Category Archives: Published Articles

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It’s Amazon Prime Day, again.

Apparently it’s that time of year again – Amazon Prime Day returns. After last year’s celebration of Amazon’s birthday with a day to rival Black Friday, this year’s Amazon Prime Day is hotly anticipated – by consumers ready to snag a deal, and, I assume, Amazon’s accountants too.

Last year was reportedly a lacklustre affair – with many a social mention about Prime Day deals being on less than ‘premium’ or desirable products – there was the story of the $1000 oil drum of lube you’ll no doubt remember, but generally a sense of distressed inventory being flogged at yard sale prices – although I expect this is more Amazon being a victim of their own success – some products allegedly ran off the shelves in a matter of seconds, leaving the long tail of less demanded products remaining – although for the internet giant, the commercial benefit of creating an owned shopping holiday in an otherwise generally quiet time of year is probably clear – Walmart, for instance is responding by offering free shipping for the whole week.

Amazon need to now really ensure that significant availability of demanded products is maintained in order to cement Prime Day as a recurring retail event which is genuinely to be excited about as a shopper.

If I were in charge of Amazon Prime Day – I’d probably do three things for future Prime Days:

1. Prime Day currently feels a little like a giant shop floor without curation – Amazon sit on a huge wealth of personalised behaviour and commerce data which could be used to personalise the experience for each consumer – and naturally manage stock levels and expectation. I’d love to see an Amazon Prime Day store for Matthew (probably containing a brand new coffee grinder, an Amazon Echo and lots of discounted LEGO).

2. Go beyond boxed product – maybe Amazon Prime Day could be so much more than just shopping, but an entire experience – live music, content premieres, surprise Prime Now deliveries, local events that pick up on the local cultural nuances.

3. Let Alexa order for you – for just one day, your Amazon Echo will just order anything it hears you mention, regardless of what it is. You talk about a caravan, it’ll arrive at 5pm. You mention Alexander Skarsgard, he’ll come around for dinner. Hand your shopping decisions over to the ‘bots.

Maybe we’re not ready for the last suggestion just yet – but as Amazon continue to grow their offering, beyond physical product, in to content, in to fresh foods, into on-demand deliveries, into connected home services, it’s not a stretch to imagine Amazon playing a larger role in our lives beyond retail, and that we’ll increasingly trust the platform with making decisions for us (i.e. subscriptions to products based upon price not brand; artificial intelligence informed recommendations; automated replenishment services), and if there is one thing which is absolutely true about Amazon, they learn from their innovation (whether successful or not) and iterate smarter services to move forward – so I expect this year’s Amazon Prime to be a doozy.

And I’m still holding out for an Amazon Echo.

(This article was originally posted on Campaign)

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Amazon Echo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally quite cynical about new technology launches.

As someone with years of being in roles where it’s my job to get people excited about the future – I’ve always had to temper people’s excitement about new technology, and get them thinking about what it means for people and our lives, rather than the hardware itself – but with the most recent product launch from the commerce giant, I’m genuinely excited. I want an Amazon Echo – the sleek cylindrical love child of Siri (Apple’s voice controlled assistant) and Sonos (the wireless music player).

At it’s heart, Amazon Echo is a device which sits on your shelf in the corner of your living room, office or kitchen, and then listens and reacts. You shout ‘Hey Alexa, play some classical music’, and the device fetches from music and fires up some tunes. You call ‘Hey Alexa, buy more Ambrosia Custard’, and it adds previously purchased items back into your shopping basket. You holler ‘Hey Alexa, what time is the next Eurostar to Paris’ and it’ll tell you how long you’ve got to dash to the station. You whisper ‘Hey Alexa, turn the lights on please’, and your house illuminates. Or at least, that’s the picture being painted by Amazon and its consumers in the US, as the device isn’t yet available to us in the UK. I’ve had a brief play with one of the few units over here at a recent demonstration by the Amazon team, and I’ve been reading through some of the toolkits which Amazon are releasing to help developers and businesses add support for voice interfaces, and I’m still excited.

As I’ve written before, Amazon realised a long time ago that ecommerce is an incredibly hard design challenge – you’ll never be able to mimick or match real-world retail environments, so they’ve stopped trying, and instead are adding layers of shoppability to the real-world. Amazon Firefly, their object recognition app, allows you to shoot a photo of anything, have it recognised, and add it to your basket. Amazon Dash Buttons are branded physical buttons which sit on your washing machine or fridge to reorder goods at the touch of a button. And Amazon Echo builds on that thought, to make purchase frictionless, effortless, nothing more than a passing comment.

It heightens the importance of brand recall and preference – as you’ll shout out the name of a brand you remember, rather than having a shelf of products competing for your attention with discounts and POS techniques which they can rely upon. This potentially also cements the role of Amazon Echo in partnership with other media, especially TV – the ability to prompt purchase even if the audience isn’t second screening.

Retailers will need to actively think the role that this more passive interaction with services that voice and in-home IOT interfaces offer them. Amazon celebrated their 20th anniversary this month – and as an organisation they’re sitting on decades of insight and knowledge about shopping habits and behaviours. What additional insights they’ll gather through having a new foothold in the front-room with the ability to capture more passing comments from consumers, rather active ‘sit and search’ type behaviours, will be of great interest to advertisers and brands.

