I’m spending so much time designing, working and recovering (shoulder surgery ouch) that there’s less and less time to blog right now. However I’m reading and researching more than ever.
I get through a ton of articles each week and try to absorb all the interesting stuff so I thought that this might be a good opportunity to put everything I’ve enjoyed and found worthwhile into a newsletter so that hopefully you might find it useful too.
The content of newsletter is a real mix of mobile, social, tech, creativity and design from around the web. It’s stuff that gets me thinking and helps form ideas and inspire.
I started the newsletter in November and it now has 184 subscribers which is great because I’ve really enjoyed curating them.
You can view past issues here to get a flavour of the type of articles contained. If it’s up your street then click the link below to sign up!
Back in November 2010 whilst I was in full-time employment, Apple had just launched iOS 4.2 and I was spending a bit of time reading about all the new features of the latest OS update on Mobilexweb.
I stumbled upon one in particular that really got me thinking – the ability for Safari to use the iPhone’s accelerometer (the tech in the phone that detects movement).
This seemed like the perfect opportunity to quickly release a proof of concept using the new feature, right in time for Christmas and get it out there before anyone else.
I reached out to the senior management of the agency where I was working at the time for the funds to hire a HTML5 developer for a couple of days. I suggested an accelerometer-based Christmas card that we could send to clients, thanking them for their custom over the past year (and showing them what cool stuff we do, maybe even get some press). Standard agency stuff.
It was decided that the money would be better spent on Google Adwords campaigns to generate new business leads for the agency. Anything innovative would have to wait until a client came along and wanted it.
Two things happened at that moment… 1) I decided that I needed to go back to freelancing (I handed in my notice after the new year) and 2) I would make something using the new iOS feature in my own time.
Sadly I’m not a developer so I did what I always do in these situations – ask my good pal Brendan (@oh_moore) if he fancied coding a ‘mobile snowglobe’ that animated everytime you started shaking the phone. Without any hesitation Brendan said yes and that evening he already had a hacked-up prototype of the snow.
I put together the design for the page and asked another friend Leigh (@leighpearce) to do the illustration for the snowglobe. We all worked on the idea a couple of hours here and there in the busy run up to the holidays.
We released the snowglobe into the world just before Christmas and I followed up with a blog post on boxing day.
It got around 25 retweets in total, a couple of nice comments here and there but nothing crazy. We had a fun experience and moved onto the next spare-time thing.
I think both Brendan and myself would agree that it wasn’t the most polished of sites, however as a proof-of-concept it was brilliant. It would have been great to spend a bit more time to iron out the kinks and design but hey, we had presents and turkey to attend to.
Fast forward to almost a year later and the highly regarded mobile design and UX expert Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) announced he was releasing a book called Mobile First.
There was a lot of buzz on Twitter and lots of positive reviews when the book launched- after a while I figured I should probably read it and got around to ordering a copy from the States.
When it arrived a few weeks later, I opened it up and skimmed through the pages…. there it was! Sitting on page 41 ….
I had no idea it was going to be in the book and I’ve never even spoke to Luke. The blog post and the snowglobe barely got any traffic (note to self – never launch anything on Christmas Eve or write blog posts on boxing day), so it just goes to show the importance of getting your ideas out there because you never know who could be looking.
Life at a agency can be tough if you want to explore this big new technological world we live in and create stuff. It’s often expected that ideas only form around clients or projects – the reality is that the best ideas often don’t and never will involve either of these things.
You simply can’t rely on clients to help you innovate – by the time they know what they want it’s already years old. Nobody needs or cares about another QR Code or Blippar campaign but clients seem to think it’s the dogs bollocks.
We are in the most exciting time ever in our industry. The speed of change is huge, every OS update, device or social network brings more and more opportunities to make amazing, fun and interesting stuff.
Things like apps have lowered the barrier to entrepreneurialism - Eeeeevveryone has a idea for a app, some of my mates don’t even know how to use a computer and they have app ideas. Everyone wants a slice of the pie, they know the time is now – everyone apart from agencies that is.
And this is the problem – the current culture of agencies is creating a workforce of idea hoarders. Creatives, planners, copywriters and developers keeping the best ideas for themselves because they would rather do that then give them over to their employers – even if that means those ideas may never see the light of day.
You only need to read the comments and the tweets around my post ‘Can agencies create the next Angry Birds? to see that even with all the resource and skill that an agency has, people see no personal or professional incentive to give away their best ideas.
This great comment from Alec hits the nail on the head (goes back the entrepreneurial mindset in place right now)
There’s no incentive/ownership structure within any of the agencies for which I have worked that addresses ownership of IP on an individual level. On the outside chance that my idea does turn into a million or billion dollar enterprise, I will not be happy with just a pat on the head or an advertising award.
