How our ‘helpful’ technology is getting in the way.
Getting the tube every morning is a monotonous experience, so any small change to the routine is discernible. An increase of signs (as above) posted near ticket barriers, warning against ‘Card Clash’, has caught the eye recently.
Card Clash occurs when commuters tap in using their Oyster card but also have a contactless credit card in the same wallet or sleeve. It can result in punters paying extra, confusing the machines and causing queues to build up, especially in rush hour, when time means money and the platforms are crowded. It is not a new issue, but for TFL it is an increasing concern with the rising prevalence of contactless cards.
This prompts several questions about our reliance on helpful technology.
Technology, conventional wisdom presumes, makes our lives easier and run more smoothly. TFL’s Oyster card system is a great example of excellent service design which does this (even if the technology’s hastening of ticket office closure has been met with industrial action). Contactless card payments and transport apps, whether CityMapper or Hailo, do the same.
We carry more and more of this technology on our bodies at all times. Oyster cards, smartphones (connected to sensor-enabled thermostats like Hive and Nest), FitBit and FuelBand, contactless credit cards and building or key fobs. We carry so much that it can become a physical and financial hindrance, as with Card Clash. People can be put out of pocket from this, but there is a larger issue at play here.
Many of these services which we now keep so close to ourselves in fact come under the domain of fundamental, infrastructural utilities and sectors. These are absolutely necessary to the fabric of a society. For FitBit or FuelBand, read Health, for Oyster read Transport, for Nest read Energy and so on. Much of this is held together by smartphones, for which we would traditionally have read Telecommunications, even if all-pervasive software has disrupted how we conceive of communication.
It is debatable whether this is a positive social phenomenon, with our tacit acceptance of the transferal of responsibility to individuals from institutions on issues like health, energy savings, and public transport. Is it helpful to have your thermostat in your hands at all times? Or, as suggested recently on this blog, is mobile ‘on point’ better than ‘always on’? The technical ingenuity of a remotely-controlled washing machine is not in doubt; rather, could we not be spending our time doing something that has a bit more meaning?
However, that people seem so willing “to take control”, as the rhetoric goes, of these aspects of their lives reflects a loss of faith in our institutions. This surely presents an opportunity for brands in these fundamental areas of people’s lives to do something uniquely positive and helpful, not exploitative and cynical.
We should shoulder some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be duped into taking on the work of companies and institutions under the glistening veneer of technological progress. Rising fares, bills and unconnected, frustrating customer service whenever anything goes wrong do not suggest at progress or empowerment.
Health, communication, transport and energy are vital to people’s lives. Brands who take responsibility and pride in this over anything else stand to build something quite remarkable for themselves and for the people who rely on them. Three starting points could be:
1) True customer-centricity (e.g. flexible billing structures which adapt according to usage)
2) Implementing effective two-way services which allows for inevitable errors in the system and doesn’t leave customers stranded twice
3) A focus, where relevant, on the real and collective benefits which technology can bring on a structural level, not the clandestine transferal of accountability to the individual customer
There are many great initiatives and features companies have created which harness the benefits that emerging technology can bring. Some may even bring happiness to millions of people. However, whilst they remain predicated on shifting the work to the customer, the concern of people living in a utility-seeking, always-on and individualistic environment persists.
Dan Gavshon Brady is a strategist at Wolff Olins London, you can follow him @DanGB88
Technology disrupts. Obviously. It changes the internal tools and external ways that you deliver your business. But it also changes the way you organise the people who deliver it. Yesterday’s org structure probably won’t work when you deliver a different product to a different customer across a different bridge.
So when do you change your organisation? Not yet.
At some point you may to make a case for change. Maybe you need to release budget to build a new experience around a new brand, or gain permission to launch a disruptive new product, or make a shift from cost centre to profit centre, or convince an adjacent department to share the cost (and glory) of a new strategy.
But you have to prove the value of the market first. You can’t simply reshape everything based on a bet. A disruptive new player in your market might be chipping away at your business model, but your response to that - and you have to respond - will feel like a leap of faith at best, or playing with toys at worst.