But whilst yes, it’s a direct opportunity to add products to baskets, thinking of voice as just another way of clicking ‘buy now’ is short-sighted. In the same way Google search data shows the interests and questions that audiences have around certain key words, and perhaps the content which could be developed to answer that search – voice opens a new space in which to offer true value to consumers in their home. Will Vanish offer the answer of how to remove a stain within seconds of spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet? Can British Airways keep a wishlist of places that the family are mulling over for their next holiday? Can Lurpak make a suggestion of a meal for tonight based upon the contents of the fridge? – and that’s just playing with the idea of voice based search, the most obvious first step using the platform.

I’m also excited because we’re starting to pass into the next generation of interface and internet of things, where devices become more hidden and flow into a more natural way of interacting, helping us lift our heads from our screens, and the integration of many more IOT devices together, Amazon Echo, for instance, already connects to Philips and Belkin home automation technology, like lighting systems.

This constant overwatch from our technology doesn’t come without its concerns. Whilst Echo doesn’t listen to what you say until you prompt with her wake-word ‘Alexa’, your voice is still being transmitted to third parties, and as we saw in a recent advertising innovation, voice is potentially easy to abuse – with Toyota running a radio ad prompting in-car iPhones to switch to Airplane mode via Siri. Also, the type of data being collected would be far more passive than ever before, every little search, every little thought, every comment you make through the Echo system would and could be aggregated to build a very rich picture of what a person is doing and ‘offline’, rather than when actively engaging with a device. Each small interaction, the specific time when someone adds an item to their basket, or asks for the time, or switches music on, or turns off their lights, builds up a unique view of someone in a more offline state at home, which isn’t yet captured accurately – a huge potential wealth of data for advertisers and brands. In addition, what impact does this ‘on-demand’ capability have on our planet? Being able to order a single item with a passing mention, and have it shipped to you within an hour by connecting Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime Now (the recent immediate shipping functionality launched in London) doesn’t help reduction of packaging waste or carbon emissions, and points towards a worrying culture of impatience.

But for every concern, there are bright stars of positivity too. Nest’s connected smoke alarm alerting you at work that there’s a problem. Microsoft Research Lab’s work on mood tracking to help children with Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prompting ways of calming the wearer down. Amazon’s Echo could even be used to alert family or friends at the calls for help from an elderly relative.

This is the first outing for Amazon Echo – it may well be that we see a number of variations on its form, its use and its best place in our lives. Early comments from the beta release in the US have already started shifting how it is designed and thought about, and now it has gone on mainstream release, we’ll start to see many more uses of its technology that haven’t yet been thought about.

A modified version of this article was first published in The Grocer.

Convergence is Redefining Retail.

Innovation is disrupting and redefining retail as never before.

A convergent media landscape, created by fast-changing technologies, has increasingly blurred the boundaries between media, social networks and retail.

The combination of advances in technology and shifting consumer’ expectations has resulted in e-commerce increasingly meaning “everywhere-commerce”.

Tech innovation has led to the emergence of the always-on consumer, who expects goods to be just a single tap away, and to be able to effortlessly shop across a multitude of channels, at the right time and in the most convenient place – a phenomenon accelerated by the rise of mobile commerce, which is set to exceed £15bn in the UK this year.

To address this consumer need, tech and social media companies are looking into new methods of shortening the path to purchase, laying the foundations for the creation of an everywhere commerce ecosystem.

In recent weeks several media / tech companies have made a foray into this space, evolving from pure media players into digital commerce game changers. For example, YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, allowing consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching.

As part of its attempt to take on Amazon and eBay, Google has revealed plans to embed a “buy button” to its search results, enabling consumers to make purchases without needing to visit an alternative site.

Pinterest is planning to introduce a “buy button” on its platform too, whilst Twitter and Facebook have been testing one since last year.

For brands existing in the retail space, it’s clear that e-commerce, mobile commerce or ‘everywhere commerce’ is critical to the successful growth of their business. Take Mondelez, Diageo, and AB InBev, for example, which as businesses generally don’t sell directly to consumers, but they are now looking into how all forms of digital commerce can deliver growth, and it’s here that the role of media has never been clearer in driving direct business value.

Mondelez has recently embedded a ‘buy it now’ button into the brand’s online media, allowing customers to buy their favourite snacks directly from online video advertising, online promotions and social media.

Retailers looking to harness the power of convergent commerce need to follow five principles:

Brilliant basics: retailers must focus on accessibility. Search, marketing and addressing any failings in mobile optimisation are crucial. This has become even more important since the introduction of the new Google’s search algorithm, which will show only ‘mobile friendly’ websites on its search results.

Smarter media: retailers must deploy data to ensure effective targeting strategies. These will help retailers engage with the right people with the right message, and then create the opportunity for consumers to buy within media rather than just driving them to point-of-sale. Mobile technology has added a shoppable layer to most media channels, such as digital out-of-home or television, allowing us to add a shopping basket within ad units, tweet to purchase, support micropayments, pre-ordering, group purchases, and many other forms of sale. With technologies like Sky AdSmart, programmatic buying and second-screening, we’re reaching a point where we can personalise TV advertising as never before, enabling consumers to purchase the products they are watching on the screen without even entering credit card details, and have them in their hands within the hour.

