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Archive for February, 2007


I’m a big fan of Core77, and especially since I have discovered IdeaList, which is probably one of the neatest sites I’ve run into in a while. (First of all, I love the name. Second, the ideas and design concepts being posted there are just too good not to share.)

This is more of a collection of my favorite among the product concepts posted on IdeaList than a post, but hey, a little change never hurt anyone.

The first idea/design (shown above) is an eraser. (You know… for pencils?) Brilliant. Below, a cutting board that doubles as a scale.


Above: A new take on the way we interact with time and tasks. Below, a party-friendly design somebody should have thought of a long time ago.

Above: My kind of timepiece. Below, a mug worthy of a cookie. (Finally.)


Above: A magnetic locker organizer. Below, make your very own Lego ice cubes.

Above: The coolest CD/DVD player I think I’ve ever seen.

Some design notes:

Why is the spinning disc, the most dynamic element of a CD player, hidden from a listener’s view? The simple, but energetic function of a CD player can and should be visually acknowledged. This CD player elevates the spinning motion of the disc and its linear potential for movement to an iconic and understandable form. The player embodies “something we know but rarely notice,” and “something we understand but cannot define.”

The spinning CD, displayed as a table saw blade slicing through a rich piece of walnut, draws our attention to an element of elegant activity within a simple, tranquil object. Appropriately, the perforated walnut speakers are equal to the size of planks that might be cut by the spinning blade. As in a lumberyard, they find their resting place, leaning motionless against a vertical surface. Battery powered and wireless, the system is clean, unencumbered and unfettered. To further emphasize simplicity and integrity, the player’s controls have been reduced to three white buttons. Intuitively aligned with the CD itself, the center button acts to play and pause, the left button tracks backward and the right tracks forward.

Movement, scale and functionality expressed in a simple, knowing form.

Below, customizable heels.


If you find yourselves wondering… “why didn’t I think of that?” … well, you’re probably not the only one.

Go check out more brilliant designs like these at IdeaList. Remember: Design is everywhere. Create something today.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

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It’s Friday and I am trying to get some things finished up before the weekend, so here’s a piece on the evolution of creativity in the business world from David Armano’s Logic+Emotion blog (published in June of ’06). It is relevant to some of the conversations we’ve been involved with this week, and even if it weren’t, it is well worth reviewing once or twice per year:

Are you a Planner who thinks about design? Maybe you are a designer who obsesses about the business impact of your designs. Or you might be an Information Architect who thinks about motion, transitions, multimedia, and uses tools like storyboarding and visual scenarios. Or how about a Developer who comes up with the “big idea”?

If you haven’t noticed, creativity is evolving.

The perception of creativity itself is slowly but surely transitioning into a mutated and adapted life form. In the traditional world, a “creative” person usually meant someone with savant-like talents excelling in a specific creative discipline defined by fairly concrete parameters. Copywriters wrote copy. Art Directors directed art. There are still talented visual designers who can make anything look good. Brilliant copywriters who can come up with that magnificent tagline which stops you in your tracks. And don’t forget about smart, methodical Information Architects who devote their existence to usability and being an advocate for the end user.

These skills, talents and abilities are needed—no doubt about it. But what’s also needed is the evolution of them—the next iteration. But what does this look like? An Information Architect who completely grasps Human Computer Interaction but can also think fluidly—can do things like rapidly create prototypes, facilitate user testing, understand visual design and occasionaly write copy. This kind of individual possesses a multi-dimensional creative brain that has evolved over time.

This type of mind is capable of creating customer experiences which provide competitive advantage in a fast moving world where customers are increasingly calling the shots.

With consumer behavior evolving toward a more empowered status—the definition of creativity has shifted from one-dimensional skills to a four-dimensional type of creativity that blends logical thinking with creative problem solving. Individuals possessing this “New Creative Mindset” blend Analytical, Expressive, Curious and Sensual qualities into their thinking process. The result is a holistic approach to creativity that is effective across multiple touch points and experiences.

