8 posts categorized "Design"

November 09, 2012

Technology and Live Events: Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

  Framed_woodstock2012_h

The Question

What might one of the iconic music and cultural events of the past century – Woodstock – look like today with the integration of digital and social technologies, especially with Twitter as the network?  And how might this compare almost 20 years later to the first experimental integration of digital consumer technology into the 25th anniversary of that live event?  (If your reading time is limited, go to the sections in this post labeled "Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013" and "Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements.")

The Background

In 1969, Joni Mitchell said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty" where half-a-million kids "saw that they were part of a greater organism." Without any real outside media coverage during the event, that experience was initially limited to those camped out for 4 days at the 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  The true size of that “greater organism” and the full impact of the cultural experience that transformed and energized a group into the “Woodstock generation”  - came later, delayed by limitations in distributing and sharing the experience.

Cut away to the present time, and we see widely adopted consumer media creation technologies and platforms like Twitter that when creatively deployed (with smart production values and rock solid engineering) in areas such as politics, entertainment, and sports  - create real-time living breathing “organisms” (we might now say audience or community) that are “Woodstock worthy” in terms of the potential for impact - and that powerfully bridge the physical and digital worlds for both those at the event and others geographically separated from the event and each other by even thousands of miles.

So it’s not surprising that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently told the Wall Street Journal that the company is evolving to "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening."  And the proof of that is certainly found in the company’s track record of just the past 6 months as Twitter has made some bold and successful partnership and production moves into the live event integration arena with examples such as:

  • NASCAR – Launching a relationship with the first sports organization to create an enhanced live event experience on the platform.  (May 2012)
  • The London Olympics – Partnering with a major main stream media company, NBCUniversal, along with major brands such as GE, to create an infrastructure and experience that aggregated and parsed millions of tweets from athletes, fans, and commentators. (July-August 2012)
  • The US Presidential Debates and Election Night Coverage – Redefining the relationship between first and second screen in terms of information, conversation, and delivery of candidate announcements.  (October – November 2012) 

The Experiment

So what if we now take Woodstock - one of the most surprising and culturally redefining live music events of the past 50 years - and use the lens of technology powered media and engagement – to see how the spirit and experience of the 1969 original was translated with early digital technology in its first “reissue” at the 25th Anniversary in 1994, and what a “reimagined Woodstock” might be in 2013/2014 with the kinds of technologies and experiences we have today, with twitter as the empowering network.

A quick comparison table here with frameworks, specifics, and flowcharts following.   Download Woodstock Comp Grid

The 25th Anniversary of Woodstock 

In August 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock was held over a three-day period at the 800-acre upstate New York farm that had been initially intended for the first event.  This was the first time that the iconic brand had ever been revisited as an event, and the producers who had also set the stage for the original phenomena, wanted to remain true to that initial vision while also adding relevance for what they described as “a generation who was reading William Gibson and getting up on the Internet.”

(NOTE: This was quite a statement to be made at that time. In 1994, there were only 1500 Web servers online, the Mosaic browser had just come out one year earlier, Earthlink was launching, and Yahoo was about a browser and content index. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. There were no smart phones, and consumer digital still and video cameras were expensive and limited in resolution.  Platforms to distribute media were limited to videotape and CDROM, with containers and authoring systems being jerry-rigged around software such as Macromedia Director.)

But what was the same then versus now?  The drive to create and share information and experiences.

An 8-acre area of the festival field was carved out and named “The Surreal Field” with interactive experiences from artists like Todd Rundgren and Peter Gabriel.  This was also where a 4000 square foot tented production facility (plus an adjoining semi truck with mobile video editing bays) was built in which Woodstock concert goers could observe the behind-the-scenes creation of the twice-daily Woodstock News “video magazine” by a team of two dozen videographers, editors, animators, blue screen operators, composers, programmers, onscreen talent, field reporters, producers and directors working nearly round the clock.  Story types included Woodstock history and event pre-production, behind the scenes interviews, artist interviews, concert audience “ambush style” interviews, “question of the day” blue screen interviews, creative and gaming tech stories, and the concert schedule for the day.

Additionally, limited amounts of text-based reporting were sent out each day via an Apple Web Server.  Yes, limited Internet access was pulled into this portion of the 800 acre cow pasture for this purpose.

A simple flow chart (click image below for larger size image) of the creation of the Woodstock News in terms of people, equipment, and infrastructure. Almost two dozen people, more than 12 Macintosh computers and 24 monitors just to handle acquisition, digitizing, and output to a distribution format from “professional” sources.  No opportunity for “audience” contribution or feedback other than the limited offering in field interviews and blue screen “question of the day” segments.

Framed WoodstockProdFlow

 

  • Woodstocknewsroom
  • Woodstock_jumbo_Blog
  • Woodstock News Storyboard
  • *band schedule image
  • WoodQuestionDay 2
  • Woodpress
  • Woodstockk Logo
Woodstockk Logo

 

My observation at the time on the people and the technology, and live events as platforms for testing creative and technical boundaries. I think it’s very relevant no matter the year – then or now.

"Sometimes it’s almost more about how well your team will coalesce and how they will deal with the elements and difficult situations - mud, crowds, thunderstorms, close-quarter housing - than if the technology will work.  Rock and roll festivals are great places to test the boundaries of multimedia, both from a technical as well as a creative sense.  From a creative perspective, you have to create something that will really grab and maintain people’s attention - from the front row to the guy standing half a mile from the stage watching the Jumbotrons.  And technically, you never know what you might face in terms of the elements causing problems with your equipment - dust in the video deck heads, thunderstorms during which you have to power down, rain coming in through AC vents - and there is no local Apple dealer around when you are out in the middle of what is essentially an 840-acre cow pasture."

Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

There are innumerable ways that one could reimagine and engineer a Woodstock  with the wealth of broadly distributed digital and social technologies available to both professionals and the “consumer” audience today, the user experience, design and technical skills that have developed from experiments on many platforms, and the mobile element – which did not exist for anyone at any price before.


