I “A” You “X”…

..as in Me “Tarzan” You “Jane”. Being an “independent” I have to keep my ear pretty close to the ground of the digital Internet. I may be mistaken but I think I’m sensing a trend in the “Help Wanted” from “Actionscript Developer” to “IA/UX designer”. Being a “developer” I naturally shy away from anything “designer” designer3and I’m sure designers feel the same way about developers. Its just the nature of the business that these diverse poles, although in desperate need of each other, still follow “ne’er the twain shall meet”. But they do meet. Somewhere along the line, in anything you see on the Internet that can be considered “professional”, is the blending of the two. Even in cutting edge agencies, this is usually attributed to some kind of magic that bridges the gulf between the creative and the functional. oldtvEverything you see on the Internet (and most technologies since the radio) are electronic impulses doing their thing and our uncanny ability to turn that into actual communication; sights and sounds that have meaning to human ears, eyes and brains. This is truly remarkable since there is a mighty big leap between a random electron and bringing a smile to someone’s face. Without that magic, we might as well be reading text in black and white, one page at a time. Where does that magic come from?

I’m not sure anybody knows exactly where it comes from, but I do know there’s an awful lot of people out there willing to pay for it! I’ve been seeing the letters “IA/UX” popping up fairly frequently but I had to confess I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. So I went to Wikipediawikipedia to find out exactly. Lo and behold, there was no entry. So I added one. Of course to do it, I had to give it some serious thought. I believe there are so many buzzwords and acronyms in this business because if people act as if they know what they mean, nobody will ask you to explain them, ESPECIALLY “technical” terms. Even in this day and age, technology still implies “mystical meets emotionally suppressed”. I’ve worked at a lot agencies, particularly “digital” agencies. No institution works harder to avoid the image of a group of nerds and weenies, than a digital agency chock full of nerds an weenies. techno-weenie For some reason there is still the “great divide” between “technology” (hard-core nerds and weenies) and “creatives” (soft-core nerds and weenies). But that great divide becomes a just bit more narrow every time a “creative” learns how to build an actionscript class or a techie adjusts a css property just ever so to get the right “effect”.

By now you should be able to guess where I’m going with this. Yes, the ultimate “nerd/weenie/creative/techie/designer/developer” will be the wielder of the magic of IA/UX. There will no longer be any divide. The “hard-core” and the “soft-core” will smoothly blend into one. I’ve been in this business awhile, as far back as when “Information Architecture”info_architecture and “User Experience”user_experience were completely separate terms, seldom if ever used together, much less in the same breathe. But times are “a-changing” along with the vernacular and apparently the job specs.

So what exactly is IA/UX? Let’s start with the fact that you are reading this blog. That’s good. I want you to read my blog, that’s why I write it. But why should you? What do you get out of it? How can I grab you, hold your attention and even make you want more? That’s my job as a IA/UX designer  in a nutshell. The “IA” part is the “brain” part;  I use wordpress to enter articles. I use wordpress because I can frame those articles in a programmable template so that I can control the “look and feel”. The “UX” part? That “look and feel” is the emotional part. I don’t just want you to read articles. I want to “feel” them, to feel my enthusiasm for writing them. I want to make you see things through my eyes.  I don’t want you to just “read” the article I want you to “show” it to you. For this I use images, carefully selected and carefully placed to the give, not only the greatest sense of I what I am trying to explain, but why I think its a “fun”, and not just useful, thing to know. My little bit of “awesomeness”. So I leave it to you the reader…how am I doing?

My Avatars Will Get In Touch With Your Avatars…

My youngest son is deep into World of WarCraft (See the articles Wow Wii!, june, 2009). He plays at the highest level with fellow players all over the world. He puts on his headphones, fires up WoW and he’s good for hours…literally hours if not days! Thank god for school or there would be no reason to stop at all. On one hand I can’t discourage him, on top of the all the hours he spends playing he’s also picked up on how operating systems work, how to set up a network router and install software on his own. He even (though he’s loathe to admit it) knows a bit about programming (flash, of course). Being in the “computer” business myself, like any father I want him to be ready to go into the world on his own one day. And nobody knows better than I, that requires and will continue to require, a very high degree of computer literacy, at least in my own field. And I assume, almost every other.