Can an Information Architect embody this kind of mindset? What about an Account Director? I think as human beings we are all capable of thinking like this. But as designers, communicators, marketers and creators of experiences—for us, it’s even more critical to become multi-dimensional creative thinkers and problem solvers. I’m not the only one talking about this. Tim Brown from IDEO evangelizes “Design Thinking” and “T-shaped People”. Both principals are related. Design Thinking encourages Designers to think past aesthetics and design simple solutions for complex problems. T-shaped people have a core competency but branch out into other areas and can do them well (thus forming a T). And of course there is the new kind of collaboration that comes with this—where we combine people with diverse skill sets who often times speak very different languages but need to come together to make their collective and diverse skills work together. This kind of collaboration sounds easier than it actually is, because when you get a few T-shaped people together, they tend to “play in each other’s sandbox”. Translation? Ego’s need to be unlearned. In short, it’s not just about T-shaped people.

It’s about how we work together to create something that people will want to use, experience and ultimately—compel them to take action.

I don’t think that any of this is very new. It’s been happening for a while. In my time spent at agency.com, we developed pageless prototypes, pushed technology like Flash + Ajax and created human-centered “web applications”. But with the rapid and pervasive nature of Web 2.0 going mainstream—it’s becoming mandatory to be able to think and execute like this. Need proof? Take a look at this collection of thoughts + work from a recent grad of the IIT Institute of Design. Notice anything about how he approaches his work? He’s a “designer”, but aesthetics are only one small part of how he exercises his creativity. In fact, this brand of creativity is more like creative problem solving vs. the way many people still traditionally view creativity. And what about the teams? Aside from this evolved creative individual, what kind of team is needed to drive the next generation of communication, interaction and marketing engines? There’s not a clear answer to this question, but signs are heading toward smaller interdisciplinary teams composed of individuals possessing complimentary skill sets and overlapping talents.

So where does this all go from here? If you feel like you fit the bill, you’re probably thinking about how marketable you are right now. And remember, we’re not talking about a “jack of all trades” here. “Creativity 2.E” is not about doing everything and learning every application under the sun. It’s about being curious, empathetic, analytical, insightful and expressive all at the same time. It’s about being willing to do anything to get into the heads of your customer/user. It’s about adopting new tools, techniques and artifacts to help make your case for creating the right kinds of communications, interactions and experiences. So what to do if you’re feeling left out?
Resist the urge to become defensive and territorial—put that energy into developing an acute sense of curiosity and optimism. Become like a child.

Participate in the emerging media. Start a blog, update your site or if you don’t have one—set it up. Dive into the digital social communities and be willing to do what your customers do. Try methodology that you might not ordinarily consider. PowerPoint isn’t just for presentations. Flash isn’t just for motion. Move past boxes, arrows, colors, layouts, charts, funnels, and metrics.

Creativity 2.E is both old and new—and like evolution, will continue to change and modify over time. The question is will we?

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

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From David Burn, at Ad Pulp:

Hal R. Varian, professor of business, economics and information management at the University of California, Berkeley explains “Kaizen, the practice of continuous improvement,” in today’s NYT.

Kaizen doesn’t just mean a business should keep trying new things. Rather, it refers to a disciplined process of systematic exploration, controlled experimentation and then painstaking adoption of the new procedures.

The most successful online businesses are built on kaizen, though few of those who carry out the testing would recognize the term, since many of those who created these online businesses were in grade school in the 1980s.

The online world is never static. There is a constant flow of new users, new products and new technologies. Being able to figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t can mean the difference between survival and extinction.

Aside from the painstaking adoption of the new procedures part, Kaizen has the right idea: Inject every aspect of your business with purposeful evolution. To actually make it work in today’s world though, the adoption portion should be fluid and painless.

Kaizen also needs to completely drop the word “procedure” from its vernacular and find something a little less rigid. Getting bogged-down with ever-changing procedures and associated bureaucracies end up being frustrating, confusing, and will work against a process that favors and encourages change. In today’s world, flexibility of execution is more vital than ever to a rapid evolutionary process. A business must be able to anticipate, react and adapt to changes in its environment (consumer tastes, emerging technologies, evolving design) quickly and painlessly. I am not advocating the elimination of procedures altogether, but merely suggesting that they should exist more as a foundation and backdrop for most operational and tactical functions within a company rather than being front-and-center.

IDEO-style rapid ideation/prototyping/testing/production is a great example of how some of Kaizen’s key principles can be adapted to an accelerated product development/upgrade cycle. The underlying system is in place, but while the main lines of the product development process rarely change, flexibility of execution is at the core of its effectiveness. Welcome to the next step in Kaizen’s evolution.

