I’ve come to the conclusion that I know nothing about technology, and it’s freaking me out.
I mean, I spend time on social media – too much on Facebook and occasional rants on Twitter about cars that nearly crash into my bike – use GPS apps to track my running and browse Wired every now and then. But I am otherwise utterly clueless about what’s next and frankly slightly averse to it. Will I pick up wearables? I’ve worn contacts for nearly 20 years, so I can’t imagine going back to glasses that make you look like a cyborg. Ditto to talking into my watch, Go-Go-Gadget style. The Internet of Things just makes me think it’s one more thing to worry about breaking. Is there a repairman you can call to fix The Thing if it goes down? And what about Big Data? How much do companies really know about me just by monitoring what I buy?
Tech confuses me because I don’t know what I am supposed to pay attention to and what’s a fad. If I adopt a new device now, will it still be The Device next year? Everything changes so quickly that I feel like I’ll never catch up – but I don’t want to be left behind.
So I sympathise with the cabbies who went on strike a few weeks ago in London. They were protesting TFL’s licensing of Uber as minicabs; Uber charges passengers a rate based on distance traveled, instead of a flat fee, and black cab drivers want Uber cabs to be licensed as they are and held to the same rates. They feel that Uber is beating them at their own game.
But really, the protest was against how something that was once a given (the black cab business model) is being disrupted by the world changing around it, and how cabbies aren’t in control of their own livelihoods. You don’t really need to do The Knowledge to drive a cab in London anymore, because there are satnavs. You don’t really need to own your own cab, because there are tons of companies to drive for. And the cabs themselves are changing too, in design, colour, emissions technology. It’s very possible that one day there won’t be London black cabs on the streets at all – in New York, taxis will shortly go from being yellow to green.
So I’ve been thinking about what I (and London’s cab drivers) can do to feel better about our quickly changing lives.
There are a few easy shifts we can make right now that will help us sleep better.
First, I think we should stop being afraid. So many amazing things have happened because of seemingly small technological advances, and there are so many more to come that shrinking in fear of tech will limit how far we can go as a society. The opposite of being afraid is being confident and brave, and I think we can all be brave and start to view the big expanse of ‘technology’ through the lens of what positive changes it can make. For instance, I am really inspired by how technology is making important things like education available to people who couldn’t afford them before. I am really excited about 3-D printing of organs for transplants. I am really energised by the promulgation of free speech through new channels. I am really optimistic about how some of the world’s biggest problems can be solved by innovations that couldn’t have been dreamed of just a short time ago.
And in a related point, I also think that we can take comfort in going slow. It may seem that things are changing so quickly that we as human beings can’t keep up, but relatively it’s all moving fairly glacially. We just have to look back at movies made 30 years ago, like Back to the Future, to see how our imagination runs much faster than actual technological advancement. Marty McFly went to 2015 and found hover boards, mobile trash cans, power shoelaces and holographic movie theatres all in wide use; it’s possible we will see these innovations emerge next year, but probably not to the extent that we saw on-screen. It’s even more reassuring if you look at films made in 1965, thinking about 2015 – we’re not wearing silver suits or populating the moon (yet). So whilst we can imagine a world that’s radically different due to technology, in reality we’re all, en masse, a lot slower on the uptake than we thought we would be. And that’s okay.
Finally, lets all just be curious. So many studies point to ongoing learning and playing as a way to keep the brain and body young, but also as a way to stay relevant. So just trying new things, investigating new developments, and dabbling in tech is a start. My guru in this is my 86 year old grandmother: she recently added me on LinkedIn. Until recently, I had no idea why; at her age, I thought, she has no reason to join LinkedIn. And then I realised, she’s just checking it out – and why not? She’s not limited by an invisible boundary that this network might not be for her, or not relevant to who she is. Lets not think about technology as something for someone else, or potentially not relevant to your world because of your age, gender, job, or some other invisible restriction. The beauty of technology is that’s democratic, open and available to all of us.
