Lessons From London: The CaT Conference

Finding New Ideas in the Past While Trying to Keep up With the Future

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The Creativity and Technology conference in London yesterday featured digital artists, technology startups, digital agency execs and, yes, a cameo by a magician. While the conference covered a number of the digital trends du jour, including how interactive meets the physical world through mobile, iPad apps, gestural interfaces in gaming devices and social media, some surprising themes emerged.

Credit: Gary He
Print can be indeed interactive
Even at a conference dedicated to technology, a new approach to print media was a consistent thread. The first speaker, Jack Shulze, partner and director of new product development at design firm Berg, London, talked about how old media, such as print, can be transformed to distribute information like hyper-local news and social media in new ways.

"Print can suddenly be very quick and highly local and social," he said. "And that's without any new pixels or technology. Think of print in new ways to serve media to old places like coffee-shop receipts." He shared his firm's prototype of coffee-shop receipts that include news updates or the name of a location's current Foursquare mayor.

Later in the day, Dentsu London Strategy Director Beeker Northam cited newspaper work from a sibling agency in Japan that converted a print ad in Asahi newspaper into an animation when lined acetate passed over it. Dentsu London mimicked the zoetrope technique for a cover of Wallpaper magazine.

Beeker Northam
Beeker Northam Credit: Gary He
"There are magnificent bits of infrastructure just lying around, it's not just about creating new things and tech all the time," Ms. Northam said, quoting Russell Davies.

New tech ideas can be found in the past Despite working at companies on the bleeding edge of design and production, a number of speakers recognized the importance of rooting tech thinking in the past.

"We like stuff that is like stuff we already know," said Perry Price, innovation director of agency Dare Digital. He cited his agency's painting app Remote Palette, which turns an iPhone into a palette that interacts with an iPad as a canvas.

Berg's Mr. Shulze showed the audience evidence of so-called new tech trends, such as augmented reality, from as far back as 1905. He showed old-timey photos of Chicago written over with directions to a hotel; today; augmented reality apps deliver the same service of overlaying pictures with information but through a phone camera, not still picture.

The consumer doesn't distinguish between digital and traditional
Iain Tait, global interactive creative director for Wieden & Kennedy, was one of the more grounding speakers of the day. To show how far off real "digital" thinking is for agencies and brands, he picked apart the distinction between traditional and digital advertising that currently rule marketing and agency structures. He knocked the notion of "post-digital," saying that we are only at the very start of our digital capabilities.

Not that it matters to the consumer. "Digital and traditional for the ordinary person is all the same thing," said Mr. Tate. "It's all things they consume. It means nothing to them. In agencies and client organizations, people still don't understand this."

The agency of the future will have to combine both digital product and the TV-spot storytelling agencies like his have made their names on. "The modern agency has two products: stories and software," he said.

Iain Tait
Iain Tait Credit: Gary He
The wildly popular "Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign for Old Spice, for example, had an element of software. He said the agency used platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and complex back-end work flow to make the campaign's responses really fast. "Without it, [the campaign] would have been clunky and much slower," he said. "You don't have to build everything yourself."

How do we do all this? Play
So how does the typical agency worker drive her mind through the intersection of creativity and technology? By letting go and playing with it. Digital artist Stewart Smith, founder of art studio Stewdio, said a key element of his work including playing with media and how we use everyday pieces of technology, such as the web browser, to create his art. With browsers, he recreated the popular tennis game in the space between open windows and called it Browser Pong.

Mr. Tait suggested we all sit down with an Xbox, Wii or Playstation for a little market research. Console games are a good example of the narrative storytelling we're used to in TV commercials coming together with interactive.

"You're in denial if you think gaming is niche world," he said. "This is the kind of storytelling and level of experience that consumers expect from us. The bar is set incredibly high."

Mass-market gaming consoles like Nintendo Wii and the recently released Xbox Kinect, a controller-less gaming device, mean that it's not just teen boys with those high levels of interactive expectations. With games that use movement to play, the category opens up to everyone.

Vivian Rosenthal
Vivian Rosenthal Credit: Gary He
"Gestures mean no barrier to entry," said Vivian Rosenthal, founder of design studio Tronic. "A child or grandmother can walk up and see how the input is their body."

Think of marketing like ... farming.
Mr. Tait also discussed the idea of "brand gardening." Because marketing ideas last longer in -- and can be amplified by -- social media, we need to be more careful.

"It's a bit like farming," he said. "You can't do anything untoward in the environment and expect that next year everything is going to be fine again. ... You're going to have to sit with shit ideas for months and months and you'll have to pay the consequences. You're now held to account for a long time and that's a really positive thing."

Technology works for everyone, not just you
When we think of technology, we often only think about the urban-dwelling, young early adopter. But Liz Lawley, director of the Lab for Social Computing and associate professor of interactive games and media for Rochester Institute of Technology, made a plea for the rest of the U.S. between New York and San Francisco.

Elizabeth Lane Lawley
Elizabeth Lane Lawley Credit: Gary He
She specifically turned to Foursquare. "You have to expand to people who don't look exactly like you. Geographically neglected populations can ramp up usefulness. When Foursquare opened up outside the big cities, usage rocketed -- but it was founded by people who star in Gap commercials."

"What's next is taking amazing stuff and expanding it to people who don't look just like you," she added.

Change is constant
Barak Hachamov, founder of My6Sense.com, talked about his new service that tries to prioritize all our streams on the web -- from links on Twitter to RSS feeds -- by learning from what we consume. His service is meant to make sense of what he calls the "web of streams," which is vastly different than Google's search-based internet, which matches queries with web pages.

"In the world of pages, we request what we want," he said. "In the new world, I'm not asking for anything, it's just me and my social graph." His company is working on what he calls "digital intuition" where software can learn what will be most relevant to you and serve it at the top of social media driven streams of content. This will especially become important as we access more and more information out in the real world through mobile. "In the physical world, we don't want to surf," he said. "I want to feel, I want to see and to talk. So the ability to give me the right information in the right second is important."

Director Chris Milk, who was responsible for interactive music videos The Johnny Cash Project and The Arcade Fire's Wilderness Downtown from Google Labs, stressed how essentially different videos from the internet need to be from videos on TV.

"The problem with music videos is people are still directing them for TV," he said. "The internet is revolutionizing the genre." He revealed that he is working on a project with Norah Jones, Jack White and Dangermouse that moves the narrative through "multiple media points." The team is creating a piece of work that starts on the internet, moves onto a concert or opera and finishes with a feature film that will show in movie theaters.

For more on the conference, check out an extended version of these lessons at Creativity, read a social-media recap created by a new content creation tool Storify, or look back on the tweets from the conference at hashtag #crcat

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Emma Hall contributed to this piece.

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