Constant innovation: retailers must constantly test and learn, experimenting with new channels, technologies, distribution models, partnerships, content and creative thinking. Insights from testing new approaches are always valuable.

Holistic evaluation: in an everywhere-commerce environment, retailers need to have a strong understanding of which touch-points within their ecosystem are delivering against which KPIs, and how the network is performing holistically. A data-led evaluation framework enables retailers to optimise the entire operation around channels that truly work.

Internal collaboration: existing barriers between internal departments need to be broken down. There is a lot of crossover between product, trading, commerce and marketing, and integrated thinking and shared objectives have become a must for retailers wanting to meet expectations and needs of a consumer with an on-demand mindset.

Opinion originally posted on http://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2015/06/how-retailers-can-harness-the-power-of-media

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What does the future hold for Spotify

I spoke to the BBC for Radio 2, BBC World Radio and BBC World News TV on Tuesday about Spotify launching new forms of content on their platforms. Some of the video and audio is available below. There’s so much more to say about Spotify getting into video, but here is my summary:

– Spotify don’t turn a profit, despite huge revenues – and video content is generally less complex and costly to license, so could be a valuable route to turn down.
– More choice for consumers within one platform will always be better for Spotify, as the longer they can retain users within their application, the more data and potential advertising revenue can be generated
– Video advertising (to their free users) is generally more costly to advertisers than radio advertising, so will additionally increase their revenues from this source
– Daniel Ek hinted at creating original content, Spotify as a commissioner or creator is an interesting but ambitious objective. Could they be the Netflix for audio?

Retail

Facebook Buy – frictionless innovation

Facebook’s recent introduction of a ‘buy’ button, allowing users on desktop and mobile to buy advertised products with just one click, and without leaving the social network, is yet another demonstration of social platforms looking towards monetization beyond display advertising.

The new feature, which so far has only been tested by a few small and medium-sized businesses in the US, is Facebook’s most recent innovation in the realm of frictionless commerce and will help the social network be less reliant on advertising.

It isn’t just Facebook exploring direct and affiliate revenue. Twitter has just announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a payment infrastructure, that enables retailers to connect to publishers to create online-to-offline promotions; Pinterest, meanwhile, has teamed up with Shopify, an e-commerce platform for more than 100,000 merchants, which ensures that all pins of their products include valuable information such as pricing and stock availability.

These approaches enable platforms to become more insular experiences, almost like shopping malls – allowing users to socialise with their friends, grab a coffee, find and share new content, search and purchase products, all without leaving their space. Whilst Amazon has huge capabilities in commerce and fulfillment, they lack the social dynamic – and social platforms integrating commerce means you can have a more enjoyable ‘browsing’ experience, without having to leave the space.

The rise of media convergence, driven not least by the unprecedented growth of mobile device usage, is increasingly bringing commerce and content closer together. The constant assault of new technologies, whether Facebook’s ‘buy’ button, Amazon’s FireFly or examples like PowaTag, which allows consumers to instantly purchase products via QR codes, are continuing to break down the old models of what, where and how retail is defined – e-commerce is now becoming ‘everywhere’ commerce.

The biggest threat to retailers now comes from standing still.

Not exploring and experimenting with new distribution channels will open up opportunities for new forms of competitors, enabling them to steal ‘share of time’ and even poach customers – a dangerous scenario that retailers can no longer ignore. Now is the time for retailers and brands who exist in retail spaces to work with their partners, and understand how they can use these technologies to redefine their retail experience, and redefine how media can deliver business value.

(Originally posted on Retail Week)

#AmazonCart

Amazon have launched their latest exploration into frictionless shopping – #AmazonCart (or #AmazonBasket for UK audiences).

Their latest concept allows consumers to add items to their Amazon basket without leaving the confines of Twitter. If they see an amazon product link, tweeters can simply reply including a hashtag #AmazonBasket, and the item will be automatically added to their shopping cart, waiting for when they next check-out, no doubt fuelling impulse purchases, and helping spread amazon product links organically too. Even if the consumer doesn’t checkout, Amazon will be hoarding interest data on which links are gaining traction at an individual and segment level.

Whilst coverage of the new approach has discussed this being a result of a partnership between Twitter and Amazon, this technique doesn’t at all rely upon any relationship between the two technology giants – any brand could build this based upon Twitter’s open API without their intervention, which raises questions about how easily Twitter can be excluded from revenue opportunities using their platform. Twitter have previously attempted to launch pay-by-tweet mechanics, such as their partnership with American Express in early 2013, and even earlier than that twitter-commerce platform Chirpify offered a ‘order via a tweet’ mechanic – but both have so far met with limited success or consumer adoption. News of a potential partnership between Twitter and online payment provider Stripe surfaced in January of this year, although that has yet to be seen to provide opportunities for the social network.

Amazon are a relentless innovator when it comes to omnichannel retail and rethinking how purchase journeys exist, both building upon existing digital consumer behaviours (like regular purchases via their Amazon Subscribe and Save concept), or sparking new ones (like showrooming).