A dramatic organisational redesign needs proof, and you don’t have it yet.
So you create virtual teams, small working groups of talented and enthusiastic individuals who balance their day job with the new task at hand.
Yet often the virtual team is delegated to a mid-level operational person, someone who ‘naturally’ seems like the best person to be held accountable. A fast-rising product lead, or an analytics expert, or a head of HR.
Here’s a reason an innovation team has to report into the COO.
A colleague recently pointed me towards some organisational thinking by Zofia Krokosz-Krynke, the director of the Polish-American MBA school.
Krokosz found that industries with large distance in power (from the CEO to the shelf-filler) were only successful when they had high levels of specialisation.
It makes sense. If you know what you’re doing, you can create rules and procedures for everyone to follow. Sure, it suppresses individualism but that’s okay because the customer understands what you sell and wants more of it.
So a ‘high power distance’ works well when you are a successful specialist in a well-understood market. It’s good for companies that know what they’re doing and are growing doing it.
But it’s not good for companies whose product is still in development.
Technology is disruptive. So businesses that want to use technology to spur growth are by definition moving away from their traditional specialisms.
Which means the old processes cannot be expected to work, the skills aren’t instinct yet, the partners aren’t there, the tension is too great between making new things and rewarding old things.
Innovation cannot be acted upon effectively when its centre of gravity lies deep within the business. So if you are going to innovate, you have to make the distance shallower.
Not by redesigning the organisation (not yet, anyway) but by creating a virtual team with accountability to the highest law in operations, the lieutenant who balances existing resources and new models - the COO in large organisations, the MD in smaller ones.
Keep innovation close. The future is too important to delegate.
Morgan Holt is a Principal and Senior Director at Wolff Olins London.
Daniel Siders joins Wolff Olins as (what we’re calling) Visiting Technologist. This is Daniel’s first guest post.
I wouldn’t call myself a technologist.
While my work involves developing and exploring technology at a higher level than most, it is fundamentally strategic and analytical. I ask the same questions about a new piece of technology as I do a brand: How are people using it now, Who will start using it in the future and in what ways? and most importantly, What unique possibilities exist because of and for this technology?
The answers to those questions, to the degree that they can be answered, inform discussions about how best to leverage the technology itself and its effects on marketplaces and society (ideally before anyone else does).
What does the future look like?
We’re in the early days of the information revolution, a period of cultural and technological changes with repercussions on a similar scale to the industrial revolution. It’s premature to speculate on the total scope (or sequence which is often more significant) of changes to come, but here’s a few things I see right now:
There are definitely some early leaders in the race to connect consumers with technology. What’s less clear is whether there is a maximum possible extent to their power, and if so what those limits are. Most significant technologies started out in the control of one organization and were later democratized. That process has rarely been smooth or easy for industry or consumers. It’s hard to imagine the rules will be different for information technology. Google and Facebook count their users in the billions. Whenever a company starts thinking about the day that every human on earth will be a user, I start looking for the tools that will replace them.
Entropy usually prevails given time.
Given how fast the world is changing and how many other brands want to participate in these spaces, it seems like the time is ripe for a massive wave of decentralization to hit everything from internet services to traditionally regulated fields like telecommunications and banking.
A variety of forces are lowering or eliminating barriers to entry in nearly every field. Simultaneously dominant players in most markets exercise unprecedented levels of control and influence. This period is marked by both an incredible rate of change and the phenomenal power of network effects. The combination of the two will leave many established companies with an undeserved sense of confidence until they have already been replaced.
What keeps me up.
Everyone is trying desperately to hold onto the power they have over others - governments, religious extremists, brands. What strikes me most is that this struggle seems to come not from lust for power, but the desire to remain relevant. The world changes and we change with it or fall by the wayside. There’s a cycle in human society and in nature — we contribute throughout our lives until we ourselves become obsolete and then someone else takes over. That cycle hasn’t changed, but it does seem to be speeding up. Technology makes the world change faster, perhaps faster than many of us can adapt. If brands are as slow to change as people their untimely demises could either fuel a revolutionary period of innovation or plunge the world into chaos. This is what keeps me up at night — the dual possibility of tremendous innovation and multi-generation stagnation from monopolies, and the inability to determine which we’re experiencing until after the fact.