Still, I also wonder what ever happened to the old “going outside to play” school of growing up. Apparently, every kid hears this from their dad if they have one. They write about it in books popular with today’s 12 year olds.
screen-shot-2010-01-31-at-74734-pm
When I was a kid (…yes, I’m saying it..), video games like pong and donkey kong were fun but really just a few steps up from checkers and “Go Fish”. The real fun was playing with other kids, first, hide and seek and ringalerio, kickball and tag. Then as we got older, baseball, football, hockey or basketball with the local kids was the point to every weekend; weekdays too, if you had time after school. Way back then families had numerous kids so it was never hard to find other boys and girls my age (give or take 2 or 3 years) interested in doing the same crazy things we all liked. Of course, it wasn’t always about athletics since most of us weren’t particularly “athletic”. It was more about playing. More importantly, it was what we now called “social networking”. Web 1.0 (or lower) was basically kids in the same neighborhood creating a world of their own. Some kids you really liked, some you really hated but most were just somewhere in between. What we had in common, was that we were all just kids. We fought each other, we helped each other, we teased each other, we were sometimes downright mean to each other. But in one way or another we all somehow KNEW each other. Our strengths, our weakness, who was good at what and who wasn’t. We knew whose brother liked who’s cousin’s sister and whether or not she liked him back.

When I see my son hooked into his WoW colleagues, I ask myself is this any different? wow_imageOk, instead of the kids being across the street or down the block or in a neighborhood that had its own name, they could be anywhere in the world. He could be chatting it up and planning strategy with kids his own age or full-grown adults, all insid this ultimate fantasy come alive on a video screen. Is this leading to a more open, broad-minded world where my son will grow up and be influenced by lives and personalities thousands of miles away in some cases? Does this mean he’ll learn more, know more and do more by the time he finishes high school than I have yet to do in my entire lifetime? That would be nice, but something tells me it simply not that simple. My son my be interacting with people from all over the world but in reality he’s interacting with World of WarCraft and all the technologies that bring this wonder to millions. Its the technology that’s becoming a part of their lives…not each other.
For the reasons I expressed earlier, this alone was not alarming. But once I saw the following:

Life is Too Short for Social Interaction

Since I’m in the “viral” business, “viral apps” aren’t knew to me. Yes, this is meant to be a “parody”, but to be absolutely honest when I first saw this video I took it at face value. I actually believed Google had launched a product called Xistance. Why not, I’m part of the “Google World” and they launch new products practically every day? Nothing wrong with that. So when I as watching this I was naturally thinking, yeah, my boy would love that! Maybe I should tell him about it? Until, of course, I heard the final tag line, “Life is too short for Social Interaction”! My eyebrows furrowed but the question remained, would my son embrace this technology as something desirable? I don’t think so, he’s a very social fellow. (He has more friends on Facebook than I ever hope of having) But if there were such a product I can see him and many more like him not scoffing at it but eagerly signing up. Will Web 3.0 go beyond giving us new venues to express ourselves and keep in touch, or does it mean just the opposite, living our lives behind an impenetrable “cyber wall” that is far more “real” to some than anything going on in the “outside world”? What can breathing “fresh” air ever offer over the Kingdom of the Droids? Who’s to say?

“(Augmented) Man at His Best”

esquire_logo_smallJust got the latest, extremely hyped issue of Esquire Magazine. Something must be working because its the first Esquire magazine I’ve ever gone out and bought. Kind of surprising since its traditional market has been, since  its Depression-era inception,  eligible young men “about town”. 1934_1Of course, that alone can mean many things to many people. But my guess is the magazine has lasted so long (..and apparently still going strong) because that’s something all young men (and most older ones) would truly want to be. Including me. And, although I’ve only read one article (on a company called Psyop but more on that later), I was thoroughly impressed.

Always on the look out for the next “digital” marketing scheme, I’ve been listening to the buzz on augmented reality for the last two years or so…lots of buzz but no “sting”. I tried a few projects myself. The technology itself is not to unwieldly or overwhelming but like all skilled programming it does require time and more than a bit of daring to master to the point of actually being creative. But the guys at psyop have been cracking away for almost 10 years at “high-end” digital animation. I know because I actually replaced Psyop’s founder when he left Nickelodeon’s Digital Laboratory to start his company. geeks1Its no coincidence they are in a position to go to a David Granger (Esquire’s E-C) and offer him a chance to leap out there on the “bleeding” edge of trendy. Its as trendy as you can get. And from my understanding of Esquire, that’s what has been keeping that particular boat floating for almost 80 years.  Especially, in these days of publishing in “crisis”. Something tells me, Mr. Granger “gets it”.