Framed WoodstockTwitter2013Infographic

This is a simple flow chart (click for full size image) showing the sourcing of various forms (created by both pro and user) of media content and conversation directly and indirectly into Twitter, and then the moderation, curation, and filtration of that along with the tweet wrapper content itself -  based on both human editorial and rule sets – to create output, visualizations, and control streams back out to various distribution types, displays, and devices.

The description and schematic above in this post represent just one possible “reimagining” (with Twitter as the primary network).  It is meant more as a sketchpad for thinking more deeply from creative, technical and business perspectives of what we can do now in bridging the physical and digital worlds (in both real-time and asynchronously) in ways that were never before possible.  And those new kinds of experiences may well create the “sparks of beauty” and connection to a “greater organism” that Joni Mitchell talked about in the opening of this post. 

  • It  - and that which it surfaces and displays by separating the signal from the noise - can become part of the event/show itself;
  • It can take a deeper show experience to other people outside of the event space (geographic independence synchronously) and time (asynchronous);
  • It can change the “planned” nature of the event itself, by content and conversation created by the audience locally and in other areas;
  • It can spark unexpected cultural shifts.

Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements

(1) Content Input Sources into Twitter

How might media of all forms come into Twitter at a major live event such as a reimagined Woodstock?  Significantly different from the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock, media comes from both the pros and the audience.  And depending on the synchronous nature of the event, that audience may not be geographically determined or bounded.

From the event producers, pros, and the artists themselves, we might see:

  • Video elements such as live streaming, edited packages included historical and behind the scenes stories, video bits from location-based monitoring cameras (like DropCams), and timelapse;
  • Audio delivery via live streaming, asynchronous stream or download, edited and packaged interviews and commentary;
  • Individual iconic photos and high quality photo packages;
  • Engagement activities constructed around live tweet chats, polling, alerts, and announcements;
  • Information and data generating devices automatically generating data to a “Tweet card” output based on some behavior by attendees.

For the “audience” both geographically near and far, the ability to create media and commentary is unprecedented.

  • Visual media creation from smart phones, DSLRs, and GoPro cameras, loaded directly to Twitter or attached via intermediary site (e.g. video to YouTube or photo to Instagram).  Short video bursts via perhaps Vine or Viddy.  Longer form via YouTube, Vimeo, and other newly emerging video distribution platforms.
  • Comments and text posts

(2) Separating the Relevant Signal from the Noise

As software advances (including Mass Relevance and other custom software) and real-time human curation skills develop, the effective (from both production and engineering perspectives) moderation, curation and filtration of the vast sea of tweets and associated media from such an event can be parsed and routed to the right people and devices (both private and public) that not only enhance, but change the very nature of a live experience such as a Woodstock

(3) Experience Outputs and Destinations

Twitter content may then be filtered and edited into dynamic media packages, or the underlying data translated into infographics, guides, and maps.  For example:
  • Event page curation as was seen at the 2012 Olympics, with in the not too distant future, the option to add another layer of personal filtering based on geography, demographics, or interests;
  • Tweet streams, editorially selected tweets, and tweet visualizations sent to venue-based displays, as well as out to various broadcast and Web partners;
  • Tweet activity informing real time maps and “programming guides” to optimize the experience of both on-site attendees as well as those at a distance; (See Twitter's Director of TV Fred Graver’s talk including comments about Twitter creating real-time programming guides – a live event is not that different;
  • Tweet activity and conversation turning into data that controls onsite or remote devices, offering up new forms of activities and entertainments that the “Twitter audience” creates intentionally or unintentionally through it’s actions.

More than a moment in time. It’s a way of being in the world.

This is true not only for a major live event with deep cultural influence, but also for Twitter itself.

Beyond the ideas sketched in this post, fully conceiving a reimagined Woodstock size live event would also require looking deeply into engineering issues, brand engagement opportunities, and revenue models including and beyond creative advertising and sponsorship. This party is just getting started, so to speak.  

Favicon 

 

June 13, 2011

What’s Past Is Prologue – The Link Between Early CDROM Publishing and Today’s Digital Books and Storytelling Apps

  HyperCardBrochure (HyperCard brochure cover excerpt, 1987)

 

“What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (1610-1611)

 

In William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” (1610-1611), the character of Antonio utters the phrase “What’s past is prologue” which in modern times has come to mean that history influences, and sets the context for, the present.  Such is the case if we look at the links between the vision of media-rich computer-based storytelling from approximately 20 years ago (1987-1991) with the possibilities that the iPad now offers for realizing some of those dreams  - if not now, then in the very near future.   That is, if we get a few things right this time.

In preparing this post, I spoke with some colleagues from the early days of “New Media” at Apple including:

  • Hugh Dubberly, who was a creative director at Apple and co-creator of the famed “Knowledge Navigaor” video . He now runs an interaction design and information architecture firm.
  • John Worthington, who was a pioneering software engineer in the areas of sound and video (QuickTime, Sound Manager, MIDI Manager) in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, and is a software architect, inventor and performing musician today. 
  • Antonia Chappelle, who was an interactive producer/business development exec at groundbreaking CDROM publishing companies Voyager and Inscape, and has now founded iPad publishing company Sage Tales which recently released its first title “The Venetian.”

 

1987: Past as Prologue

In 1987, Apple produced a video that articulated a vision of the computing future called “The Knowledge Navigator.”  It painted a story of a near future with a portable tablet-like device with high-speed connectivity and new UI paradigms (e.g. touch and voice) enabling a highly personal visual convergence of documents, rich media and data with autonomous agents acting on our behalf (what we might think of now as “friends,” semantic search, intelligent readers, and curators).

