Moving Ideas

Surf’s Up

It’s been a busy few months at Big Motive recently so in keeping with tradition, we decided to get away for some well deserved R&R and mark the summer season before it passes us by. I live by the mantra – work hard, play hard so to clear out the cobwebs, we decided to shut the studio down for one day only and hit the waves of the North Coast for a spot of surfing!

We kicked things off with a breakfast meeting in the Anchor Bar in Portstewart, our HQ for the day. For some of us this was a walk down a very hazy memory lane, reminiscing on student days when the Anchor was a place of refuge – somewhere you felt you were getting off free by not paying rent!

Following mid-morning brainstorm (and devouring the biggest apple and cinnamon muffins I have ever seen) it was time to let the boards do the talking as we hit the beach. The East strand at Portrush was our playground and I have never seen it look as good. The weather was unreal, the beach was packed and you could have easily mistaken it for somewhere in Spain. After checking in (Foursquare leader boards were on fire), we squeezed into our wetsuits and headed for the water.

It was such a blast, that our two hour lesson flew by and our instructor had a hard time getting us all out of the water (particularly the two Andys). Having just about burnt off the calories from the morning mega-muffins, we headed back to Portstewart for food and beers al fresco. The ‘prom’ was a glorious sun trap and a few of us (stand up JP) were actually ducking for cover and cursing the heat.

Nonetheless, not wanting to miss out on an amazing sunset, we bounced into cabs and headed into Portrush. The Harbour Bar, right on the port was the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. Better than any I have seen at Café Mambo, the view was truly breathtaking – the perfect end to a brilliant day out.

This of course is the edited version and I have left out the madness of the reggae night in a run down basement of an abandoned hotel as well as a minor brush with the law… Certain members of the team are pleading the fifth on this malicious rumour.

With sun kissed faces the next day we headed back to Belfast, keeping the tour talk to Monday morning when there was a few more red faces – not necessarily caused by exposure to sun.

A welcome exercise in team investment and a good time was had by all. However if this trip sets a precedent for future excursions, we probably ought to think about some additional insurance!

The Moving Web

The business world needs to sit up and to take notice. Mobile and tablet convergence is gathering pace, and websites should no longer be shackled to the desktop. Some organisations, have kept up with a more enlightened approach to their digital presence with websites that display beautifully on smartphones and tablet devices.

Content on the move

With more mobile devices in the UK than people, mobile internet usage is predicted to eclipse that of desktops in 2014.

Google predicts by the end of this year, one billion people will use their mobile phone as their primary device to access the internet. The search behemoth also suggests that one million small businesses globally will build a dedicated mobile site during 2012.

By 2015, 43% of users will have made a purchase on their smartphone, highlighting their increasing trust in the security offered by the mobile web.
Whether your priority is content or commerce, your competitors are shifting to mobile.

A new way to browse

Adobe recently reported that web traffic through tablet browsers has grown 10 times faster than it has on smartphones, and with nearly a billion tablets predicted to be in circulation by 2016, the rush to further optimise website content for tablet browsing is gathering pace.

At the moment, however, only 70% of companies have optimised their websites for mobile. The figures for sites that have been tailored for tablet viewing are less than half again. In fact, only 10% of the brands in the UK’s top 100 online retailers have optimised their websites for tablet browsing, clearly unaware of the 3.8% conversion rate – double that of the 1.9% rate on traditional desktop.

Like the smartphone, tablet devices have their own unique functional personality and if companies want to maximise the user’s experience, they must improve on generic offerings across the web platform. Users will visit your site through mobile devices regardless, it’s simply a question of acquiring their full engagement and participation.

Getting fit for mobile

A company has two choices. Create a separate mobile/tablet site or build a website based on responsive design principles (an approach which allows the layout to adapt to different screen shapes and sizes while retaining a singular search-engine-friendly URL).

The primary difference between these two choices is that with a responsive website, all content is displayed across all available platforms, in its entirety. A dedicated mobile website on the other hand, enables a customised view and control of specific content for specific platforms.

For businesses considering a move to reach mobile users, here are some parting thoughts to consider.

Use Google Analytics to understand who’s browsing your website. Ask where traffic is coming from and what devices are being used?
Decide if your site can be truncated for a dedicated mobile or tablet experience or indeed if you need your complete site displaying accurately on mobile devices.
Consider how you can create a more informative, enjoyable and engaging experience by optimising content and redesigning specific pages for tablet browsing.

