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  • Wind-tunnel UX and Branded Design

    26th June 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Brands, UX

    Authors: Neil Barrie, Zag Strategy Director & Stephen Wake, Zag Head of Design

    Great brands have long understood that providing customers with enjoyable, differentiated user experiences is critical to winning their loyalty. Walk in to a Waitrose supermarket or Kohl’s store and there’s no comparison to a Tesco or a kmart from the layout of aisles, to the attitude of the staff to the products they do and don’t stock.

    ‘Screen’ UX offers brands a whole range of new opportunities to really deliver on their promises and strengthen their customer relationships. But too often this is a missed opportunity, we end up with experiences that are good but not great. They work, they conform to best practice rules & standards but if you take away the logo they are indistinguishable from each other.

    Wind tunnel web design?

    Images via www.lovemoney.com, www.moneystrands.com, www.mint.com, www.mybillq.com www.lloydstsb.com, www.yodlee.com,

    The screen shots above are from a recent Zag audit of the Personal Finance Manager (PFM) market but the point applies to plenty of other categories.  Jim Carroll has spoken passionately here about the Wind Tunnel Marketing but are we also in danger of entering the age of Wind Tunnel Web/UI design?

    We believe that the most effective way to avoid this situation is to put brand at the heart of UX, to use it as the north star to guide the myriad of interactions and touchpoints that brands create for their customers.

    Of course this is easy to say, much harder to do. Here are 6 ingredients that we find help foster a successful fusion of brand and UX, based on projects we’ve worked on and projects we wish we’d worked on. It’s certainly not comprehensive, more intended as a conversation starter – we’d really like to hear about other ingredients that people find useful here.

    #1 A proper understanding of your audience

    This is obvious but too often people pay lip service to this area. You really need to know the needs, interactions and emotions that colour their experience of your brand and your category. And even more importantly is to have genuine empathy for them as PEOPLE not consumer/users. He’s not a 25-44 year old ABC1, he’s a proud dad who works to hard and reads to his kids too quickly on Thursday nights so he can go out with the boys and so on...

    #2 A proper understanding of your brand’s purpose

    Again obvious. But again too often this is more about platitudes than purpose. For this to work you need to have really asked the tough questions of the brand in question. Why is it really there? What is its role really?

    Nike’s purpose is one of the best I’ve seen for this sort of thing. It’s inspirational, it’s directional and it’s very very stretching. Nike will never complete this mission but they are creating a lot of amazing products while they’re trying. The CEO Mark Parker was instrumental in pushing this mission through eleven years ago. It’s hard to see the previous one (‘to be the number sports & fitness company in the world’) being much use as a guiding principle for UX…

    #3 Appreciate that the rules of branding have changed

    When we say ‘brand’ we don’t mean a didactic set of messages, rules and templates to roll out over every touch-point. We mean a coherent set of guiding principles to help designers make the right decisions about what to say and what to do. Adaptable rather than monolithic. Otherwise the whole exercise will do more harm than good.

    #4 Run a collaborative multi-discipline process

    Every project has a different set of skillsets but one thing we’ve found always leads to better results is to keep it open and collaborative from the outset. So we make sure our graphic/digital designers are challenging (or even writing!) the business/brand strategy on any project from a very early stage. This helps avoiding the platitude/purpose issue touched upon early. If the brand strategy isn’t speaking to the people charged with bringing it to life then it’s probably pointless.

    If you’ve got the above ingredients in place then you should be in a really good place to try and achieve something special, to make the brand thinking tangible and improve it:

    #5 Create signature interactions

    Flipboard is there to be beaten as an example of brand and UX.  A clear vision to be a ‘Social Magazine’ that fuses the beauty and ease of the print magazine experience with the power of social media. The signature interaction of the gentle ‘flip’ movement. And it’s in the name!

    Wonga’s ‘money sliders’ are another powerful example. They exemplify ‘straight talking money’ and a more down to earth approach to finance every time you to interact with them.