That same year, Apple released Macintosh veteran Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard, one of the first interactive authoring platforms “combining database capabilities with a graphical, flexible, user-modifiable interface.” This was an important “entry level” authoring platform with a pathway to adding some more sophisticated programming and media control options.  One big drawback that limited HyperCard – there was no powerful global network (or browser) to access non-local (beyond on the computer or a CD) information or remotely connect people and ideas.  And there were certainly few hints anywhere of the powerful social networks of today (with AOL and The WELL as the only real players in the space at the time).

“Hypercard as an end user authoring system had a low bar of entry but gradually stepped up to sophisticated programming …  It was really powerful but there was no Internet.  It could work over a LAN but there really were no networks. It (the Internet) was still locked up … This thing that was a “war device” could be used for commerce and information exchange…. (But) laws had to change as well as technology. “– Hugh Dubberly

 

The Limitations of the Past

With a vision of a rich media connected computing future that is not much different from the reality of today, married with the beginnings of an authoring platform that could, at some level, address different levels of programming sophistication – why did we not have the potential explosion of interactive storytelling that is possible today?  The late 1980’s to mid 1990’s rich-media storytelling world was largely a great experimental playground populated by a mix of avante-garde experience creators/artists and some mainstream entertainment brands repurposing existing properties.  But the playground never evolved into a sustainable business.  Why?

(1) Immature authoring platforms

HyperCard was a start, but never evolved into a mature authoring platform.  Even Macromedia Director, which became the workhorse of the time, was still in its technical infancy and largely held developers at its mercy.  With a lack of both powerful cross-platform tools and an ecosystem of APIs to plug in and extend functionality quickly and inexpensively, both creative and technical expertise was disproportionately focused on solving rudimentary problems rather than envisioning what the storytelling experience could become.

(2) Long and expensive development cycle

Development cycles for early interactive CDROM titles were often in the 12-18 month range, with the deployment of teams of significant size (10-20 people or more).  Development was expensive, not only as a result of time, but because of the expense of specialized platforms – high end desktop computers ($20-30k) with additional expensive memory, hard drives that had to be physically moved around offices between machines because of lack of networks (with a cost of $10/meg for a device), limited – if any- opportunity for distributed collaborative teams without the Internet and online storage/file sharing, and often expensive ($5k/development computer) software licenses.

(3) Lack of interactive design and development experience

Outside of the MIT Media Lab (founded in 1985),   there were few individuals with any experience in interactive design.  And while both design and engineering talent for these kinds of projects was difficult to find, it was nearly impossible to hire an individual who could bring some level of both design experience and engineering knowledge to the medium.

(4) Limited distribution

Many early developers of interactive titles saw distribution as the single largest obstacle that they faced, even more so than the expense of development/teams and the lack of tools. Because the end game for a title was a CDROM disc, both physical production and physical distribution were necessary.  There was no one button publish or Apps Store.

“Distribution was difficult, if not impossible, to capture if you weren’t a major entertainment company.  In order to compete you had to be able to buy shelf space and end caps at a price tag of $100,000 or more.  And even at that price, you were still competing against big game titles.  This made things difficult for any immersive storytelling company at the time.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(5) Pricing options

Because of the expense of development and limited market size, CDROM titles were priced more like the platform video games of today ($49 or more), as opposed to the free or $.99 apps of today. 

There is a very different consumer expectation of value, and willingness to experiment, when the cost is $49 vs less than $1.  How many units of the Angry Birds app would be out in the market if it cost nearly $50 vs $1?

(6) Niche audience

Audience size was limited because of player platform requirements. Early interactive CR-ROM titles usually required higher end computers for playback to handle graphics, video and audio.  Higher end machines naturally skewed to the early adopter, male dominated, gamer audience – an enthusiastic group, but limited in size then and very specific in its tastes.

“ …people had to have higher end machines, so naturally this  skewed more gamer … (but) to be truthful,  we really didn’t know who the audience was .  We were driven more by experimentation than business.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(7) No consumer Internet

With the inability to build in any network connectivity (beyond a LAN for some specialized business applications), developers had to limit their content and code to the 650 megs that could be squeezed onto a CDROM, or deal with issues of multi-CDROM installations on customers’ computers.  This limited choices about breath and quality of media (and why we saw video postage stamps of 1/16 the size of screens in even the most advanced titles)

 

As a result of these 7 key limitations (“7 deadlies”), early interactive/immersive storytelling was limited in market size, and was dominated economically (although not creatively) by large media companies who already had channel and brand awareness to address the physical distribution channel issue at some level.  As large entities, risk mitigation played a greater factor in decision-making than it did for the independent developer community – resulting in many “best-selling” titles coming from repurposed books or other media, often lacking a particular editorial point of view for what the medium could be.

 

Then vs Now - The Rise of iPad and the Demise of the 7 Deadlies

What’s different now and why won’t 2011 be a repeat of the “failed” (at least from a business point of view) efforts of the 1980s and 1990s?

Over the past two decades, all but one of the “7 deadlies” has been addressed.  The average consumer’s access to baseline processing power and bandwidth is significantly better.  Development teams are perhaps 1/6 the size with virtual geographically distributed teams taking ½ the development time of some of the original titles. Interactive design expertise still continues to evolve, but has moved out of its “ransom note” beginnings.  The market and appetite is no longer only “gamer niche” when over 150 million people have their credit card numbers in Apple’s iTunes Store alone. And the Internet has 15+ years in front of consumers, bringing in a volume of content and connection not even conceivable in the early interactive days – but with user and design experiences that generally fell far short of those developed in early interactive CDROM titles.