Whatever happens, we’ve now come to accept that screens of varying shape and size are a key interface in life and in business. Your audience is leaving the station so your website needs to get moving too.

D&AD Talking Digital

Mention D&AD and most designers will immediately think of Awards or perhaps of high profile talks from prominent Design practitioners.

Yet for more than a decade, D&AD have also been facilitators of intensive courses and workshops. News to me, I must confess, but when we saw a one-day Workout course advertised on their site, we were so intrigued that we signed up right away.

Presented by Bo Hellberg, (Megalo, ex-Ogilvy, DDB and one of Creative Social‘s many Swedes), Talking Digital was a quickfire recap on the digital journey we’ve been careering our way through for the past few years.

In that time, the internet has evolved beyond a crude cataloguing system into a freeform, crowd-sourced, interactive spectacle of new ideas. We’ve rapidly adapted to engaging and sharing details of our lives via various shiny new interactive platforms. It’s been well documented that we’re no longer merely customers, subject to random bombardments of advertising messaging. We’ve been empowered as brand ‘users’ who no longer simply browse, we subscribe.

We, the users will willingly exchange contact details for editorial content, trade anonymity for free coffee, hard cash for Farmville accessories. We’re handing over the keys to our consciousness, often to the faceless corporations behind our favourite online hang-outs. For better or worse, that means we’ve left door wide open to receiving tailored brand experiences – without interruptions.

If you were born before 1991, that is. The youth of today, or digital natives as we like to call them behind their backs, won’t pay for a download (a number of digital natives have never bought music for example), but they are much more likely to shell out for an experience (Bo cites £30 for Doritos and a cinema ticket for example), and what’s more, 21s and under will willingly share every aspect of that experience with others in their network. Natives thrive on developing an audience, while pre-91′s will generally share much less information online.

Back to the course structure: Throughout the day the 12 attendees were broken into 3 groups and we set about creating a user experience that fitted with the ethos of nominated brands. Ideas and debate flowed freely between an eclectic group of (mostly London-based) creatives of myriad experience. At various points our team was genuinely inspired by the ideas we’d co-created. By casting off budget restrictions and project schedules we felt we may be on the cusp of the next Instagram-style sensation! Bo was our guide through some fascinating digital design processes – ever hear of Dada/Data/Alpha/Beta? Check it out, the results our groups experienced were anything but formulaic.

After having gone through a few iterations of ideas for our chosen brands, we realised that the day wasn’t necessarily inventing the next Facebook, it was more about contextualising our work thus far in this, the infancy of the great new digital frontier.

Bo Hellburg and the Talking Digital session reminded us that only our perception of the world has changed – what we do and how we behave have not altered radically. What did we do before Twitter, Instagram, iTunes? We kept diaries, we catalogued photographs in albums, we compiled mix-tapes for our friends. We enjoyed (or we were suffocated by – delete as appropriate) our privacy.

The idea of privacy is now almost as antiquated as the photo album and the Walkman™, so until we work out what the future looks like, we could do worse than remember this piece of advice: Brands beware, once you have a captive audience, you better be either entertaining or useful. We, the users won’t tolerate mediocrity and we’ll use the very platform you found us through against you. Better watch we don’t sink that big digital shiny ship of yours.

Good Vibrations Premieres At Belfast Film Festival

We were thrilled last night to get a first look at Good Vibrations, the feature length biopic of the ‘Godfather of Belfast Punk’, Terri Hooley. Funded by Snow Patrol and soundtracked by David Holmes, the film was shot and produced entirely in Ireland. Opening the Belfast Film Festival, the premiere was hosted by the Ulster Hall, where in 1980, Hooley and the lads stuck up two fingers to the politics of the town and put on a punk gig that would go down in legend.

Featuring an exceptional performance from Richard Dormer as Hooley, the beautifully art directed film follows the rise of the Northern Irish punk scene set against the gritty backdrop of the troubles.

Think Anton Corbin’s Control meets 24 Hour Party People with a smudge of irreverent black Belfast humour and you’re nearly there… There’s even a cameo appearance from comedian Dylan Moran to seal the deal.

Big Motive worked closely with directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, and producer Chris Martin to create the authentically ‘wonky’ cue cards, interstatials and cut and paste graphics peppered throughout the film. Inspired by the somewhat crude quality of Aston display machines and the DIY attitude of Hooley’s own Letraset typography ‘skills’, the graphics add a subtle narrative to the tall tales, ‘based on the stories of Terry Hooley’.

