Using augmented and virtual reality to design impossible experiences

Carlos Velasco, Francisco Barbosa Escobar , Olivia Petit, Qian Janice Wang

Pizza with Super Mario on the moon, anyone?

“We have created the world that possesses values! Knowing this, we know, too, that reverence for truth is already the consequence of an illusion – and that one should value more than truth the force that forms, simplifies, shapes, invents. Everything is false! Everything is permitted!”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The will to power

Extended reality (XR) technologies, such as augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), create a number of opportunities for customer experience design. In the food industry, more and more companies are capitalizing on AR to visualize foods before consumption in order to facilitate product imagery.

For instance, Domino’s Pizza allows customers to customize their pizza using augmented reality, as if the pizza was in their physical environment. Patrón, a tequila brand in Mexico, is utilizing VR to promote the “Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience”, a journey taking the viewer from the agave fields to the bottling of their products.

Restaurants also use XR technologies to create immersive experiences. For example, the Tokyo-based restaurant Sagaya has collaborated with the art collective TeamLab to deliver an immersive eating experience entitled “MoonFlower”, which superimposes dynamic digital art that features trees and flowers across the dinnerware.

Thus, XR technologies do not only allow consumers to better visualize the food products and the eating experience before purchasing them, but they also give the possibility of creating new experiences that would be impossible to achieve without the help of these technologies.

Impossible experiences in extended reality

Importantly, technologies in XR are useful tools to move beyond traditional experiences and “real” ones, to otherwise impossible experiences.

These experiences involve two key dimensions, one that captures the level of realism-fantasy and another one that entails whether the experience follows or not the laws of physics as we know them.

In our research to explore the concept of these impossible experiences, we developed a model to conceptualize and inspire experience design in extended reality (see Figure 1).

Velasco_reality impossibility model.jpg

In the figure above, which we have named the reality-impossibility model, the Physical reality quadrant (1) is both rooted in real scenarios and experiences follow the laws of physics (a horse that gallops). A company like Domino’s Pizza may want to create a realistic and accurate depiction of the pizza that their customers can personalize in augmented reality.

The Other reality quadrant (2) is rooted in real scenarios and experiences, but do not follow the laws of physics (a horse that flies). Relevant examples here are Snapchat and Instagram filters/lenses allowing people to see themselves as significantly older and/or younger in real time.

The Physical fantasy quadrant (3) is rooted in fantasy scenarios and follows the laws of physics (a unicorn that gallops). The Patrón VR tequila experience is a good example in that, the experience follows the laws of physics but takes place from the perspective of a bee.

Finally, the Other fantasy quadrant (4) is rooted in fantasy and do not follow the laws of physics (a unicorn that flies). The collaboration between Sagaya Restaurant and TeamLab results in the augmentation of fantastical trees and flowers that move and transform in a way that do not follow the laws of physics.

Limitless possibilities

In summary, the reality-impossibility model allows customer experience professionals to think about experiences from the ordinary and common to the fantastic and impossible, and to implement them through XR technologies.

This model opens up the possibility of fantasy scenarios in customer experiences, where the questions of where, when, who, and what to eat, to wear, to read, or even dream, are all open to experimentation.

As immersive technologies develop, the limits of experience design will only be the limits of our imagination.


Velasco, C., Escobar Barbosa, F., Petit, O., & Wang, Q.-J. (2021). Impossible (food) experiences in extended reality. Frontiers in Computer Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomp.2021.716846

Published 9. September 2021

You can also see all news here.