    #6 Surprise people (in a useful way)

    Everyone knows the situation. You’ve finally reached the end of a critical project phase. You are sending the authoritative, definitive email to all the stakeholders to wrap everything up, accompanied by the pdf of the amazing work…and then you send the email without the attachment and have to send another going “ahem’ here’s the attachment”. Except when I [Steve] was in the process of executing this understandable error Gmail stopped me.

    You can be sure that anyone who’s experienced that bit of help will tell a lot of people and be more loyal to the brand in the future.

    To us this is the benchmark in terms of moments of surprise and delight. Here is a brand using ‘screen’ UX to build relationships with their customers in as powerful a way as Waitrose are using their store experiences.

    What are the equivalent moments for the brands you work on?

    If you enjoyed this post then we should acknowledge the influence of inestimable @adamtvpowers, BBH London’s Head of UX.

  • Robotify.me – what Labs are making next, and why.

    26th April 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in makings

    Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs

    Every once in a while at Labs, we like, no, need to get our hands dirty. Oily, even. We like to make stuff that we can learn from – learn from the making of and learn from the interactions with. Robotify.me is one such experiment. And unlike most of our output, we’re going to share its whole gestation with you. Partly because we’re too excited not to, partly because we want you to shape the product.

    Product? Yes. With robotify.me, we want to put a personal digital robot into the hands of every person who wants one.

    Of all the companions you could make, why a robot? Why not a plant, an animal, even a pet rock? Because of the line robots walk (or fly), between the artificial and the human. They are not alive, but in the way the act we try to give them life. And this has bearing on the other half of the project.

    Since our first aol email addresses, our first Second Life avatars, our geocities and myspace profiles, our first (and second) anonymous twitter accounts and our weavrs, we’ve been talking about the difference between a person, and an online persona. Is there one? We hope robotify will tell us, because the other trick is this: the characteristics and features of your robot will be determined entirely and exclusively by  your social network data. So if you post lots of pictures on instagram, your robot might grow a telephoto lens in its belly. If you click lots of odd links, you might develop tank tracks – negotiating rough digital terrain, you see.

    That’s the simplest version. Gradually we want to progress to a version with a robot that changes and grows as you do – a living marker of your data journey. We’re even hoping that, over time, robots will be able to interact. Robosociety, if you will. But that’s the nature of the agile process we’re using – aside from the vision, there are lots of assumptions layered on top of each other, and we’d like a willing army of beta pioneers to help slice through these assumptions and get to the robotify.me that you want.

    At the same time, we’d like to experiment with a slightly altered way of communicating – so for the 50s radio-style version of the Robotify story, just slip on some headphones and click play.

    Hang on. You said something about beta users?

    Yes, labs reader. That’s you. We’re making the beta right now – signup at http://signup.robotify.me. If there’s anything you want to see, anything you’ve always wanted to know about your social data, or anything else you think we should look at, let us know below…

  • Laughing Together, Weeping Alone

    2nd April 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London


    I was at home watching a film when it happened again. A drying of the throat, a tightening of the vocal cords, the involuntary dab at the side of the eye to discover a bead of moisture forming. Yes, I was crying again.

    I’m no motor racing enthusiast, but I was cracking up over the Senna documentary. The potent cocktail of youth, beauty, talent and tragedy. The story of a genius half expressed, a life half lived.

    It’s a curiosity of middle age that one finds oneself weeping more frequently. Sometimes it’s prompted by the profound. But often it’s the incidental, the humdrum, the everyday. A fay costume drama, a moderately emotional screwball comedy, a random memory of Dylan, the springer spaniel, watching sparrows on the summer lawn.

    I sat next to a guy on the plane a while ago. A formal, serious looking man with one of those bulky lawyer’s briefcases that mean money and business. He obviously travelled a lot. After take-off he set out his paraphernalia for in-flight comfort: his unguents, earplugs and blindfold. He refused food, switched on a monitor and proceeded to cry profusely all the way through Four Weddings and a Funeral.

