Tag Archives: innovation


To AR is human…

AR is the most tangible manifestation of how our digital and physical worlds are combining, but by no means the only example.

Our mobile devices already mean we have a constant online connection to each other, to brands, to society and limitless information – providing an informational and transactional layer on top of the physical world.

What many define as ‘AR’ is the pointed version of this, literally overlaying information in front of our eyes to make many actions more effortless.

Voice is another example of this digital and smart layer on top of the real world. Wearables. IOT. All examples of how connectivity is being fused with every aspect of life.

“every brand manager must be falling out of their seat to think about how they can leverage this”

There is absolutely no doubt that AR is of significant opportunity to brands and marketers. The examples at yesterday’s F8 paint a picture of the world being interactive and shoppable – and every brand manager must be falling out of their seat to think about how they can leverage this sort of technology.

The danger is, as always, to think technology first, rather than people-first. The question must always be “How can we help our audience do what they want better”, or if inward looking, “How can we deliver on our organisational purpose better”.

“AR can play a role for brands who want to provide additional functionality layered on the real world.”

AR can play a role for brands who want to provide additional functionality layered on the real world. Ikea have already demonstrated smart ‘in home experiences’ of their furniture for instance. This comes from a consumer need and a business problem – rather than ‘what can we do with AR’. Digital commerce struggles with ‘try before you buy’ and AR gives you a sense, perhaps, of what that product could look like in-situ, as just one example. Dulux have dabbled with this, allowing you to paint your front-room virtually. Fashion retailers have virtual dressing room apps to see how clothes look on you. These all come from a real-world problem, and looking to how new technology can address it.

“Start with ‘what can create the best experience for customers?'”

That said – it is critical to explore and test and learn with new technologies. To see think around what they could do, to try and fail and try again, until you discover the right shape for you, rather than copying another brand’s use case or using the first idea which leaps to mind.

Starting with ‘what can create the best experience for customers’ and then looking to a toolbox of new technologies and techniques as ways of answering that question is the lifeblood of good innovation. Starting with ‘what can this technology do?’ is the lifeblood of faddish and non-strategic behaviours.

AR – or perhaps to use its full meaning ‘Augmented Reality’, is fundamentally what digital does best: an additive, augmenting, intelligent layer which improves and eases the physical world – and to this goal, AR is not new, but accelerating and accessible to people beyond high-end engineering businesses like Google or Facebook. The platforms are available for any brand to dabble, and this makes the future of AR a wonderful vision – from cynical marketing to life-saving applications, providing we ask …

…is what we are doing augmenting reality in a valuable meaningful way?

(A portion of this response was quoted in The Drum.)

#agencyvoices #carat #ar

Workmen take out their anger on the machines

New technology is the murderer of longevity

By training, I’m a coder. The early stages of my career I spent programming. I’ll be the first to admit, I was a pretty bad coder, so I migrated to be a manager, technical director and then strategist, but they all shared the same core skillset – 1) problem solving and 2) making ideas a reality.

Code was, for me, just a means to an end. A problem exists (i.e. how to show people what events were taking place at the barbican) and code was a way to solve the problem (make a website where people can see what events are happening). It’s not the only solution – and ‘digital’ always being the answer was one of the reasons I moved from digital agencies to media agencies – as more often than not, the broader picture is about creating a holistic experience with many facets, hence strategy being where I now call home.

That’s an aside though – the ‘making ideas a reality’ is the heart of my thinking this morning. For about 8 years now, I’ve not worked on a Friday. This 20% time used to be dedicated to not-for-profit working, not just charity work, but projects which had no commercial reason to exist. From this sprung projects like The Disposable Memory Project, The 100, LoveThink, Clarity* and others. Small ideas, dreamt up whilst daydreaming, and made real by a few quick ‘hacks’ in code, et voila, a project is live and can exist. The Disposable Memory Project, for instance, was an idea in a Dry Cleaners on a Saturday afternoon, and existed by Saturday evening as a simple wordpress blog.

