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8512 is a Most Powerful Number

I recently attended Chicago Ideas Week and there was a presentation given by Toni Maraviglia, an educator who has lived in Kenya (East Africa) for over seven years. She was teaching in rural villages and observed that many students needed additional tutoring help through questions and answers to specific subjects. She began to explore how best to deliver this model and further observed that all families had basic cell phones and that this platform could be a gateway for students to receive tutoring help.

Finding Meaning Naturally : An Interview with Jeannette Hanna

Jeannette Hanna is one of the brightest brand strategists I have known in my professional career. We first met when I interviewed for a position at Spencer, Francey, Peters in Toronto. My impression of the company was a smart, laser-focused company integrating organizational design, brand strategy and identity systems. Jeannette had a lot to do with this impression presents herself as thoughtful, infusing intelligence into conversations about the purpose and focus of branded systems. She is also an American that has become a cross-cultural translator between two countries that often are seen as the same (Canada and the United States).

Since the first time we met, Jeannette is now part of Trajectory, a brand consultancy that continues to create sustainable brands in a world of commoditization. Strong intellectual scaffolding around purpose, goals, and actions is what Jeannette thinks and consults about. These efforts led her to co-author Ikonica, A Field Guide to Canada’s Brandscape, the first systematic look Canadian brands and their cultural distinctions. Hanna’s thesis in the book – that culture, commerce and community mores are highly inter-dependent – transcends the Canadian context.

Augmenting IKEA’s Augmented Reality

I recently received news that IKEA was releasing a smart phone application that would integrate “augmented reality” technology. The company currently releases over 211 million catalogues in the United States and estimates that they have about a two-week shelf life before being tossed into the recycling bin. Source

Of course being an advocate for IKEA I downloaded the new smartphone app developed in conjunction with the advertising agency McCann. It is interesting to understand how brick and mortar stores approach to anything digital and especially mobile technology.

Thinking with Your Gut

I recently attended an AIGA Chicago Design Thinking lecture series held at Morningstar with Julia Hoffmann, design director of the Museum of Modern Art.

Being interested, I attended this lecture to understand how Julia would frame design thinking. The first thing she prefaced about design thinking is that she did not use the term or concept and had to quickly understand what it was. She stated that from what she understood, design thinking focused on three attributes : empathy, creativity and rationality.

Losing a SmartPhone, but gaining trust in the Cloud

We never really think about losing our smart phone because it is never supposed to happen to us. It seems as if we only have a 5% chance of losing a phone based on most statistics.

I was walking to the train the other day and had my phone on a belt case. As the train approached, I went for my phone and it was gone. At that point my mind experienced a type of parallax effect, where a level of disorientation overtook me.

I decided to retrace my steps back to my home. Part of me was looking at the ground and part of me was mulling over the options of how to best proceed if I could not find my phone. As I approached my home, I kept thinking, “oh, it must be on the steps.” When none of these magical thoughts converted into reality, I decided to act.

I logged into my iCloud account and went into Find my iPhone. It pinged my phone and saw the geolocator find it traveling on a highway away from my home. It prompted me to send a text to the phone which I asked for the person to call my home number for a reward. I then called AT&T to cancel the phone. While I felt great that I could track the phone, it also highlighted the helplessness that nothing could be done about it.

After a few hours, I decided to do a remote wipe of the phone, which worked perfectly. Not having a phone highlighted my dependence on the many applications that I use every day. This heightened my situational awareness as I tried to project on a future using existing information that I did not have.
I walked to a local AT&T store and purchased a replacement phone. After logging into iCloud, all of my contacts, calendars, mail settings and bookmarks appeared within one minute. Walking out of the store, I was able to immediately interact with my data and become productive. When I hooked up my phone to my laptop and synchronized with iTunes, all of my applications were clustered into groups, alarms and third party mail settings configured. Within eight hours my phone was back to the way it was with very little effort.

What this whole empirical experience demonstrated was the credibility of iCloud and that having an integrated digital platform developed by Apple actually exceeded expectations. It reduced my iPhone to a hardware platform that can be replaced (an expensive platform) and that my data and all my customized settings were saved in the cloud and made my new phone my old phone (except now I have a 4S with 4G data transfer).