    I’m not sure about the psychology or physiology of Middle Aged Weeping. Could it be the remembrance of things past, the wisdom of age, the diminution of testosterone, the proximity of death, the fear of apocalypse? Or all of the above simultaneously tugging at the heart strings and demanding a tune?

    I’d like to say I’ve gained some lasting benefit or resolution from my weeping, that I am more in touch with my emotions,more at one with myself. But, whilst I am certainly curious about it, I don’t feel any farther down the road to self knowledge. Tears are not enough.


    I cry alone
    When no one else can hear me
    When friends come by to cheer me
    I smile and say I feel OK.
    Maxine Brown, I Cry Alone

    With the exception of a few funerals, like Maxine Brown I have always cried alone. Context evaporates, time stalls, the world closes in. Melancholy is a matter of silent isolation.

    Conversely I only laugh with others. To share the joke, to join the fun, to feel peels of laughter rippling through the crowd. The greatest highs are the ones we share. And solitary laughter is the surest sign of oncoming madness. As the guy on the 19 bus giggles out loud at the contents of his book, one edges along the seat a little farther, grips the handrail a little tighter. I suspect more people write LOL than do it.

    Take a look at anyone’s Facebook photos and you’ll see a curiously hedonistic sense of self. The laughter, smiles, gatherings and getaways of friends and family. Darker thoughts and feelings are generally suppressed. It’s a redacted life.

    I wonder what does this mean? Are we instinctively predisposed to share life’s highs and keep the lows to ourselves? Are some feelings inherently more private and others more public? Are there natural limits to the social?

    I’m aware, of course, that some societies cry more freely than mine. Perhaps others laugh more privately too. And conventions are changing. We live in an age where the instinct to share has extended beyond the joyous and celebratory. Oprah’s openness, misery memoirs, celebrity confessions. Some have speculated that the  social era may lead us to happier personal lives, that in our free expression on the web, we’re engaged in some kind of mass therapy: we’re producing the best adjusted generation since before The Fall.

    Nonetheless, I share the growing concern that our transparent world poses challenges in the area of privacy. Hitherto much of the debate has centred around personal data, unsolicited targeting, embarrassing photos. I suspect privacy may represent a more profound issue than this. Privacy is a matter of personal identity. And in order to prevent identity theft in the truest sense we need to protect the arcane, opaque, mysterious elements of our own lives. In her new book, Quiet, Susan Cain suggests that the ‘world that can’t stop talking’ underestimates introverts. I agree.

    Van the Man once sang about the  ’Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’. I had grown up thinking that any belief needed a justification, that an emotion wasn’t properly felt unless it could be articulated, that one couldn’t recover from a trauma unless one could describe it. Now I treasure the unexplained, the unspoken, the unthought.

  • ’tis the season to be truthy

    27th March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs

    “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, and no heart.” – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

    In 2006, Stephen Colbert promised (parodically) to “not tell the news to you, but feel the news, at you.” He coined the term truthiness, a quality applied to something that has a sense of truth, that is true enough to serve its purpose, without actually being factually accurate. It was just a swipe at lazy newscasting, but Colbert had it right – in modern culture the truths we tell ourselves are the ones that best make us feel something. Advertising has long known that, and has told actual truths about its products, wrapped in representational ‘life truths’ that spin off of it. These are narratives, and all parties in the situation know it. So far, so good.