It was a privilege to work on the film, and (although we’re biased) we recommend that you go and check it out when it goes on general release later this Summer.

SXSW interactive 2012 Notebook

Call it what you like, sketching, live drawing, visual notetaking – the creative team here at Big Motive have long favoured the long-lost medium of the doodle as our principal method of visual communication. So, as I reach the end of yet another A5 volume of notes and captured thoughts, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the pages dedicated to this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin.

Stephen Shaw has already succinctly summarised the main themes and ideas of the festival but perhaps these sketches can provide another view of the nuggets we took away from an enlightening short stay in Austin, Texas.

SXSW interactive 2012 In Brief

So we’ve made it back at last after a marathon journey to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest Interactive.

Two of us had previously been out in 2010, so this was a good opportunity see which new trends and ideas are coming through and those that are still on recycle. Now that we’ve soaked it all in, talked, debated and mulled it over, four clear themes emerged from SXSW 2012 that offer insight into the current and future state of digital/tech/interactive.

The Rise and Rise of Gaming

Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken” and poster girl for gaming research, kicked things off with a scene-setting keynote. If you’re familiar with her work, you’ll be well aware of her zeal in promoting gaming as an often overlooked and misunderstood aspect of human behavior. She rattled off fact after fact, citing multiple studies, to underline her message that games, and particularly gamification of all kinds of tasks, engage, motivate and connect people; even to the extent that there are measurable health benefits. This thinking permeated all the way through SXSW, shooting off into topics like geolocation, augmented reality and peer to peer learning, and was officially rubber stamped by the announcement that SXSW 2013 will have its very own Gaming conference.

Convergence & IPTV

This isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s one that’s finally coming of age, and that was readily apparent across talks, panel discussions and product demonstrations – from big players like Samsung through to start ups like Clik. Film makers and broadcasters lined up to talk about the creative opportunities offered by HTML5 and the associated open source approach to development.  The audience-building power of interactive content coupled with the capacity to create real legacy in it was highlighted by the producers of the BBC transmedia project “The Code“. It’s broadcast figures were significantly boosted with iPlayer views inspired by their online code-cracking games. Meanwhile, as Samsung’s latest generation of Smart TVs showed off their built in Kinect-style gesture control, App Store and web browsing tech, it was clear that they are putting their money on device convergence – almost a return to single-screening.

Content Curation

Social isn’t being heralded with quite the enthusiam as it was in 2010. The feeling is, perhaps, that it’s too often taken for granted or bolted on without thought. Soundcloud founder David Haynes underlined the importance of curation in maintaining a passionate user base, and this was echoed by many others who pointed to the noise in social media that can create what Amber Case called ‘information jet lag’. Steven Levy extolled the virtues of good journalism in the digital age, and Instagram was often cited as a best-in-class example of both UX and well managed content curation.

The future of human/computer interaction

Perhaps most grandiose of the themes that connected speakers and debates at SXSW is the the idea that we are on the verge of a new era in human / computer interaction. Ray Kurzweil, tech culture’s very own Yoda, spoke with barely disguised excitement about the exponential rate of development across all fields of science, bringing forward the predicted date for his ‘Singularity’ milestone (when computers are as smart as people) to 2029. In her keynote, Amber Case posited that we are moving from Liquid (touchscreen-based) interfaces to Air Interfaces which we control with gesture, voice and even our physical location. She showed some of her research into Invisible Buttons – real-world places marked out by digital, geolocated perimeters – that react as users pass through them. Other, more immediately tangible, examples of new thinking in these areas came through in discussions about the death of the skeuomorph and many references to the iOS app ‘Clear‘ as a landmark in progressive user interface design.

The best ad I’ve seen for ‘brand Northern Ireland’

The Shore won an Oscar last night for best live action short film. Produced by Oorlagh and Terry George, it’s an intimate post-troubles story of reconciliation, set against the stunning backdrop of rural Northern Ireland.

At times funny and reflective, The Shore draws you in. It struck me on seeing it for the first time, that it’s perhaps the best depiction of the Northern Ireland attitude, I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Displaying equal parts of warmth, wit and stubbornness, the film’s characters leave out the usual clichéd quips and thankfully, cringeworthy accents.

We were asked by our friends at Lough Shore — the film’s executive producers — to build a website to assist The Shore’s promotional effort. The simple single-page site went live at the end of 2011 with a trailer, information on cast and crew and short bios of the producers. As the film set off on tour, it’s successful run on the international festival circuit was reflected on the site with tweets, news updates and new content building momentum, culminating in its Academy nomination and Oscar for best short film. Regarding the online campaign, more to follow on that front with development and updates planned for the coming days and weeks.