Personally, I feel Amazon always lose in the ‘browsing’ stakes, their online experience delivers nowhere near the joy of wandering around a bookstore or physical retail environment, so it makes sense that they’re branching out in order to find different ways of consumers stumbling across or browsing their product catalogue, whether it be through a gap in the fridge (Amazon Dash) or this latest addition of your friends and network mentioning products.

Other retailers should absolutely take a leaf out of Amazon’s book, in exploring how other platforms outside of their direct control, like Facebook or Twitter, can be turned into transactional channels utilising simple techniques like this, and constantly look for new consumer behaviours along the entire purchase journey – not just at the point of consideration or purchase, as the businesses which make the most of effortless action to add an item to a basket, or at the very least register your interest, will lead in the next phase of multi-platform retail.

Used under a CC licence from https://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/2540266946/

The future of price tags

Imagine a world without price tags.

This world already exists in the high-priced, high-end markets: crazy 24 bedroom houses with their own cinemas, moats and swimming pools list ‘Price on Application’; fancy jewellery stores or performance motor cars choose not to be as vulgar as to talk about price, reminding shoppers of the saying ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’.

But ignore the wealth-gap for a moment, and think about what prices are – they’re offers to a consumer of what the retailer is willing to exchange the object for, made up of the current value of the product along with a mark-up which includes profit and overheads, translated in to your local currency, at a snapshot in time.

The reality is that the actual cost of a product varies, in real time. The cost of cotton rises and falls. Inflation is constantly eating away at the value of the pound. Fuel prices change. Currency markets fluctuate every microsecond. The value of a product is not fixed, but the offer to sell the product to a consumer rarely does. Once the tag is printed, it is static until manually intervened with a sharpie or a sale.

However, with the advent of volatile cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the massive penetration of mobile devices, and the speed of real-time data – fixed price tags are set to be a thing of the past.

Imagine an internet connected price tag, which sources real-time information about commodity prices, currency rates and stock performance, to present an offer to the consumer based upon these inputs. Visit the store in the morning, and your latte could be 39p cheaper than the afternoon where milk prices have soared after a collapse in the dairy farming industry. Rehabstudio has built such a device which takes the real-time value of Bitcoin to show the price of an object in that currency.

Go further, and allow individuals to see their own price on an object. Use mobile devices to read a product, perhaps with an NFC or QR code, and retailers can use personally tailored information to vary the price to help increase the likelihood of a sale. Perhaps you know they’ve scanned the same product in three other stores, and you don’t want to lose them to the next merchant. Perhaps the shopper is a loyal customer, and you want to give them 20% off. Perhaps they’re such a loyal customer so you know you don’t need to give them a discount because they’ll buy it anyway.

Pricing becomes as fluid in physical stores as it can be online, and the concept of showrooming (visiting stores to test products and then buying them cheaper online) erodes, because the price they’re getting in store right now might be better than they’ll get later today somewhere else.

It’s not a too-distant future.

Online travel service Orbitz already started tailoring its pricing based upon a user’s choice of computing platform, after discovering that Apple users generally will pay $20-$30 more for hotels than PC users, and modified their pricing accordingly and physical retailers in the US are trialling personalised pricing through online, and clearly offers and discounts through programmes like Boots Advantage Card, Nectar Card and Clubcard are all based upon huge amounts of personal behavioural data from not only shopping but a range of product lines in the case of Tesco.

In the main, consumers benefit from the use of personalisation. Better targeted advertising, discounts on products which are relevant to you, and retailers find it easy to discount products through data, but as we move to a more blended world where online and offline become one, where price-tags are electronic, and shopping online becomes the norm, the opportunity to increase pricing based upon knowledge of what a consumer is willing to accept, or market demands putting pressure on the profit margin becomes more and more likely, and again transparency becomes key.

Retailers will have to be clear and transparent about pricing, and how it is driven, else there is likely to be regulatory intervention. The Office of Fair Trading is already considering how these practises could have an impact, and what their role is.

In any respect, things which we’ve expected to be relatively static are becoming increasingly fluid, and both consumers and retailers are likely to have some interesting challenges and changes on their hands in the next three years.

Article originally posted in Retail Week

Making time to think, an extended version.

Whilst the speed of the earth’s rotation hasn’t changed, it feels like we have less and less time in everything we do.

The half-life of messages or attention spans of audiences seems to have fractured, and the pace of responding to briefs has rocketed. Real-time media and always on strategies have forced the creative mind to work at breakneck speed.

Physiologically speaking, the faster we think, the more basic and animal it gets. We have two modes of thought: System 1 and System 2. Those of you who’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow or Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink will recognise these two brain states.

System 1 is the lizard brain, our quick reactive brain, fight or flight, unconsciously acting and reacting in gaps of time too small to perceive. Reliant on existing pathways in the mind, it’s the quick snap judgment tool we rely upon to keep us safe.

System 2 is the conscious mind, thinking and considering, taking in many more inputs and possibilities and coming to much slower, more open conclusions.

Creatively speaking, I think the same is true.

We have two modes of creative thought, Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 creative thought are snap judgements, the immediate idea you get, the gut feeling of what is right, the quick ideas which build upon existing things we’ve seen or spotted, sometimes sparks of genius, often obvious (but possibly perfect) ideas. They’re ‘one step’ thoughts. It takes one logical step from the problem to solve it. It is assumption based, it is the shortest distance between two points. It might be wildly off the wall, it might be a lateral leap, but its starting point and its end point are close together. Even if you have days (or weeks) to respond to a brief, if you’re asked to generate an idea – this is Type 1 creative thinking.

