How to make VR meaningful

July 4, 2018

Disruptor Case Study: Pernilla Belfrage & The Garden of Thoughts

At the beginning of June, Foresight Factory hosted The Creative Exchange (a programme which invites innovators, experts and industry disruptors to share their ideas) with Creative Director and Visual Storyteller Pernilla Belfrage. She brought along her VR installation, The Garden of Thoughts, and discussed the connection between the physical and VR worlds, and the future role of VR in consumers’ lives.

Who is Pernilla Belfrage, and what is The Garden of Thoughts?

Pernilla Belfrage is a Creative Director and Visual Storyteller, with a background in illustration, graphic design, web design, textile design and film. Her current project is The Garden of Thoughts, a “meditative VR experience” – in which she has combined all of these elements.

Subjects first begin the experience by hand embroidering a word, while wearing noise cancelling headphones for total quiet. This is followed by sitting within a net, tent-like structure on a soft, comforting  carpet, where subjects enter The Garden of Thoughts. Belfrage brings the virtual reality world to life through her animated illustrations and soothing music. When the subject enters back into reality, they leave behind a word that expresses how they feel in that moment – ready to be embroidered by another visitor.


What can brands learn from The Garden of Thoughts?

Make VR experiences meaningful: With VR still a new concept to many consumers, Belfrage believes “there needs to be a reason” as to why they should try it. For some, the novelty and entertainment is enough, but offering more tangible benefits, like the calmness offered by The Garden of Thoughts, can provide more of a hook.

Keep it simple: Foresight Factory research shows that 53% of global consumers have used or are interested in using a VR headset. But, “if we want people to start using VR more, it has to be simple, it has to be beautiful, it has to be attractive in some way” says Belfrage. The concept must be straightforward to use, from the content to the headset. Heavy headsets and cables can often be off putting for new VR users.

Be responsible: Belfrage notes that those offering VR experiences have a certain duty of care towards the people that enter the virtual world – particularly newcomers. She feels that VR gives creators the opportunity to get much closer to their audience and make human connections, and this should not be taken advantage of.

Create shared experiences: The Garden of Thoughts invites two people at a time to enter the tent, allowing them to experience the virtual world together, and perhaps discuss it afterwards. This helps to counteract the view that VR is always solitary.

Be aware of VR prejudice: Many consumers are inclined to stay in the “real world” rather than entering a virtual one. While the technology is advancing to become more and more seamless, there is still prejudice towards VR because of this, and its authenticity as a form of creative expression is doubted. Belfrage believes this is no different to prejudice towards anything new, and that consumers – and creators – simply need to adjust. She believes that the new standalone headsets, like the Oculus Go headset released in May 2018, could have caused a bit of an “iPhone moment”. These headsets are the easiest to use yet, and so are the most accessible.


Trends Impact and the potential future of VR

Belfrage’s installation manages to combine several consumer trends that, at first glance, may seem conflicting. Consumers are looking to detox on digital as we become Murdered by Modernity, and the embroidery section of The Garden of Thoughts taps in to the need for a connection to non-digital past times. But its main VR component offers a distinctly digital experience, in line with the rising popularity of immersive VR experiences. Belfrage harmoniously combines these contrasting elements to offer the consumer something new. Shareable, ephemeral experiences are a major draw for consumers, as discussed in Story-Seekers.

Perhaps The Garden of Thoughts’ greatest potential lies in its therapeutic qualities, and shows how consumers can turn to VR in an attempt to Master the Mind. Belfrage sees this side of VR as an emerging area for the technology, and one in which it has the power to do much good for consumers. Other areas she predicts VR to grow include health, construction, education and even the workplace. Imagine the benefits of a VR retreat within busy offices, that allows employees to enjoy a moment of calm during the working day.

350 people have already tried The Garden of Thoughts and we are interested to see where Belfrage takes her experience next. Collaborations with health brands seem a natural fit, or leisure providers offering immersive experiences. We will be watching to see the ways in which this original interpretation of VR adapts and evolves to push consumer perceptions of the virtual world forward.

The Garden of Thoughts (Le jardin des pensées) is co-produced and funded by BoostHbg, Film i Skåne and Nordisk Panorama Film Festival (the installation).


Foresight Factory published the full article on our subscription platform FFonline in July 2018. Pernilla Belfrage took part in The Creative Exchange @ Foresight Factory, where we invite innovators, experts and industry disruptors to share their ideas. Sign up to our newsletter to find out more.


Written by Josh McBain

Josh McBain is Consultancy Director at Foresight Factory. He leads a team of consultants and client analysts who specialize in the design, delivery and communication of strategic consultancy projects. He has a proven track record of producing consultancy projects that have driven commercial growth, created extensive global media buzz and influenced government policy.

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