Chris Moody on why brav­ery is the cure for medi­ocrity in the dig­i­tal age

Chris Moody ex­am­ines why brav­ery is the an­ti­dote to medi­ocrity in the age of am­bi­ent tech

Computer Arts - - Contents - CHRIS MOODY Chief de­sign of­fi­cer at Wolff Olins www.wolf­

Sky­hooks and stripy paint. Lit­er­ally mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing. Sounds like a clas­sic agency swin­dle doesn’t it? Only it’s not. It’s a very real and highly crit­i­cal emerg­ing is­sue that ev­ery­one in our sec­tor needs to ad­dress, now. It may well be the fu­ture of the en­tire in­dus­try.

What was once the stuff of Mi­nor­ity Re­port is hap­pen­ing in our liv­ing rooms. Ama­zon is close to re­leas­ing drones that will make haulage van­ish from the street, with fac­to­ries of in­vis­i­ble work­ers who will never need to com­mute, along­side the in­vis­i­ble driv­ers of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. And the land­scape of chan­nels in which brands can com­mu­ni­cate has trans­formed too. Tra­di­tional brand­ing, with sys­tems an­chored in vis­ual medi­ums, is over. Even sup­pos­edly ‘cross plat­form’ or ‘tech ready’ ver­sions are al­most ob­so­lete.

Over the last few years we have all been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with brands on a much deeper level that goes far be­yond words and pic­tures – Visa’s slick hap­tic and sonic de­vices, the dul­cet tones of Alexa and Siri, and the ol­fac­tory ex­pe­ri­ence present in Emi­rates’ first-class cab­ins. Brands now have in­tel­li­gent iden­ti­ties that reach all the senses and stim­u­late new kinds of con­ver­sa­tion. It’s ex­cit­ing, but why does all of this some­times re­sult in brands that feel or­di­nary, dull even? It’s all about mind­set.

Tech has made life eas­ier. It cuts out the non­sense, de­liv­er­ing a phe­nom­e­nal num­ber of ben­e­fits that are much needed. But by smooth­ing out the bumps, and re­lent­lessly op­ti­mis­ing, it can cloak life’s tough – and im­por­tant – bits. It makes the real com­plex­ity of our jour­neys less vis­i­ble. If we im­port that think­ing into brand build­ing, it leads us to weird ter­ri­tory. When our lives are fric­tion­less and seam­less we lose the un­pre­dictabil­ity. This gives us less of the good stuff that hap­pens by ac­ci­dent. Less sur­prise, less de­light.

There’s much to be learned from the in­cre­men­tal sprint men­tal­ity of en­gi­neers, but there’s more to cre­at­ing a mean­ing­ful brand than sim­ply get­ting to a min­i­mum vi­able prod­uct. Just be­cause a prod­uct works doesn’t mean its brand au­to­mat­i­cally does too.

The cre­ative process ben­e­fits from leaps of faith. The Win­dows Metro in­ter­face risked cheesing peo­ple off at launch but, years later, the logic of blend­ing lap­top and tablet in­ter­faces makes to­tal sense – so much so that it now feels pre­scient. The re­cent, di­vi­sive Lush Spy Cops cam­paign and the launch of Dirty Lemon, an or­der-by-text-only soft drink, has got ev­ery­one talk­ing. All this is to say that when taken, leaps of am­bi­tion can pay off ex­po­nen­tially.

Highly con­sid­ered in­cre­men­tal gains can work bril­liantly well for test­ing prod­uct but, for brand, they can push us to­ward the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, un­til even­tu­ally ev­ery­thing can start to look, feel and be­have the same.

The Drop­box and eBay re­freshes ap­peared at the same time as each other, and at times felt in­ter­change­able. Flat gra­di­ent graph­ics might look bet­ter on smart­phone screens, but we need more. Good de­sign makes the world a more beau­ti­ful place, and if it’s driven by a clear brand pur­pose and built on a kick-ass prod­uct or ser­vice, it makes the world more in­ter­est­ing to boot. When these things come to­gether, they ex­press unique­ness and pro­vide a pow­er­ful rea­son for be­ing.

IBM’s Wat­son – a ques­tion-an­swer­ing com­puter sys­tem – is a mas­ter­class in all of the pieces work­ing in con­cert. Headspace is another ex­am­ple. Far from be­ing a one-di­men­sional voiceover, it’s a rich world of il­lus­tra­tion and mo­tion that’s brim­ming with char­ac­ter and con­fi­dence.

So, who is re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing this alchemy hap­pen? Prod­uct teams, mar­ket­ing teams, brand teams, agen­cies? I’d say all and none. Brand-led think­ing should criss-cross the fab­ric of an or­gan­i­sa­tion, and ev­ery­one should put thought into how it in­flu­ences de­sign and prod­uct, from the front­line staff, all the way up to the CEO.

Tesla achieves this. With its Easter eggs built into prod­uct, launch theatre and glo­ri­ously flip­pant tone of voice it be­comes way more than an elec­tric car man­u­fac­turer. It is one of one. Putting a car in space may not have had any prac­ti­cal uses (for now, any­way), but this wasn’t just a stunt. It was a true man­i­fes­ta­tion of in­tent, and a spec­ta­cle in its own right. It’s pure brand that is in­no­va­tive and gets peo­ple talk­ing.

As a rule of thumb, com­pa­nies of­ten still stick ‘brand’ in a silo, headed up by a mar­ket­ing lead, rather than fram­ing it as a cross-func­tional dis­ci­pline. If we were feel­ing es­pe­cially brave, in­ter­nal brand teams would be dis­banded im­me­di­ately. They would be re­placed by an adapt­able task force who can have a gen­uine im­pact on the things that mat­ter, at source. It might ap­pear ba­sic to sug­gest that or­gan­i­sa­tions need to talk to each other more, but the amount of frag­men­ta­tion I have seen, per­son­ally, is stag­ger­ing.

The irony in all this is that tech­nol­ogy is in­fin­itely ca­pa­ble of mak­ing brands more vi­brant, ex­cit­ing, joy­ful, beau­ti­ful and hu­man. By us­ing the power, reach and in­tel­li­gence of the tech­nol­ogy we have at our dis­posal in an un­fet­tered way, us cre­ative types can make fu­ture years a golden era for brand­ing.

The mind-bend­ing mad­ness of teams like Bos­ton Dy­nam­ics proves we are on the cusp of big things – but we need to con­tin­u­ing be­ing brave where pos­si­ble. We need to em­brace rad­i­cal in­ven­tion and har­ness our glo­ri­ous naivety to make things the world never knew it needed.

We also need to ask our­selves tougher ques­tions. In a world of #MeToo, why must a voice as­sis­tant sound like a breath­less movie star? How can we make ma­chine learn­ing in­spire the de­sign process, even if jobs are lost? What hap­pens if we go against A/B test­ing, just be­cause the re­sult might be cooler? The things we cre­ate should not only of­fer an­swers, they should get the world ask­ing even more ques­tions.

To get the most out of any tech­nol­ogy, we must push it to break­ing point and be­yond, be­cause the things at the edge have a higher chance of stay­ing the course. The rules of this new era are yet to be writ­ten, and the truly brave de­sign­ers will make sure they never are. Should busi­nesses em­brace new tech to help ad­vance their brands? Tweet your thoughts to @Com­put­erArts us­ing #De­signMat­ters

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