Type 2 creative thought is long, slow burning, considering, absorbent, combinatorial, connective, marinating, surprising and uncontrolled.

It’s the idea which develops whilst you’re standing in the shower, or doing your laundry. It’s the nagging thought which forces you to find a piece of anything to scratch it down upon for later rumination. It’s every start-up idea you had in your day job, and every brilliant concept you had whilst you were meant to be thinking about something else. It’s what Steven Johnson coined as ‘the slow hunch’, connections which form slowly over time, collecting mental crumbs, until it resembles something with tangible shape.

These two forms differ from the classic definitions of thinking: Type 1 creative thinking is forced, it is on demand, generally instigated by a brief, and Type 2 creative thinking is the unconscious form.

Type 2 creative thinking is a task running in the background constantly, like an itinerant iOS application, collecting location data, recording sound and images without our knowledge, until one day, at some point in the future, it generates a notification, a mental pop-up window which says “Hey! Check me out!”

And, we all know how good slow cooked meat tastes.

In our jobs, generally, we’re asked to generate thinking quickly and on demand. We do everything we can to lengthen the time we have for ourselves to think, to hope for that Type 2 thinking to kick in, but frequently, there will be a deadline. You have to ‘be creative’ between 9-5, and deliver that creativity by the date on the brief.

We rely on established pathways in the mind, existing thoughts and inspiration, augmented by lots of reading, discussion, exploration of context and insights, data, sketching, brainstorming, whatever techniques are available to us, but ultimately, we’re calling upon the brain to use the existing connections to generate a thought.

And existing connections are blinding.

In Frank Partnoy’s brilliant book on procrastination ‘Wait’, he describes an experiment which demonstrates the brain’s ability to mask new ideas behind established thinking, with a game of chess. He recounts a research project at Oxford university which gathered a range of chess players, from grandmasters to novices, and asked them to look at a chessboard, arranged three moves away from checkmate. The three moves were not obvious, and would require a keen and innovative mind to spot, which the most expert players in the group did. A new group of players was then assembled, of the same expertise, but this time the board was arranged with a five-move checkmate and the three-move checkmate. The five-move checkmate was a more obvious and commonly played gambit.

Once the obvious move was spotted, the board was rearranged, leaving only the three-move checkmate. This time, the group was asked to find the three-move checkmate, and took a substantially longer period of time (if at all) to find the move than the first control group. The five move established combination was blinding them to the shorter checkmate. Upon reviewing video of the players looking at the board, the subjects eyes didn’t even look at the squares in which the three-move pieces were sitting, but kept returning to the squares from the five-move combination which had been removed. Their brain was falling into the known, established route subconsciously.

This effect is called Einstellung, the tendancy to act how we’ve always acted, even if easier or better options are presented to us. The five move, well known checkmate was immediately visible because it was instinctive to those expert players, almost like a daily task which is completed without thought.

Naturally, established pathways and established existing thoughts are going to present themselves when our minds are asked upon to generate new thought.

If we’re to try to bring Type 2 creative thought to bear on a Type 1 request, we need to encourage the brief to be a filter on all of the slow hunches in our minds, to show us the most relevant existing pathways and bubble them up in to a neat package to be used.

To be blunt, and to steal from ‘Steal like an Artist’ – Garbage In, Garbage Out.

If you’re only filling your head with a single source of inspiration, sitting in a single environment, thinking about a single topic, you’ll only ever have a single output. We are the sum of our experiences, so when asked to generate new thought, we’ll be calling upon the existing thought in our heads, breaking it down and recombining it.

This is why side projects are the single most important tools in the creative process.

To spend time thinking about unrelated things, not because you need to find inspiration to solve a task, but simply for the sake of surrounding yourself with new hooks to make connections to at a later date, is the only way of encouraging Type 2 thought. You might be able to simulate Type 2 creative thinking by immersive creative exercise, lots of research and reading around a brief, but you’d still be trying, your mind would be actively looking for a solution, rather than being open to things which aren’t needed immediately.

Do some work for charity. Pick a charity, learn about what they do, why they do it, help them out. Go volunteer somewhere. Learn from others about they work they do. Read a magazine you have no existing interest in. Teach yourself a new skill. Read a text book from a career you don’t have. Go gatecrash a lecture on a course you’ve never heard of. Read more. Read even more than that. Read long form things. Read short stories. Watch old films, and then the DVD extras of making of old films. Go to a niche museum. Read children’s books. Listen to children reading children’s books. Release 500 disposable cameras across the planet and see what happens (actually I tried this one already… I don’t recommend it).

Then, in three, six, nine, twelve months time, perhaps even later, you’ll be working on a brief about local communities sharing stories, and you’ll recall an anecdote from when you released those cameras that allows you to skip the first idea, and move on to something much smarter. You’ll be working on a brief about broken families and you’ll remember the technology which helps parents read their children bedtime stories from the other side of the planet. You’ll be asked to solve a problem of brand engagement, and you’ll remember a lecture on community dynamics and connect the two.

