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.

Our Pause Festival 2017 Highlights

Recently Pause Festival rocked Melbourne’s Fed Square and surrounds for the seventh year. Amongst the range of creative, technology and business events on the schedule, here are some of the panels, talks and workshops that really stood out for us:

Empathy and emotion in VR – Panel presented by VRTOV
There is a widely-held expectation that VR should aim to generate empathy and emotion. But many practitioners are wondering if the medium can achieve this potential as an “empathy machine” largely because it tends reduce a lot of social contexts down to the barest elements. Additionally VR isn’t great at replicating the inescapability of certain circumstances (after all, you can always just pull the cord out if things get too full on). The panel suggested that VR might be better geared toward generating sympathy, rather than empathy.

Lunch & learn with a LEGO Serious Play expert – Workshop by Michael Fearne
Turns out Lego has some pretty interesting uses beyond recreation. In this workshop, we built structures that acted as metaphors for identities and experiences. Lego is used in business contexts to foster creative thinking by tapping into the subconscious. It got really personal when we had to share with strangers how our structure represented “the greatest issue in our career”.

Music To Our Ears – Technology & The Music Industry – Panel by Sarah Smith (RRR)
As a punter, it was fascinating to get insight into the other side of the music industry. Panelists discussed the importance of access to the analytics of streaming platforms. But they fear that the increased proliferation of streaming will lead to certain companies monopolising crucial data, which will heavily impact the production, sales and promotion of music. Interestingly the panel agreed that for music festivals in Australia, RFID technology is set to be one of the the next big things.

Desperately seeking empathy – Workshop conducted by Matt Taylor (Deloitte)
More about empathy :) But this time we were the guinea pigs for Matt Taylor’s design therapy technique. We were tasked to draw an array of things, from toast, to the person next to us (both with our eyes open and closed). The intention of this new technique is to induce empathy and act as a meditative process for those involved. It was interesting to hear about how it might be soon used in different corporate contexts.

Hybrid Reality: A new frontier of space exploration – Keynote by Matthew Notes (NASA)
This talk was many people’s favourite of the festival. The hybrid realties used in space simulation look like a super fun and interactive game where you are immersed in a virtual world but interact with corresponding real world objects. Beyond the fun game-like elements, these simulations serve a practical function by ingraining the necessary motor skills for astronauts.

Life in the Infosphere: Hypernudges, Blackboxes…and you – Panel
Discussing how nudge theory is now being changed with all the information companies have on users. Also talking about privacy and how any information you share is used back at you to influence your choices and in turn make companies richer. And finally discussing how companies are controlling what we see and where their morals lie.

Technology Tarot – Workshop
Run by the ABC R&D people, it talked about their process to creating solutions by using a deck of tarot cards with new and future tech on, paired with a persona they are trying to reach and product they are trying to push, in this case the news. The cards are great idea starters.

Scaling Global from Day 1 with Linda Kozlowski, COO of Etsy.
Let’s go ahead and shatter the Etsy customer stereotype. Etsy isn’t just for those that are planning their wedding or craft-feigns. Etsy is a place where people go to find something unique that speaks to their personality. No matter where you call home, it’s got widespread, global appeal. Believing that the future of business is global business, is Linda’s philosophy. Key point is to utilise data of where people are buying what and learning how they’re using it because innovation leads to unintended consequences, and that’s ok.

The VicHyper Experience with Zachary McClelland
What looks like something out of The Jetsons all of a sudden feels very real and much less “crazy” since hearing from one of the VicHyper engineers and cofounders. What I found interesting is that they’re applying existing technology and putting it together in a world first way to create a bloody fast delivery/transport system. I like to think of this as skilled problem solving whereby you’re leveraging existing tech but in new, profound ways. That’s smart thinking.

Until Pause ’18.

Louise Richards,
Program Manager, Y2.

Paul Broomfield,
Creative Technologist.

Chrissie Malloch,
Strategist.

Making Characters At Pixar with Brian Green

Pause Festival 2017 gave me a chance to see the Character Supervisor responsible for my favourite childhood Pixar film, Monsters Inc. But while I’d gone in hoping to find a winning a formula for character backstory development, I instead was treated to a half-hour lecture on tentacles and big blue fur.

There’s nothing better than seeing someone who loves what they do — as Brian Green clearly does —  talk about it. With an energy I’m going to call ‘confused genius’, Green initially rushed through an overly technical explanation of how Pixar built each individual part of a tentacle for characters in Monsters Inc and Finding Dory, detailing in depth the math, code, physics — and purpose built computer programs — that go into making octopus suckers that suck, detach and wobble like the real thing. After 20 minutes of being whacked over the head with detail, the audience’s attention began to wane.