“Apple's iPad is a milestone in computing, because it brings together for the first time several capabilities long in development. Vannevar Bush (1945), Douglas Engelbart (1962, 1968), and Ted Nelson (1974) articulated early visions of computers as tools the average person might use to organize their own research. SRI, PARC, and Apple demonstrated the power of graphical user interfaces and direct manipulation. HyperCard and Director ushered in a "revolution" in interactive multi-media, but 600 MB CDs were the only medium for distribution. The Internet exploded onto the scene in 1995 providing distribution but taking a 10-year step backwards in terms of media and interactivity. iPad is the first device to bring together rich media, interactivity, portability, and broad distribution.” – Hugh Dubberly

So which one of “the 7 deadlies” still needs to be addressed?  It’s mostly about authoring platforms, although one can debate there is still a distribution limitation focused now around “how one rises above the noise once you get in the free apps stores, were certain companies have a lot of say about success.”

 

The Remaining Deadly - Authoring Platforms

While the Internet took us steps ahead in accessing and distributing information, entertainment and conversation, it took us many steps back in terms of authoring and design.  And that’s not surprising if you consider and believe this:  looking at the Internet as something that was initially structured to transmit 20-30 page physics papers, and then various individuals found ways to bolt on code and brute force morph that system into something that could distribute cat videos or sell stuff, and create multimillion dollar valuations.

Now if we are to move ahead and take the best of the vision of “Knowledge Navigator” and merge it with that of the Internet, thoughtful development of authoring platform(s) needs to be addressed.

“2011 is like 1991 all over again  -  a new revolution in interactive multi-media. HTML-CSS-JS-SVG offer a great deal of potential, much of it still untapped. But we lack good authoring tools at all levels from end-user to professional designers and authors…. As good as it is, iPad has no authoring environment … Quite a number of iPad information utilities or intelligent aggregators have emerged… All of these services are new and evolving. We're quite a ways from a final or even a stable form.” – Hugh Dubberly

Given this, there are several challenges/development areas that will need to be addressed to get to a true authoring platform that enables many (not just the “tech elite”) to develop immersive storytelling and information sharing experiences (that are neither pure books/magazines, video/documentaries or social platforms):

  1. Intelligent readers and social aggregators that can learn from user behavior and facilitate discovery beyond intentional search of a friend’s “Like” (cross reference this to my prior posts on Flipboard etc);
  2. Richer “book/magazine” authoring platforms that contain social elements (to facilitate media as catalysts for conversation) and more structural information beyond a list of words and pages – reflected in richer navigation, parallel information, linking, collecting and curating one’s own and group material);
  3. Interactive video (and photos) authoring platforms beyond simple linear editing and navigation;
  4. Mobile authoring platform as opposed to authoring on PC.

 

Moving Forward to “Past Is Prologue”

With the development of the right authoring tools and APIs we may well move to a “Media and Story Convergence 2.0” where we see the digital and physical worlds; journalism, publishing and broadcasting; social and personal; services and commerce – all come together in a meaningful, accessible, mass market way - after a nearly 20 year hiatus since the first experimental attempts.

“It’s exactly the same thing people were trying to do with HyperCard.  What has changed is of course the platform … Now with Push Pop Press the real stunning thing about it is consistency of vision throughout the book… Part of it is about the willingness to do things on a grand scale, to go beyond repurposing.  People really thought about the material and the right way to present this… Brain cycles can now be spent against the bigger issues – and not the struggle of the 90’s with so many basic technology issues ….”  - John Worthington  


“Imagine an updated version of HyperCard running on smart phones, enabling 10-year-olds everywhere to develop contents and apps. That will create a revolution equivalent to the invention of pocket books which made possible universal education and literacy. ” – Hugh Dubberly

 

So to the innovative developers who have pieces of what a powerful authoring platform could be - Push Pop Press, Zite, Flipboard, Inkling, and others -  the games have begun.   The past is waiting.  Patiently, perhaps.  Favicon

 

October 29, 2010

Why Space Matters – An Argument For Truly Creative Environments and Against Cube Culture

  SpacesImage

Which of these images is not like the others?

(answer at the end of the post)

 

If one wants to give more than lip service to the concepts of collaborative creativity and innovation acceleration, then caring about the “micro-environment” of the individuals involved in those processes is required. "Micro-environments" are the spaces, both individual and common, over which we have control to some extent, and are different in the level of effort required to change them from the macro-environments of the location that surrounds them (ranging anywhere from a city to a scenic wilderness). That thoughtful engagement with and design of the immediate work environment must go far beyond many organizations’ concepts of trendy design directions or gimmicks like indoor slides.

In his book "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that:

"Even the most abstract mind is affected by the surroundings of the body.  No one is immune to the impressions that impinge on the senses from the outside.  Creative individuals may seem to disregard their environment and work happily in even the most dismal surroundings … But in reality, the spatiotemporal context in which creative persons live has consequences that often go unnoticed." (p.127)

This group of “creative individuals” is not limited to “artistic” creativity, but to the broader definition of creative thinking and action that also includes science, technology and the practical arts.  One might argue that these, even more so than “fine art,” are collective creative endeavors where idea and information exchange and innovation often grows much faster in specific “hot spots” where the work of one person builds on that of others.

So what creates – or reveals -  those “hot spots,” the elusive right place at the right moment for the right pursuit?

  • Why Italy and Renaissance art?
  • Why Paris in the early 1900s for writers?  Or why Gertrude Stein’s salon in particular?
  • Why the University of Illinois and the physics of superconductors in the 1950s?
  • Why Silicon Valley and the personal computer in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s?

It would be overly simplistic to say there is only one factor that drives the rise to greatness of density of creative thought for certain geographic locations (macro-environments) for specific endeavors, but as to why a particular place (macro or micro) may accelerate and spread creative work within its boundaries, Csikszentmihalyi said:

"Certain environments have a greater density of interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas; therefore, they prompt the person who is already inclined to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily than if he or she had stayed in a more conservative, more repressive setting."

So if one theme extracted might be about the density of appropriate interaction presented to the “prepared mind,” what might be some current real world examples of how this can be taken to the micro-environment level of the common and personal spaces we inhabit in the structures in which we work?

 

Here are two.