If you happen to be in the business of actually making widgets, this puts a lot of pressure on manufacturing and quality control operations – which tend to favor tried-and-true procedures and safe A-Z systems to an ever changing landscape – but that’s just part of the challenge if you want to play with the big boys (and girls). If not, flexibility of execution tends to be a lot easier to get comfortable with.

Remember that in most cases, improving any business function isn’t necessarily about making things better or faster or easier, but simpler. Focus on making things more simple (for you, your vendors, your customers, etc.) and better, faster and easier will happen on their own.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. (Hey, I got the day right today. Maybe I haven’t been hitting the sauce after all.)

Photo by Tom (doyoulikeit/buzznet)

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Combat. Marketing. Product development. Movie directing. Playing live music. Driving to work. Racing triathlons. Going on a date. Meeting with a client. Filing your taxes. Surfing. Brand planning. Writing copy. Public speaking. Rock climbing. Fixing an engine. Sailing. Developing a campaign. Opening new doors. Starting your own business. Project management. Acting. Winning the Davis Cup.

That zone between planning and improv, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where your best ideas and insights come from. That’s were you will always do your best work. The ability to find this place and dwell there is what differentiates people who are moderately good at what they do from those who are exceptionally good at what they do.

Food for thought.

Props to David Armano for the diagram.

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Okay, so our last post was a bit harsh. I understand. Feathers were ruffled, egos were bruised, and some agencies were called out. I feel your pain. Really, I do. So as a gesture of good faith (and to balance the cosmic scales a bit), I thought it wouldn’t hurt to pass along this great constructive advice from David Polinchock over at the aptly named Brand Experience Lab (which was named 2006 Agency of the Year by Media Post Publications by the way). These guys obviously get it… and already have a head-start on most of their “contemporaries” (that means you) so pay attention. Some of the insights in this piece are pure gold, so I hope they will inspire you to take your agency/firm/PSF to a whole new level:

What should an agency of the year look like? In my eyes–in this era of the rising “you”–an agency must embody ten critical attributes and capabilities:

1. Foremost, agency staffers must be passionate about acting in the interest of consumers as much as they are in the interest of paying clients. You must do good things in the world and reciprocate with others. Tolerance for anything else is waning.

2. The agency must drop tactical communications from its core positioning and instead embody the value of creating great experiences, with tactics following. (Emphasis mine. This is something that we’ve been saying to agencies since we started the Lab and something I’ve been preaching since the mid-90’s. Maybe now people will start listening! DBP)

3. The agency must embrace a world where paid media placements lose overall traction, and instead master the new currency of word-of-mouth, where reputation and propensity to recommend are earned. These latter factors increasingly determine your ability to communicate and be noticed; they are the new media pipeline.

4. The firm must strive for everlasting client partnerships, not because of insatiable desire for ongoing revenues, but because it understands that programs which achieve deep, ongoing customer experiences and loyalty are incompatible with a start-peak-end model. It’s all about a transition from campaign to platform mentality.

5. An agency of the year should be one that first evaluates the client’s internal processes and culture, to ensure those dimensions optimize opportunities for greatness, not hamper potential.

6. The agency must gain expertise in areas of innovation, product and customer service–versus solely on marketing communications. When the client fails to deliver those fundamentals, the agency must recognize that any advertising or marketing communications will only threaten or erode the client’s brand, or simply waste money. Yes, sometimes the client’s baby is ugly, and it needs help beyond advertising or marketing communications. (Again, something that we’ve been saying since day one. It’s why we created the Experience Audit, so companies can see whether or not they’re actually delivering on their messages. It’s also why we created our university program, to help explore the innovations that will be driving our storytelling in the future. Of course, it goes without saying that we always explore those innovations from the consumer side first! DBP)

7. The firm will value institutional customer-listening as a core competency far more than institutional speaking.

8. Enterprise creativity will stem not from a creative department, but collectively from a group of staffers with diverse disciplines, each with the ability to think creatively, abstractly and from different vantage points. These passionate staffers will often have backgrounds in digital, science and algorithms, multimedia, social sciences, history, arts, culture and more.

9. The agency may get out of the advertising business, for the most part, and perhaps outsource the more tactical aspects.

10. The agency increasingly will recognize and organize around you, the individual.

And that’s how the Brand Experience Lab got to be Agency of the Year in 2006. Welcome to a whole new world of possibilities. Spike, I invite your comments on this one.