Maybe we are actually progressing on cloud based storage and retrieval.

Reducing Friction : An Interview with Mark Dziersk of LUNAR

Mark Dziersk is a designer on a mission, to discuss how emotion, feelings, behavior and forms of products interact with one another and create genuine experiences. I first met Mark at Herbst, Lazar, Bell and we have kept in touch over the years discussing a range of issues, especially around thought leadership of different design disciplines. He is now Managing Director of LUNAR in Chicago.

Mark is genuine and accessible and has found ways to keep his child-like curiosity in the face of many years of professional experience dealing with companies who want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. While I am sure there is a pragmatic dimension to Mark, my belief is that he feels that those bases are covered by others and his role is to ask why, and did you consider.

He mentioned that the role of a designer is to reduce friction between user and product by using creativity and emotional engagement as a gateway to functionality. This is a compelling approach and reflects Marks many experiences with consumer based products in a world of choice.

He traffics in ideas and operationalizes them through engaging clients by being a proxy for the market. This is a life well spent.

Entertainment Gathering 6 : A Relaxed Version of TED

Recently Elizabeth and I spent two days at a telecast of the EG6 (Entertainment Gathering): Rebooting Tomorrow conference broadcast from Monterey, CA to Chicago, IL. The event is the brainchild of concert pianist and MIT Media Lab fellow Michael Hawley. Previously unaware of either the event or Hawley, we had no preconceived ideas of what the experience would be like.

We were a little unnerved that there were so few attendees and that half of them seemed to be Field employees who were encouraged to attend (seeing as they disappeared in droves when the lights went down). We became increasing more so when it became apparent that this was going to be a truly eclectic and interesting experience. Both avid conference attendees — as budgets allow — we are usually disappointed in the local fare. Chicago seems to slower to embrace or grasp crowd sourcing of information and the idea of conferences as the new concert, book club, coffee house, etc. The notable exception to that being Chicago Ideas Week.

Rather than boil this down to the essence, to prove my point we are instead giving in-depth descriptions of some of the speakers. Some presenters were less effective because their egos and personalities focused more on their own accomplishments with little empathy about packaging their experience in a way that would be valuable to others. Other presenters were wonderful at packaging their ideas and connecting with participants. Large segments of the California conference were not shown. Elizabeth was a bit bugged that the simulcast didn’t include Neil Stephenson’s segment, but we are both glad it happened at all. Overall, should this event happen be held again next year, we suggest you check it out.

Manufactured Reality : The New Reality?

Tupac Shakur came back from the dead for the first Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival to the joy and amazement of the festival-goers – and the wider public by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

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This digital resurrection was actually brought to festival-goers by sophisticated CGI and projection technology of the Digital Domain Media Group. The intent of bringing back Tupac seemed to be driven by many motivations : to use the brand equity of an extreme rap figure, to set a certain tone and association for the festival, and to provide an amazing spectacle that would generate buzz and value to the endeavor.

The media’s reaction intensified the meaning of the event, by asking is this ethical on one hand to how did they do that? on the other. Public events and controversy is nothing new. When we go to an event, there is what we think we will experience and what actually happens. Think about the game show investigations in the 1950s that highlighted contestants being fed answers. Think about in more recent times when milli-vanilli were caught lip syncing on stage at their concerts and their 1990 Grammy was taken back. Events are a type of contract : ticket holders expect an authentic event, and when this authenticity is put in question, then the contract is broken.

In the case of the Tupac resurrection, this was a surprise and delighted ticket holders. Inadvertently, this act raised serious questions of authenticity, use of manufactured celebrity, and what defines reality. In a culture being more and more defined by media and mediums, society is facing sincere questions of authenticity and reality when the medium becomes the driving force for engagement.

Already, Snoop and Dre are reportedly thinking about taking the Tupac hologram out on tour. James Montgomery from the Digital Domain Media Group weighed in by saying Once this becomes a little less cost prohibitive, given the wild popularity of deceased stars like Elvis or Michael Jackson, I can see Las Vegas shelling out a lot of money to have these sort of ‘live reviews.’ This means that any historical documentation of dead celebrities can be repurposed to create a seamless experience for contemporary consumption.