Of course there will be downsides, and real negatives that we will need to confront together as a society. Technology will change sectors, jobs, livelihoods, our homes, our health – everything. But ignoring it or resisting it won’t make it disappear. Instead, we need to challenge it – together. Let’s discuss why Facebook experimenting with our emotions doesn’t feel right. Let’s discuss how we feel threatened by multiple screens and devices in our daily lives. Let’s discuss why our kids spend more time online than off. And of course lets discuss what mobile technology means for the transportation industry as a whole, and cab drivers in particular. What we’ll ultimately find is that technology will bring us together, rather than rip us apart – we’ll find more ways to share, connect, learn and grow, online and off, through technology in the future.
Therefore, I’Ve decided to embrace technology holistically. I know I won’t ever understand coding and the nuances of 3D printing, nor will I follow the latest software update releases with the excitement of some of my peers, but I won’t ignore them either. I am trying to see how tech can positively influence growth, change, and the future for business and society. And I’m trying to empathise with those who haven’t made the leap I have – some won’t ever get here, and that’s okay. But at the end of the day, technology is part of who we are as humans. Like it or not, we’ll always keep innovating, making, thinking, creating, and expanding. Because if you can’t beat em, join em.
And besides – I’ll bet my lunch that London’s cabbies organised their strike over email and texts.
Danielle Zezulinski is Account Management Coach and Account Director at Wolff Olins London.
This is the question that the newly merged Dixons and Carphone Warehouse have had to answer. Their solution: Dixons Carphone.
There is an advantage to this ‘cut and shut’ approach. They retain some of the reputation (or equity as strategists like to say) of the previous brands. People will know what Dixons Carphone sells.
Which is exactly the problem. The image in my head when I read Dixons Carphone is a nightmare hybrid of plastic tech and bewildering phone tariffs. There’s recognition but no inspiration. And with with seven other electrical retailers ranking higher than them in today’s Which? ‘Top of the shops' survey, the equity in the names is questionable.
To me, Dixons Carphone is a lost opportunity. I can only assume this is the name of the holding company. If their 3,000 stores are going to sell everything from fridges to phones and the connections between, then they need a new brand. This is the perfect time to lose the baggage of the past and create a brand that can inspire and guide us into a world of ubiquitous, connected technology.
At Wolff Olins, we faced the same question when we created a new brand for two recently merged Portuguese telcos.
We wanted to move away from their old worlds - TV and mobile phones - and create a new brand for what people are doing now.
People are using mobile to connect with each other and do new things. Rent a someone else’s apartment through Air BnB. Raise investment to make an idea happen through KickStarter. Chat about TV through WhatsApp.
Being connected to each other means we can do things that were previously impossible. We’re stronger together. This is the idea our new brand stands for. A new idea needs a new name. We chose Nos. It means we in Portuguese.
Ben Maxwell is a senior strategist at Wolff Olins London.
Earlier this month, I had my first official university reunion, and have been thinking about my time there. I have also been involved in two types of teaching recently, in a one-on-one academic capacity to secondary-school level students, and as a co-facilitator to professionals for Kitchen, Wolff Olins’ new school venture. These two different environments required very different types of attention and approaches, but in both cases the reasons for learning were similar: people want to equip themselves for the future.
Why we learn
Typically, we learn for one or a mix of the following reasons:
1. Economic – as an investment in our future utility and earning power, and eligibility to employers
2. Moral and Social – for our personal and intellectual development with a view to social responsibility and democratic citizenship
3. Epistemic – for the development of knowledge and understanding, learning for learning’s sake
New routes to learning
It is an interesting time in education. The rise of MOOCs (the fastest-growing instructional form of education globally) and SPOCs are well documented, with many platforms offering courses, programmes and schemes which threaten traditional models of access and price.
Earlier this year, an app called Spritz was announced which claims to enable people to read a novel in 90 minutes. The press it received isn’t surprising, it has all the hallmarks of extreme click bait (More! Faster! Apps! More efficient and faster apps!), and the product sounds attractive until you start to think about it (which, incidentally, you couldn’t do if you were reading this argument, or any, on that app). This Atlantic article suggested, far more eloquently than I could, that the app is not really even trying to make you read faster, but to transcend reading altogether. It is as if the only benefit of reading something is the ability to declare that you have read it.