Code has always been for me, a sketchbook. Something to go from concept to working prototype, rapidly. And being able to start with the bricks of code, rather than the fully pre-built house of something like wordpress, meant that I could prototype the experience and the total concept, rather than fit my ideas into an existing framework. This was brilliant. I could knock out a working version of something quickly, get people using it, and see what happened. As my ideas are rarely about the technology itself, but mostly the people within the idea, the connections made, the output of the idea. It really doesn’t matter what is ‘under the hood’ and how the project technically works, as long as it does, and people can connect.

Now, here lies the problem. This morning, as I sit in my shed, drink my coffee and read the latest copy of Delayed Gratification, I get some server alerts pinging on my phone. The100 is offline. LoveThink is offline. Disposable Memory Project is offline. None of these projects are ‘active’, they are all in a sort of ‘pasture’ mode where people can simply see the outputs and results of the project, but it still requires some technology to allow people to see the content – a database to power the experience.

This is increasingly happening. Server alerts. Why? Because the infrastructure which sits behind the projects is changing. Whilst the projects lie as a snapshot in time – the technology stack behind the projects are constantly evolving. My hosting company upgrade the software, the language, the databases, the various nuts and bolts which run the ideas. These upgrades are usually to patch security exploits, or to improve uptime or stability of the service. (Sometimes, its simply because my code is bad, and the server runs out of memory, and it needs literally turning off and on again.)

You can’t use this bit of code any more – its insecure. Or, this database version is old and won’t run any more. Or, your upload approach is causing the server to crash. Or something something something I don’t understand.

The technology (naturally) has both surpassed my knowledge of how to make/fix things, and the legacy needs of my ideas. If I were to sit down and try and fix or upgrade the framework which lies underneath the project – I would end up having to re-write huge chunks of it – for what end? Just to keep a dormant project online? So, I wonder whether I should just take the content offline, so it no longer exists. A difficult decision, and one I cannot make on my own – it isn’t really my content. The Disposable Memory Project and The100, in fact most of my work, is other people’s content. I am simply the curator or guardian of the content, and I have a responsibility to keep these memories and snapshots online.

Yet, the relentless march of technology makes it harder for me to do this, every day.

This week, Pebble, the company who some years back made a huge splash on Kickstarter, having one of the largest ever pre-funding rounds on the platform, sold to Fitbit, stating they could no longer exist as an independent company, and that they wouldn’t be honouring any remaining pledges. Over $12m in pre-orders, and they are not able to manufacture the products their audience have been waiting for. Refunds are being sent out. Customers are both disappointed and furious, many saying ‘I don’t want a refund, I want my Pebble!’. A small note in the announcement explains that, whilst any existing Pebbles will not cease to work, ‘reduced functionality may come in time’. The technology infrastructure which sits behind Pebble will, in time, cease to exist. And, in time, Pebbles will turn into Bricks.

When I moved house, I unearthed a box of post-IPO or post-collapse kickstarter and early stage gadgets which I have purchased, but no longer work. A Little Printer from the team at Berg, which no longer has a cloud to connect to. An old Sphere which I can’t seem to find the app for to control any more. Various macs which won’t run new versions of iOS.

I start to think about the technology which is functioning today in my house, which in time, will also be orphaned. What happens when Alphabet decides Nest is no longer commercially viable, and they remove any cloud infrastructure for people’s connected homes? What happens when the smart doorlocks manufacturers go bust, and people can’t unlock their homes? What will the Vine superstars do when their app is closed down? Where did all the users of Google Reader go when their beloved tool was switched off? What happens if Wikipedia can’t fund the project any longer?

As someone who is required to look towards the future in my role, I wonder whether we forget about the past too quickly. Perhaps we need to play a dual role, thinking about both the road forward to explore new spaces and see what impact new technology has on our lives, yet also consider the importance of longevity, history, our past and invest in the importance of preserving things which have come before us.