What did I like about Esquire’s AR so much? Simple, it was really cool! Old fashioned, if I was 12 years old and did this I would have exactly the same response my “40-something” enthusiasm could muster. Except for some initial quirkiness with setting up the ‘black box” so my computer could react to the AR avator properly, it was quite a new experience. To avoid this next time (we’ll be seeing more of this in the future), they’ll simply put the “black box”  on a cardboard tear-out, or something stiff so people won’t have to kill themselves to hold it steady in front of their computer.avatar_small Also, if you’re trying it for the first time and are more of a “recreational” computer user than I am, well, its not exactly intuitive.  In the meantime, I was glad this is what I do for a living or it might have been daunting even for me.

But what I really liked, was the simple entertainment value. The initial Morton Downey introduction was really captivating, unfortunately, it ended in a shameless plug for his next film, but at the same time the marketer in me was seeing a LOT of potential. The other “features” weren’t robert-downey-jr-sitting-on-esquire-1209-thquite as beguiling, but I’m betting the one with Gillian Jacobs walking around in her enormous bathroom with only her Brooks Brothers shirt on will garner a fair amount of “cyber” buzz. And if Brooks Bothers is paying any attention (probably not) , they should be doing their best to “sponsor” the next episode. In fact, Mr. Granger should be lining up sponsors left and right just on the “hype” factor alone. The intentions are clearly to go “viral” perhaps even landing on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart.  The world of media is being rewritten and we are here to see it.

On the downside, two features were hard to manuevor for the reasons I gave above, the avatar being on a relatively thin piece paper in the middle or the edge of two magazine pages, all of which had to be laboriously  held up at once for an extended period of time. No thanx. But don’t worry they’ll figure that part out. I did. Finally, the feature I liked the most was also the most surprising and entertaining, a piece of modern jazz piano by an artist named Robert Glasper. It was a little over 7 minutes long and I sat through the whole jeremy-renner-windy-111209-ththing, and enjoyed it. Up to now, I had never heard of the guy and doubt that I ever would have. But not only do I remember the name, I’m writing it down. In one fell swoop, I was impressed, entertained and educated all at once. And I still haven’t read any of the articles! And you’re telling me this ISN’T the future?!  Next up…”Holo-mercials”!

Fun! Fun! Fun!

Looks like Volkswagen (with some help from TribalDDB) GETS IT

This video is currently number one on the  Ad Age Viral Video Chart. Considering how long its been on the chart (Since October…) that’s pretty impressive. But watching it will show you what happens when “Awesome” meets “Fun”…you guessed it.. you have “Awesome Fun” for everybody! (Well, almost everybody in OdenPlan, Sweden anyway )

This Little Piggie…!

Not that I’ve any doubts as to the future of advertising and digital advertising in particular, but it is a very nascent economic reality, ripe for both innovation and exploitation. In short, is the evolution of advertising from “external” messaging to “personal” communication a good thing or not

Read More

Totally “Awesome”, Dude…

I seem to be hearing more and more about “Awesomeness” these days.awesomeness But not in the usual venues where one would expect to here the term frequently, video gaming, extreme sports, or rock concerts. Its seems to be becoming a powerful buzzward in economic theory and, as a result, advertising. Economic theory? Yes economic theory straight from Harvard Business School of all places. Check out the blog “The Awesomeness Manifesto” ( http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/haque/2009/09/is_your_business_innovative_or.html ).  In this article Umair Haque brings up the 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter and his classic economic theory of “creative destruction” with a twist. A true 21st century thinker, Mr. Haque has a very clear eye on the 20th century business models of the past, what I call “Smoke Stack” economics, and it’s now obvious failings.smokestacks

According to both Shumpeter and Haque, true capitalism prides itself on innovation creating new markets, new value and new businesses that are in turn destroyed by newer innovation destroying old markets, old value and old businesses. This cycle, always a “disruptive” process was also, by today’s  standards, a “slow” process”.  Horse -drawn buggies would eventually be replaced by automobiles, but it would take a good generation or two to do so, giving the people who worked in the buggy industry a little time to “adjust” to the new economies created by the automobile.horsebuggy The buggy wheel maker is replaced by the tire manufacturer, the buggy driver becomes the taxi driver, the horse retires to the stud farm or the glue factory; disruptive but not cataclysmic (at least not for humans).

The Digital Age has changed all that as the current “Economic Crisis” suggests. When things change these days, they change fast! But as cataclysmic as the recent events have been to some, its been barely noticeable to others. For example, while other “technology segment” companies like Intel, Dell, and even the almighty Microsoft have taken a pretty good beaten over the last few months, Apple Computer has never done better. appleproductsRiding a peak of “innovative” products that just keep right on selling regardless of the tough economic times. Products I might add that aren’t exactly “cheap”. I put the term “innovative” in quotes because according to Mr. Haque: ”

…successful innovation is normally a source of temporary market power, eroding the profits and position of old firms, yet ultimately succumbing to the pressure of new inventions commercialised by competing entrants.”