The thing about The Shore is that it’s not just a great story, it’s a triumph for Northern Ireland. In our world, ‘place branding’ is a big subject debated in agencies and tourism offices the world over. There’s lots of noise in Northern Ireland this year, with the centenary of that ship, a minor sporting event in London spinning out the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ and news that it’s ‘our time, our place’. But much more than logos and marketing speak; in my view, place brands are better defined by character, unique environments, compelling stories.

The Shore has it all in bagfuls. With its virtuoso character acting, stunning cinematography and on-the-money soundtrack, I don’t think I’ve seen a better advertisement for brand Northern Ireland.

And if you’ve ever experienced confusion about your Northern Irish friend’s talk of ‘the craic’ – The Shore’s final scene breaks it down beautifully: a lazy summer evening of singsong, seafood, beer and banter.  So I’ve just added the HD version of The Store to my iTunes movie account. If you’re living away from home or if you’d like a piece of homegrown film you can be proud of, get on over and bag yourself a copy of brand Northern Ireland’s first big success of 2012.

Congratulations to The Shore.

What Don Draper knows about branding technology.

Recently we’ve been engaged in a number of contracts where the challenge of branding technology is central to our brief. It’s a point that cuts to the quick of user experience design. For the tech enterprise, user experience is often the most potent interface between business and customer: user experience reframed as brand experience.

There’s a scene in the final episode of the glorious first season of Mad Men where the usually whip-tongued, always poetic Donald Draper — the ad-man mongrel of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and Conrad’s Kurtz — steps forth in the ubiquitous client pitch. Duck Philips the new Account Director, having chased a lead with Kodak, has set up a meeting with the company’s marketing execs to pitch a creative solution for their new product. The ‘Wheel’ was Eastman Kodak’s new mechanical toy — a relatively uninspired innovation that allowed its owner to remote control projected slide film. How far we’ve come!

The client team assemble and Don takes the stage. ‘Technology is a glittering lure’ he begins ‘… but there is a rare occasion when the public can be engaged beyond Flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product.’

Sterling Cooper’s Creative Director goes on to recall his first job when Teddy the Greek Copywriter ‘… talked about a deeper bond (with) a product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent.’

Salvatore Romano kills the lights, the sound of Lucky Strikes sparking fills the room. Draper proceeds in melancholy reflection, demonstrating Kodak’s ‘wheel’ with his own selection of cherished memories, slides of a happier Don and young family. The scene is punctuated by Harry Crane — the series’ portly do-gooder — excusing himself, handkerchief in hand, overcome by emotion.

Teddy told me that in Greek, Nostalgia means literally, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This is not a spaceship, it’s a time machine… It’s not called “the Wheel”, it’s called “The Carousel”. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again. A place where we know we are loved. 

The predictable logo reveal displays the proposed brand name in fitting fairground typography and Don’s work is all but done. A final slide showing Don and Betty his wife with their newborn, sends the blubbering Harry running for cover. Duck Philips offers a stinging verbal smackdown; “Good luck at your next meeting” - as if to solidify the agency’s mastery of their art.

It’s a classic scene made all the more great by show creator’s Matthew Weiner’s spot on writing. I can think of few better lessons from pop culture on how to market or indeed brand technology. The branding process is about balancing the brand formula of function versus form; rational versus emotional; benefits versus values.  Technology’s ‘glittering lure’ dominates enterprise sales and marketing teams, borne of a virtuous pride in performance, innovation, capability. But we’re well past trying to ‘out-innovate’ the competition. Everyone in the automotive industry ‘gets’ emotion. Tech is playing catch-up.

The job of brand management is to communicate why all this speed and performance really matters to people, to make a promise to users or reach them on an emotional level. The scene from Mad Men, sums this up perfectly. For ‘Spaceship’ versus ‘Time Machine’, read rational versus emotional.

There is of course one other master of emotional branding. In 1997, Steve Jobs delivered a monologue to his top team about the imminent launch of their latest campaign. This is by far my favourite video of the great man as it provides a rare peek behind the curtain. The machinations of Oz in all its glory.

‘Marketing is about values…’ he begins. ‘Even the greatest brands need caring…’ Jobs tells his executives that it’s ‘… going to be hard to get people to remember us in the future. We need to bring it back. The way to do that…’ he maintains, ‘… is not to talk about speed. It’s not to talk about bits and megahertz. It’s not to talk about why we’re better than Windows.’

