My favourites from the Designs of the Year 2016

I went to the Designs of the Year exhibition a couple of weeks ago at the recently-reopened Design Museum. The annual exhibition is something I’ve been visiting for a few years now. There’s always some extremely inspiring stuff -some commercial, some clearly not as commercial – but all worth knowing about. Here are my picks of the exhibition:

Lumos Helmet: To be clear, I’m not a bike rider, but the incidences of bike accidents on the roads of London have been alarming lately. The Lumos Helmet began, as many of these projects do, as a Kickstarter project, and ‘beautifully integrates lights, hard brake, turn signals, and helmet into a single cohesive whole’.

The Bottom Ash Observatory: I’ve never thought of municipal waste as a thing to spend time thinking about (beyond its sustainable disposal), but Christien Meindertsma has published a book showing the richness she was able to extract from ‘100 kilos of incinerated household and industrial waste: the “waste of waste.”’

The Smog Free Project: Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Project is a 7-meter-high structure that effectively functions as the largest air purifier in the world, ‘creating a circular zone of clean air for citizens to experience and enjoy’. It cleans ‘30,000 cubic meters per hour using ozone-free ion technology and a small amount of green electricity’. Currently installed in Beijing and Rotterdam, I know many a city that needs multiple versions of this. Admittedly it helps clean up, instead of forcing people to acknowledge the issue in the first place – but maybe that can be an evolution of it.

Hello Ruby: I heard about this when it first came out (again a Kickstarter project, but back in 2014) so it was nice to reacquaint myself with it here. Hello Ruby is a children’s book for those aged 5 or over that teaches them to code in a fun way.

Joto: This is such a brilliant idea, and I know I sound like a parrot here but it also came from Kickstarter (public launch due in 2017). It’s an internet-connected Etch-a-Sketch, or in other words, you can draw or send messages from the web to a frame on your wall. Super creative.

Refugee Republic: Premiered at the Amsterdam documentary festival IDFA in 2014 and winner of a Dutch Design Award in 2015, Refugee Republic is an interactive documentary about life in a Syrian refugee camp in Domiz, Northern Iraq. A really immersive way to get your head around some of the human stories playing out even as we speak.

Design That Saves Lives, Bangladesh: When the Rana Plaza collapse happened in 2013 killing over 1000 people, I was only too aware of the risk of something like that happening multiple times a day in crowded cities that I’m familiar with, like Delhi. So I was immensely relieved to see the work of Arup’s Ireland office in Bangladesh in the months following the collapse: a structural safety assessment that now helps to save thousands of lives.

MTV’s Martin Luther King Day media campaign #thetalk: I missed this when it came out in 2015, but it appealed to my time in a media agency as one of the most creative ways to get an important message across using TV. On MLK Day, MTV telecast all their programmes in black and white, prompting discussion of race by their target audience, millennials.

Post/Biotics by Vidhi Mehta: A project by an RCA student in Innovation Design Engineering, this project aims to draft the public into helping to test natural substances that might be able to function as antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge challenge to scientists the world over – in fact it is also the focus of the £10 million Longitude Prize. Post/Biotics is a very low-touch way of working on this problem, and reminds me of campaigns like Cancer Research’s Genes in Space mobile game, where players were drafted to find a solution to cancer.

Random thoughts on media

We’re at an interesting crossroads in media right now, in terms of the multiplicity of formats and platforms available to publish stories on. That much I think everybody will agree with. Chat bots, virtual reality, augmented reality, live 360 degree streaming, podcast binging – you’d almost be forgiven for thinking text and video were done. OK, I jest. Text certainly isn’t done – it’s why this print ad above by Tate Britain seemed so engaging to me yesterday when I saw it in the local newspaper.

 

They’ve *described* a painting. It’s rather evocative. There are lots of Instagrammers whose best posts are actually text too, despite the fact that Instagram is, prima facie, a visual medium. People will hack things to do what they want it to, as long as it isn’t too complicated.

But before we get to users of a platform, we need to address the creators of the content (why Instagram isn’t tweaking features to incorporate some of these hacks is beyond me – no wait, it’s because their main focus now is making money; thanks Facebook). This is where what Jessica Brillhart, principal VR filmmaker at Google, said in this Motherboard piece makes a lot of sense:

If a VR film is trying to get people to look where they’re supposed to, it’s already asking the wrong question.

“It’s more, how do we craft an entirety of a world to be able to harness the agency of the viewer being able to look wherever they want to look,” Brillhart said. “To see it as world-building, instead of trying to put things in a box.”