I use to be of the opinion that getting my ideas made at work was the best strategy, I have so many that it was unrealistic to think that I would be able to make most of them even if I had all the spare time in the world. I’d rather have seen my stuff out there than sat on a notepad somewhere in my flat.
But now when the most simplest ideas get rejected internally, with no incentive to generate concepts unless there’s a P.O – it’s apparent the only way to do this stuff is collaborating with like-minded people in your own time.
If you’re working in a agency and you feel like your ideas aren’t being engaged, in my experience there’s a strong chance that others feel the same – team up with them. Get your ideas out there, whether it’s a sketch, prototype or just a simple blog post.
Marketers – which one of these billboards do you think would get more responses?
If the point of putting a mobile call-to-action on a advert is to get the consumer to do something with their phone, why is the industry continuing to use a fucking cryptic graphic that less people understand than a URL?
(Updated) The common argument is that mobile users save a handful of seconds by scanning a QR code. Back in 2005 when I first started playing around with the codes, URL’s looked a bit like this:
Now they look a bit like this:
Oh and don’t forget the large percentage of phones that have a physical or virtual keyboard.
I read a great post by Rachel Beer which pretty much sums up what’s happening right now:
“Yet, as with any new technology, QR codes are merely a means to an end for marketers. They are enablers to big ideas. They aren’t the big ideas themselves. Some brands are merely riding the novelty of QR codes, rather than doing anything interesting with them.”
People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces. How could we think that QR codes for marketing would work any better than CueCat? Did we not learn the first time?
At the beginning of 2011 the popular photo-sharing network Instagram announced they would be opening up their platform to allow developers to create their own funky applications and tools.
I hooked up with expert dev Brendan (@fraislocht) and got right on the case to create a mobile website called InstaBAM (works on desktop too) which uses the location information attached to photos uploaded on Instagram to enable people to view pictures around where they are standing.
It was a very simple site for a simple concept – ‘View the world around you through the eyes of others’ . We knocked it together one Sunday evening and launched. The site was surprisingly popular and still is to this day, it should pass 60,000 view by the end of the year.
This led to a conversation with my iOS dev homeboy Jonathan about what we could do next. We decided to use some of Brendan’s hard work and quickly create a iPhone App version of InstaBAM.
In May InstaBAM hit the App Store, available to download for free, it was pretty much a replica of the mobile site and after a initial burst of downloads, they dropped heavily and we left the app unloved, languishing in the depths of the store.
I never blogged about the app or told many people because I always knew it needed more work to get it to a point where it could be used regularly.
Towards the end of the summer we decided to give InstaBAM a refresh, add some new features and a whole new design. We’ve both managed to nick a few hours here and there each week and get something out which is pretty interesting tool to explore photos.
All of the credit has to go to both Jonathan and Brendan, two insanely busy developers that are still willing to take time out and stay up late to work on my crackpot ideas.
So if you have a iPhone click the button below (or click here) and download InstaBAM, it’s completely free and you don’t need a Instagram account to browse local photos.
Credit for the photo donation goes to Chris Constantine, photographer and head of design at Sponge.
I’m only 10 minutes into Life In A Day and I’m already completely blown away.
Produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald, Life In A Day is a cinematic experiment with the aim of documenting a single day on Earth. Thousands of people from around the world recorded and uploaded footage to YouTube.
The resulting 4,500 hours of video from 192 countries was then chopped and packaged into a 90 minute film, free to watch on YouTube.
It’s a extremely moving snapshot into the world we live in and showcases the brilliance of the internet and sites like YouTube (and mobile phones!) to bring something like this together.
But the power of the film rests on the power of the Internet and technology to crowdsource so many riveting and simple moments all over the world. The movie was inspirational, emotional, depressing yet uplifting. It was life, in a day.
Spotted this in Ibiza this week as I was walking into Amnesia.
Blackberry are sponsoring the club this year and it looks like they’re taking advantage of BBM for news, ticket info and promotions. UPDATE: BBM users can get queue jumps and 1 in every 100 BBM users who show a barcode on their screen scanned gets in for free.
This is post I’ve been meaning to write for a quite some time now, it’s spawned from a number of conversations I’ve had with people in several digital and mobile agencies around London.
Aside from an odd 14-months at Nokia, I’ve spent all of my professional working life within agencies and it’s always felt like the right fit. The combination of creative and technical minds plus big brands has always had that lure and promise of creating amazing work. The process of getting a bit of paper containing a brief and turning it into a real life experience is pretty great.
So with all the right ingredients, creative juice and technical ability on tap I posed the question - Can The Next Instagram/Hipstamatic/Klout/Angry Birds Be Born Within An Agency?