He sums up Apple’s new approach to branding technology… ‘We’re not about making boxes to help people get their jobs done. At our core (we believe that) people with passion can change the world.’

This was a key moment in Apple’s history, marking the triumphant return of the prodigal son. Chiat/Day’s Think Different campaign changed the game of how big tech companies marketed themselves. The Mad Men scene brings Jobs’ original insight back up to date with a little more poetry… but it’s a valuable lesson that to this day, only an inspired few have learned.

Damian Cranney

FRANK’s Little Adventure

Yesterday a few of us made the trip to Nottingham to attend New Adventures in Web Design, a conference that tries to appeal to both designers and project managers (a goal I can categorically say they achieved).

Created by Simon Collison, New Adventures offers something new, fresh and unique and affordably priced. It was clear from entering the artistic surroundings of the Albert Hall Conference Centre that this gig is orchestrated by people who really care for their craft.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t recognise some of the speakers in the line-up, but what really impressed me was the breadth and depth of topics up for discussion. From hardcore process, to storytelling; User Experience to the relationships we have with machines.

Dan Mall was first up and gave an energetic talk about process, the need to love clients and collaborate at each milestone along the project journey. An Art Director from Brooklyn’s Big Spaceship, Mall gave a compelling insight into the outputs that go unseen by clients: the little details that make a project come together and the same things that make projects and people work a bit better.

Another standout for me was Robbie Manson — a Scottish-based designer who creates interfaces at Free Agent. Robbie was inspirational in his approach to the creative process, highlighting Seth Godin’s idea that we all need to experience more failures, but make fewer mistakes.

Robbie’s take on making the most of the team around us and opening up the creative process at an early stage is something Big Motive has been rebooting of late. Looking hard at process is a topical subject for our own creative team. More on that later.

All in all, New Adventures was very much a flying visit, but extremely insightful and so relevant. Bursting with inspired contributions, it’s must see for anyone with a passing interest in design for the web.

Well worth the price-tag and the early start, if only to hear Dan Mall’s definition of ABY stands for in relation to his work on starwars.com — I guess you had to be there!

User Experience : Why brands should care about growing online audiences

A few weeks ago, I was sent a letter from the bank containing the access code I needed to activate my online account. Having loaded the website to set it up, the link I was supposed to click wasn’t there. There were so many other options, and it all looked so complicated, that I klutzed around, tried a few other options and, in the end, did what presumably all of their customers must do: called the helpline.

The whole palaver really brought home that classic brand rhetoric; any effort requiring consumer engagement should either be useful or entertaining. (Preferably both).

Holding this thought as a benchmark against ideas in the brand development process brings real focus. It highlights the fact that we judge brands by how they make us feel, as much as by how they look or what they say. And what I felt about the bank was that they were disorganised, disinterested and frustrating. I was pretty much ready to lay the blame for the global financial crisis at the door of the fool who had designed this.

The notion that customers should have positive experiences when interacting with brands is hardly a new idea, the bank in question have put a lot of time and money into the design of their retail environments and advertising. Yet they, like many others, still neglect what is becoming the principal point of interaction with their customers.

Brands have an opportunity here to meaningfully express their values and reinforce in their customers’ minds what really differentiates them. How a brand behaves in this context is highly effective in building loyalty and generating referrals. And it goes so much deeper than just visual style – all interactions can be refined to build on key messages and support positive interpretations of the brand’s wider communications.

The choice of medium, channel and platform can further underpin brand expression. Credit Suisse, for example, have sponsored digital editions of magazines such as the Economist’s quarterly Intelligent Life, while Volkswagen have sponsored a free version of the iOS driving game Real Racing. These aren’t improving functional interactions between customer and brand, but allow the brands to align themselves with great content and enriched user experiences.

Meanwhile, UK retail trading figures from 2011/12 are reporting growth only in online sales. Media consumption habits are being reshaped by Video On Demand, IPTV and digital publishing. As a result of this rapidly evolving business environment, brands should be prepared to flip their entire marketing model to focus on user experience design. It’s in this avenue that their customers are most engaged and most able to interact.

My experience with the online banking service genuinely knocked my confidence in the bank. No amount of positive marketing can win that back now – only a serious improvement in their system. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. People regularly use social media to share their grievances about brands they feel have let them down and, as savvy tech users, their expectations are high. It’s time for brands to take a hard look at user experience – there is a real opportunity here to secure (or win back) customers’ trust.