It’s not about being more intelligent, it’s about setting up as many open conversations and thoughts in your mind as possible, which can collide, serendipitously with other conversations at the right time, when needed. It’s about creating the environment which encourages coincidences to happen.

The other way to make the most of Type 2 thinking is demand a different type of brief from your clients. Rather than a ‘brief’, demand a ‘lengthy’.

If a brief is to respond within a defined time to specific question, a lengthy is to think over a long period of time about a general question, and respond if and when something feels right.

Design procrastination into your process, put things off as long as you can, because for every delay, you’ll gather a little more to work with. What client wouldn’t want to receive a stream of ideas when they pop into their team’s head, rather than forced thinking in pockets? (Well, most of them actually, but that’s a different blog post).

This is what start-ups are. In the main, most start-ups are a slow hunch towards an idea which, once formed in the head of the founders, feel important or valuable enough to demand leaving a job and committing to making the idea a reality. They’re not responses to a brief of ‘what company should we start’ (although those do happen, in fact, more and more agencies are chasing this model), but a tipping point reached where the slow hunch turns into a tangible concept worth exploring in detail.

This is what the best community management and social engagement strategies are. The recent Bodyform response video wasn’t a proposed solution to a brief, but the right thing to do in reaction to an opportunity, and having the right environment to connect the bravery of the client and the smarts of the agency team, and the brilliant writing and timing of the content. (A disclaimer, Carat, my employer, created the Bodyform video. I had nothing do with it, and it’s brilliant no matter who I work for).

“Chance favours the connected mind” says Steven Johnson, speaking about the benefits of a networked society in driving innovation. Creating more opportunities for connections to be made within your own mind will only ever increase the odds of you generating a brilliant thought, on demand, because actually, it will have been there for months already.

This isn’t a complaint about the nature of real-time technology. The multi-tasking, always on environment we now inhabit somewhat improves our chances of randomly discovering pieces of inspiration which are begging to be connected up in some way. The cost of being connected to others with diverse interests is practically zero, and it is more and more easier to be constantly putting yourself at risk of colliding with someone else’s thinking that might trigger a connection in your own mind.

The risk is, however, that the demand of fast output overshadows the value of slow input, and if we’re only ever supported to deliver reactively, rather than proactively – the rich, combinatorial goodness from Type 2 creative thinking will be reserved for start-ups and personal projects, rather than in our agencies and creative businesses.

(This is the extended version of a thought piece I wrote for the IAB, which you can see here).

Human first, technology second

As an ex-developer, I love that techniques from the world of coding are seeping into the rest of the world, particularly the advertising and creative industries.

The concept of prototyping, creating something rapidly and often using makeshift materials and tools, allows us to test an idea cheaply, kill it if it fails, or scale it if it works.

The concept of ‘beta’ gives us permission to constantly build upon something, and it be okay if we make mistakes (providing we listen when we get it wrong).

The concept of ‘agile’ allows us to ‘test and learn’, whether it is using data, prototypes, or strategy, and get to something right through a series of steps, rather than planning every last detail in advance.

I’d like to see our industry go further, and embrace more concepts – distributed working, open source, forking, and most importantly user centric design.

User centric design is the process of understanding and building systems around how people function, not expecting people to function within a system. Human first, technology second.

This means examining and embracing the complex ecosystem of decisions, influences, behaviours and spaces that a person flows through, not just focussing on specific devices or channels.

Thinking about the human first, and the technology second demands that we explore a consumer’s touchpoints across the entire day, not just media, but every interaction and environment they may experience – transport, transaction, friends, workplaces, and more.

Thinking holistically about a person and their actions demands that we stop thinking about individual channels, but instead behaviours and narratives. What happens when someone goes to sleep? What happens when they wake up? What happens when they get lost? What happens when they arrive?

Thinking about these narratives allows you to solve a brief with any number of platforms, tools, channels, devices and interactions; it allows you to solve an actual challenge, rather than just answering how a predefined solution could be applied to a challenge.

We become anthropologists and discover a dozen potential new channels which are relevant to use. Perhaps some of your owned assets are already part of the story, and you¹re not using the m. Maybe there is a frustration that a customer frequently faces, and you can provide a solution, not just a message.

We can continue thinking about platform strategies and channels, but we need to start looking at the human first and the technology second, to understand all of the other opportunities around the behaviour in question, rather than just the channels we already know exist.

NB. I wrote this article for the IAB, and you can see the original posting at http://www.iabuk.net/blog/human-first-technology-second-user-centric-strategy

Creating something new is exciting, but don’t get carried away.

This post originally appeared on the Community Knowledge Transfer website.

Creating something new is exciting.

Hopefully, you’ll be so excited by your idea that dopamine will be rushing through your body, and you’ll be falling over yourself with energy and eagerness to get stuck in, hire a developer, and get making the thing.

Before we do anything, however, let’s take a deep breath, count to 10 (don’t worry, that’s only two in binary), and look at some of the techniques which help make sure that your new project runs smoothly.

First of all, do you actually know what you want making?

You might be able to pitch the idea in a lift to raise funding, or sell the concept to someone with wavy hands and waggling eyebrows, but do you know what the thing you’re making will actually do, screen by screen, click by click?

If not, you probably need to spend some time developing the ‘User Experience’ – as in “what will the user experience when they use my application”. What do they see when they first arrive? How many articles appear on the homepage? How do they register a new account? What happens if they’ve already got an account and try to register again?

