1. Dip or submerge in a liquid.
    1. Baptize (someone) by immersion in water.
  2. Immerse oneself or be immersed: Involve oneself deeply in a particular activity.

The students of Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) often immerse themselves intensely in their work, trying either to fully understand the material or tools they work with, or engaging profoundly with the people and situation(s) they design for. Immersion should, however, be distinguished from empathy. Whereas empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others, immersion, as we define it, is a method for designers to plunge into the matter, material or context with which they are working, with the aim of fully grasping the potential of the topic they are exploring. Immersion is one of several design research techniques which can help to achieve an empathic understanding of what moves people.

The 20th century anthropologist Malinowski – considered to be one of the fathers of modern anthropology– introduced the term ‘participant observation’ as an important research tool. Malinowski was of the opinion that the ethnographer’s main task is to observe and describe customs in their everyday social contexts. Until this time, the method for undertaking anthropological research had been to observe people from a certain distance. Malinowski stressed the need for, and importance of, an immersive method of participant observation – conducting research by submerging oneself in the context one is researching, rather than observing from afar. Malinowski emphasised that it is the responsibility of the anthropological researcher to get a fuller picture by immersing him- or herself in the research context, in order to get an insider’s view of the world he is observing. In design research, this insider’s view is of utter importance in order to fully understand the needs, desires and context for which one is designing.

In contemporary digital media culture, the term immersion is also strongly connected to the domain of emerging technologies, in particular virtual reality. These technologies offer ‘viewers’ the possibility of being fully immersed in a created ‘reality’. Immersion in virtual reality gives the perception of being physically present in a created world. Designers working with these technologies try to immerse the viewers in an artificial environment by surrounding them with images, sound or other stimuli.

DAE examples

  • Pim van Baarsen, Holy Crap, Graduation project Man and Activity, 2015

Crafting Narratives, Minor program, 2015