Yes, the metaverse is the future: Q&A with AR experience-maker A.J. Veleta

A.J. Veleta
A.J. Veleta

A.J. Veleta is a Swiss (well, American-Irish) Army Knife of expertise in marketing technology and sales. He is the founder and leader of the creative technology collective Post Pop Studios, which produces augmented reality (AR) content and interactive media solutions for brands using extended reality (XR) technologies.

Name & role: A.J. Veleta, creative director and artist
Years in the biz: 10 (and change!)
First job in XP: Field Marketing at Red Bull in Columbus, Ohio
Currently working on: Growing Post Pop Studios
Where others can find you: | @postpopstudios | LinkedIn

Q: What is one top trend that you think will define the next year of experiential? How about the next five?

The maturation of the virtual and hybrid ecosystem will define the next year. Heading into 2020, virtual “add ons” to physical activations and events were not a new concept, but their volume and importance in the experiential toolkit was accelerated five years. It’s not dissimilar from how the work-from-home trend is now becoming the norm (depending on who you ask).

For most, the last year has been about delivering a core content experience virtually using whatever resources may have been at hand or could be quickly put together. I believe the natural evolution that will follow is a year of brands adjusting to creating experiences that are natively hybrid by design. Rather than tacking on a virtual component as an afterthought, strategists will be advising event storylines that are equally as rich from home on your phone as they are IRL.

Rather than tacking on a virtual component as an afterthought, strategists will be advising event storylines that are equally as rich from home on your phone as they are IRL.

Five years down the line, the metaverse will provide a next-generation platform for storytelling.

Oftentimes, new technology deployments start out as gimmicks in events — think of how early event apps were simply a place to access the event agenda, or how first-generation VR experiences were often just an excuse to try on your first headset. As interactive technologies (augmented reality, near field communication, artificial intelligence, etc.) evolve in their interoperability and decrease in production costs, they’ll begin to form seamless operating systems where both virtual and physical content experiences can be delivered to guests within fully interactive environments. I think this technology convergence concept will reshape the faces of physical and hybrid experiences significantly.  

A few early examples of this technology convergence to draw inspiration from include Decentraland, WaveXR concerts and Million Doge Disco (a communal blockchain based AR game), as well as physical immersive art spaces like Meow Wolf and Zerospace, which tend to push their experience offerings toward a metaverse-like environment.

Q: Share some wisdom: What’s the best advice you’ve received, or biggest lesson you’ve learned, when it comes to working with creative teams and overcoming obstacles?

Start with ‘why?’ Ask relevant stakeholders and your team early and often why you’re producing a given asset. Is it to educate, entertain, amaze, connect? This helps keep everyone’s creative compass on track. And ensures the final output is not only beautiful but also has the intended utility.  

The best advice I’ve received when it comes to creative strategy and production is to “start with ‘why?'” … This helps keep everyone’s creative compass on track.

The standout lesson I’ve learned is to both require — and be willing to write — detailed creative briefs with as much detail as possible. Embarking on a creative project without a proper brief is like starting a race without a map to the finish line. Sure, there’s ambiguity and wonderful surprises in most creative processes by design. But when it comes to any commercial work product, creative teams perform their best when there’s a defined sandbox to play in.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration when approaching a new project?

I’ll never tell! Kidding, of course. I’m a believer in remaining constantly curious. Anytime I encounter a new experience or technology, I make time to stop and learn about it. Beyond that, I draw inspiration from a variety of peer groups on Slack and Discord channels, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit forums, as well as industry newsletters like XP Land. Almost everyone you encounter has the ability to distill new information down for you. I always try to remember that and listen with intention during conversation.

Q: Your proudest moment as an XP creator?

Having our Dogecoin Rocket augmented reality experience be recognized by an organization that is putting an actual lunar satellite into space next year. It felt really inspiring to even be on the peripheral radar of an organization carrying out space-faring missions. That moment sticks out. B the motivation that keeps me going are all the little moments where you see someone smile or hear them talk about how fun an experience you created was. It never gets old!

Q: What qualities define the perfect experience?

I believe one key attribute that defines a perfect experience is the effectuation of change on someone. One that leaves a lasting memory or impact on them. Whether it’s an entertaining performance they cannot stop telling their friends about, exposure to useful information they can use to improve their personal life or a new relationship formed that will further their career. Top-notch experiences are ones that make an impact on guests’ lives in some fashion. This circles back to the importance of starting with “why?” Beyond the lights and cameras it’s important to remember what you want your guests to leave your experience with. What didn’t they have before they came through the door?

This Q&A with A.J. Veleta has been very lightly edited for length and clarity.

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