Immersive Interview with Josh Strupp, Associate Director of Marketing at ISL
So, I know that ISL is an agency with more than 20 awards. How do you keep experimenting and innovating?
It sounds cliche at this point, but we really do prioritize innovation in everything we create — be it a product, campaign, or stunt. We’ve turned a school bus into a trip to Mars, built an internet-connected escape room, and “hacked” Facebook, all in the last few years. Experimentation is in our DNA.
How did you get started experimenting with VR/AR?
It began in 2016 with a desire to create a multiplayer VR game — something you could play online, and with a friend, in virtual reality. The result was VR Cornhole. From there we started building out more robust VR experiences for our clients, like one that transports you to the barracks of a 19th century convict ship for 19 Crimes and the aforementioned “Field Trip to Mars” for Lockheed Martin.
Just last year, with the rollout of platforms like Facebook AR Studio, ARKit, and Snapchat Lens Studio, we began experimenting with augmented reality. We saw its potential to bring storytelling, gaming, and unparalleled utility products to millions of devices. We’ve created a number of products, from a portal to your own Instagram gallery to a concept called AR IRL. We’re still pushing the limits of this new tech everyday!
Can you let me know a little bit more about ISL as an agency?
ISL is a full-service digital agency based in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC and New York City. Since 2007, we’ve grown steadily by building custom digital products/experiences and executing creative campaigns for the world’s biggest brands — and have served as the social media agency of record for Volkswagen USA, Kroger, Prestige Brands, and many more. We’ve created websites, apps and campaigns for 25 of the Fortune 500.
ISL has a history and culture of experimenting with early stage technology, and is constantly releasing new products and prototypes that have reached audiences far and wide. We’ve even built up a hardware team of industrial designers, mechanical/electrical engineers, and fabricators — who work closely with our software team to build products and experiences for the likes of Facebook, Viacom, The Obama Foundation, P&G, AB-Inbev and more.
What teams are working on VR/AR projects?
We have an in-house engineering team complete with software developers, hardware engineers, AR/VR specialists, industrial designers, game developers, and more.
What is their workflow?
It depends on the task at hand! We begin any project with a discovery engagement, where we determine technical architecture and requirements needed to complete the project on-time and on-budget. This is critical for AR/VR projects, as there are a number of creative platforms, SDKs, CAD modeling programs, and gaming engines we might leverage. And because we frequently offer in-house hardware and creative services, the process changes if the AR/VR product is part of a larger campaign or experiential activation.
What kind of tools are they using for designing, prototyping and developing?
For AR & VR, we’ve found our favorite platforms and kits to be Unity and SceneKit/ARKit (sidebar: we’re incredibly excited about ARKit 2). We also integrate assets made in Cinema4d and experiment with what’s possible in Snapchat Lens Studio, Amazon Sumerian, and more.
Are there a lot of other studios like yours? Is this area overcrowded already?
Not yet. The demand for rich AR/VR experiences is increasing, and we’re uniquely positioned to deliver, especially if it’s a tactic in a larger campaign. It’ll be exciting to see if any shops spring up that specialize in XR only or if traditional digital/creative shops begin exploring the space.
Can you share some of your VR/AR projects that were successful and helpful for your customer or for you?
The most recent example is an in-browser AR-like experience. For the launch of Doritos’ new flagship flavor, we created a one-of-a-kind digital sweepstakes. The Doritos Blaze experience allows customers to scan specially marked bags to unlock Blaze Vision, an in-browser AR experience that snaps photos, “burns” them with a touch gesture, and reveals prizes all without requiring users to download an app. We leveraged the Google Vision API, WebGL, WebRTC, and React.js to make this possible over the web. The experience worked across hundreds of devices and was visited by hundreds of thousands of users.
If you could, what career advice would you offer to your younger self?
This is the same advice I’d give to anyone starting out in the digital/creative space, but start making stuff! Yes, you run the risk of making something ugly or broken, but the act of creating will always push you in the right direction.
What other activities or initiatives do you enjoy besides VR/AR?
On the company side, we’re passionate about community engagement. We launched “Apps For Democracy” with Washington, DC’s CTO back in 2009 — and launched a 30,000 person festival (DCWEEK) focused on growing the creative economy in DC. On the non-profit side, we’ve worked with Service Year Alliance for over 3 years, building and growing their digital platform and supporting their community engagement efforts. We also host (and produce) events in our office that focus on women/minorities in tech/entrepreneurship, which has been the focus of our pro bono efforts for our entire history.
Personally, spicy food.
With whom from the VR/AR field would you like to have a beer, and why?
Honestly, I’d go with Rony Abovitz, CEO at Magic Leap. I’d grill him about their product, and he’d stay silent. It’d be a dream come true.
What definition is right from your point of view?
a. AR/VR — on the rise but plateauing.
b. MR — waiting for Magic Leap to become more real and Hololens to become more consumer-friendly.
c. XR — 2025 we’ll all be using it :)
What are your plans for ISL in the future?
To continue innovating, experimenting, tinkering, and delivering.
What are the most required skills for guys/girls who want to start designing for AR/VR?
Raw creativity, patience, and knows their way around a gaming engine. If you have those three things you’ll get a gig in no time.
What advice would you offer to those starting out in your field?
Start creating! Develop a demo and carry it around in your pocket. You never know who you might meet :D
This story is part of series Immersive Interviews. If you are also VR/AR designer, and you have what to say (I’m sure that you have) drop me a line on email or Twitter. Check out the previous interview from this series: