ area of research no longer matter. But of course that is anything but the case.” Apart from the fact that the term ‘crossmedia’ may be out of fashion, Van Vliet also regularly hears that the developments in technology occur at such a fast pace that research cannot keep up with them. “The fact that those developments can indeed be researched effectively has already been made clear by various artists. Muybridge or Marcel Duchamp who stop motion and look at what’s happening frame by frame; pixelation like that of Seurat, where you zoom in and out and see how the bigger picture is literally composed of ‘dots’; or, like Escher, changing perspective to reveal new insights.”

The four Ps

In his professorship Van Vliet focuses on answering the question of how organisations such as media companies, museums, festivals and shops can use the new possibilities offered by all kinds of media to improve their services and provide a better customer experience. According to Van Vliet, “the new services that focus on experience always involve four questions – the four Ps: is it possible, is it probable, is it pleasurable and is it profitable? If I look at today’s Netflix from a different perspective, I see that a similar service was offered in Hungary in 1892. Telefón Hirmondo enabled subscribers to listen to live music and news broadcasts, take language courses and follow sports matches through a separate network. So Netflix has been possible for a very long time, albeit in a different form.”

How does the visitor experience a museum?

Whether a new service or a new medium is pleasurable is a matter of experience. Van Vliet: “Festivals, museums, shops – everyone wants to offer the visitor an experience. During the process of designing an exhibition, for example, you can ask yourself which experiences you want to achieve. You can design the space accordingly, by making certain choices in ambient conditions, use of space, placement of objects, signposting, colour, etc.” There is still much to be gained through research in order to support professionals in this respect.

The fourth question, concerning whether a new service is profitable, often leads people to ask whether everything is about money. “The answer is no,” says Van Vliet. “It can also be about cultural or societal value. Therefore, I don’t just work with earnings models, but also with business models.”

Van Vliet’s promise

Van Vliet closed with a quote by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, promising to contribute as little as possible to it: “‘One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.’ This makes it all the more important to approach the volatile, rapid world of media with solid research techniques.”