Sonder And The Art Of Photography

Quick Read: Perspectives can be valuable.  A Kickstarter campaign shows us how to create value out of them while a multi million dollar campaign from a global brand shows us what it can learn from the former.

Sonder is a fascinating word.

It is the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you. (source)

At a fundamental level, Sonder for me is a shift in perspective that makes me cognizant and appreciative of the tens of thounsands of stories unravelling around me, in all their characteristic diversity and profundity.

It’s sonder that makes Street Photography fine art. It’s sonder that makes Vernacular Photography artistic to our eyes.

In fact, it’s sonder that can even help us put a price to perspectives.

Heard of Tribe Photo? James Kell is a photographer and sailor. In his words..

Recently during my work in Haiti I had an opportunity to put my subjects on the other side of the lens – to give them the chance to experience the pleasure of photographing people.  I found the perspectives of the locals – when they were making the photographs – was completely, strikingly unique. This was the kernel of the idea that is now Tribe Photo.

Read more about the business model of Tribe Photo on its kickstarter page.

But the essential idea that underlies Tribe Photo is insightful and impactful in many ways than one. It gets to the heart of the “art in photography” by transcending the narrative of the camera gear. It puts a value to perespectives as seen through the photographer’s eyes and thereby puts the photographer first, celebrates the art of photography and gives back to the community.

Tribe Photo

I Am Generation Image

Now, contrast that to the campaign that Nikon is introducing this week timed for the Christmas shopping season. This campaign with an estimated budget of $ 5 – $7 million themed “I am Generation Image“, is essentially a plea to the generation Y – the millenials –  to shoot more with a DSLR than with their phones. (source)

So what is this campaign all about? Check this video out.

This attempt at speaking to the millennials by asking them “Are Your photos good enough?” loses out on two counts:

  1. In putting people first: in fact it challenges them in a way that might actually provoke them to go out of their way to shoot outstanding photos with their phone camera
  2. In celebrating the art of photography: While the campaign does have at it’s core this page being promoted through this video audaciously titled “See Through The Eyes Of This Generation”, the content on the page tries hard to dumb it down for their TG. Sample this: “Zoom out as wide as you can, and you can even do selfies on a DSLR”

Really? All this from the brand whose theme has been to be proudly “At The Heart Of The Image”?

(Featured Image: IamGenerationImage.Com)

Block By Block – A Consumption Focused Design Paradigm

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. 

Wikipedia defines modularity as ..

 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 of Modular 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 Forbes Clayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration! 

Even in life as usual as we know it, no matter what we do from fixing a meal, concocting a cocktailassembling a piece of furniture, to laying out our Google Newsfeed, there’s always been a sense of joy, an inexplicable sense of desirability that we had for our stuff, for after all, it was our creation.  Step by step. Block by block. Isn’t it?

(Source for the featured image)

Stories, Grommets and Epipheos

This is the latest in the series of cartoons by Hugh MacLeod as featured on his blog GapingVoid. While I totally agree with his point on how conversations change when the markets change, I want to add further to it or take the liberty of phrasing it in a slightly different way by saying “all evolutions in marketing are evolutions of stories, the narratives, or chronicles”.

KONY has been phenomenally viral. It is a story well told.

Charity Water tugs at your heart. It is a story well told.

Innocent makes you look at smoothie in a new light. It is a story well told.

Stories simplify, humanize and lend emotion to messages about products, services and causes and thereby make them unique and authentic for us. When a brand tells me its story, it plants its idea in my mind and thereby becomes more potent. When I know the story, I suddenly begin to care. That’s why more and more videos in Kickstarter are about a ‘story’, that’s why people go to ‘About Us’ page in most sites/blogs that they visit, that’s why you might find yourself intently reading the story of a restaurant as printed on the first page of its menu even before you get to the appetizers section, that’s why you might even relish and appreciate the coffee at your local coffee store. That’s why Facebook brand pages with a well designed timeline tend to come across as more interesting and humane narratives.

As a marketer I find this to be one of the most inspiring tenets of the practice. When I realize that it is all about story telling, things suddenly seem to take newer shapes of significance and bring newer things into perspective. It then begets questions from a consumer standpoint and demands for a spiel that a consumer can care about.  That I can relate and relate to as I share it with my friends. Branding as Story telling isn’t to be confused with some smartly concocted campaign ideas or executions. It is much more than that and encompasses all the elements of the mix and binds them to a unique, authentic core.

I am definitely not an expert at this but there are tons of resources available that offer help on the science and art behind branding as story telling. That said, let me highlight 3 interesting trends that are panning out in the realm of story telling in various realms.

1. Luxury brands are showing greater proclivity to adopt story telling strategies: Some examples: Vitra – the maker of master piece furniture is turning to story telling – read the story here. Read an account of Lady Dior Saga in this post on Luxury Story Telling.  And finally, the Chanel No5 film – need I say more!

2. Story telling at a personal branding level: For starters, I could argue that most brands in high involvement categories that you buy today, you do so with a conscious, painstaking thought and consideration on what story it could tell of you. As an other example read a trend briefing here regarding the shift from brands telling a story to brands helping consumers tell ‘status-yielding’ stories about themselves to other consumers.

3. Content consumption as story telling: Visual story telling is fast becoming a new standard in content curation and consumption. ‘Infographics’ are redefining this field rapidly. In fact it is said that over the past 2 years, infographic search volumes have increased by over 800%. There is even a site full of ‘visual summaries’ of this year’s SxSW event!

Obviously, story telling is no more about just making films, writing screenplays or devising plots. It is much much than that and the following 3 examples are a testimony to it:

Daily Grommet: This innovative site uses the art of story telling to sell a product a day. A new product is featured every day in a video with a story and an account on why this product has made the cut on this carefully curated video blog.

Epipheo: There is this ‘story telling studio’ that helps people/companies/brands tell stories about their new ideas, products or even technologies with what they call as ‘epipheos’. I would strongly urge you to see its video on Siri here and you would know why Epiheo has clients like Google, Facebook, etc.

And finally there is Get Storied that is all about teaching entrepreneurs how to tell their story. Never before was story telling so critical a part of pitching as business plans, revenue models and risk mitigation strategies had been for VCs and investors by budding entrepreneurs. Story telling is THE thing in pitching now.

Now, that begets the question – what is your story?