1. Randy Pausch’s Stage 3 Laboratory in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon University (lower left image at the beginning of this post)

This is about setting the stage for fun, comfort and contentedness to fuel collaborative work from teams with diverse disciplines who don’t usually work together. And this does not have to happen in an expensive, high design space.  It can be in a humble university lab.

"Instead of a traditional laboratory, the Stage 3 lab more closely resembled a toy store. The space was awash with color and filled with games, toys and stuffed animals – lots of stuffed animals, some hanging from the ceiling.  Randy had wisely banished the use of fluorescent lights, so the colorful stuffed animals were illuminated by incandescent lamps.  The theme was clearly one of fun, comfort and contentedness. … Clearly Randy intended his lab to inspire creativity and out of the box thinking. – “The Comet and the Tornado” by Don Marinelli (p 37)

 

2. The Atrium at Pixar Animation Studios (upper left image at the beginning of this post)

 This is about maximizing the opportunity for the informed serendipitous encounter.

"Our building, which is Steve Job's brainchild, is another way we get people from different deprtments to interact.  Most buildings are desgined for some functional purpose, but ours is structured to maximize inadvertant encounters.  At its center is a large atrium, which contains the cafeteria, eeting rooms, bathrooms, and mailboxes.  As a result, everyone has strong reasons to go there repeatedly during the course of the workday. It's hard to describe just how valuable the resulting chance encounter are." - Ed Catmull in "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity" in Harvard Business Review

 

Takeaways Beyond the Common Space

It is important to note that neither of these examples is about creating chaotic environments where one has to be an aggressive extrovert to survive. Nor are they about taking away personal and quiet spaces with a practice some call "hotelling" where individuals have no assigned personal space, but "check-in" each day for an open desk with their personal materials kept in a box on a shelf they move around each day.  (Thanks to Allison Arieff for pointing out the “hotelling” example, and to Michelle Kaufmann for reminding me about the need for beautiful open personal space.) What they are about is both personalization and optimization of the prepared mind for inspired moments as well as the chance encounter and exchange.

 

Points beyond physical attributes of the micro-environment

1. The importance of bringing a prepared mind

It is essential to have a “prepared mind” if an environment is to have a chance to impact creativity.

“…what seems to happen is that when persons with prepared minds find themselves in beautiful settings, they are more likely to find new connections among new ideas, new perspectives on issues.”  - M. Csikszentmihalyi (p 136)

2. How you do what you do

How you spend time in the right setting also has impact on the creative process. Sitting may be acceptable, but being able to walk around seems to be even better. Why?

"… when involved in a semiautomatic activity that takes up a certain amount of attention, while leaving some of it free to make connections among ideas below the threshold of conscious intentionality.  Devoting full attention to a problem is not the best recipe for having creative thoughts.” - M. Csikszentmihalyi

3. The personal space

Beyond the common space designed for the serendipitous event,  personal micro-environments, the immediate setting in which a person works, can and should be transformed into a way that those spaces enhance personal creativity.  Successful creative problem solvers manage to give their surroundings a personal setting that reflects the rhythm of their thoughts and habits. What you place around yourself whould reflect what you intend to become or create.

"In order to think more creatively, imaginatively and strategically, we need to cultivate a more intuitive, metaphorical attention that calls preeminently on the right hemisphere of the brain … The parallel challenge for leaders and organizations is to create work environments that free and encourage people to focus in absorbed ways without constant interruptions.” – Tony Schwartz in “The Way We're Working Isn't Working"

4. The exterior macro-environment

 External macro-environments set the social, cultural, and institutional contexts of our lives. Most of us can’t do that much about changing them on a daily basis.  However, access – even on an irregular basis – to environments that present unusual and complex sensory experiences (Big Sur, Grand Tetons, the beach - as in upper left image at beginning of post) can be very beneficial to the creative process.

"...one’s attention is jolted out of its customary grooves and seduced to follow the novel and attractive patterns.  However, the sensory menu does not require a full investment of attention; enough psychic energy is left free to pursue, subconsciously, the problematic content that requires a creative formulation.”  - M Csikszentmihalyi  (p 138)

 

The Takeaway

The belief that the immediate physical environment deeply impacts our thoughts and feelings, and hence our work, is held by many cultures - and ours should be no exception.  Building micro-environments that up the odds of creative thinking and work , for both the individual and the group, needs to be a thoughtful process that goes beyond surface trends and gimmicks.

And to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: "Which of the 4 images is not like the others?"  The answer is the lower right cube farm.  It is neither a micro or macro environment that enhances creative collaboration.  Favicon

 

Additional Resources

The Economist: "Fun and the Office Environment"

Randy Pausch's office and lab

Michelle Kaufmann's post on Twitter office space - a mix of private and public spaces

Fast Company: "Where Work Is Play"

Steven Johnson in GOOD Magazine on future working spaces

Business Pundit: "8 Coolest Office Spaces Ever"

Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker (added Nov 5) "Why your bosses want to turn your new office into Greenwich Village"

 

 

August 18, 2009

Inspiration - Some Of The Best Ideas Come From Unexpected Sources

InspirationCompositeBorder

The items in the images on the left inspired the products and brands on the right.

In his 2005 book, "A Whole New Mind,"  Daniel Pink proposed that we have entered an era in which creative conceptual thinking has become increasingly important. Right-brain thinking that is emotionally and observationally based needs to take its rightful and valued place next to the left-brain thinking of logical analytical and theoretical thought. Both science and business often say that the result of creative thoughts need to contain both originality and appropriateness. To get to that final stage, there is a process (the 4I's) that takes inspiration into idea into invention and later into continuing innovation.

So with creative thought a valued process, where does the "first I of Inspiration" come from?  Some examples follow that demonstrate that some of the best ideas and solutions come from truly unexpected sources that are about as far removed from the "industry of record" as possible.  A humble kitchen. A walk with a dog. Street art in some dicey alleys.