    In my second BBH interview in 2010, Planning Director Ed Booty asked me, “do you think people have had enough of the real?” The concensus we got to was that people could never have enough of the real, but that media forces have worked to inflate people’s expectations of what the real can deliver. Remember: this was at time when Endemol’s solution to the stagnation of ‘reality show’ Big Brother was to put ever more abrasive and conflicting characters into the mix, and people had begun to call it out as a circus. Since then, the response from entertainment has been a whole string of programmes with a new definition of truth: The Hills, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex. Watching them is like reading The National Enquirer; within their own ecosystem they are true, and they offer the most value when you read them as true. Deep down, you know them to be false, but the spectacle tacitly asks you to suspend that to get some value from them. They are truthy. The old masters of this form, the wrestling (“sports entertainment”) industry have a term for this – kayfabe. Successfully engaging with kayfabe can be a lot of fun.

    img credit: wwe.com
    Note: Not an actual undertaker
    The combination of the extremes of fiction and the rawness of reality have left us wanting the impossible – a fantastical truth. At the same time, ever since Cluetrain we’ve come to realise that our collective ability to dismantle a narrative is potent, and hungry. A tough gig for anyone who wants to tell their truth in the most engaging way possible. Remember when James Frey got ripped into A Million Little Pieces by Oprah? It turns out that parts of his story were just that, a story, and it was unforgivable.

    Even when the cause is ‘just’, the scent of manipulation is hard to deoderise. In the past month, we’ve seen KONY 2012 explode and be exploded – partly from speculation about the company’s finances, partly from questions about the appropriateness of the solutions they offered to the problem, but in equal part from the sheer slickness of the manipulation. It was too glossy for the message it was trying to put across, too much like an episode of MTV’s Made, rather than a call to action. The response to this criticism might be “that’s the format our target audience responds to, so that’s what we have to use,” but the savagery of the counterattack suggests that young people still respond to message as much as medium.

    Then there’s Apple. When public radio show This American Life chose to broadcast an excerpt of monologist Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January, they got their highest-ever ratings in the show’s 17-year history. That’s because Mike’s monologue is the story of his experiences in Chinese tech factories, including Foxconn, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers. Because it describes the working practices that go into making the tech we use even as we consume blogs like this one. The narrative arc and the expertly crafted pathos could only come from a practiced storyteller – and therein came the problem, because Daisey used  a storyteller’s toolbox – deletion, distortion and assumption – to the point where the story just wasn’t true any more. It was a cobbling together of things that happened to Daisey, things that used to happen but don’t any more, things he’d heard about from others but had no proof of, and simple fabrication. And Daisey has been eviscerated by much of his audience. This American Life has never felt so mortally wounded – to the point where Ira Glass and his team produced an entire episode called simply Retraction, and pulled the original from the podcast feeds.

    Where does that leave the practice of marketing? Advertising deals in truthiness because it uses things that didn’t happen to get audiences to think of what could happen, and to feel the ‘truth’ of a brand’s world. And this was Mike Daisey’s defence on This American Life: “this isn’t about me lying to you or anyone else. This is about me doing everything I could to get the media to pay attention… Did I go too far in that effort? Maybe. That’s for others to judge.” The truth didn’t quite cut it, so he used made up facts in order to get to what he thought was a higher truth – the story of labour practice in other countries. And to be fair, it worked well enough to enchant the audiences on his tour, the normally journalistically rigorous This American Life, and everyone that listened to it – including the New York Times.

    But what these events teach us is the care we must use when we wield the power of story. That when you have an audience that wants life to be larger than life, they should know where and when the enlargements and the brightening of the colours is occurring. There have been calls for cosmetic adverts to have an “airbrushing watermark”. We don’t need to go that far for story: rather, we just have to watch where we’re putting the truthiness. We have to map the zones in the media space where absolute truth is expected – yes, spaces like facebook and twitter – and treat people with what they deserve there.

    But the biggest lesson of all lies further upstream. As marketers for brands, we’re usually telling stories about ourselves. So if we want to tell any story we can – all we have to do is make those facts be true by causing them to happen. If you’re Starbucks, don’t just talk about how friendly you are – get your employees to write customers’ names on their takeaway lattes. If you’re Johnnie Walker, don’t just talk about progress – put a real investment into the Keep Walking Project, and make progress happen.

    The people have spoken, and they’re not satisfied with truthiness. They don’t just want brands to tell them stories. They want brands to take part in the rewriting of reality, so that the stories they tell each other can be that much more amazing.