Actually my question was more like why hasn’t this already happened? Why aren’t more agencies making bets and try to build products and services that would make venture capitalists in Silicon Valley jealous?
I’m not just talking about internal projects that agencies do in spare time (or better still, dedicated time) but for client work too.
In my opinion it comes down to a mixture of two things – clients themselves and agency culture.
The sad truth is that if you’re expecting a client to drop a brief and a lump of cash in your hand that sparks off The Next Big Thing™ then you’ll be waiting a long time. It’s rare to see a ‘big idea’ digital or mobile brief from a client that isn’t suffocated by its own bullshit.
Instead of spending the time to create a 50 page deck containing arrows and buzzwords, why doesn’t the client ever take the time to step back and think ‘Who the fuck is going to do this and why?’
Brands need to realise that the available hours and minutes of the people they are trying to reach are being eaten up by Facebook, IM, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds and browsing the web. What makes them think that people are going to spend time interacting with yet another augmented reality app for any longer than a couple of minutes before getting back to flinging birds and reading tweets?
Startups and agencies alike always ask themselves, “What is the problem we’re solving?” If agencies want to think more like tech startups, they might focus less on clever storytelling and more on utility. In today’s media rich, attention-poor world, offering people something of use is the best way to cut through the noise.
Nike’s “Write the Future” and the Old Spice guy were the year’s best ad campaigns. I loved them as much as anyone. But I didn’t spend more than a few minutes with either–I was too busy devoting my spare moments to a relationship with Angry Birds and Foursquare.
But we can do better surely. How about 1 million people using your app every day? How bout every hour? Year after year?
Do clients and agencies want to keep creating branded fluff or do they want to build temples?
There’s no reason Hipstamatic couldn’t have come from Kodak’s agency. Or a global agency build something like Klout or CoTweet and have brands and rival agencies eating out of their hands paying to use it.
Agencies are just as guilty as clients, we pander too much for their insistence of ‘new’. Too happy to take their cash in return for some bollocks app that might get your client a couple of pats on the back in the boardroom but ultimately will be forgotten by the 5000 people who used it for a week or less.
I keep thinking back to another quote from the article on Fast Company:
Tech startups begin with the big idea, then seek to monetize.
Agencies start with a budget, then seek the big idea.
Two guys on a limited budget can get together and build Instagram, getting 7 million users in less than a year, a couple of guys at Odeo can start a side project called Twitter and become one of the biggest things ever. But at agencies we are consistently unable to turn a app costing 5 or 6 figures into something that can engage people for longer than a campaign (if that).
There are realities of course, I’m no account manager but I know that calling out your client for lack of sense and ambition isn’t the best way to keep people paid and the lights kept on.
So why aren’t more agencies (mobile epecially) creating stuff off their own backs? I know first hand how many amazing ideas get binned in pitches and projects, why not take a punt and prototype one that could benefit the agency (or brand)?
In my personal experience there is a extreme fear of failure and lack of desire to do anything innovative outside of paid client work which stems from the very top of the organisation. There must be 15-20 mobile agencies in London at the moment, how many of them have created apps that were part of side-projects or R&D initiatives?
It’s not like there’s a lack of will. Here’s a little secret – creatives and developers are ITCHING to do cool, innovative stuff and have great ideas every day. Some of these ideas might just be your agencies ticket to new clients, press, talent or revenue.
Try this test – if you’re reading this whilst working in an agency, when was the last time the creative and tech team all got together to launch something fun and interesting outside of client work?
The majority of the time the answer is either ‘a long time ago’ or worst ‘never’.
How are agencies meant to stay relevant and keep staff engaged without exploring technology and ideas in this way?
There are some agencies leading the charge – ustwo (@ustwo) based in Shoreditch have a portfolio filled with a mixture of client work and in-house projects.
They have heavily invested in their own IP and openly talk about the risks they’ve taken, one app called MouthOff has made them £123,456 through sales and licensing to brands, whereas another cost £80,000 of studio time and “utterly bombed”. Did this failure deter them from trying again? Nope! They currently have another big project in the works. Remember that Twitter spawned from the failure of Odeo…
I think I’m slowly finding where I sit within this industry. In the past I use to think that winning a award was the ultimate recognition of great work and aspired to produce campaigns that might get a sniff of a D&AD or Cannes Lion.
But fuck that. I’d rather have users who love and regularly use my app/service than any advertising award out there.
I want to build great products that people love and want to use. I want to solve problems by combining awesome experiences with technology and data.
Can that happen at a agency? Or is the only place for this sort of desire at a start-up or going it alone?
I think Don Draper sums up how I feel in this epic quote: