Dutch Design Week 2015: British designer Allison Crank has created a virtual reality shopping centre that allows users to commission bespoke objects within a world of floating neon signs and stray zoo animals (+ movie).
Increasing numbers of malls and high-street shops are closing as shoppers buy their goods online.
"The next form of the store or mall is no longer physical, but virtual, one where virtual reality and augmented reality will replace the physical mall or store," Crank said.
After putting on a headset, users can navigate through the digital shopping centre using a game controller, encountering virtual people, animals and hovering neon signs along the way.
Crank has designed the mall to function as a stage for the shopper, and envisions retail spaces being transformed into "playgrounds for experiences", where consumers will become actors that can also influence the surrounding environment.
"I designed an experience that allows you to visit this virtual world in the form of a VR play: a narrative that gives life to this fiction and lets you see how the Reality Theatre works," Crank said.
"You assume the role of Ms Smith, who is shopping for a chair in the Reality Theatre, from the moment she enters, to her interactions with the designer, who in this case is an Irish giraffe, to when she leaves," she added. "I leave it up to the viewers to immerse themselves in the virtual stage and performance."
Crank believes that technological developments such as Magic Leap – a head-mounted display that superimposes 3D imagery onto the wearer's vision – and the Microsoft Hololens will "revolutionise" stores and design.
"It can bring back consumption values like the days before the department store, where you would visit your hatter or dressmaker to create bespoke items," she said. "Items that allow the consumer to have an active role in their creation and immersive experience in which it all unfolds."
Crank believes designers will no longer create what they assume people want, but become directors that will sell their knowledge, expertise and taste to consumers, facilitating the creation of a new object.
In an interview with Dezeen Andy Millns of 3D production company Inition claimed virtual reality would soon become indistinguishable from the real world.
Others have discussed its implications for architecture, with 3D visualiser Olivier Demangel suggesting it would allow architects "to change the world like a god".