Category Archives: Tech

AI and experiential


A shot of drawings from Quick,Draw!AI has made it’s way into our lives without us really noticing.

The ads that recommend products you might like? Machine learning.

Siri, Alexa? They use AI to develop ever better wake-word detection (the words that wake them up and start them listening) and speech recognition.

And of course the ever popular Quick, Draw!

But working out how AI might impact on our own work lives is of course way more interesting. For instance, what will AI do to the world of experiential design?

Threats
The demise of the middle classes is the very latest apocalpyse promised by technology. But the threat is real. AIs work faster and can be more accurate than us, picking up nuances that humans miss. Examples?

  • We know that AI can plan moves to outwit a GO! master. So AI could plan the optimum path or paths through experiences. That would do away with the need for architectural design experts.
  • AI can analyze big data and derive insights in such a way that there may be no perceived need for strategists, particularly if the strategists have focused their attention solely on data and measurement rather than emotional connection and behavioral economics
  • AI can assess creative outputs and recommend universally appealing stories or interactions that deliver much of the work of human creatives, faster and more efficiently, and possibly even more effectively. IBM Watson was asked to make recommendations for a film trailer of the film Morgan. Check out the rather unsettling results. 

But as with every threat the flip side is the opportunity.

Opportunities
From the research I am currently reading and the pilot projects we are working on at Imagination I can see some interesting opportunities for experiential design agencies that hinge on doing at a more intricate level what we should always be doing – making more effective, emotionally affective experiences for our audiences.

  • AI can deliver a new way of measuring volume and behavior inside experiences that gives new levels of detail. Instead of self-reported research responses which are always biased we can map experiential user journeys more accurately. As one example, we can look at whether people really ended up where we wanted them because they were attracted there, or driven there.
  • Facial mapping technology can help us determine high and low value experiences much faster than we have been able to do previously. This opens the possibility of more adaptive experiential spaces – screens that change content responsively, according to what most people in the space want, or to create shock and excitement with content that no one is expecting?
  • Speech enabled environments that can deliver personally crafted stories from a huge data set, via your mobile, on the fly. Imagine that for museums.
  • Identifying the places and moments inside an experience that require more human interaction.

Currently AI needs human input to be of value. Maybe it will reach a point where it doesn’t need human input.

But one interesting observation from game 4 of the 5 game match between AlphaGol and Lee Sedol.

The moment where the program made it’s fateful mistake in that match was the moment that Lee Sedol made an unexpected and unpredictable move.  We love to believe that humans are rational, predictable and definable. But if behavioral economics has taught us anything it’s that we are more emotional or ‘irrational’ than we like to believe. That’s where AI has problems. But that’s where experiences truly bring value to the marketing mix.

We are, after all, animals that thrive off emotional connection, so much so that it actually creates health in us.  So experiential designers should consider ways to work with AI as a way of generating more of that irrationality that seems to be a characteristic of humans to deliver emotions that drive brand energy.

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SXSW 17 Part 1 – Top 3 Experience Trends


How much do you notice your environment? As a strategist at an experiential agency visiting a conference like SXSW is a busman’s holiday for me.  Alongside all the talks and tech trends I am constantly observing experiential trends. This post is part 1 of a two part post on my experiences at SXSW 2017. Part 2 will focus on Top 3 Tech Trends at the conference.

Trend 1 – Colour me happy

Last year there was a strong trend for natural textures combined with high tech elements that were very often silvery or metallic. This year the naturals are still there but there was more colour everywhere. From post-it notes to displays, from lampshades to billiard tables brands were activating spaces with more attention to diverse colour palettes.

A great example was the Sony experience. The whole space was an owned temporary structure, designed to showcase tech.  The build was very functional – lots of chip board and exposed scaffold. However, via clever use of coloured decals across dividing walls they brought a more structured and warm feeling to the space.

Great British House is another interesting example, coming from a different place. The UKDTI took over a bar called the Speakeasy on Congress and so they had to work within an existing aesthetic. The overall feeling was dark and traditional with lots of natural wood. So it was individual elements which lifted the space such as bright neon lights and  spray painted lampshades in red,white and blue. The billiard table took the flag theme, and the walls were lifted with colourful participatory post-it notes.

The effect is informal, warm and unpretentious. It’s a development of the appeal to Millennials who love authenticity and the idea of being involved with brands at a more fundamental level.

Trend 2 – Keep it simple 
If I asked you to predict future trends for next year how long would it take to answer? How much space would you need? What if I asked you how a brand experience made you feel? Most people find it easier to share short form emotional responses than dig deep into information and opinion. Trend 2 centred around finding creative ways to engage users directly, using analogue mediums. Post-it notes, flower markers in sand pits, writing directly onto walls and so on appeared in spaces as diverse as IBM, Dell and Fast Company.

The sense of something being crafted by a group, something less digital being therefore more personal seems to be what is driving this. The question stimulus was always around memory and  emotion. That’s  partly because it is much easier to respond to this than to have to give an expert opinion. But it’s also because it creates an emotional connection that drives a memory and above all brands at SXSW need to create a memory of relevance and modernity.

As a whole there was a sense of simplicity and analogue engagement across brand spaces which emerged out of these types of installation.

Trend 3 – Personalize
What do you take home from every conference? Swag! SXSW is no different. I got some very nice CNN shades for instance. But the main problem with swag is that it ends usually ends up in the bin or at the gym – or maybe on your kids. It’s not valued or valuable. This year brands addressed that by looking at ways to make their swag work harder through personal relevance.

Let’s start with IBM. Watson is an AI product IBM are pushing hard. It is an artificial intelligence combining data analysis with intelligent outputs to help with almost anything you can image. The IBM house this year was packed with partnerships from music creation software to home safety monitoring for the elderly and weather pattern analysis. This year’s swag was, like last year’s a t-shirt. Unlike last year’s this year’s had personal relevance, a pattern that expressed your personality as determined by Watson. After answering some questions the engine buckets you into one of 5 types I was a Mentor (most people at the conference were Mavericks or Dynamos with Mentors coming a close 3rd). As a result  of engaging with Watson and IBM I have a t-shirt that is both meaningful and attractive. I might actually wear it outside the gym!

Less attractive but no less personally meaningful is this digital give aways from Great British House. A  dress-up booth and some props combined with some fools produced the masterpiece you see here. A digital memento that I treasure…

Similar things were happening at CNN which took pics of you on a swing and created a gif in much the same way. And at Fast Company Ford were offering a digital selfie that showed you what an autonomous car sees when it sees you.

These gizzits are personal, more relevant than a key ring or waterbottle and of course fittingly digital.

Next week – Trends in tech

Detroit vs tech start-ups?


I am off to SXSW on Thursday and I will be writing a couple of reports out during the conference – plus lots of tweeting/facebook updates I expect. Just so you know!

I will also be uploading more light-hearted content to instagram.com/imaginationdet.

Then, on Monday, I will be speaking with some colleagues about Detroit as a hot bed for tech start ups. We use interesting start-ups from all over for the ideas and creativity they bring to our strategy and concepting. The guys we have asked to join us are really great and have lots to share about how they connect to start up culture, being start ups themselves and what a fertile environment Detroit is for start-up culture in general.  They are Kurt Steckling of  Vectorform who are very well established and also promote start-up culture and Ian Sigmon of Gunner, an animation studio who have been running for just under 2 years in Detroit.

It should be fun and hopefully my updates will be useful and interesting for you.

The virtue of virtual


headset
Woman wearing a Samsung headset by Nan Palmero

2016 saw an explosion in virtual experiences created by brands for their customers. And by virtual experiences I don’t just mean VR. If you look closely there has been an expansion in all kinds of virtual experiences from chatbots, to drawing applications to AR games. We’ve arrived at a crossroads in communications technology.

One key driver of this explosion is clearly cost. VR was prohibitively expensive only two years ago, but is gradually coming within reach of even home users. Oculus Rift comes in at under $600 and Google Cardboard works with any smartphone and is just $20. Couple that with ever increasing processing power that is now available on small handsets or headsets and it’s clear that we have reached a tipping point in quality for these kinds of interaction. And quality plus cost is driving uptake from both brands and consumers.

But it’s not just about practical realities. For something to take off in this way there has to be a deeper resonance with a human need or desire. I believe it boils down to three key factors:

  • Hyper-real
  • Storydoing brains
  • Expectations of connection

Hyper-real

Mintel have identified a search for authenticity that has been driving brand interactions for some years now. It can manifest in searching for the  an expectation that brands will be more open and more honest in conversation. But it can also manifest in a desire to come closer to ‘the real thing’, particularly when that thing is difficult to show in reality. Take for example Samsung’s gear VR rollercoaster, Yes, they have used it to demonstrate the power of Gear but they are also bringing a familiar moment in which to experience that. It’s relatable and understandable and it’s excitingly realistic. Other great examples of a desire for the hyper-real include Marriott’s The Teleporter, which allows you to travel to a Hawaiian beach and  London hotel and Merrell’s virtual hike which combines vision and movement to create a walk in the Dolomites which is actually scary! Land Rover’s recent I-Pace VR at the LA Auto Show is a prime example of this. A futuristic landscape combines with the real features and design of the forthcoming electric vehicle to create a deeply immersive experience about a product you can’t yet buy, but will be purchasable in the near future.

VR offers the chance to bring to life near future scenarios particularly in product development or display that drive uptake and excitement. This isn’t dreaming it’s hyper-reality.

Storydoing brains

lockheed-mars-bus_6Our brains are hard-wired for stories.  Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier  Even logical problems are more easily solved when they are embedded inside the fictional world of story. We also experience the world through a combination of senses. For this reason a story that goes beyond the telling to the directly experiential, the doing, is a powerful way of communicating. Virtual experiences can take us beyond even what we can imagine to a new way of experiencing messages and moments. Take, for example, the Lockheed Martin VR bus that let children ride to school as if they were living on Mars. or Superman VR Roller Coaster at Six Flags amusement park.

We love stories and virtual experiences can tell us stories in new and immersive ways. Why wouldn’t we gravitate towards them?

Expectations of connection

Service has become a price of entry for any brand in the market but expectations of service are dramatically different even than they were 5 years ago.  Social media has brought immediacy and changed expectations of what counts as ‘fast’; a global ‘always on’ culture has driven an expectation of 24/7 interaction, and customers feel more empowered. To provide the kinds of service that people need brands have turned to robots. These range from intelligences like Watson from IBM which can drive extremely human like interactions with physical robots such as Pepper  to much simpler chatbots who can answer the most common customer questions completely on brand, and 24/7, like Audi’s chatbot from the Frankfurt auto show.

This ‘Robot Renaissance’ as Rohit Bhargava calls it, focuses as much around striving to be as human as possible as it does around replacing humans, a kind of Virtual Humanity, if you will. And with machine learning these kinds of virtual interactions will only become more lifelike and satisfying.

What is the value to brands?

Clearly for brands who have technology at their heart the move into all things virtual is simply a stop on their journey. But you can only ride that wave for so long before everyone is doing it and you no longer stand out. Where then is the value in this virtual world we are creating?

As products become commoditized so experiences that communicate what a brand stands for become essential. They’re the differentiator, the reason to believe and to buy.  The best virtual  experiences bring humanity, connection and dreams to life in a way that is expressive of the brand. They generate an emotional moment that allows the consumer to really understand what you are about and to form an affinity with your product, brand or positioning which is rooted in personal experience.

Virtual experiences that create connections, drive emotions, and deliver immersions will make your brand stand out in a sea of gimmicks and lightweight conversations. The virtual world is your oyster.

Tech and Experience 2015


It’s January so trends are like totally over. However, way back in December they weren’t over and we posted a number of great examples of things we think will impact on the experience world in 2015 on the Imagination Labs blog. Here are our punts:

Wearables
Clunky watches that look like they came out of 1978 and are an extra in The Prisoner? That’s so 2014, darling. 2015 is the year that wearables break out of the smartphone industry and into other sectors, notably fashion. You can already buy Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt which tracks and streams real-time biometric data from your workout shirt to your phone. And next November sees the launch of the crowd-funded Olive bracelet that helps monitor your stress levels and then provides solutions. The product is beautiful and the science behind it is robust. Or what about Smart Wallet? Smart Wallet is connected to your phone and includes GPS so you won’t lose it, an app enabled tracker so you can find it when it’s lost in the bottom of your bag…ahem…and a charger for your iPhone.

These wearables are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what major companies are creating and what is being developed via crowd funding sites like Indiegogo. Beauty and usability are coming together in the human space and 2015 will see their use escalating in the early adopter segment.

How might this impact on experiences?
Networking badges for events, personalised visits to experience spaces,

Internet of Things
Of course in many ways Wearables are just one expression of the Internet of Things (IoT) – objects connected to the internet in the same way that phones, laptops or iPads are. Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be nearly 26 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things from heart monitoring implants to biochip transponders on animals. Perhaps the key development for 2015 is the adoption and spread of iBeacon technology.

iBeacon is a technology from Apple that works with both iPhone and Android systems or other device to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon. There are already brands using this IoT technology to deliver enhanced experiences, brands like Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic have set up a network of iBeacons that offer a variety of services to users with more planned, For example, Upper Class passengers approaching the Upper Class security channel can receive a notification for their phone to open their electronic boarding pass ready to be scanned by security. In the airport proper, passengers may receive special partner offers, such as 0% commission as they pass the Money Corp currency exchange booth. BA and KLM are experimenting with the similar technology, NFC to implement luggage tags that enable 35 second bag drops.

But IoT goes beyond this to home management tools like Google’s Nest which can help manage not simply temperature but also security via your smartphone, connected cars and car services like Car2Go that allow you to track and pay for car sharing time via your phone or smart outlets like Belkin’s plug that enables you to switch appliances on and off in your home remotely.

How might this impact on experiences?

Spaces can become intelligent, trackable and tailored to each individual’s experience. We will see the beginnings of this in 2015.

Intelligent spaces
Finally, the previous trends find one of their key expressions inside a larger trend, that of Intelligent spaces.

When you can fix up your visitors with elegant and informed wearables and load up your space with objects that talk to the internet and each other you can create the conditions to deliver spaces that respond to the use of the participants. Visitors can move from being passive users who take what they’re given to actively engaged users who impact on the space by taking us up on our offer for more engagement, picking and choosing only what they want or passively impactively the space through their emotions and arousal levels. Saatchi and Saatchi’s New Directors Show case at Cannes this year used technology to assess the audience reaction to the films they were watching and then displayed that real time on wearables and in displays around the auditorium. Imagine emotions of visitors influencing the lighting displays, heat or even smells in the space. At a low level this kind of responsive experience will definitely be offered up in 2015, how far it goes is dependent on the bravery of brands and agencies as they work together.

Mobile-less mobiles? – Touche from Disney Research


Here is a very dry film about a new interface system from Disney Research. Though it’s dry it’s very much worth a watch. The most interesting part comes about 3/4 of the way through the film when they begin to demonstrate using the human body as an interface – no touch screen, no knobs, no buttons, just clasped hands, fingers touched together. There is a lot of interesting stuff about using water too, but what fascinates me is the idea that people will look back on our mobiles in the same way we look back on old school telephone exchanges.

Ford’s new B-MAX hologram


I was rather pleased to get a package recently from Peerindex and Ford. Inside was a torch and a hologram and some

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information on the new car. I knew Peerindex were running a perk on the car – partly from my profile and also my contact with one of their key creative agencies – but I didn’t expect to get one. So, a nice surprise.

The hologram is sweet and has had a lot of people dropping by my desk to have a look and a play. A torch is provided which you use to illuminate the hologram itself. It’s rather ingenious and a nice way to showcase the fact that the car has no pillar into which the doors close. Which is tricky when you don’t yet have the actual car on the road.
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A nice appetite-whetter and an interesting, creative and strategic approach to blogger outreach. Thumbs aloft.