Lessons from CAT London 2010

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Dare brings a magician on stage. (Image by @mobbie)
Dare brings a magician on stage. (Image by @mobbie)

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 like Xbox Kinect and social media, some surprising themes emerged.

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 of design firm Berg London, talked about how old media, like 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.

Dentsu for Wallpaper
Dentsu for Wallpaper

"There are magnificent bits of infrastructure just lying around, it's not just about creating new things and tech all the time," Northam said.

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 canvas.

Berg's Shulze showed the audience evidence of so-called new tech trends like 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 rules marketing and agency structures. He knocked the notion of "post-digital," saying that we are only at the very start of our digital capabilities. "We've not reached peak digital, so you can't possibly talk about 'post digital,'" he said. "The term is used to dismiss the importance of technology in the creative process."

Not that it matters to the consumer. "Digital and traditional for the ordinary person is all the same thing," said Tait. "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 the TV-spot storytelling agencies like his have made their names on as well as digital products. "The modern agency has two products: stories and software," he said.

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.

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 game 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.

"Gestures mean no barrier to entry," said Vivian Rosenthal, founder of design studio Tronic and CEO of mobile tech startup GoldRun. "A child or grandmother can walk up and see how the input is their body."

Augmented reality is still in its infancy.
According to Rosenthal, "Augmented reality will be integrated into our lives in ways we're not even aware of yet. Every store and event will have to build AR into the experience." She also suggested that we'd soon see things like digital flowers delivered to our doorsteps."

Fredrik Ademar, CTO of The Astonishing Tribe, gave the CaT audience a glimpse of the AR smartphones of the future, which allow users to display their digital identity to friends, colleagues and even strangers. By holding up their phones to an individual's face, people will be able to see the person's business cards, tweets, or anything else they choose to display.

Ademar said that the new smartphones and their AR functions "will open up new degrees of freedom, and take the density of information available way beyond anything we know now. We are looking at the same type of transition as the change from black and white to color TV."

Think of marketing like ... farming.
W+K's 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.

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."

The Rise of Hyper-personalisation
"Social popularity is not enough," Hachamov added. "You are not your friends - you are an individual." He said that we need to touch users with much more personal content, and predicted that in three or four years, everything will be dedicated to bringing information to individuals in the style and context that suits them.

This trend will spawn new types of personal broadcasting and content, one example of which was provided by Flipboard's Evan Doll. Flipboard creates a personalized magazine that aggregates social networking content from your friends and relatives, bringing them together in an attractive magazine format, complete with your own individual cover.

Digital interactive storytelling has moved to the next stage
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. A concept album, which Milk described as "close to Pink Floyd's 'The Wall," will be the soundtrack to the whole project.

Tommy Pallotta, producer of hit movies Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, showed a preview of Collapsus, a new short film he has directed. Part animated fiction, part documentary and part interactive game, it's using every tool in the box to get young people to care about the energy crisis. Pallotta said, "We're exploring new ways of storytelling, mashing genres together to see what happens and giving people the chance to click to get more information if they want it," Pallotta said.

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

Additional reporting by Emma Hall.

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