1940’s - Velcro

The inventor of Velcro (Swiss engineer George de Mestral) was inspired by the burrs stuck in his dog’s coat.  Returning home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he noticed all the burrs, specifically burdock seeds, stuck fast to the coat of his dog. Examining this scenario under a microscope, he saw that the burrs had hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, dog fur for example.  Thus was revealed the seed of the idea for a new and simple way of binding two materials together if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops that he had found in nature (burrs and fur). Ten years after that walk with his dog, he submitted the patent for Velcro that was later granted in 1955.

1970’s - Nike

A waffle iron led to a revolutionary athletic shoe sole design and the birth of a global mega brand.  Track coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon was experimenting with ideas for shoe outsoles that would better grip the newly resurfaced track at the university. One Sunday morning, he poured liquid urethane into his wife’s waffle iron.  This evolved into the famed Nike “waffle sole” which was first mass manufactured and distributed in the iconic Nike Waffle Trainer in 1974. In 2008, Nike’s revenues were nearly $19B. That’s a lot of waffles.

1980’s - MTV logo

On August 1, 1981 MTV launched on a small New Jersey cable system with a theme song in the form of a crunching guitar riff playing over a montage of images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The MTV logo on the astronaut’s flag is the iconic symbol of the company that was inspired by the graffiti and street art that Creative Director Fred Seibert and his team would see walking the streets of NYC. Contrary to the “industry standard practice” of never touching a corporate logo/icon, the MTV logotype, true to its street art origins, is constantly changing and simultaneously existing in many different creative manifestations.

  

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21st Century - Twitter

I'm not sure what the real story of the initial inspiration for Twitter is.  Maybe it's as "mundane" as some form of evolution of SMS.  But I am intrigued by a recent tweet from Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey that read:

DorseyBloombergTweet


Lesson?  In the creative idea economy, you never know what the source and timing of initial inspiration is going to be.  More often than not, inspiration springs from unexpected sources far removed from the confines of the particular business or problem at hand, which says something about the value of an "informed naivete" in the approach to the creative process ...well that, and taking a lot of walks and spending time in the kitchen. Egv_tiny_blogicon


July 07, 2009

Brand Identity Is More Than Image - The Case for Product Informed by Brand Truth

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Click for larger image.

Brand Identity and Product Model for a Media Company

  

Identity is not just image.  Not even in the world of media companies.

Brand Identity goes far beyond a company’s logo and tagline. It is the unique expression of a deep belief system that must live at the heart of everything that emanates from and around a brand entity, manifesting itself not just in what are considered creative marketing communications conventions, but just as (if not more) importantly, in the essence of the product experience the brand delivers. Product naturally and deeply infused with brand identity innately conveys differences that are immediately experienced and observable (no product data sheet required). They are noticed even when you’re not looking for them. What I’m talking about is NOT a logo branded on an object, but the user’s (direct) product experience itself.

Everything in the brand ecosystem – from what it says to what it does - should be thought of as a potential medium upon which brand identity is insistently and consistently embedded. It’s core to the DNA. Identity remains constant, while a particular medium and its implications may change with time and place.

When brand identity and product truth are in alignment, there is an opportunity to create not just product satisfaction, but enthusiasm - to outperform the competition, over deliver on expectations, and even dare to surprise (in a good way) and delight the user community.

What is Product for Media Companies?

We often think of product in very simple terms (a car, a shampoo, a camera, a vacation destination) and models (only what the company creates that is obvious to the consumer) that miss much of the essence of 21st century product experience. For purposes of this post, product most broadly defined for a digital media company (or traditional media company with significant digital presence) includes its media content (text, video, photos), technology platforms, unique experience applications and capabilities, and its “user” community. These represented by 3 of the 6 areas in the outer ring of the model.

The Model

This model of brand identity is an extension of one first introduced in an April 3 post in this blog. This is a framework in which brand identity is at the heart, informing the surrounding ecosystems of communications audiences (ring 2) and vehicles (ring 3), as well as all the implicit and explicit ways that identity should manifest in the tactical aspects of the business (outer ring) – from product to content to monetization and partnership strategies to personality. This post focuses on the newly added outer ring.  The details of the rest of the model are at the original post, but briefly here:

Center: Brand identity defines what you stand for, as well as what you stand against.  More than a tagline; it should inform, and be in the DNA, of everything in the rest of the model.

Second Ring:  The “audience” ecosystem is comprised of the various groups with which the brand communicates and which will inevitably communicate back.  (The medium is about conversation, not just broadcast.)  For each of these, brand identity manifests in a unique positioning statement and communications architecture.

Third Ring: This is the portfolio of communications vehicles (both digital and real world) that will be relevant for different members of the “audience” ecosystem at different points in time. Brand identity drives their strategic plan and creative execution.

Fourth Ring: For Challenger Brands in particular, brand identity must manifest in all areas of the business, beyond the traditional creative venue of marketing communications (ring 3). These include product experience (product, content and community), business relationships (revenue generation and audience building), and the nature of the brand’s personality and greater connection to the world at large.  These are represented as discreet elements in the model for purposes of discussion, but obviously influence each other greatly in the real world (e.g. Content: accessibility impacts Audience: engagement.)  All of these elements also have unique relationships with the various members of the “audience/user”’ ecosystem.

Brand Identity and the Arena of Product

Products have just as much opportunity to touch people emotionally as does a marketing campaign. Product is often thought of as pragmatic and not creative, yet it can be (and should be) just as creative and "emotional" an expression of the brand identity as any marketing communications campaign.

For media companies, content is what has traditionally been first thought of as the core of the “product” offering. For today's robust media company, it is but one third of the product trifecta, with product platform and community providing the "context for the content", rounding out a media company's product offering. So how might we think of the relationship between brand identity and these three components of product?

(1) Content:
How does brand identity inform decisions about the design and production, timeliness, location and sharing nature of the content?

Design/production values and accessibility: Does the brand identity demand a polished Hollywood look , or something more of the order of garage or homemade?  Is production solely from professional sources, consumer generated or a curated mix of the two?