Organisations like both the National Trust and the Wayback Machine play important roles in keeping not just ‘interesting artefacts’ but critical archives of social, political and cultural history. Digital content is far more ephemeral – some disappear within seconds by design, such as Snapchat, some are obfuscated intentionally for reasons of privacy or embarrassment; other digital archives struggle to exist because the infrastructure they were designed for simply no longer exists. I remember some years back reading an article about the Domesday Project – an early ‘multimedia’ initiative to capture living in the UK, we had a copy of it at my primary school, using huge ‘laserdiscs’ running connected to a BBC Microcomputer – no longer being accessible because the hardware to read the content no longer existed. Similarly, I asked a registrar why he signed my first child’s birth certificate in fountain pen, and he explained that the ink in a rollerball pen simply faded away over time.

How do we design for longevity, when digital technology, by design, exists as something which is ‘overwritable’, and how do we maintain functionality which people have invested into, if the creators and guardians are no longer funded or able to remember how to maintain something?

Perhaps Kodak were right all along. We abandoned them, laughing at how they refused to change with the times, yet anyone who has lost images on from phone will perhaps have some small ounce of nostalgia for the printed photograph.

I am entirely pro-technology – for the new things it can create, the new ways of creating, the democratisation of content which is has provided, is remarkable. But, we clearly need to now think about the challenges it has created too. It is to easy to create ‘news’ which is untrue. It is too easy to be anonymous and cruel to others. It is too easy to create something which people rely upon, and then remove that support. It is too easy to create accidental ephemera where sustainable impact is needed. For it has never been about the technology itself, but rather the outputs and outcomes of what that technology has enabled. We need to now think about how to design for a world where there is no guarantee that the medium which contained the message will exist in 2 years, yet alone 200.

So, now, I’m sitting staring at a database error that I no longer know how to fix. I think – possibly, new technology has just destroyed 100 people’s memories, and that makes me incredibly sad, yet with renewed ambition to better design my work in the future for longevity.

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


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)

Pixar’s rules of storytelling…

… are useful beyond storytelling.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

This is simply powerful in life and work.

It’s prototyping.
It’s ambition.
It’s destiny.

It connects to the brilliant thinking (or rather doing) that I see in businesses which inspire me like Undercurrent who turn strategy on its head, and start with execution and ideas.

Ideas are brilliant because they’re intuitive, and humans are intuitive. And if you play enough with ideas, you’ll find brilliant strategic connections without even looking.

So starting at the end or the outcome isn’t such a crazy thing to do.

Obsolesce is more.

Google by Michael Mandiberg
Google by Michael Mandiberg, used under CC License

I’ve been thinking recently about obsolescence, and whether we sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater when jumping from one platform to another.

The Yellow Pages, for instance, has been practically destroyed and made irrelevant by Google, yet Google doesn’t allow you to browse in categories, as the Yellow Pages did, nor see an unrated/unfiltered/uneditorialised list of everyone in your local area – just those who have good page rank (and how many plumbers do you know that understand the importance of semantically structured content?).

The newspaper, although far from dead, is a snapshot of moment in time, and not just a single article but a massive slice through a single day, curating news, opinion, advertising, economics, literary style, design influence, and many other socially and culturally interesting aspects beyond just a specific piece of copy. Yes, the Wayback Machine exists, but it gives you little context.

Are there unique elements we lose, which still have value, as we progress to the next stage of an object or medium? How can they be amplified and either pivoted around or reborn to maintain relevance, rather than simply nostalgia?

Perhaps looking backwards is a good way of spotting valuable things we’ve lost and deserve to be remembered, or at the very least explored.


(Image courtesy of the US Patent Office. Thanks guys, you’re legends)

Unnovation – the digitisation of a non-digital experience without additional thought around whether simple transfer from physical to digital really works. Using new technology either for the sake of technology or not using the technology to any potential..