And so we’re talking about the immense power that content creators now have (they have always had power; it is why publishing houses are so powerful) but technology makes this anyone’s game, and there is a real need for more diverse stories to be told at this emerging stage of this technology. It’s part of why Minecraft is so brilliant, and why No Man’s Sky is so anticipated – the power to create and explore is distributed, not concentrated.

From a creator’s perspective, one can either get bogged down by this, or we can focus on the future. As Joshua Topolsky says,

….if you want to make something really great, you can’t think about making it great for everyone. You have to make it great for someone.

So as with VR and the potential to forge a new world, content creators today can choose to get sucked in by the need for distribution (I’m not taking this lightly, but I tend towards leaving it to the professionals like Medium who seem to be on fire lately, or if you have tens of thousands or a few millions to spare, then the sky is your limit) or focus on telling stories that matter to people who want to listen.

Stop wasting money on digital projects if you aren’t prepared to promote them properly by @marthasadie via @storythings

This post by Martha Henson is worth reading if you work in media in any format today, because whether you like it or not digital is part of what you do. Thanks to Storythings for the HT. Read the whole thing, I’m just going to pull this bit out:

Stop wasting money on digital projects if you aren’t prepared to promote them properly.

I’m serious. Do NOT embark on any digital project if you aren’t going to at least make a decent effort to tell people about it or otherwise figure out how people are going to see it.

If you are going to make an in-gallery app but only have room for a small piece of signage and no budget or space for print promotion, do not bother. If you are going to create a game and put it on your website and think maybe your organisation might be able to muster up a single tweet and facebook post about it, give up now. If you are creating an amazing interactive video experience but the entire budget is going on production and you’ve run out of money to market it, stop.

Source: Stop wasting money on digital projects if you aren’t prepared to promote them properly

OK Go go to Facebook this time, but who’s to say what the future will hold?

If you’re an avid consumer of the internet, you would have seen OK Go’s latest rather neat music video, released last Friday. It was shot in zero gravity, on Russian airlines S7, and the final version was finally done in a continuous take, but over 45 minutes due to the restrictions of physics, so to speak! My thoughts:

Every video of theirs is better than the last, which is a really hard thing to do. The annual brouhaha around SuperBowl ads in the US and Christmas ads in the UK is proof of that – and rarely do brands consistently deliver. Harvard should do a short ‘modern’ case study on them. I’d be interested to watch a short documentary, even – the ‘making of’ video is a good teaser.

OK Go went with Facebook for the launch of this video over YouTube, thanks to the lack of ad revenue that the band saw with YouTube in previous years. Also, the record labels and YouTube together struck a deal which made it *less* profitable for them if they allowed embeds, so they didn’t – and fans suffered as a consequence, as they usually do (more here). It will be interesting to know how the Facebook strategy compares to YouTube for OK Go, specifically with regard to the data they’re able to collect on their audiences.

Today’s Monday Note has a good summary of why pledging allegiance to one social platform can be suicide for a brand in the long run – as a lot of people advocating the open web have said for a long time. To be clear, the Monday Note piece refers to media unicorns specifically, but the logic is the same:

When a content provider makes 44x more traffic outside its own premises, it becomes highly vulnerable to changes the third party might make to its distribution mechanism. As long as publishers’ and distributors’ interests are aligned, everything’s fine. But who can guarantee such harmony will last?

We all know the havoc that the changes to Facebook’s organic reach caused to brands back in 2014 for example. However Facebook’s growing advantage is reach, and its new(ish) focus on mobile and video is probably what caused OK Go to go with them for this one release, a smart choice for now.

What will be really interesting – and it’s likely we’ll see this in the months to come – is for a brand to release entertainment content in formal partnership with someone like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video as they grow in reach (the documentary idea I mentioned above could be an additional part of such a package). Spotify’s newly launched Video format might also be an interesting experiment for some. At some point, market forces must lead to Facebook and Google’s stronghold over video and/or mobile loosening, surely?

Avoid becoming a marketing dinosaur

I received this interesting infographic from The Ladders recently (they have a revamped Career Search section, so if you’re interested have a look) and they also asked me to answer the questions that some well-known marketers have responded to below, so here goes:

What is your educational background in and do you feel your degree has aged as your career has progressed?

My undergraduate degree was in sociology and I think it’s turned out to be very useful, the more I look at it in retrospect. It provided a great grounding in some important societal theories, and included psychology, which continues to be an interest for me as it should to any marketer: if you don’t know who you’re marketing to, you’re not going to be very effective.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new marketer looking to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry what would it be?

Be risky and try new things. Playing purely by the book will get you results written in the book, nothing over and above it, which is what you should be aiming for if you want to succeed. Stay hungry and restless and always be learning from the risks you take.

 

TheLaddersMarketingDino