But somehow Apple has managed to avoid, even overcome this problem despite the hordes of competitors, imitators and naysayers that have been chomping at its heels since the mid 1980s. Why? Its Mr. Haque’s theory that its because Apple doesn’t just sell products, Apple sells “Awesomeness”. And apparently they can’t sell enough of it. A visionary in the truest sense of the word, the world has already forgotten that Steve Jobs was actually ousted from Apple in the late 80s for trying to push this very concept to a board of directors firmly mired in 20th century thinking. They thought he was crazy and actually through him out. Thankfully for Apple shareholders, when the company teetered on failing in the early 90s, Apple had enough sense to bring him back. He’s been “innovating” Awesomeness ever sense.apple-products-jobs

In doing so, Jobs has managed to avoid the “destructive” cycle. You cannot destroy “Awesomeness”. You either propogate it or you don’t. Once you have the knack of creating it, you have your “genie” in a bottle. Instead of Destructive Capitalism you have a self-rejuvenating Constructive Capitalism. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Apple) Steve seems to be the only one who “gets” it…so far. Yes, it is all about marketing but its much more than that. A basic axiom of advertising is before you can sell a product you have to have a product. Most people, businesses and advertisers alike, think of awesomeness as a concept not a product. Yet Apple sells it with every Imac, Nano and Iphone they ship. Constructive capitalism can be “green” or “organic” or whatever you want to call it when someone makes something they love and sells it to somebody who loves it.

Gen M knows “awesomeness” when we see it — that’s why its part of our vernacular. It’s a precise concept, with meaning, depth, and resonance.

True these kinds of “fuzzy-wuzzy” words have had little place in the corporate boardroom of the past, but they’re ready to become a part of the everyday vernacular of the future. Ad agencies, large and small, better be prepared to  create their own brand of “Awesomeness”, not only to sell their client’s products, but themselves as well.

insp_captkirk

From toothpaste to luxury cars, its going to be a tough sell going into the future unless they’re wrapped in a good healthy dose of “awesome”. The consumer of today is demanding it…the consumer of tomorrow will expect it.

There goes the neighborhood!

The biggest kick any technology blogger, especially an advertising technology blogger, can get is affirmation that their insights are on the right track! In one of my earlier articles “(Location! Location! Location!” – July 28, 2009)farlogo_107x841 I espoused the virtues of Internet “Real Estate”. In order to grab more of the public’s eye in cyberspace you have to go to where they go, i.e., the web sites with the most user density. By establishing relationships with sites like Google, Yahoo, MySpace, etc., you simply stand a better chance of getting the eyeballs you need, to see the things you want them to see.

Well it seems the candy mogul Mars Incorporated, nee Wrigley, have been picture-4technology pundits since “modern” advertising was invented. There’s a reason why every healthy red blooded American for the last 4 or 5 generations knows “they melt in your mouth, not in your hands!” How many ad campaigns you know have lasted for over 65 years (MMs were introduced to American GIs during World War II precisely because it was chocolate that melted in your mouth not in your hands).

skittles2To their credit, the Mars Corporation have been pioneers in technology for years. But their latest and greatest idea deserves special kudos for both insight and far-sightedness. Their Skittles website takes my concept (unbeknownst to them) and took it one step further. Instead of just cozying up to prime cyber-space real estate, staking out a claim and building their own, they use everybody else’s stake in the ground. Rent free.  In other words, instead of building thier own from scratch, they use other sites as their own.

At first this my seem unethical but in 3D cyberspace, its just the opposite. Its a “win-win” for everybody. Not only am I bowled over by that delightful concept but there is double affirmation of my own views to boot. The key that Mars/Wrigley used to open the door to Internet Nirvhanna is our old friend the “widget” (“We’re off to see the Widgit” – June 23, 2009).  For approximately 320×260 pixels of flash real estate, skittles.com provides access to the ulitmate chat group (Twitter), the ultimate friends page (Facebook) and the ultimate product catalog (Wikipedia) and the ultimate media-center (YouTube). In so doing, Skittles has not only leaped onto the Internet’s “beachfront” property but did it all for the cost of a simple “widget”. Its “win-win” because now, not only does all those skittle lovers have access to those hundreds of millions of Internet users, the Facebookees, Twitterers, and Wikipediates, but Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia now have all those “Skittelites” as part of their world as well. beach1

Unfortunately, with such a low price tag for such valuable real estate, the beachfront is bound to get awful crowded awful fast! But thats a future consideration. For now, bon chance Skittles!

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