Simon Coronel, a magician discussed the art of deception through illusion and the power it has in affecting the mind to both struggle and be pleased with experiencing the impossible. The combination of sleight of hand through dexterity & misdirection by using distraction for critical moments create the impossible. No matter how perceptive you are, you still fall for the illusion in front of you.

In the case of Tupac, the sleight of hand was the use of holographic technology and the distraction was the seamless speech Tupac gave inserting the name of the festival and talking directly to Snoop and Dr. Dre. Everyone knew this was impossible, but bought into the experience.

With the Tupac resurrection, will media personalities have to put in their wills that their moving images cannot be manufactured – or have to be done with the approval of the estate? For example, Fred Astaire’s movie clips were repurposed to seamlessly integrate a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. His widow, Robyn Astaire, the guardian of her husband’s image licensed Astaire’s image for Dirt Devil and defended herself, saying she was doing only what Fred would have wanted. I’ve had to deplete much of my financial security over the years to prosecute infringers she has said. I just feel Fred would have wanted me to do these commercials.

But what about for live events? It is not deceptive advertising to publicize a concert with Johnny Cash, as everyone knows he is dead. As long as the estate sanctions it, these events will not be breaking the law. However, if James Montgomery is right and the technology to reanimate dead celebrities becomes commoditized, then what will be the meaning and value of these manufactured realities?

Society today is much more accepting of manufactured reality because for the very reason that the amount of media we are consuming on a daily basis is already manufactured to varying degrees. From people pretending to be something they are not, to using digital aviators as equivalents to themselves, to images being photo manipulated and presented as authentic, to reality TV which is continually remanufactured depending on the response from the audience. These trends are redefining the ingredients and definitions of reality.

Interestingly, the craving for authentic is on the rise – possibly out of a reaction to these trends. Many are using the term authentic to imply trustworthy, real, genuine – not processed. There are parallels to food and food production where certain markets want to have food as unaltered as possible. When characters on Star Trek use the holideck to go to places they crave for, this synthetic reality is a way to use character’s experience as a time of reflection, or to provide them with experiences they never could draw from. Maybe in the future there will be two tiers of transaction for the public. Authentic experiences that have not been processed, and manufactured experiences that have been art directed and are synthetic.

Bette Davis, had it right when in the movie All About Eve, Margo Channing said “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”


Curated Co-Working Environments : The next level

There was a recent story on National Public Radio highlighting the increase in independent workers and their desire to find just-in-time workspaces. Now there is a trend for curated co-working – or vetting independent workers with an eye to create a collaborative culture where a diversity of skills could create new collaborations – and new value.

Since the economy has accepted the increase in perm-temps and temporary workers to augment full-time capacity – four trends have accelerated this move to independent workers:

• increased efficiencies in business and automation has required less workers that can create more output;
• distribution of powerful digital technologies and SAAS/PAAS platforms allows individuals to have access to the same infrastructure as larger businesses;
• the proliferation of broadband networks allows access to these platforms through a number of digital devices;
• the rise of temporary workspaces, both official like Regus, and unofficial like coffee shops

These four trends has allowed for unprecedented flexibility for independent workers to be very competitive and effective and allowed employers to benefit from the experience and out-of-the-box productivity of independent workers to be up and running immediately.

Are you a Data Cube?

Since the announcement that Facebook will be going public, there has been a spike in discussions about online privacy and the rights of individuals to protect their personal data or to be protected from some other entities meaning of a persons data trail. This came into focus based on an Austrian student who wanted to get his Facebook data:

“Max Schrems, a 24-year-old law student from Salzburg, Austria, wanted to know what Facebook knew: He requested his own Facebook file. What he got turned out to be a virtual bildungsroman, 1,222 pages long. It contained wall posts he had deleted, old messages that revealed a friend’s troubled state of mind, even information that he didn’t enter himself about his physical whereabouts.” Source

He said upon reviewing his data trail on Facebook “It’s like a camera hanging over your bed while you’re having sex. It just doesn’t feel good.” Source