Have a great weekend (errr… Tuesday – thanks for your cunning, Spike), everyone. 🙂

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I was going to wait until next week to post this, but in light of last night’s lackluster lineup of multi-million dollar ads during the Superbowl (most of which were utter wastes of money), here is perhaps the most biting commentary on the relationship between many traditional ad agencies and the role they think they play in building brands… or in some cases, the role they play in hurting the brands they get paid good money to elevate. (I just had a vision of an elephant stumbling through a china store.)

Mike Myatt, Chief strategy officer at N2 Growth posted this gem last week about ad agencies and their typically failed brand building endeavors.

Note: Mike doesn’t say all advertising agencies are this way. He says that many are. And as much as it pains me to say it… he’s right. Here’s a little something to gently eeeeeeease you into his ever so subtle point:

“I would go so far as to say that many advertising agencies are almost obsolete in their approach such that they add very little value to their client’s brands. In today’s post I’ll share my insights on why most advertising agencies just don’t get it…”

Ahhhh… You know this is going to be good. Now… In case you’re already so incensed that you’re seeing red and preparing an epic response, remember that Mike is talking about building brands. He isn’t suggesting that these certain ad agencies don’t get advertising, but rather that in these cases, advertising is really all these agencies actually get. (Though after having seen some of the crap that tried to pass for advertising last night, I have to take my own comment with a big fat grain of salt. Read my previous post to see what I am talking about.) I’ll just shut up now and let Mike clarify his point:

“It is the CEOs responsibility to set the brand vision and then to evangelize and champion that vision. I have observed far too many CEOs and entrepreneurs who abdicate their responsibility by just turning over their brand to advertising agencies and hoping for great creative output. The problem lies in that the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider product re-design, reengineering the supply chain, refining distribution, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other variables. While advertising will certainly retain an important role as a component of branding, it is clearly not the driver of branded businesses that it once was.

“Put simply, ad agencies create brand advertising. They don’t create brands…Put even more simply ad agencies create, buy and place media they don’t develop brand architecture and modeling which are used as a blueprint for all activities and communications for the brand. It is rare that you’ll find ad agencies that will even have the diversification of competencies that will allow them to provide strategic brand direction across mediums. While I have rarely observed a lack of willingness by agencies to dive into a project, I have often observed a complete inability to execute.

“Even within their purported areas of domain expertise (media and mediums) the marketplace is littered with agencies who have huge gaps in competencies in PR, direct marketing, blogging and other forms of social media, interactive media, search marketing, word of mouth marketing and any number of other areas. However it is their lack of experience and ability to deliver on brand strategy, business intelligence, knowledge management, innovation, corporate venturing, competitive analysis (and by this I don’t mean whose TV ad is better), intellectual property and other items that make ad agencies the worst possible choice to take brand direction from.

“Okay, let’s call a spade a spade and bring the ad agency agenda out into the light of day. Ad agencies get paid to sell advertising not to build brands…Reflect back upon your last agency pitch and you may have been wowed by creative talent, and yes even a bit of brand-speak, but at the end of the day you were pitched on buying advertising. Ad agencies speak to your advertising budget, not your brand equity.”

Read the entire post here.

Many ad agencies think, wish, and in some cases truly believe that they are in the business of building brands… yet few of them actually invest in the development of true brand planning teams (and among those who do, even fewer staff these teams with folks who have actually worked outside of the agency world). Big mistake. Huge, in fact. Most of these agencies don’t work with their clients’ designers to actually create the products. They don’t work with customer service or sales teams to design fantastic customer experience. And worst of all, they never have. They simply aren’t equipped to work at that level – nor do they care to be. It just isn’t part of the account service/creative team/media buying formula they know and understand.

Sure, go ahead and feel outraged by Mike’s post, but… you know, if the truth hurts, I’m sorry. Sometimes, the truth is just a hard, unforgiving kick to the huevos, but that’s why it’s so powerful. Unless none of this applies to you, you can either take it at face value and change, or bury your head in the sand and pretend that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Your call.

As far as I am concerned… Mike, your website needs a major facelift, but you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head with this one.

Agencies and firms that are making the transition to full service PSFs or have T-shaped brand planning groups get it. Traditional agencies who stick to their half-century-old model will probably continue to thrive… but will soon find themselves pigeon-holed in a shallow creative service no-man’s-land.

Sad but true. Deal with it.

PS: Don’t worry, my next post will be much, much…. nicer. Stay tuned. 😉

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