I can’t imagine a more exciting time to shape strategy for the world’s best brands.
When I first met the Wolff Olins management I was impressed by the possibility to affect change through WO’s relationships with brands. So often I encounter a possibility for radical growth in a market but can’t reach key influencers or convince leadership to dive in soon enough to take advantage of the situation. I’m excited for the opportunity to help speed up that process and make sure possibilities are presented with more weight to the right people.
If you’re starting out on a career in branding, or if you work in a related area – like strategy, marketing, innovation or organisational development – or even if you just have an interest in branding, then this course is for you. The course will reveal the secret powers behind brands - the most potent commercial and cultural force on the planet.
You’ll learn directly from practitioners at companies like Virgin and Google, and watch brand experts in action. You’ll get a rich mixture of powerful theory and practical tools. With branding changing so rapidly, you’ll get the very latest insights and methods from the converging worlds of technology, design and brand.
The course ends by setting up the next stage of your journey. We’ll be opening up the many topics in branding that still need research. And you’ll learn how to define your own personal brand, and plan the next steps in your life in branding.
We hope you enjoy it.
Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia. Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist at Wolff Olins.
While I was away at a music festival a series of pictures of colleagues looking dorky appeared in my instagram feed. This is how I learnt Wolff Olins London had a pair of Google glasses.
As soon as I could get my clammy hands on them, I logged in and squinted at the tiny little prism in front of my right eye. Pretty underwhelming, though I’m sure I pranced around like a peacock redux of terminator 2 for an hour trying to impress people.
With a dead battery it was such an intrusive talking point it didn’t matter if it even worked. You could put it on and discuss todays issues of digital privacy, you could contemplate the barrier of true engagement, conversation and listening, or like most, you could try them on, think cool, and get on with your life.
Wearable technology is all the rage right now. I’ve had a nike fuelband and tired of it’s daily nagging. We have to wonder whether, with glasses or an iWatch, do we really want this stuff? Critical design is useful in designing our aspirational and fictional futures, but can wearing something and looking a little bit star trek, make you dream harder? Are we relying on dated and nostalgic science fiction? Heads up displays in your eyes, or finally affordable virtual reality with the oculus rift.
Are we actually smart enough to come up with useful and beautiful experiences for whatever the next digital service or platform that’s chucked at us, or are we just creating complicated and sophisticated distractions?
We thought we’d give the glasses to some children to see what their thoughts were.
Karl Sadler is a design director at Wolff Olins London.
In the year since Google announced its Glass product, a whirlwind of Minority Report-worthy products have found their way to the consumer market. From the latest iteration of Fitbit’s popular activity trackers to virtual reality headsets and more, Glass has arrived at a pivotal time in the category’s evolution.
As one of the globe’s most widely recognized consumer brands, Google’s entry as a serious contender in the wearable technology realm has been both welcomed and wondered about. And as part of its efforts to test out the technology in the wild, “not simply with a bunch of engineers in a room,” as one Googler put it, the company recently released a wave of Glass with their Google Glass Explorers program.
Here at Wolff Olins, we’ve been lucky to be picked as a #GlassExplorer and we’ve started to test-drive the product around our offices.
Our first 24 hours with Glass took place in San Francisco. And we’ve gone through quite a fun roller coaster ride through the lens of augmented reality, with the help of a tool that weighs less than your average pair of sunglasses.
I entered Google’s #ifIhadglass Twitter contest and won last month. Upon selecting a color, agreeing to terms of service, and selecting a pick-up time and location between New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, the adventure began.
In San Francisco, the pick-up was located at the top of a brick building on the waterfront facing the lovely Bay Bridge. Once inside and having cleared security, Google Glass employees welcomed me and a fellow strategist to the onboarding and fitting process. With concrete floors and unfinished decor, the room had a work-in-progress feel. But it was easily forgotten as countless Google employees, members of the Customer Operations team—all fitted with Glass—walked about offering greetings, refreshments, and warm hellos.
The larger section of the room was set up with rows and rows of tables for one-on-one fittings between the Glass Explorers and a Google Glass specialist. Glass itself is a unique piece of hardware—minimal buttons and touch-heavy functionality allow for smooth curvatures and unobtrusive controls. While many of the commands can be dictated vocally with the all-compassing "ok glass" phrase, two buttons exist: the power button and an easy access button for capturing photos and videos without vocally notifying all those around you.
For the most part, however, the goal of Glass is to seamlessly unite the physical real-world experience and power of technology to enhance the scene at hand. While multiple popular apps have already synced up with the product, including Twitter, Facebook, Path, and the New York Times, each app serves to deliver no more than a few short sentences at a single time. Glass seeks to help its users experience the world more vividly and more informedly than ever previously possible. We won’t be browsing Facebook profiles through Glass anytime soon, but we’ll surely be sharing and connecting more thoroughly through instantaneous access to information.
Stay tuned for more first-hand Glass experiences from our designers, strategists, and more in part II of #ThroughGlass.
Nancy Xiao works in marketing at Wolff Olins San Francisco.
The need to evolve has led universities to use digital technology to re-think how education is delivered. We’re seeing a gold rush of universities racing to digitise their campuses to offer free online courses to the world.
However, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Few universities are making the most of this new medium. Most mass online open courses (MOOCs) consist of a ‘talking head’ in a front of white board. It’s no wonder completion rates are less than 10%.
Yet online education has the potential to be so much more. Technology enables us to create learning that encourages:
Learning shouldn’t just be about listening and watching, but also, doing and making. Education resources, like Codeacademy, start by throwing people into the content headfirst. With Codeacademy, you can begin coding right away without evening signing in or watching an instructional video.
Learning doesn’t have to be a dull chore. Organisations like TED set the bar high for video talks. Along with the RSA Animates, they’ve elevated the lecture to an art. They create highly curated visual stories that move both the mind and the heart. They inspire us to fall into a rabbit hole, going from video to video, hyperlink to hyperlink.
Learning shouldn’t stop when you’re 18 or 22. Education startups, like FutureLearn, are re-inventing learning for life. They will offer free online courses from top universities whenever and wherever you like. For FutureLearn, the classroom can be a lecture hall, a mobile phone, a museum, an airport. They are building an experience that welcomes everyone to learn, regardless of age, location or background.
My ambition is to put these principles into practice – to use technology to make learning sing. This summer Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking and professor at the University of East Anglia, and I will be co-creating a course on branding for FutureLearn. Our challenge and opportunity will not just be using the medium, but making the most of it.
Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. In her spare time, she teaches entrepreneurs and startups how to build better businesses at General Assembly.@themelissard
Anticipation is a powerful emotion and competition is a powerful motivator. I’m struck by how effectively two different brand/product launches happening this week are leveraging both feelings, using slow-release tactics that build a sense of excitement in quite a purposeful way. Capitalizing on the fact that they have impressive products, both brands are:
1) Initially being selective with access to their product
2) Launching in beta, and making it clear they’re still in beta
3) Building a system where people make ‘reservations’ in order to buy (sort of like the Kickstarter model)
Maybe we can all learn a few things by continuing to follow these launches over the next few months…
1. Google Glass- The brand has engineered a situation where people must apply through social media to buy their product. I think it’s brilliant how Google is creating a competition to get Glass in the right hands first, and of course as a purposeful side effect, building serious social media buzz by making applications public (check out #ifihadglass).
The concept of ‘Explorers’ ensures that their early customers are on-brand. Few others are really thinking like this, since most brands push for maximum sales right off the bat. Allowing only the coolest, most creative people to use their product first makes brand sense (in addition, of course, to the logistics of working out kinks and the current minimal supply of the product). A launch like this builds real stories around your product. I’d bet that Google will turn this whole experiment into a commercial/campaign (‘here are all the cool ways our real life Explorers used Glass…’). I think more companies should innovate in public in this way, allowing users to compete for access to beta versions, then ultimately sharing their stories.
