Technically Speaking: Richard Schatzberger

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Richard Schatzberger
Richard Schatzberger

Richard Schatzberger talks about as quickly as the pace of technology itself. In the span of an hour, the recently appointed director of creative technology at BBH covers a lot of ground, reminiscing in rapid fire about his previous experiences at interactive shops like DeepEnd, where in the late '90s he worked as design director of convergent media and then at Sapient, where he learned the building blocks of big systems and oversaw user experience. The agency time served him well during his six-year stint developing mobile applications and phones at Motorola. As principle experience strategist he helped to steer major product launches, including the low-cost user friendly Motofone and the high-end Aura. Now at BBH, N.Y., after a brief tenure as head of creative strategy at Poke, N.Y., "Schatz" as he's known to his friends, is charged with folding technology and its potential applications into the agency's everyday creating.

Can you tell me about working on the Motofone?
It was my favorite project ever. Motofone was a directive from top leadership. Nicholas Negroponte was on the board, he wanted to do what he was doing for OLPC for mobile technology. They said, "Go make the cheapest cellphone ever made." It really was a total blank sheet of paper for designers and researchers to go out and understand what the market needed. It was an 18-month project, and I spent about seven months on the road, in countries like Beijing and Sao Paolo living with the consumers. For me, my role has always been about how do I sit in the middle and look at something from the human aspect?

What have you been charged with at BBH?
It really was to be a fusion point of how we bring different perspectives, different opportunities to projects at the right time. I came from a user experience side, but also I have a love for new technologies and new ways of connecting people, new ways people can interact with content—[so I try to] bring those things early into the concept. Every two weeks I give a presentation about the coolest things that have been going on lately—who are all the different players, how do people interact with different things, to what are some of the ideas we have been talking about internally that may have not been exposed to the whole agency that brands could benefit from.

When you first arrived at the agency, what was the lay of the land, in terms of digital and tech?
The ideas were fantastic. I came to the agency when the Oasis "Dig Out Your Soul" campaign was coming out. Where I see opportunities is the idea of tangibility. How do we start to make digital big ideas—that are often hard to sell to the clients and are often hard to sell internally—tangible sooner so people can play with them. I can read a script and imagine how that could work, but describing how mobile will connect with this on the street and how people will interact with it is harder. Early experience prototyping is definitely how I think the agency is going to grow.

Do you have any examples of that at this point?
Things like Mrs. O [, the Michelle Obama fashion blog started by BBH's Mary Tomer], wonderful idea. We don't need a big vendor to do a blog, we know that, so we make it happen so the idea can flourish. What BBH Labs is doing generally—the polished object doesn't really exist so much anymore. The iPhone, I could never have released that at Motorola. We would have had to have every single feature in there before it launched. But Apple released the iPhone and said, "We're not doing x, y, and z, but we are going to focus on this, take our time and build relationships over time." It's about that speed and willingness to have a great idea and make it happen. Oasis took such a short amount of time as well, compared to anything else, and that got big buzz, but that was all Calle and Pelle [Sjonell]'s baby.
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