Zero touch spaces offer a taste of normality whilst keeping us safe, but brands need to consider compensating for the sensory loss

Businesses and brands are coming up with creative ways to deliver experiences minus the physical contact, as people begin to hanker after “real life.”

In Toronto, Canada, six fitness studios and their instructors have come together to create Lmnts Outdoor Studio, a two-month long pop up offering fitness classes in which participants exercise inside clear geodesic domes.  At the Inspire South Bay Club in Redondo Beach, California, gym bunnies can now exercise in their own individual pods. Together, yet apart.

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Lmnts Outdoor Studio

Distanced pods are also trending in leisure. Since we reported on the greenhouse dining concept by Amsterdam restaurant Mediamatic ETEN back in May, others have caught on to the idea, with the Lady Byrd café in Echo Park, Los Angeles also installing private dining greenhouses. At The Barn restaurant in Wisbech, UK, owner and chef Josh Green has opted for five outdoor “dining bubbles” for small groups and couples which are already booked up throughout the summer.

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Mediamatic ETEN Amsterdam

For those who want to get back to the office, Egyptian architect Mohamed Radwan has devised a system of interlocking pods. The project, dubbed Q.workntine, envisages individual airtight pods for each worker that can be unlocked using facial recognition, allowing contact-free entry. Hexagonal units, which can be configured in a number of different layouts to suit different spaces, are made of a non-porous material for easier disinfection and feature air-purification to tackle virus spread. Radwan’s design was recently awarded in the Responsible Design category at the DNA Paris Design Awards.

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Be a Batman by Sun Dayong

Might we even see the adoption of personal protection shields against the virus, conceptualised by Chinese architect Sun Dayong earlier this year? US company Under the Weather is hoping so, repurposing its personal protection pods for healthcare workers for everyday users in the form of Shield Pod, effectively a lightweight mini-tent worn on the body. Until a vaccine is found, it seems likely that we will be spending more time closed off in private spaces that isolate us from others. Physical social interactions and tactile sensations will be far less frequent while touch remains a source of anxiety.

Yet touch is a critical part of being human. It’s biologically good for us. In fact, those deprived of it may feel a neurological phenomenon known as ‘skin hunger.’ A special series of writings in The Guardian launched this month mourns its absence, paying tribute to ‘The Power of Touch.’

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Lmnts Outdoor Studio

For now, brands may need to consider ways to compensate for the loss of this particular sensation when designing the customer experience. In our Future 100 report, we pointed to the rise of haptics and sonic branding, both of which can be used to amp up sensory engagement. In a recent piece for the Marketing Society, Crawford Hollingworth and Liz Barker of The Behavioural Architects predicted that a disconnected world “will drive and accelerate the growth and adaptation of new technology or ways of doing things to fill this multisensory and physical void.”

Justin Bolognino, founder and CEO of experience product company Meta, summed it up neatly, when he explained to Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, “There’s no way that this is the end of [physical gatherings]. It’s going to be a rocky road to get there, but we’re going to get back to that. We have to. You can put that on my headstone. But for the time being, we can learn how to augment [in-person experiences] in safer ways.”

For more on how brands and cities are safely opening back up read sanitary cities, the drive-in experience and travel bubbles.