Timeliness vs Quality Tradeoff: Where along the continuum of "content that reflects the most current moment" to "in-depth thoughtful production" does the brand identity determine for the media mix? In the online world, where immediacy is possible, the decision has to be made about what expectation to set.  And the closer to the immediacy end of the spectrum, traditional quality measures may decline.  However, "immediacy" in and of itself may be a new measure of online content quality.

Distribution/Location: Different distribution locations provide different opportunities for discovery and also context for content, and context of media is often as critical as the nature of the content itself. Does the brand identity reflect a philosophy of a controlled walled garden, a free range system where search and discovery are critical, or somewhere in between?

Sharability: Does the brand reflect an attitude of open sharing or one of "close to the vest?" And is sharing defined as inside the brand community or into any possible group.  Again, in the online world, the power of the passed link (to content) is undeniable in building a brand's power.


(2) Product Platform: How does brand identity inform the product platform specification, execution and evolution?

Convenience/Ease of Use/Speed: What guidance does the brand identity provide in relationship to setting priorities and making tough development calls in relationship to the ease of user access (convenience of search and discovery), to ease of use (once product/content is accessed), to speed of use (how product/content performs/responds in reaction to user's actions)?

Performance: Thinking about product performance now needs to go beyond the functionality and industry benchmark metrics touted in the worlds of industrial design and high tech. Both the left (logical/analytical) and right (creative/emotional) sides of the user's brain must be seen as equally important.  What does the brand identity say about how the user should feel when engaging with, using or watching/reading the "product?"

Engagement Experience: Is all engagement "deliberately planned" or is there room for "spontaneous engagement" through discovery, recommendation or other means? Does the product treat users as audience, participants or co-creators?  What other objects or experiences need to surround the core product?

Scalability: Does brand identity indicate a boutique audience or one of potential global dimensions? How does that impact plans for scalability of platform, content, audience and interaction?


(3) Community and Participation: How does brand identity inform the nature of the desired relationship with the "user" communities to the product platform and its content?

Types and Varieties of Engagement Opportunities: Communities contribute to, but rarely take over (hijack), the manifestation of brand identity. They congregate around brand identity.  The levels of content engagement that are provided and enabled by a brand will define, in large part, the extent to which the users/audience will co-create and co-define the product.

Levels of Interaction: Brand identity reflects an understanding of "audience or user" and their predisposition to engage in certain online media behaviors.  The group's technographic profile should guide the level of complexity and intent of online experiences  - understanding when, where and for whom enabling creating, curating, commenting, or sharing of content is important.

Ability to Personalize: Personalization of product may be one of the deepest forms of engagement one can have with brand identity. Providing a platform or experience upon which one can put their own unique stamp is powerful; and pride in that personalization promotes sharing. Enough said.

Lessons Learned

Brand identity needs to be as much a part of the core DNA of product as it is for marketing communications. Both are  physical manifestations of how the media brand wants to attract and interact with its users/audience.

Brand identity and product truth are inextricable interlinked. They must be if a media brand is to be successful.  And in a Web 2.0 world, product truth becomes concrete in a product experience that is shared equally by the content, product platform (technology and experiences) and the communities that surround them.

For a media company, the question will then be to make wise choices as how to best prioritize resources against that which comprises product: content, platform and surrounding community - deciding in which cases brand identity suggests performance "at industry levels" and where it demands exceptional commitment to excellence and user/audience delight. Egv_tiny_blogicon


April 06, 2009

Is This Advertising?

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"Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image."

-  David Ogilvy


In this post, three categories of objects are considered: in public spaces, online, and even those that are purchased. Which of these do you consider to be advertising if we consider the following as guidelines? 

  1. Brand image lives in people's minds as a result of their direct and indirect (through media and other people) experience with the product or company.
  2. Advertising is a form of communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service.
  3. Advertising provides some level of "experience" with the product before you buy it.
  4. Advertising is a paid medium; you have to pay to place it in the real world or digitally.


Objects Found In Public Spaces

Nike Logoed Shirt: If an athlete is wearing it as part of a paid endorsement, then it's advertising.  But what about when your favorite trainer or running buddy is wearing it?

iPod/iPhone White Ear Buds: In the billboard, TV and print ads, well, it's advertising.  What about the dozens of times a day you see those white ear buds coming down the street? You know what the product is without even seeing it.

Starbucks InStore Music Screen: In about 600 Starbucks stores in the US, there are flat panel screens that provide information on the music that is currently playing, and to my knowledge, not paid for by the music companies or artists.  But doesn't it serve the other "non-paying" criteria of advertising, and couldn't it become that?  Easy to make happen since WiFi is right there with easy one click access to the iTunes store for downloads.

Obama Poster: Post the election and pre-inauguration, Moveon.org raised money by selling postcards and posters, as well as limited edition version ($500) signed Shepard Fairey posters.  In many a window in San Francisco.  Good promo for brand Obama, yet initiated and paid for by others.

Planet Dog Sticker: Seen in the back window of many a station wagon, this sticker costs $2.  And for that you get to state your canine affiliation as well as promote someone else's brand of which you may or may not have purchased one of their toy products.

 

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Objects Found Online

"Will It Blend?" YouTube Video: Well-known series of videos produced by the blender company that have pulverized anything from an iPhone to glow sticks, often at the request of fans.  Produced by the company with a "home-made" feel.  More than six million views.  Free distribution on YouTube and in many an article on "viral videos."  Blender sales conversion rate?

Rachel Maddow Show Facebook Page: 50,000 fans to go along with over 200,000 followers on twitter.  Experience brand Maddow through notes, video links for the shows; as well as other stuff she likes that never makes it to broadcast.

Twitter Page of Zappos CEO: More than 350,000 people can't be wrong.  And if sold one pair of shoes to each per year - that's millions.