  • Dreams from the land of Geektopia

    23rd March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in sxsw

    or

    How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.

    Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs


    I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.

    In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I  found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.

    Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.

    Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.

    Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.

    And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all.  He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.

    He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.

    In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).

    But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia  into actionable ethics for the world of brands…

    In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:

    1. 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
    2. 2. Broaden the definition  of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
    3. 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things
  • That’s right, we’re not from Texas

    6th March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Three days to go until the geek world descends on Austin for SXSW Interactive which if the ‘super grid‘ is anything to go by, will be more overwhelming than anything that has gone before. With marketeers, developers and Googler’s pouring into Texas in unprecedented numbers, we can’t hope to give more than the briefest taste of what we’re looking forward to. Our mission, as in previous years, is to learn, to re-engage and to discover – Labs will be out in numbers speaking, interacting and seeking whatever edge SXSW has left to offer.

    SXSW is a great opportunity to connect with likeminded friends from around the world and meet other likeminds previously only known on twitter, google+ or blog comment threads. We’re excited to see Amber Case keynote an event of this scale, looking forward seeing old friends consider intent and the social web and we’ll be be queuing in the corridors to make sure we get a front seat at a stellar curation panel featuring Percolate, Longform and Maria Popova.

    The great thing about SXSW is that there is something for everyone – whether your appetite is for The New Aesthetic, architecture or even Nick Denton, you’re covered. The Panel Committee were strict on submissions from Labs this year, but we’re thrilled with what slipped through their net of rigour. We’d humbly suggest that Mad Max Vs Skynet: The Battle for the Future, presented by our very own Mel Exon and Google Creative Lab’s Tom Uglow, is a must see. Labs will also be represented in Austin with the launch of our on-the-ground project, Homeless Hotspots.

    As for Austin nights, it’s hard to know what level of blagging skills or extreme patience will be necessary to crash the numerous SXSW parties this year. This nice survival guide from GSD&M gives plenty of good tips, while we’ve enjoyed nights out at the Fray Cafe in years gone by. Great nights have been spent chewing the fat at a table next to one of Austin’s plentiful taco vans, and if things get weird, you can always head for the hills.

    So whatever your thing, you’ll find it in Austin and we’re looking forward to seeing you there. Let us know where you’ll be, what time to meet up at Lego Corner, what you’re looking forward to and, most importantly, where we can find the best breakfast burrito.

  • Pretentious? Nous?

    10th February 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Insight

    Philosophy, Salvator Rosa

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    When I went to school there were the Sports Guys and the Music Guys.

    The Sports Guys liked doing circuit training, spraying Ralgex and making noises with their studs in the shower. The Music Guys wore heavy tweed overcoats, pored over the NME crossword and argued about the relative merits of Joy Division and Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King. I liked both categories, but fundamentally I guess I was a Music Guy.

    I went to college equipped with Country Born hair gel, ‘fu shoes and Radio London mix tapes. I covered my walls with album covers from Wah, Defunkt and Echo and the Bunnymen. I danced all night to James Brown and Washington Go Go. (Mine was an awkward, heavy-shoe shuffle that alienated girls more than it attracted them.)

    I confess I became somewhat pretentious. But I imagine it was an innocent sort of pretentiousness. A love of words and ideas and debate. Of music, books and film.

    Obviously pretentiousness is somewhat silly and self-important, but that’s part of its charm. Look at Salvator Rosa in the self portrait above from the National Gallery. He’s painted himself as a sensitive, brooding philosopher , braving a dark, stormy world. He’s carrying a Latin inscription (natch) that reads ‘Keep silent unless you have something more important to say than silence’. How absurd, how pretentious, how cool…

    Self Portrait in a Turban, Duncan Grant

    Last summer I visited Charleston, the Sussex country home and social hub of the Bloomsbury art set between the wars. They painted the walls and furniture, they painted each other, they discussed pacifism, ballet and the global financial crisis. They made a show of drinking coffee rather than tea. To be honest I didn’t love all the decorative artwork and I wasn’t too sure about their sleeping arrangements. But I had to admire the fact that they had a view about the world, a design for living.

    When I left college I fell into advertising as I thought it was one of the few professions where we Music Guys were welcome. Advertising is an art not a science, it’s creative persuasion, lateral thought. Advertising folk cultivated curious facial hair, absurd spectacles and MA1 Flight Jackets. I felt at home.

    In the ’90s our Agency produced the Levi’s campaign and I recall it referencing Ansel Adams, Hunter S Thompson, Rodchenko, Bill Brandt, Burt Lancaster and more besides. Pretentious perhaps, but also bracing stuff.

    Now let’s be clear. I’m certainly not a subscriber to the view that advertising is art. At its best it’s creativity applied to a commercial end. But I do believe that creativity needs to be inspired, catalysed and nourished by a broader set of cultural references and ideas.

    Of late I’ve begun to  wonder whether we Music Guys have lost our way and our voice a little. I’m concerned that there may not be enough people discussing arthouse movies, German dance troupes, experimental theatre. Shouldn’t the Agency be abuzz with fevered debate about Hockney and Hirst? Shouldn’t creative reviews be inspired by more  than YouTube? I worry in fact that we have become less pretentious.

    Perhaps people work so hard nowadays they don’t have time to develop what Denis Healey called a ‘hinterland’. Maybe it’s straitened times. We want to be seen as sensible, rational, commercial. Maybe it’s Anglo Saxon reserve. We apply a blanket pejorative to anything slightly outside the norms of conversation and thought. Perhaps it’s British anti-intellectualism. Our TV is dominated by unreality shows, costume anti-dramas, middle brow mundanity (what Simon Schama recently labelled ‘cultural necrophilia’). Our Queen prefers Lambourn to Glyndebourne. Our Prime Minister prefers tennis to Tennyson. And his favourite read is a cook book. Maybe we’re just too busy jogging.

    Whatever the source of the problem, l’ve come to rue this loss of pretentiousness. I wish people more often cited the marginal and the maddening, the absurd and the abstruse from the world of art, academia and literature. Not just because it’s interesting, challenging, funny. But because today’s obscure eccentric is tomorrow’s bright young thing. Because creativity’s favourite bedfellows are difference and diversity.

    So I’ve determined that I’m going to be pretentious in 2012. And I’ll encourage everyone else to do the same.

    Honi soit qui mal y pense…

  • Marching Backwards into 2012

    21st December 11

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in BBH Labs

    “The past went that-a-way … We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” – Marshall McLuhan

    http://www.vimeo.com/32001208

    Predictions are a mug’s game. In these uncertain times you won’t find us sticking our heads above the futurology parapet and making some rash pronouncements on the coming this or the tomorrow of that. Instead, at this time of the year, we like to approach the future with a longing gaze in the rear view mirror and a look back at the last 12 months of postings on this blog – 81 of them in all from 35 contributors.

    As in previous years, below you’ll find ten of our favourite posts from 2011 – the ones that have provoked us in the learning and writing and our generous readers in the comments. But our self-analysis has also uncovered buried themes, some revisited, others newer, which marked our 2011 and perhaps set a tone for the year to come.

    Storytelling and new forms of narrative have always been of interest to us in Labs, but this year we’ve added the growing attention paid to, er, attention to the mix with a couple of guest posts on connected TV and further exploration into storytelling with our Fray Cafe-esque TaleTorrent event for Internet Week. For many, all around the world, 2011 has been a year of grassroot activism and whilst occupying Kingly Street and 32 Avenue of the Americas is our day job, sustainable marketing and creativity for good have also bubbled up as pervasive themes in a number of posts this year. And given the tumultus changes happening within our industry, you won’t be surprised to see industry innovation and reinvention well represented as another theme below. Perhaps more than any other year since Labs was founded in 2008, this has been a year of rolling up sleeves and putting theory into practice.

    It might seem that 2011 has not been a stellar year in terms of innovation in the broader technology industry. While our Facebook experience has been timelined, our Googling plussed and our questions quora-ed, the space shuttle programme has come to a close, the Higgs Boson remains elusive and so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that this year also saw a number of more reflective rather than reactive posts. BBH London Chairman Jim Carroll set the tone for a theme we’re calling ‘Think While you Make’, with a lovely series of elegiac posts on sleep, ennui and nocturnally abnormal wildlife.

    So while we recover over the holidays we look forward to much more thinking and making, talking and doing in 2012. As always we are are astonished by the generosity of everyone who writes for, reads, shares or comments on the blog. It’s been an amazing year. Thanks for taking part, thanks for letting us in and thank you for everything you’ve taught us this year.

    We’re already looking forward to the start of the Spring term – see you back at school in the new year.

    Mel, Jeremy & Saneel

    *****************

    So, finally, Labs top 10 for ‘11, in mostly chronological order.

    1. Think While You Make, Make While You Think

    Some setting out of the stall in this post which encouraged us to find a balance between action and reflection, to not have too many tabs open at once, and occassionally to leave things alone for a while to let them ripen at their own pace.

    2. Collaborative Consumption & Customer Co-creation

    It might be a small cheat to bundle these two great posts together in a top ten, but as a pair they make a strong argument for more evolved thinking when it comes to creativity, collaboration and consumption. When audiences are willing to participate in branded activities and business see the benefit of a more transparent and collaborative model, co-creation and collaborative consumption are surely pivotal to the ongoing success of any forward facing brand.

    3. The Human OS

    A fascinating guest post from Google’s David Bryant on the convergence of computer and human operating systems and the increasing adoption of intuitive physical interactions that provoke a more instinctive than reasoned response.

    4. Exploring the Edges

    Provoked by a couple of posts on the need (or not) for agencies to employ Chief Innovation Officers this post looks at how to be an innovation unit and what the wider agency can and should demand of those it employs to push the envelope and live on the edge.

    5. Creative Direction Vs Creative Selection

    ‘No one works for a Creative Director. Everyone works for the idea. The idea hires us and we go to work.’ The most popular post of the year from BBH LA’s ECD Pelle Sjoenell on the role of the Creative Director as politician, farmer and assassin.

    6. No Tangible Limits

    For Labs, meeting Amber Case and learning about Geoloqi, the location sharing startup she is developing with Aaron Parecki, was one of the highlights of SXSW. We’re already looking forward to seeing her keynote in 2012 and catching up with the great concentration of smart people that SXSW attracts. Come and say hello if you’re there.

    7. Turning Intelligence into Magic

    To mark the launch of Sir John Hegarty’s book, we asked him a series of questions which he answered with a series of sketches, an appropriately witty, incisive and ‘different’ interview celebrating an iconic advertising career.

    8. Don’t Forget the I in T

    At Labs we celebrate the hybrid, but in this post recognize that a team of hybrids might lack the depth in specific disciplines, might spend too much time agreeing with each other and might only be appropriate to crack certain tasks. As Ben points out in the comments, it’s important for a jack of all trades to be a master of some!

    9. Building a New Agency OS

    A consideration for a new thinking about what an agency can be, should be and could do as we approach ‘marketing singularity’, the moment the message becomes indistinguishable from the product or service it promotes. Instead of codifying an agency operating system around functions and outputs, we suggest that an agency of the future needs an OS rooted in a culture of collaboration, experimentation and transparency.

    10. Keep Aaron Cutting

    Lastly, in a year when social media has been both blamed for fuelling the London riots and praised for fuelling the Arab Spring, we can’t have a top ten list without acknowledging the Keep Aaron Cutting project. Thanks to the generosity (there’s that word again) of all the BBH blog and twitter stream readers who used social media to spread the word about an 89-year-old barber from North London who might have lost everything, Aaron’s shop is well on the way to being rebuilt and a nice old guy has had his faith in young people and in technology restored.

    More of this next year, please.

  • We Told Tales (at Internet Week)

    2nd December 11

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in awesomeness

    Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH Labs

    Back in November, Internet Week Europe happened – many of you might better know it as #iwe11. Last year, we challenged London’s digital elite to get their hands dirty and code up a storm in an afternoon. This year, we did something altogether more warm and fuzzy.

    This November, we asked people to step forward and bare their souls for TaleTorrent – a night of true stories about the internet. And step forward they did! We had a truly fantastic lineup of speakers telling stories from the funny to the sad, the professional to the personal, but all extremely entertaining. Thank you guys, again.

    It was very much a night run on volunteer goodwill – not least from the guys at Kinura, who approached us a full three days before the event and said “hey, d’you want us to stream it online?”

    We said an emphatic yes. And so, for anybody that missed it, grab some port and enjoy after dinner.

    TALETORRENT – PART ONE

    Featuring @BetaRish and @mndtrythnkng‘s ultimate answer to Facebook’s “What’s on your mind?”,@katylindemann‘s True Confessions Of A Teenage Weblogger, @documentally‘s 999-style car crash reenactment, and @claireburge‘s paean to the gods of Serendipity.

    TALETORRENT – PART TWO

    Featuring @jnicholasgeist‘s Zombie apocalypse night-on-the-tiles (a transatlantic special!), @simonsanders‘ pen-pal to PM saga, @mananatomorrow‘s cyberphilic daughter, and my experiences of chartroom romance, of a sort.

    …and if you enjoyed that, know now that there are plans for TaleTorrentTwo, to land sometime in March. A little less rushed this time around. Details will come when they exist, but if you’re inspired by what you’ve seen and you want to have a go, drop me an email at james.mitchell@bbh-labs.com. We’d love to have you.

  • Missing Texture

    23rd November 11

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in culture

    Wouldn’t it be nice to smell the internet? Well, thanks to the clever chaps at Mint Foundry this might soon be possible.Their concept product, the punningly named Olly (details at ollyfactory.com!) will convert tweets, checkins, likes or other digital notifications and blast out an arduino-powered whiff across your keyboard. So now every William Gibson tweet can smell like a long-chain monomer and every checkin at a Starbucks  like fresh roasted coffee. Sadly you will need two Olly’s to experience the double hit of Testosterone and Smug released whenever Piers Morgan tweets @Simon Cowell.

    The interesting thing about the Olly is that it is an attempt to add texture to wholly digital experiences. A decent proportion of my last job was spent arguing with people about page-turning animations in ebooks – I felt that they were a legacy metaphor and had no place in a purely digital experience. There are definitely things about the physicality of a book that would be great to transfer to an ebook. For example, knowing when you are nearing the end of a book by the distribution of weight in your hands feels different from the knowledge that you are on page 1324 of 1346. Such additions would add both context and texture to the ereading experience, wheras the page-turning animation is texture without context.

    YouTube Preview Image

    Brett Victor’s much-discussed rant (his word) on the ubiquity of the finger-swipe in visions of future interfaces suggests a disquiet with what is being sacrificed in the quest for frictionless interaction. As touchscreens increasingly become our interface to the web it is healthy that there are those out there documenting what we are losing whilst everyone else, including us at BBH Labs of course, celebrates the gains. Will the sound of an optical drive go the way of the rotary phone dial or an analogue tape rewinding or these other disappearing noises?

    So, are we adding textures such as smells and page-turning animations because digital is less sensuous than the physical world? When we create new digital experiences should we think about adding textured UX as well as intelligent UI? And as brands transition more and more to digital marketing initiatives, should we worry about what sensory experiences they and we are losing, out here in meatspace?

    Update 9 jan 2012: If you want your workstation to smell like teen spirit every time @justinbieber presses ‘send’ then you should head over to kickstarter where there’s a month left to back the project to make the dream reality!

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