Quick Read: There are ads that try and communicate a message of ‘contrast’ and there are those that communicate ‘similarity’. While the former type of ads ride on a diverse set of story telling devices, there seems to be an interesting trend in the story telling devices deployed by the latter set. It’s the ‘Split Screen’.
A lot of advertising is meant to tease out / explain / amplify an element of a brand that is supposedly in contrast w.r.t the competition. Think about it for a moment and think of the core narratives behind most of the ads that you see around.
A lot of advertising narratives tend to fall into this camp, where they try to land a message through a narrative that is designed to communicate a contrast – sometimes in a straightforward manner or sometimes in perhaps a tongue in cheek style.
Quick Read: Ideas, like people, could be said to have their own “6 Degrees of Separation” i.e., any idea in the world can potentially be related to another idea in the world with a maximum of 6 connections. And if this hypothesis is right, it can have major implications on marketing.
What are you thinking right now? This comic by Richard McGuire appeared in 1990.
(What Are You Thinking Right Now, Richard McGuire. Source)
While it is a wonderful comic and a fun reflection on how we think, for me it is a brilliant work that manages to encapsulate within the confines of a comic panel – the interconnectedness of our thoughts and ideas.
Speaking of which, just as this theory that any two people in the world can be connected to each other with a maximum of 6 steps, my hypothesis is that:
Any two ideas in the world can be related to each other in less than or equal to 6 degrees of separation.
In other words, if you think of each idea as a node, I contend that you could potentially connect any two nodes in the “idea universe” with a maximum of 6 connections.
(One way of proving this could be as a corollary of the 6 Degrees of People Separation and mixing it with the notion that ideas make a man. And voila! You can have even a far right capitalist ideology being related to a far left communist ideology within 6 degrees of separation.)
Why is this fascinating? If the hypothesis is proven right, it can potentially have two major implications on how ideas can be sold.
Let’s take Recommendation Engines, the intelligence behind “If you like this, you might also like these” kind of recommendations that you see on Amazon.
A good recommendation engine – in search, videos, online shopping, travel etc., has far reaching implications in delivering more relevant content to users, thereby driving sales and growing retention within the platform. In fact, as per many accounts, some companies have even gone so far as to realign their business objectives in light of recommender-driven demand, such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney and Apple.
Now, what if we abstract this conceptof “six degrees of ideas’ separation” into an iterative, machine learning algorithm that can build up, in real time, a user’s idea map – i.e., a construct that maps out the interconnectedness of user’s ideas?
We can then perhaps use it as the back bone of a more powerful recommendation engine.
So instead of dishing out nearly hard coded, precedent based recommendations – with imperfect results – what if the smart logic embedded in the recommendation engine can rapidly learn, iterate and replicate my idea map resulting in recommendations that almost feel like – mind reading?
That’s when I might be able to see breathtakingly personalised assortment of search results, advertisements, content and retail options appear in front of me almost at the speed (and diversity) of my thought.
Given that any of my existing ideas can potentially be connected to other ideas – and thereby products – out there, having an insight about my idea map can potentially help you sell me a new product/service. How?
By carefully structuring your sales pitch in a way that takes me gently through the different related nodes from my existing ‘idea state’ to a new ‘idea state’ that could probably help me better relate to your product.
Easier said than done, I am sure. But the outcomes here could be as thrilling as they could be scary – a signpost of every major scientific advancement over the last few decades.
On a related note..
If you enjoy the creative process of discovering and connecting disparate ideas into an insightful whole, check out Seenapse.
A creative technology start-up, Seenapse is an ‘inspiration engine’ that assists in your creative process by exposing you to non-obvious idea associations between seemingly disparate concepts. It is currently in a closed beta but you can get an invite by using the code: strandsofgenius. (source)
PS: This is my 100th blog post on BrandedNoise which got its 2020th subscriber today! A big thank you to all the readers out there who have been the source of my strength, inspiration and support. Looking forward to many more blog posts to come and a journey fuelled by creativity, curiosity and fun. A big thank you once again!!
Quick Read: Selfies as a mode of expression via pictures, videos or 3D shapes is gaining main stream traction. GoPro is a fascinating company that took an unmet ‘selfie need’ and expanded it to encompass newer grounds with great success, while gaining a cult like status.
Ever since then, over the span of 175 years, the humble selfie has evidently made spectacular inroads into our popular culture. Today we see world leaders, hollywood celebrities, protesters in police vans and even the Pope having all smiles for the selfie. No wonder then, today we have:
According to this paper, while selfies have been called different names like a symptom of social media-driven narcissism, a way to control others’ images of us, a new way not only of representing ourselves to others, but of communicating with one another through images, or even as the masturbation of self-image, the one that stands out the most for me is the concept of selfie as a device to control others’ images of us.
This primal urge to control others’ image of us seemed to have proven to be a gold mine for a company that is now on its way to a hotly anticipated IPO. Think Video Selfies. And think about all the exciting activities like surfing, skiing, snowboarding, auto racing, river rafting, sky diving etc. And you get the picture.
Hang on. Did we just say ‘Video Selfie’?
2002. On a surfing trip to Australia, Nick Woodman wanted to take a selfie. Albeit with a twist. He wanted to capture quality action photos of his surfing. Having met with limited success, his desire for a camera that could capture him surfing in ‘professional angles’ started to take shape. And thus the name ‘GoPro’ was born for his company that would subsequently go on to sell small, waterproof, wearable cameras that you can use while doing exciting stuff.
But what makes GoPro an extremely fascinating brand is the street cred that it earned for itself as an unconventional media company. Sample these..
The GoPro Ad: Instead of advertising, the company aggressively hands out GoPro cameras to extreme athletes asking them to simply shoot and bring back their footage. A small in house team then edits the footage, slaps a hip sound track, throws in the GoPro logo and boom – A stunning free GoPro Ad! (Interestingly – given the versatility of the GoPro camera – a lot of footage that they get from users is so astounding that people are known to insist it had to be fake.)
GoPro on YouTube: GoPro’s YouTube channel ranks among the top 100 with nearly 2 million subscribers and 455 million views of its 1600+ videos posted till date. In fact as per this article, the number of videos with “GoPro” in the title has grown so much—60 percent from 2012 to 2013—that watching 2013’s crop alone would take you 2.8 years. Reportedly GoPro is expected to make about $1.7 million per year from its YouTube channel alone.
The GoPro Channel: In CES 2014, GoPro announced plans to unleash its unique brand of action sport videos on Xbox Live for both the Xbox One and 360. In fact, Virgin America inflight entertainment system already lists this channel that features curated GoPro content where users will also be able to purchase GoPro products directly online.
Expanding cultural footprint of GoPro’s media content: GoPro has strategically carved an outsized cultural footprint for itself by being part of several high points in recent history. Take the recent opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, where many athletes were seen filming themselves with GoPros or Felix Baumgartner‘s record-breaking jump from 128,100 feet for the Red Bull Stratos mission. Chances are that you must have seen the footage filmed by one or more of the seven HD GoPro cameras used in the mission.
GoPro, Apple and Red Bull: While some observers see GoPro as a company that clearly wants to create a kind of ecosystem, similar to that of Apple, with a devoted fan base addicted to its hardware and software and a thriving core of creators and consumers, there are also those that think, GoPro could make for a new sort of hybrid company, the way Red Bull is both a drink maker and powerful media brand.
Jason Stein, founder of Laundry Service, a digital media agency in New York even says:
“Red Bull has become this media entity, created around the lifestyle of people who drink Red Bull, GoPro is doing the same, but the reason I think they have more potential is that their product is an actual media device.”
Hence analysts expect that GoPro could create revolutionary possibilities in content creation and consumption in the days to come. This article even speaks about a future possibility where the company could sign agreements with sports leagues to place GoPros within the games. So when you tune into your NBA or NFL or IPL, imagine getting a live feed from whichever player you want!
It’s about software and experiences. It’s about enabling awesome creative expression and adrenaline packed content production – the non traditional way. It’s about brilliant marketing that is inspired by this unique culture. All borne out of one key human need – to be able to influence other’s image of us by showcasing those fleeting experiences and moments that (we think) could define us.
It took more than a 100 years for inkjet printers to become commercially viable. The reason?
Severe interdependence of the components and underlying systems.
For e.g., even with the slightest change in the chemistry of the ink, the composition of the resistors had to be changed, and this potentially impacted the physical layout of the circuits and so on. The solution for this? Modularity of design.
the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.
Today most tools, gadgets, processes, systems, structures, designs that we interact with on a daily basis have modularity built from deep within. Right from the nuts and bolts of a system to the way it has possibly been put together on an assembly/production line, modularity is all pervasive.
In fact it is almost accepted wisdom now among designers and manufacturers that the speed at which an innovation can be commercialized is directly proportional to the speed at which the underlying design (of the system) and the process (of the assembly or integration) is standardized and modularized.
Now consider the above statement in conjunction with the following self explanatory paradigm of Design Thinking evangelized by IDEO, called the Desirability – Viability – Feasibility triad of innovation design.
Based on the above two, my hypothesis is the following:
While modularity in the context of production has almost proven itself to be a pre-requisite for establishing technical feasibility and – in many cases – for driving business viability of a given innovation , modularity in the context of consumption – if done right – can have far reaching implications in seeding the attributes of human desirability for the same.
Three recent examples that seem to suggest the compelling potential for modularity in the context of consumption as a design paradigm:
(1) Phoneblok: Most of us, by now, would have seen this short video on the idea of building a phone with modular detachable blocks. This presents the idea of Phonebloks – hailed as a radical vision of what tech could be. The idea for me, is sheer ingenuity and insight. The possibilities of such a consumer focused modularity in design seem to be truly empowering and liberating.
(2) NoFlo – A Flow Based Development Environment: The philosophy ofModular Programming is the default standard in most coding systems. But this modularity was mostly – for lack of a better term – limited to the realm of abstraction and ideation, since the corresponding code nevertheless lends itself as ‘strings of spaghetti’ and presents challenges for debugging compilation and logic errors. With NoFlow as a development environment, modularity can be made more tangible and actionable in order to help inform, structure, design, test, debug and implement a complete software package. The following is the video put together by the team for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds (the funding was successful!).
(3) Modularity in content consumption: Unleashing the power of modularity in the domain of content consumption is in fact the name of the emerging game. Platform agnosticism is one of the many ways in which modularity lends itself in the consumption context for services like Amazon, Youtube and now Dropbox. The latest edition of WIRED in fact features a fantastic story on Dropbox’s radical plan for a future where “the gadgets are dumb, the features are smart, and data trumps devices.”
So there we have, emerging examples of modularity in the context of consumption (as opposed to only production) and how they promise to pan out in mobile, software design environments and cloud based architectures. Something for the technology powerhouses to sit up and take note? In fact in a recent interview with ForbesClayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration!
Ever wondered what could be the primary cause of our childhood fascination with cartoons? I did. Tons of times in fact. With little success very often. Thankfully for me Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics gives a clear and a straightforward explanation for that.
This abstraction of pictures from reality to icons is thus a powerful mode of expression that comics (and comic artists) have deliberately and meaningfully perfected over the years. For, after all, (visually) quoting Scott..
“There is no life in an icon except that which you give to it.”
While this insight forms the cornerstone of what constitutes the vocabulary of comics, it lends a very powerful commentary that is relevant for our practical lives too. Let me explain.
Just like we are said to be exposed to thousands of marketing/ brand impressions per day, I’d wager that we are also exposed to as many (if not more) iconic impressions each day. While a brand’s logo – by definition – could also be called as an ‘icon’, my focus here is more on icons that constitute the typical signage/symbols that we are used to seeing all around us each day – e.g., traffic signage, safety signage, industrial signage, traveler signage etc.
Since these signage icons have been around for years, most of us grow up intuitively accepting them as part of our unspoken language. Thereby they practically end up becoming the visual metaphors of our culture.
I’ll let you read a comprehensive account of the project here, but the highlight of this guerrilla art project was that it succeeded in reorienting the visual focus of the symbol from the chair to the person, while replacing the rigid, static representation with something more dynamic and active.
Result: The idea has been gaining tremendous momentum around globally as we speak, with NYC becoming one of the first cities in the world to formalize and adopt this new symbol with many disability organizations around the world vehemently following suit.
Metaphors are said to have the power of influencing our ideas, challenging assumptions and creating new world views. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, the power of a visual metaphor like this new ‘access icon’ above can be said to be amplified a thousand fold in shaping our collective biases, informing our cultural opinions and influencing our societal attitudes as humanity.
That’s when things get interesting. Symbolically and literally.
There have been countless comparisons between how Microsoft ‘speaks’ via design and how Apple does.The best example is this classic parody on Microsoft designing an iPod packaging.
Obviously neither of this is necessarily an always right/ always wrong approach to designing a pack or a pack copy: as that depends upon many factors like the brand’s positioning, its design philosophy etc. But the key point here is that whenever any brand comes with a more inclusive/friendly/simple/’or whatever you chose to call it’ kind of positioning and design, it often breaks the ‘category codes’ and thereby creates a distinctive identity and appeal for itself. Sometimes it could even inspire the existing category codes and set new benchmarks (the recent redesign of Microsoft page for its Windows phone is the best example of how dramatically it is shifting away from its ‘past’ towards something that seems to be inspired by the Apple iPhone page)
Examples for this abound – even in categories like OTC Medication, Oral Care and Household Cleaning, where a handful of brands are slowly but certainly inspiring fresh category codes with their new positioning and design philosophy. A quick look at 3 such brands:
Over The Counter Medication:
Stripping away complexities that typical medicinal packaging bombards patients with, help positions itself as a simple medicine for simple health issues based on its “Take Less” philosophy
Each package bears a “Help, I…” line of text, such as “Help, I can’t sleep” for a sleep aid, or “Help, I have a headache” for a package of acetaminophen.The simplicity of the packaging matches the promise of the products, which feature no dyes, coatings, and aim to use only the main chemical needed to treat the patient. By the way – their recent product is called “Help I am Horny” and if you want to use it, you would “need to fill an application to convince them of your sexual superiority”!
Imagine: an army of germs marching into ‘whatever it is’ only to be attacked by a flood of chemicals leading to a squeaky clean aftermath. Seems familiar? Interestingly, this imagery could be easily applicable to two diametrically opposite categories: Oral Care and (surprise, surprise..) toilet cleansers!
Armed with this insight about the oral care category increasingly assuming the codes of ‘toxic weaponry’ portraying themes of war going on inside your mouth– that need to be eliminated, destroyed & annihilated, Craig Dubitsky created hello– a ‘Seriously Friendly line of Oral Care Products’.
With packaging designed by BMW group’s creative consultancy DesignWorksUSA, hello is an accessible brand for the ‘average consumer’ with the entire mix designed towards one purpose: bring in a fresh breath of friendliness to Oral Care.
Speak of detergents, dish washing & household cleaning – and it might not always be the most inspiring conversation and might not always bring a sparkle to the eyes or flushes of joy and excitement. In 2001, Eric and Adam set out to change this – by creating cleaning products that “people didn’t have to hide under their sinks” and went on to become one of the fastest growing companies in the category. Read their story here.
Method with its stylish, eco-friendly products has not only inspired legions of people with its products (did you hear of MethodLust – an independent blog titled as: “one man’s unsupressed lust for all things method”) it has also inspired people to start companies along similar lines (Craig Dubitsky: founder of hello – profiled above – was a board member for Method).
Speak about enlivening some of the most prosaic categories in consumer marketing.
In its upcoming January cover story titled ‘Better than humans’, the Wired magazine provides a compelling sneak peek into the future of our workplace / economy / and our lives where robots or industrial scale automations replace 7 in every 10 of our current jobs.
One of the most insightful observations in this article is by a MIT professor Rodney Brooks the designer of Baxter – a new class of industrial robots designed to work alongside humans. He says:
Right now we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within 5 miles of where they are needed.
The first thing that occurs to me is that soon enough Apple Inc., could finally do away with that painful euphemism of “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China” for a simple “Made in U.S.A” on its packs. Phew!
But it is only the tip of the ice berg. Some tectonic shifts seem to be underway at industrial scale – literally.
A recent story on The Economist about Foxconn: The Taiwanese-Chinese contract manufacturer that notably makes most of the iProducts, Kindles, PlayStations, Wii Consoles and Xbox etc, hints at those very shifts that are rumored to be already underway.
It is well known that besides Product Design, one of Apple’s key strengths is its Supply Chain. In fact with each iteration it does on its product lines (for e.g., the iPhone versions 2,3,3s,4,4s,5..) when there is only so much it can innovate through product design and specs, the obvious place where it would seek recourse would be its processes and supply chain – cut costs and drive margins. In other words, for every new iterative product version that Apple brings to market there is immense pressure on the company to optimize the basics ofits value chain. Now that’s when things start get interesting.
As the largest contract manufacturer in the world, Foxconn gets nearly 45% of its revenue from Apple, so if it has to keep growing and sustaining its lead position, it simply cannot risk alienating its biggest customer. So where do Apple and Foxconn focus their energies upon now? Arguably, one of the biggest innovations that Apple is intently working on is NOT necessarily some uber sexy orgasm inducing tech interface. Rather it is the less glamorous gears and guts of its value chain – these are innovations in:
Manufacturing Costs: Foxconn’s Chairman Terry Guo vowed to build 1 million robots and has hinted that the firm is just a year away from the big breakthrough – robotics that work at scale on commercial lines.
Transportation Costs: The article also acknowledges that there have been rumors about Foxconn planning to open a factory in the US.
Just come to think of the impact that these two changes in industrial production and transportation would have on Apple Inc, Foxconn in the short term as also on the economies of US and China in the long term.
Don’t miss the full Economist article (and don’t get misled by its title that seems to focus on Foxconn’s workers’ issues). The big picture is clear. It signals a dramatic yet a silent shift currently underway in the biggest manufacturing hubs around the world. A shift that can soon challenge the conception of developing markets as manufacturing hubs. A shift that can have a dramatic impact on assembly line jobs at the low end of the value chain. A shift that can eventually impact the very nature of economies around the world.
Interesting times. These are indeed.
High timethen – the developing economies ought to seek more sustainable ‘business models’. Else let’s just say that things can only get even more interesting.
We have seen them dropping in industry after industry – music, film, publishing and even manufacturing. The businesses of Advertising and Design are no exceptions. For e.g., even a 20 year old college student can win a marquee client like coke these days. The story goes like this:
Almost everyone who knows Steve Jobs and is ‘net literate’ must have been captivated by this beautiful tribute going viral, hours after the legend passed away. Graham Fint, the Chief Creative Officer of O&M China was captivated too. So he tracked down the designer: Jonathan Mak Long a 2nd year communications design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and offered him an assignment to design a poster with a deceptively simple brief – ”Sharing a Coke”. The result:
The poster went on to win a Grand Prix at Cannes in June 2012.
Take Johanna Basford – an illustrator and ‘ink evangelist’.
This story starts in the autumn of 2010, when she set her sights on working for Starbucks and bestowed on them the title – Dream Client. She then ‘hand penned’ Starbucks cups and posted them to their offices. Again. And Again. The string of these uninvited yet meticulously designed penned cups have finally landed her an official design assignment from Starbucks. The story ends 18 months later when she finally adds Starbucks to her ‘Clients List’. Read the fascinating account here.
Off late, many such instances of ‘Uninvited Design’ have become commonplace, thanks to the Internet. Apparently, it just takes a creative designer with a laptop and a couple of hours (or at most days) to spare to create ripples in the world of brands, advertising and design.
On 23rd August 2012, a quarter of a century after its last update, Microsoft has unveiled a new logo.
Evidently, it did not win too many aficionados on its unveiling. But what caught on the imagination of many people around the world was a student’s version of his redesign of the Microsoft logo. Andrew Kim is a 21 year old designer whose ‘Uninvited Designs’ for Microsoft from his 3 day personal assignment went on to become a sensation with his concept of ‘Slate’ design and how he sees it to be applicable to the Microsoft logos.
Scroll through the full presentation here. Though I personally found his designs to be a bit ‘Apple Inspired’, these ideas have quickly gained traction online. I have a feeling that he could soon be in the news again for some good reasons.
And then there is an even more recent example of an ‘Uninvited Design’ – this time for American Airlines, from a Cyprus based designer – Anna Kovecses. Read the story here.
While we see some graphical instances of genius coming from all around the world by way of these Uninvited Design projects, there are also graphical instances of absurdity. Don’t miss the weird history of unsolicited redesigns.
Absurdity or Genius, one thing is for sure. The entry barriers for individual creatives to stealing the thunder from established agencies have started to crumble. In a big way. Agree?
What is common among (most) cigarette filters, copper rivets on jeans, the UI of iCal in Mac and the 89-metre pylons at each end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
They have design elements that serve no practical purpose.
Cigarette filters are printed to look like cork — an allusion to an era of carefree smoking, when the biggest worry women smokers had was smeared lipstick.
Most rivets that you see on jeans are just decorative and functionally useless (some even covering the functional rivets underneath).
The UI of iCal as seen on Macs has references to functionally useless design elements like leather stitching, torn paper etc.
And believe it or not, the twin 89-metre pylons at each end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge do not support anything; they are functionally useless. They are there only to frame the structure for aesthetic reasons.
These are examples of what are called as ’Skeuomorphs‘ (pronounced SKEW-a-morphs). In simple terms, Skeuomprph is an approach to design that uses design elements which serve no specific function but are purely ornamental/emotional/metaphorical in their roles.
This S-word apparently is one of the most debated trends currently in design. The interesting thing about Skeuomorphs is that, once you are aware of them, they start popping out from everywhere around like:
Physical Skeuomorphs: fake windows and vents that don’t open, the hubcaps on car wheels that have no functional relevance,
Digital Skeuomorphs: the Folder icons on your desktop, the iBooks & iCal UI in Macs,
Aural Skeuomorphs: theshutter release sound in a digital compact camera, the recorded sound clip that gets played each time you Empty Trash on mac, etc
Apparently most things Apple are very infamous examples of the Skeuomorphic design philosophy. Designers who hate Skeuomorphs do so as they find them distracting, and gimmicky often limiting real innovation. Proponents of Skeuomorphs however argue that they create familiarity and build a human element in our interaction.
I tend to take both sides of the argument. While I definitely am not a big fan of designs that limit possibilities in new mediums on account of their outdated references, I tend to believe that when executed well, Skeumorphs can play a very meaningful role in fostering an effortless level of user (or viewer) interaction (or perception).
My 3 favorite Skeumorphic design examples:
1. The concept of a Shopping Cart in e-commerce sites: While this is obviously a reference from (a bygone?) era of brick and mortar shopping, it nevertheless makes us easy to understand and relate to what we are doing. Can you think of any other simple, logical and a more compelling way of designing this element ‘in tune with the times’? I can’t.
2. Nest Thermostat: Touted to be the most innovative thing that ever happened to thermostats, its design is based on a deceptively simple yet alluring concept of the analog knobs. Do they necessarily need to have the ‘knob’ interface? No. But do they serve any specific purpose? You bet! See the video here:
And lastly – my most favorite example:
3.Skeuomorphs as a powerful metaphor in advertising: In 2009, Transitions – the first company to commercialize and manufacture plastic photochromic lenses – had a 30s TV spot. See below.
Do I get it? May be yes/May be no.
Now in early 2012, they introduced what they called as ‘Adaptive Lens Technology’ through a 30s ad. See below.
Do I get it? Hell yes! The concept of a ‘control knob’ is a brilliant metaphor that drives the point home with merciless clarity, engages me and potentially persuades me in just 30s- all this because I… I just get it! I understand how exactly these lenses feel like. Thanks to the obvious Skeuomorph!
Can you think of any other brilliant/ bad examples of Skeuomorphs?
PS: I agree, they should have thought a simpler word for this 🙂