Breaking the silence with tech
Gary Rolf, senior art director at Memac Ogilvy, explains how an app he developed for his grandparents won the inaugural innovation grand prix
When Gary Rolf wanted to help his grandfather chat with his deaf wife, he didn’t think he would win a Lynx grand prix.
Spuble is an idea that helped to bring my amazing Nan, Bett, back into the conversation after 10 years of living in silence. Bett and Bob were pen friends during the Second World War and when they finally met, they fell in love and were married for 70 years.
Over the years they have given so much to their family, always being there whenever needed and offering endless cups of tea. Communicating with Bett had become increasingly difficult since she lost her hearing. Unfortunately this means the flowing conversations everyone used to have with her had become a thing of the past. Until Spuble.
Spuble was designed to create real-life speech bubbles instantly, so Bett could read whatever was being said. It uses speech recognition to turn the spoken word into text on an iPad. The interface was designed in a way that even Bob, who is 96 years old, can easily use it.
I hope that Spuble will help others who suffer from hearing impediments. My aim is to make it available on all platforms in as many languages as possible.
Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, over the years I’ve been lucky enough to win four grands prix at the Dubai Lynx. The first was for Dustvertising, then two for Sprite Cricket Stars and now this one for Spuble. I’ve also been fortunate enough to win international awards at Cannes, D&AD and the One Show. I have to be honest and say that I would swap all of my previous awards (including my cycling proficiency badge from 1987) for this grand prix for Spuble.
The reason is that this one is personal. A project born from the love I have for my grandparents, who had suffered for many years due to my Nan’s hearing loss. I was determined to put the skills I had learned over the years to good use and try to do something to fix the problem. I genuinely designed the app to help my grandparents, not to try and win awards. Now that the app is up and running my aim is to get the word out there in order to help as many people as possible, like my Nan. Sadly she passed away a short time ago, so as part of her legacy I’m determined to share the app with anyone who needs it. For me, I see winning awards with Spuble as great PR for the idea. In fact, since the Dubai Lynx I’ve already been asked to go to another country and talk at a creative conference, so it’s paying off already.
In terms of ‘knowing’ if this was an award winner, I don’t think it’s ever possible to be 100 per cent sure. Quite a few people around me never really saw this idea as an award winner, but that just spurred me on to do the best job I could. When I heard it had been shortlisted, I phoned my family straight away. They were all so happy and proud – they sent me good luck messages for the presentation I had to do. I was first to present in the innovation category and was really, really nervous (I’ve never been a natural presenter), but as soon as I started talking the nerves disappeared and it went as well as I could have hoped.
The awards night was a pretty emotional one for me. I didn’t think it would be, but when I saw Bett and Bob on the big screen I felt a bit overwhelmed. The jury president, Ben Jones, introduced the grand prix winner by talking about the journey I had gone through to get to where I was, which triggered all the happy memories I had making it. The highlight had been when I tested it for the first time with my grandparents – that moment is featured in the short film. The reception I got from everyone on the night was unbelievable and really meant a lot. People who I’d never met before were coming up and congratulating me. It’s definitely a night I’ll never forget.
I’ve already Skyped my Grandad to tell him the good news. He was absolutely over the moon. I haven’t told him yet but I’m planning on giving him the trophy when I go back home in the summer. Knowing him, it’ll take pride of place on the little bar in his living room.
Going forward, I’ve entered Spuble into D&AD and it will be going into Cannes. I know that the competition is fierce in these shows, so fingers crossed. I’d love to gift my Grandad with another trophy or two. The more coverage it gets, the more people it will help – so please share the idea.