Depending on the size of your idea, this project could be relatively quick, or take a few days exploring all of the features and functionality. I often use post-it notes to quickly list out all of the features, and group them together per screen, perhaps using a large wall as a working space. It allows you to very quickly move features and functionality around, and encourages you to think quickly and sketchily, rather than focusing on detail. Drawing up each screen can come at a later date.

It is always best to involve your developer in this user experience design process (or UXD, if you want to impress others with abbreviations), so they understand the reasons behind each decision, and when they come to create each screen, they understand how things connect and why.

It is even better to involve the end users in this UXD process, as they’ll often provide many wonderful insights, suggestions and comments you might never have considered.

In fact, the more collaboration at this stage the better, as its easier to discuss around post-it notes than change designs and code.

Once you have this user experience piece, and everyone is roughly in agreement with what the application will do, your designer can go away and make it beautiful, and your developer can go away and write up a specification.

This specification doesn’t need to be hundreds of pages long, perhaps just annotated drawings if you created screen by screen drawings in the UXD phase, or short ‘user stories’ describing what the system will do, hopefully in plain and simple English.

If you don’t understand what the specification is saying, it’s a useless document. Don’t encourage someone to write something just to tick a box, as its waste of time for both parties; create something that acts as a living guide for making sure you’re creating what you need and want.

And now, the exciting part, the coding begins.

The most important thing to make sure that DOESN’T happen is that your developer just locks himself or herself away in a room for several months, ‘getting it done’, and presents you with your application in a ‘tada!’ moment.

If you were building a house, you’d want to be on site every week, talking with the foreman, checking the plans, making sure any necessary changes are included, or any unforeseen circumstances are dealt with suitably. Creating software is no different.

At the start of the project sit down together and work out the order in which things are done, and rough time-scales for how long each piece of functionality should take to build. Think back to the post-it notes, and work out which parts are the most important to see first (either because they’re more complex or because you need to start demonstrating it).

Again, the UXD will have defined most of the elements of your application, so you use that as a guideline. Your developer will be able to guide you on a sensible order (you can’t build a roof before the walls in a house, and software is similar to a certain extent).

Plan with your developer to have a weekly review, where you look at the functionality that was built that week, and discuss what will be built the following week, in case things have changed, or the developer has any questions. Ideally, in these reviews, everything should have been tested and working, so you see actual functionality, rather than half-completed code.

Sometimes, things won’t be exactly what you expected, or once you’ve seen it working, you might realise some elements need to change, but hopefully, they’ll be small things (as there was only one week of work that passed since you reviewed it last).

These weekly reviews will pass, and your software will continue to grow, in the order of priority that you agreed up front, and hopefully to schedule (or at the very worst, each week, you’ll know whether your deadlines are slipping or not!)

At some point, you’ll have a version of your application that you’re happy to share with others, and you can start testing.

Again, get the UXD documents out (see how useful they are??), and review what you originally agreed upon against what you what you’ve ended up with. Apart from where you’ve made decisions to change things along the way, you have a wonderful tool to check you haven’t forgotten anything, and your application works as it should.

And finally, once everything has been built and tested, your developer will be able to help you launch the application, and make it publicly accessible. Before this happens, it is really important to agree with your developer how support will work. If something breaks, how quickly will they react to fix it (and for how long will they do this for free?) If you need something changing, what is the process for asking that to happen? How long notice might they need for future updates?

You’ll see that the key to running a successful project is good and regular communication, and getting the original user experience agreed between you and your developer, and making sure that people are involved from early on in the project, not just when they need to be doing ‘their bit’.

And when you make a billion pounds from your application, don’t forget to buy your developer a beer or two.

Coding for Kids – Why I think creative environments are the first step

Notes from my talk at last night’s Coding for Kids Barcamp at the Guardian

I’m Matthew Knight, and I’m extremely fortunate.

When I was a child, my father was a broadcast journalist, he worked on national and local BBC radio as a presenter, so I spent a great deal of my time in and around tools to make content.

At a very early age, I was editing quarter inch tape, which was at the time, a storage mechanism for broadcast audio, which you literally cut up using a razor blade, and joined together using sticky tape.

By the age of ten, I knew how to use a BBC Local Radio MKIII mixing desk, and would hang out in the redundant studio whilst my Dad was on air, making mix tapes, less about the music, more about the links between the tracks, making my own fake jingles and trails, inviting friends to call in, and recording the output.

I have hundreds of cassette tapes lying around at home of me as a kid presenting fake radio shows.

It wasn’t long before we had a computer at home, with a dial up internet connection, and whilst I cannot remember if my dad encouraged me to learn programming specifically; he had brought me up in an environment where I was surrounded by the tools for creating.

I pretty much knew I’d end up with a career in media, although at the time, there was absolutely no way of knowing what the media would look like when I was my father’s age. I thought I’d be editing clips of audio or video, rather than now splicing together entire technologies to create new things.

It is impossible to say how much my childhood, surrounded by the creative process, had an impact upon my career path, but I’m sure it did. I was brought up in an environment of creation, not consumption, so it has never seemed weird to just make something.

