SXSW: Creativity, AI and the robots that are coming

There was a stack of robots at SXSW this year.  Over just four days, I managed to watch robots play drums, print names on table tennis balls (Royals logo looked great btw), hear a debate between two robots on the virtues of Lady Gaga vs. Taylor Swift and even go to an ‘artificial (comedy) improv’ session featuring a cast of robots dressed up in drag!  All these androids ‘taking over the world’ are bound to make some agency folk more than a little paranoid about the future of work.  But others are embracing the fear and running headlong into a cybernetic future where computers understand more of our intuitive human knowledge and – if we’re interested enough – may actually help improve one of the key things that makes us human in the first place:  that is, our ability to emotionally connect with others.

This was the premise behind a session by Jason Robinson, Senior Design Lead at IDEO and Pip Mothersill entitled ‘Humans, Machines, and the future of Industrial Design’.  The pair are best known for their work in the fusion of technology and design, in particular the creation of tools to help people design objects that can express higher-level sentiments and emotions via aesthetic forms.

So how might this work exactly?  Well, whether or not we’re experts in design, people subconsciously perceive meaning in objects through their physical design ‘language’ (their form, colour, materials etc.).  This is well represented by the famous teaching technique used in the Disney studios that uses a simple Flour sack to convey different kinds of emotion, below:   

disney

Designers intuitively understand this language and actively translate it into meaning that’s inherent in physical geometries, often using complex computer aided design tools (CADs) to create 3D models of their designs.  But, what if we could decode the physical design language so that CAD systems could use words instead of numbers to more intuitively create expressive designs? 

At the MIT Media Lab, Pip created an emotive form design taxonomy that broke down people’s emotive perceptions of different shapes into various quantitative design attributes – attributes that were then directly integrated into the design software itself.  When a designer typed a word into the emotive modeler, the system analysed the emotional associations to the word and generated a 3D model who’s forms reflect the emotive character of the words themselves. In theory, the tool’s valuable as a starting point for novices who don’t know where to begin but also for more expert professionals who want to quickly come up with a whole range of emotive designs from which to build and inspire their final creations. 

You can check out the emotive modeler here;  emotivemodeler.media.mit.edu

All this got me thinking, if this type of work’s already being done to more effectively communicate a professional’s thoughts through the medium of design, surely it’s only a matter of time until someone figures out how to do the same thing through the medium of advertising?!

Creative search tools such as Yossarian are already being used by the creative community to offer fresh perspectives, provocations and feedback at a global scale.  At the same time, AI powered design platforms such as www.thegrid.io (while far from perfect) profess to ‘craft beautiful websites driven by human-centered values, constraints and direction’.  I can’t claim to know what the future of the broader communications industry and AI platforms might look like exactly, but one thing’s for sure:  those who embrace, develop and leverage this merger of being and machine to help improve creative product will be the winners in a world that’s barreling towards a cybernetic future.

Also: if you’re heading to Vivid Sydney or are around on June, you might be interested in this event. There are a couple of Royals involved:

https://www.vividsydney.com/event/ideas/human-machine-next-great-creative-partnership

Steve
@steveofarrell

I knew diversity was important. After SXSW, I now know (even more about) why.

The importance of diversity in the communications industry has been a much talked about topic for the past several years.  It’s something that The Royals talk a lot about also as part of our mission to be the ‘most interested agency in the world’. You may have already read the press on diversity being one of the key themes at this year’s SXSW.  Those of you who were lucky enough to be there would have noticed the fantastic number of meet-ups geared towards various minority groups across a multitude of industries & skill sets.  But beyond these focused sessions, the value of diversity was an omnipresent theme in several of the keynotes I went to, including:

Carmen Medina:  Diversity as Critical Thinking Tool

62 year-old Peurto Rican, ex CIA agent and author of Rebels at Work stressed that actively encouraging dissonance helps ensure that you have an adequate variation in thinking styles to best solve problems.  Carmen contended that dissenting opinions help free us from conformity and, more importantly, stimulate us to think more creatively. By including dissenting opinions in our collective groups, research has shown that we consider more facts and more possibilities in order to come up with better solutions.

Chris Sacca:  Diversity as Profit Driver

Multi-billionaire investor and slayer of Mark Cuban on Shark Tank, was much more cut & dry in his argument for diversity saying simply “if a company doesn’t promote it, they must hate money”.  A great line and one that prompted me to spend more time reviewing the actual research.  Such as a 2015 McKinsey white paper that reported a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive teams of US companies, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.  

Adam Grant:  Diversity as Creative Catalyst 

Wharton’s Top Rated Professor and best-selling author talked about creative intuition being based primarily on sub conscious pattern recognition. Adam reminded us that we’re all wired a certain way based on our experiences, all of which can lead to unproductive “Group Think”. Adams solution was to build teams comprised of a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation to help culturally enrich your organization and enhance creativity.

So, thanks for getting me to think differently again this year, SXSW.  I came to Austin knowing that diversity was a good thing but if I’m really honest, I didn’t know enough about why. Being exposed to such a diverse range of thinkers over the past few days not only made me smarter, it made me more determined than ever for The Royals to use diversity as a way to make our business smarter too.    

Steve
@steveofarrell

Announcing: Small Heroes By The Royals

This morning we kicked off our Small Heroes initiative at Work Club Melbourne with a high spirited breakfast panel discussing the changing face of Australian small business.

Small Heroes is a new Royals program we’ve developed to get under the hood of Australian small business, to better understand their challenges, motivations and incredible diversity. This ongoing project will include one on one interviews, broader qualitative research, trends analysis and a national breakfast panel series.

The breakfast was opened by our guest speaker the Hon. Philip Dalidakis and included an all female panel represented by Fleur Studd – Market Lane Coffee, Founder, Suzana Ristevski, NAB GM Business Bank Marketing, and Christy Karamzalis – Google, Industry Head.

This morning also saw the release of our quarterly trend report, Patterns & Perspectives, which investigates emerging themes associated with the SMB segment, from the rise of women business owners to the increased awareness and impact of cyber security.

Patterns & Perspectives is available for download HERE, with a more detailed presentation available on request.

The next Small Heroes event will be held in Sydney on Wednesday, May 17th. If interested in attending please email smallheroes@theroyals.com.au for more information.

Meanwhile, take a look below at the first of the Small Heroes Small Business profiles: The Lorne Hotel and Southall Farm. We’re going to be travelling the country telling a bunch of these fascinating, diverse stories about the men and women who keep our economy ticking.