2. Mailbox - To build on the early media buzz that this app has been getting without overwhelming their capabilities, Mailbox has created a system where ‘everyone can watch the line move in real-time from inside the app.’ You download the app (placing a ‘reservation’) but don’t get access to it right away. It’s turned into a competition in some circles. Over the weekend, I heard two friends talking about where they were in line, playfully competing to see who was closer to the top of the list. Two other people overheard and jumped in line because, why not reserve their spot before everyone else? I particularly love that as part of this interface, they’re showing people with reservations the number of ‘people behind you’ in line. While at first glance this seems like a meaningless statistic (logically, you should only care when you get the product), it does a great job of a) making people feel special for being early adoptors and b) showing the intense demand for the product, assuring people that they made a savvy move by signing up.
Are you following either of these launches? What else are they doing right? What could they do better? Let me know @samliebeskind @wolffolins
This week AOL celebrated the premier of Makers, an unprecedented digital video and broadcast initiative made in partnership with PBS and filmmaker Dyllan McGee. The program and full-length documentary aim to capture the stories, achievements and breakthroughs of America’s most iconic and prolific women over the last half century — collectively impacting virtually every aspect of today’s culture.
“AOL wants to be known for groundbreaking firsts in the digital media industry, and we are thrilled to be partnering with PBS as they stand alone in their unparalleled ability to educate the world on the most important movements of our time,” said Tim Armstrong, Chairman & CEO of AOL. “Partnering together to bring MAKERS to life is exactly the type of future-forward programming we believe in.”
The series features high-profile icons ranging from Gloria Steinem and Hillary Rodham Clinton, technology trailblazers Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman to unsung heroes such as Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, and Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer and up-and-coming inspiration. The collection of over 100 stories is just the start, “We are committed to using storytelling to help the next generation of women,” says McGee. “There is still a lot more work to be done.”
Makers.com, the dynamic media and community platform AOL launched prior to the documentary, features a deep catalog of engaging highlights from the series and works to uncover the women who are continuing to lead the charge today. Maureen Sullivan, SVP & General Manager of Women’s Content and Lifestyle Brands at AOL told the press “MAKERS.com was built to utilize the latest innovation in video and mobile technology.” The site lets users individually curate and discover the stories of all these amazing women.
We’ll be watching on February 26 at 8pm as the full-length documentary series launches on PBS.
With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, it’s the right time for people like us to write pieces about a) brands advertising during the Super Bowl and b) the analogy of business being a sport. (You know, the type of piece where CEOs are compared to coaches, employees are spun as the players on the field, etc.) We’re trying to avoid that here.
Instead, I’m thinking about the evolving business of sports, about how the four major American sports leagues are working hard to keep up with the new, 21st century challenges that all consumer brands are facing (for example, the home/digital experience overtaking the real, brick-and-mortar experience). Here are 6 things that more consumer brands should have in common with the most progressive, brand-focused, experience-obsessed sports brands.
TODAY, BUILT ON YESTERDAY
Celebration of history is vitally important for sports brands (think classic brands like the Yankees, Celtics, and 49ers), but these teams have fresh new players and story lines each year. The key is linking past to present in a compelling manner; viewing new infusions as a part of (not a replacement of) a long lineage. Because in reality, a brand is built over time, it’s the culmination of its own history. The 49ers rallying cry (and hashtag) leading up to the Super Bowl—#QuestforSix (a reference to their pursuit of a 6th Super Bowl victory)— is a linkage of today’s Kaepernick-led squad to the Joe Montana and Steve Young teams of the past.
The lesson for consumer brands? Have a style, create patterns and build expectations, but always consider the new, the next. Find your rookie and place it in context of a longer narrative. Could be a person (Marissa Mayer at Yahoo producing solid results already) or a product (Facebook’s social graph), but as long as it’s new and has the potential to be game changing, it’ll get people interested or re-interested.