These days, I’m asked by people for my advice. That advice is still about making things. The people who ask my advice are usually much smarter than I am. They’re strategists, creatives and business people. I get paid to live in the future and tell the past what is going to happen, or how to make it happen.

And I’m pretty sure I’ll be discovered as a charlatan at some point this year.

Just under a year ago, after a nine month collaboration with my wife, I made something very special – my daughter. To be fair, my wife did most of the work, I provided a little bit of seed-capital, and I was there at the launch, but it has completely changed my perspective on life.

I still live in the future, but instead of pondering what the future will bring in opportunities to sell cigarettes to minors for my clients, I seem to worry myself half to death about what world my daughter will grow up in. Will there be water? Will there be political stability? Will Arrested Development have been finally made into a film?

And combine this with the recent discussions which I’m increasingly having with people, around the importance of teaching our children to use tools to create their own future, my mind is starting to be blown.

Picture this.

We’re a transitional generation that has seen so very many amazing things created by so very few.

The shift in just my short time on earth has been monumental, from holding a piece of physical tape in my hands in order to edit sound, to the completely virtual nature of projects like soundcloud.

Yet already, despite technologies like cloud computing being so very new, we already expect and demand so very much from them.

We can listen to Spotify whilst on a plane flying to Germany, but are pissed off when it buffers a little bit, or the bitrate is a little too low, despite the fact we’re flying at 30,000 feet over Europe to a piece of music we don’t own or physically have in our hands.

If we, the generation who have been gifted these amazing new technologies, both appreciate the benefits they provide and opportunities they create, but already take issue with things which are not multi-touch, endless battery life, fit in our pocket, cloud based and always on real-time streaming, what on EARTH will our children, when they are our age, or even when they are just fifteen years old, expect and demand from their technology.

Hoverboards are just the start, the rest is almost inconceivable.

And when their frustrations kick in, what will our children create to circumvent that hurdle, or to solve their problems? What will they envisage and re-appropriate? What will they be forced to do in order to connect and exist in their society?

Inspired by this dystopian and utopian question, I’m in the process of collecting the responses to this pondering from other parents.

I think parents have a unique, inspired view on the future when it comes to their own children, and I’m interested in asking that question to other technologists. It isn’t simply future gazing, but begs questions about the foundations and future opportunities we’re offering our children today.

In those responses, already some themes have started appearing, which I think could be useful context to discussions today:

Less reliance upon government, more upon society – if something doesn’t exist, don’t complain about it, create a solution.

A mindset of “Show and tell”, rather than privacy – in a world where everything is captured and shared, whether you opt-in or not, what does the content that surrounds you say about you, if you expect your future manager to google you, rather than are surprised if they do, what does this mean about your actions in life.

A shift away from device-centric computing – why do you own a device, when everyone’s device does the same thing, it’s just the content loaded on the device that matters.

A shift away from ownership – why own something when you can just access it for the period of time you need it for, physical and virtual.

Decentralisation, physically and virtually – why do you need to arrive at a defined location to do what you do? why do you need to login to a single server or a single point of potential failure?

Hyper Partial Attention – the concept of beginning, middle and end is analogue. Dipping in an out of streams of consciousness is the new method of absorbing knowledge and taking part in things.

But these are all from our own narrow little minds, with our one foot in the nostalgic memories of analogue, I cannot imagine my daughter having much interest in Lomography or Instagram, and our other foot in the business of being excited about the future, and excitement often creates things that are not there.

My daughter is already a consumer. She loves books, and will pull ‘Noisy Zoo’ and ‘Peekaboo Peter Rabbit’ off the side, demanding that I read one to her. I cannot wait until the first day that I can give her a crayon, and rather than her eating it, she scribbles on the wallpaper, and like my father did for me, hope that I can foster an environment where making things is as important, if not more, and as natural as consuming things.

There will be lots of discussion today about the role of schools and curriculum, and tools and processes to teach code, and these things are essential.

But it has never been about the code or the tools, but rather the attitude to know that tools are available to break something apart and reconfigure it, in order to understand it better, to improve upon it, or to make something entirely new.

An attitude towards it feeling entirely natural to question and create, rather than to just follow.

And our role is to foster the creative environment where this constant questioning and creation is encouraged, expected and demanded, where our children keep asking ‘why why why’ until we can no longer answer their questions, and they go off and answer it themselves.

I’d like to finish with a joke that I hope sums up tonight’s conversations:

How many children does it take to change a light bulb?
Why a light bulb?

Disposable Memory Project at the IPA

I was asked to talk last night about the Disposable Memory Project at an event held by the IPA in London. The videos of the talk should be online within the next week, but in the meantime, the slides are available here and on slideshare.

Update: Chris from Vizeum wrote about the event here for an overview of what was spoken about.

An apple a day

An Apple A Day / Randoms at the Bar

I was asked to speak at last night’s “An apple a day” talk, held by the D&AD at the Hoxton Pony. The speakers were asked to consider ‘what piece of technology has truly changed the way you work’. You can see my response in slideshow form over at Slideshare, and preceeding my ramblings were Alex from de-construct, Ranzie from Tonic, Flo from Dare, Clare from The Partners, and a handful of other people with really interesting perspectives on the question.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone pretty much had the same thing to say – remember the human element, interaction and connection within everything you do.