There are other examples too. Coursmos, a platform for micro-courses, presents itself by saying, “Always wanted to learn, but were too busy? Education for Generation Distracted”. At the time of writing, five of the first pages of recommended courses on Mindsy were about making an activity more productive, faster or easier. The only discernible function of learning is to help get it out of the way as quickly as possible.
And so this faster and easier swathe of learning allows people to remove themselves from the actual experience of learning.
Obsessing on productivity and economics
Learning at its best does not come easily (and often the challenges involved are what makes it enjoyable). Nor are its benefits limited to its measurable outcomes (a certificate of completion, a symbolic stamp of achievement, employment after the event and so on). Spritz encourages you to have read so you can say you’ve read something; it doesn’t allow for the absorption, contemplation or playing around with what you read. Having gained a qualification in five easy steps does not mean that you really understand it. The quality not only of the education, but also its subsequent application in the world, is threatened.
One concern about this goal-oriented, end-supersedes-the-means emphasis is that we stop thinking about quality, and only think in terms of economics and efficiency. Another concern is that learning increasingly becomes a solitary pursuit for individual self-actualisation: of course, people should learn for themselves, but learning with and amongst others is where so much real understanding, collaboration and progress is made.
Universities have traditionally rooted themselves in ‘the disinterested pursuit of knowledge’ but our increasing obsession with quantifying, measuring and ranking results, efficacy and outcomes threatens this. Students are increasingly being treated as customers, and if only assessed in utilitarian terms the product (of education) will become less impactful in moral, social and epistemic terms. Martha Nussbaum has argued against the increasingly utilitarian expectations placed upon education. It should not be subsumed into the business of economics, and students should not be treated as customers.
Despite some teething problems and legitimate challenges about quality, new models of education and learning will improve. This should be a positive and exciting prospect, but it is important to consider why and how we want to learn. If we read and study only for the outcome, not for the journey, it will be a great shame. Learning should offer us so much more.
Dan Gavshon-Brady is a strategist at Wolff Olins, London. He can be found @DanGB88
The world’s largest ever single-day election took place just a few weeks ago in Indonesia. An incredible 187 million people, across 17,000 islands and three time zones cast their ballots in a period of just 24 hours. Of those, 22 million had never voted before, and there were 320,000 candidates to choose from. Maintaining an open, transparent flow information under such conditions is clearly challenging. But it’s not impossible.
Technology can play a huge role in helping to promote transparency, innovation and people-centric systems in fundamental aspects of life, such as politics.
For example, in the past it’s been a struggle just to find simple information on Indonesia’s election candidates. Data has usually been sprawled across scanned documents and not easily accessible, so voters have had to rely on bits and pieces of information to decide whom to support. Political jockeying is intense, and often includes lavish parties during election time (sometimes involving elaborate costumes, dancers, and live animals).
This year, an Indonesian NGO called Perludem set out to make information on the candidates more accessible to voters. They released an open API for the election database, enabling anyone with coding skills to try to build a website or mobile app that could make sense of the data containing candidate CVs, photos and geographic information.
Coders competed at a ‘Hackathon’ in March to build the best platform and interface for election information. The process paid off, and this year voters had multiple channels to learn about candidates and make informed decisions.
This is a technique that has been used to great effect by successful brands like Twitter, which released its API before it even had a mobile platform and then built on the prototypes coders had made. Now even mainstream brands like Netflix, Best Buy, and The North Face use APIs to provide consumers easy access to data.
In general, APIs do a lot of good for both brands and consumers. They promote transparency, crowd-source innovation and empower talented people to help make sure consumers get the most out of what the brand offers.
But it’s exciting to see such technology being used to help bring transparency to opaque political systems. If the election in Indonesia is any indication of the future, we may continue to see innovations that make common practices more people-centric. And if consumer-centric brands are able to deliver a better experience, will a people-centric world be better for us all?
Mark Bosse is an associate strategist at Wolff Olins New York.
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.