Digital fridges are unnovation. Putting a screen on the fridge to display a to-do list, digitally replicating the photos, magnets and notes.

Digital signage is unnovation. Being able to replace paper with screens that do nothing more than being able to swap the bit of paper slightly faster.

It sits within the ‘Adjacent Possible’ concept that Steven B Johnson eloquently describes, where ideas are only possible by taking the next logical step from the current behaviours and technologies we have.

Unnovation, however, is fascinating for me.

In a recent research project for a client, I was exploring current and upcoming techniques in retail (offline and online) especially around new technology and emergent behaviours. What was striking was the amount of duplication and replication of ideas. Square, for instance, has inspired a dozen other mobile POS devices, and I lost count of the number of Shopping List applications for smart phones.

The shopping list apps are generally unnovation – digital versions of scraps of paper. Sure, you might be able share your list (although who cares that I need a can of tomatoes and a new bra?), you might want to find them for the cheapest price, but they’re all the same model: find a scrap of paper, itemise your list, purchase your items. Disconnected, and not smart.

Yet, the vast number of apps which display Shopping List functionality is encouraging.
We still need to remember stuff to purchase, and purchase it.

Innovation can often focus too much on external directions, moving from your passion centre and exploring new spaces for your business, when sometimes it can be far better to look inwards and identify the problems and opportunities right in front of you or that people are demanding. Asking people what they want can lead to a recommendation of a faster horse, but as Russell Davies puts it:

“Imagine what horses might be like now if science/industry had devoted as much attention to improving them as we’ve devoted to the internal combustion engine and industrial production. Horses would be INCREDIBLE.”

That there are many many many clones and examples of unnovation suggests there is an itch which is not being adequately scratched. It suggests no-one has provided a strong enough solution to address the process. When looking at a busy area of supposed innovation, such as retail, disregarding ideas like Shopping Apps simply because there are already 100 in the app store is not always a good idea. Sure, you need to do more to stand out, but that’s the opportunity, asking why a shopping list on a digital device needs to replicate its physical counterpart.

Understanding users’ demands, existing behaviours and looking at popular areas of development are massively valuable to innovation.
You might not start with a radically different product, but if there is a demand for something, it could help you fund the more visionary work you hope to continue investing in.

Update: There’s a really great article at Fast Co which expands upon the idea of spotting the value in popular suggestions.

Second Stage Use

I’ve been thinking alot over the past few years about when implementations of new technology become interesting.
There is often a pattern of:

– creation: someone very clever or opportunistically creates a new technique or technology, often an engineer with specific purpose in mind.
– beautiful implementation: someone also very clever uses the new technology, often slightly subverting the original use, and in a very striking way.
– saturation/mainstream: many many many other people use the technique again and again, but generally in the same way, just variation on a theme.
– hibernation: the technique often loses its main appeal, or the excitement of its original use lessens.
– blended use: someone, very clever or opportunistically, then blends the original technique with something else, a mashup, to create something better than the sum of its parts.

Whilst I love the creation and beautiful implementation phases, what really excites me is the second stage of use, the new subtle application of the technology, often combined with another technique or technology to create better effect. Location aware technology has been through the creation and beautiful implementation phases, and probably is coming through the saturation phase, and we’re starting to see some interesting blended location based ideas.

It is not the ‘I am here’ which is the cool thing about Foursquare, its the ‘I am here, and two of my friends have been here, and suggested not to try the coffee’ which is interesting. It is not the oyster card which is interesting, it is the email which I received about Farringdon being closed next week, initiated through my regular use of the station, rather than any explicit instruction for alerts.

This second stage use is what creates interesting ideas.

We’re not far from walking into Starbucks having already ordered our coffee whilst on the train, and it being hot and ready for you when you walk into the store, because it knew when you were 90 seconds away from picking it up.

The interesting comes from the result of an action, not from the action itself.