PROMOTE THE STORIES
People always seem to want an inside look, a behind the scenes view of an organization they’re interested in. In the last few years, the leagues have all created documentary-shows that add a human element to their games (MLB’s The Franchise, NBA’s The Association, NFL’s SoundFx, the NHL’s 24/7). Combined with other small touches like NFL players tweeting live from last week’s Pro Bowl- sports brands are, more than ever, the sum of a set of personalities and faces.
The lesson for consumer brands? Be transparent and promote your people, your strategies, and your culture. Today’s best CEOs are now celebs. Zuckerberg is a household name. And Google has done it better than anyone, giving peaks into their culture to not only appeal to employees but attract customers as well. They fully understand the benefits of innovating in public, and the fact that their audiences are watching for the wins and the losses. The next brand to watch: Warby Parker. In my mind, this annual report is one of the coolest documents ever produced by a company.
PRESERVE THE QUIRKY, UNIQUE TRADITIONS
Sports brands are largely built on traditions. Some are serious, some are playful, but all are highly anticipated. The Packers have the Lambeau leap, The Yankees and Cubs support rowdy bleacher culture, the NBA holds an annual slam-dunk contest.
The lesson for consumer brands? Hold on to those unique moments that made you special when you were small. Do some things for the fun-of-it, because they’re exciting, different and bring a smile to people’s faces. Not everything needs to have a measurable ROI, productivity boost or revenue stream. Apparently Microsoft used to ceremonially throw Gates in a campus lake after each product launch. Burton famously awards employees snow days after blizzards cover local mountains. And Google’s doodle is nothing more than a delightful quirk.
REWARD THE COMMITMENT OF SUPERFANS
Sports fans pour passion into their teams. They spend countless hours of their lives promoting and defending their team. The most progressive teams are rewarding these people more than ever. The New York Knicks have started rewarding “Season Subscribers” (season ticket holders) based on tenure, essentially rewarding loyalty over straight-up cash. The NBA’s Detroit Pistons and NFL’s Indianapolis Colts are partnering with SocialToaster to give superfans exclusive, behind-the-scenes content and creating contests that encourage sharing.
The lesson for consumer brands? Do everything in your power to keep your users happy and help your fans look good themselves. View everyone as a user, not a consumer. Give them valuable content to share, ask what you can do for them, and help them help others. It’s no longer enough to just ask people to ‘share’ your content on Facebook.
DON’T BE SELFISH
Responding to loud calls from fans, the NFL has realized that just because someone shows up to an arena or stadium doesn’t mean that they want to place 100% of their attention on the field. Fans care about the other games too, a huge reason why they were staying home and watching on TV (it’s REALLY easy to change the channel!). So teams have pushed to get wi-fi in stadiums (so that fans can check their smartphones for scores around the league) and started posting out-of-town fantasy football stats on scoreboards.
The lesson for consumer brands? Understand that people don’t want to be tied down, that they don’t like commitment. Be boundaryless and don’t hold users hostage. Give them control and the tools to customize their experience. Last year’s Twitter/Instagram tiff that resulted in the removal of Instagram pics from the stream was an unfortunate step in the wrong direction.
All of the above is important, but ultimately, it needs to work hand-in-hand with a product on the field, court, or ice that’s producing. In sports, this is really cost-of-entry. But it’s not all about money (despite having by far the MLB’s largest payroll, the Yankees haven’t won a World Series in 4 years). It’s about being smart, building a product that’s different, that plays to its strengths and exploits everyone else’s weaknesses.
Lesson for consumer brands? Build a complete experience off of a solid foundation. As much as Apple builds its brand, it ultimately saw mass-protest at the end of last year when its Maps app surprised users and went haywire.
When done well, these tactics go a long way towards building daily engagement and life-long loyalty: something most sports brands have and all consumer brands want. By building a multi-platform story, a community of ownership, the brand becomes part of our lives. “New York Giants fan” or “Apple user” become a key point of identity. And for brands, that’s a win.