Hunch Public Beta Invite: Great "welcome" letter/FAQ from Caterina Fake gets you interested in and sharing the "brand" before it even does anything for you.  And your participation is actually critical to building the functionality and value of the product.

HGTV Widget: Weeks on my Facebook profile page and I didn't win.  But did I think about HGTV each day that I logged in even though I wasn't watching cable ... yep.


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Objects That Are Purchased

Whole Foods Shopping Bag: $2 to avoid paper bag shame and carry them into stores other than Whole Foods, even competitors. Sorry Mollie Stones.

Kleenex/Hannah Montana: I am sure that money exchanged hands here to place image and logo of pop idol on tissue box -- but which way?  Brand Miley may well have more power than brand Kleenex, so cash may have gone upstream instead.

"Unstuck" Book by Founder of SYP: A well written book on its own, but also a great promo vehicle for the SYP agency and great client pitch leave behind. Old school print version only; not on Kindle yet.

Starbucks Cup (old version with "The Way I See It" quote): I loved the old "The Way I See It" quotes on the Starbucks cups from people like Keith Olbermann and Jeffrey Sachs.  Currently they're using quotes from "real" customers.  See me with my soy chai walking down the street may not be 'advertising,' but if the cup is on a talk show host's desk?

What's The Point?

Lots of other examples to be sure. That SmartCar or Aptera parked on a busy public street. Those custom Nike ID shoes my trainer wears with a "swoosh" color of his choosing. The Motorola logo on the headsets the coaches are wearing on the sidelines at the SuperBowl.  When I change the name (or some form thereof) of a company to a verb such as “tweeting” or "googling" and use it in an email, blog post or magazine article. Other ideas?

Lesson Learned: Not everything that builds brands is paid advertising. Sometimes the conduit of the message is free or people might even pay for the message itself. Egv_tiny_blogicon


(Note: Thanks to friend Michael Markman for suggesting the iPod ear buds and SmartCar as examples in this post.)
   

August 23, 2008

The 4D Process - Balancing Strategy, Execution and Followup in Content/Media Creation

4D for blog

  Creating and launching media properties that range from the seemingly simple to the obviously complex requires a balance of both strategic and creative thinking, resources and execution talent; with equal homage paid to both the left and right sides of the brain.  One cannot simply write a strategy paper or programming plan in abstentia and expect it to magically spring to life.  Similarly, being asked to run off with your crayons and typewriters (ok - our Macs, scanners, mics and cameras) is an equally foolish approach.  Sometimes these approaches will work, but I wouldn't count on it.

Creating a "left brain/analytical" style system to make sure you address most/all of the issues that can add to the success likelihood of  content/media ventures, then allows a platform and framing to open up in which to let the creative free thinking right brain loose.

I have given the shorthand name of "4D" to an approach that I often use. "4D" for the steps of: Define, Design, Develop, and Deploy.  While not complete - that would depend on the nature of the media venture - here are some ways to think about what each of those steps might contain.


Define

  • Project strategy
  • Business and creative issues
  • Market and competitive dynamics
  • Leverage points
  • Optimal media mix for the program
  • Technology and distribution platforms
  • Opportunities to leverage existing client assets
  • Partner opportunities
  • Cross agency campaign integration
  • Desired engagement flow with audience
  • Opportunities for engaging influencers
  • Success criteria and measurement opportunities



Design

  • Creative concept
  • Distribution platform
  • Technology elements
  • Program and engagement flow
  • Multi-agency program integration
  • Influencer outreach
  • Operation and logistics model
  • Measurement model

Develop

  • Creative across all media (live, broadcast, online)
  • Integration model for new and existing communications elements
  • Technical platform and programming
  • Iteration cycles
  • Testing and QA

Deploy

  • Launch plan
  • Infrastructure
  • Campaign, programming, content
  • Ongoing operations and logistics
  • Measurement and evaluation for course correction
  • Check-in points to identify innovation and evolution opportunities


So whether you have a bootstrap guerrilla project or a multi-million dollar budget,  what issues do you need to consider to create a playing field in which creative and strategic minds can collaborate and thrive, and provide a result that meets both business and creative goals?

October 23, 2007

Consumer Generated Media Is Not Just a Digital Phenomenon

Custom_jones Consumer generated media existed in the physical world long before the Internet ... and still does.  A great case in point is Seattle-based Jones Soda. Jones Soda has been enabling consumers (fans) to design labels and name flavors since 2000. And they have community, blogs, sponsored events and other activities that support their unique sense of brand humor and appeal to the youth market (or more broadly to those of  youthful spirit). But the final product is still physical, even though its creation is facilitated by the digital - a bottle with the consumer's photo and copy with the Jones Soda flavor of choice inside.

The Jones Soda Photo Gallery (with some current voting results below each photo) is where you can vote on the consumer-uploaded photos to influence the next set of product labels. There are currently 538,322 photos out of the 737,206 that have been posted.  (Submissions older than 6 months are archived).  That is quite an active fan base.

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For those who can't wait to see if their photo garners enough influence votes to sway Jones' choice (or who want something for a special event), the company initiated the MyJones program where for $29.95 you can create your own label on a 12 pack of product and have it shipped directly to you.

My recently submitted customized Jones Soda
order is below - in celebration of (e.g.) ventures' security dog, Zoe.

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Pepsi recently launched a "Design Our Pepsi Can Contest" that offers the winner $10,000 with the winning design printed on 500M Pepsi cans.  Their promo material claims "the first time in history" that this has been done. So I think they must have missed what Jones has been doing for the past 7 years? Pepsi's 100,000 (less than 1/5th the size of the Jones Soda Gallery) entries have been narrowed down to 5 final designs that the public can vote on.

So what's the takeaway? Consumer generated media isn't just about digital video on YouTube. It can be something as simple as a message (a photo in this case) on a bottle.  As long as the brand and product in that bottle have relevant meaning and emotional value to the consumer.

 

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.