But then this nugget: Green finally turned to why he personally believes it’s important to nail each component is important: ‘Making your character believable is about making them vulnerable. Giving them vulnerabilities is how the audience accesses them in a familiar way, and so how they can lose themselves in the film’ Boom, I thought, there’s a nice sticky takeaway.

For Green, physicality is an entire story in itself. And every movement of your character, whether octopus, human or monster, help show reveal its weaknesses and, therefore, humanity. The missteps, the over-confidences, the shrugs and sighs are recognised and processed by an audience long after the  character open it’s mouth. So sharing these secrets is the fastest shortcut to getting inside the viewer’s  head.

There could be a crucial lesson for brand articulation in this. While surely few people would ever admit to having ‘weak’ characters as their favourites, Pixar know that in reality, the work they put into the peripheral and unconscious cerebral considerations, is just as important as anything else. Character for them is a string of reflexes and intimacies that tell a holistic story. So when asking how our brands can be more believable (dare I say, authentic) don’t be afraid to show blemishes, what they’re overly enthusiastic/eager about, what they’re sick of, or even their achilles heel. A little vulnerability can go a long way.

Sam Butcher,
Researcher.

I wore Snap’s Spectacles for the weekend. And I’ll do it again.

Snap, the tech company behind Snapchat, released a limited number of Snap Specs late last year and we managed to get our hands on a pair of the not-so-unisex coral-coloured 10 second video capturing sunglasses.

Snap Inc, the brains trust behind the widely popular social media app Snapchat are known as tech & social innovators, but not so much hardware visionaries…until now. As a camera company, Snap’s biggest competitor is your phone’s camera and this weekend when I was wearing the Snap Specs, my iPhone camera function was nowhere to be seen.

When I first popped the Specs on and synced them up I thought “Ok, what am I going to do with these?”. So I pinched them from work to try them out over the weekend. I wanted to learn how they worked and why people would choose to record footage through Specs rather than their phones.

A weekend with Snap’s Spectacles from The Royals on Vimeo.

As I started capturing some footage at Laneway, I quickly learnt that the back of people’s heads really wasn’t where the fun was at. It was in the “look Mum, no hands!” footage. So this was pretty much the set-up for the following couple of days and seventy-three 10” Snaps later.

After wearing them for the weekend, here’s why I think people will enjoy Snap Specs and why I believe they’ll champion your phone’s camera:

  • Free hands. Specs let you do what you want to do without taking your eyes off the prize. Over the weekend I captured myself clapping, drinking, praising, cheering, catching, hugging, hi-fiving and dancing. It was this content that got a great response from my friends on Snapchat and drove intrigue with them asking “how are you recording that?” and “what’s going on here?”.
  • No phones obscuring the view of others, or me. I didn’t have to watch anything through my phone screen, I got to see it all with my own eyes. Specs allow you to enjoy being in the moment without the obstructions.
  • People weren’t offended by them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they were aesthetically pleasing with one friend commenting “cutest glasses ever!”, completely unprompted, I swear. Plus, when people asked what the light was they were so surprised to discover they were recording and after shrieking with excitement, instantly grabbed them to have a wear.
  • Seamless connectivity and control over what you post and to whom. You can still add all your favourite overlays, filters, comments and emoji’s to the snaps when they’ve synced to your phone. Plus, they didn’t drain my phone battery despite the automatic syncing all day. 👌👌
  • The sound quality is fantastic. Whether capturing conversations between your mates or your favourite bands tune that is playing over hundreds of heads in front of you or simply you narrating the snap.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about what Snap Specs allow you to do, but they definitely helped me capture some fantastic memories, moments and stories (get it 😉) for me over the weekend. Snap Specs have successfully made wearable tech people aren’t embarrassed to wear that allows you to be in the moment, unhindered.

Chrissie Malloch
@misschrissiemal

Notching up some awards and recognition

It’s been a busy few months at The Royals with new clients, new projects and new Royals joining our ranks. Among all the hard work, we’re pleased to report we’ve made the B&T Independent Agency of the Year shortlist against established players such as The Monkeys, The Works, The Hallway, Cummins & Partners and Affinity. Some of these guys have been around much longer than us so we’re pleased to be included in such esteemed company.

The B&T Awards winners will be announced on 18 November and we’re looking forward to a great night out, whether we get up on stage or not.

The B&T shortlisting follows our win of Silver and Bronze at Spikes Asia for our “Stress Break” campaign for Deakin University, which helped year 12 students beat exam stress by ordering four quirky characters to smash various objects in a real-time online stream.

And we were also a finalist at the Effies and the upcoming ADMA AC&E Awards and BE Fest Awards.

Awards are an important measure of success in our industry, and an effective means of raising the bar and inspiring us all to continue to create cutting edge work that delivers results for our clients. So, well done Royals team for creating work that makes a difference and gets noticed. This is a total agency achievement, and something we are all proud of.

Andrea.

The case for a good case study

By Nick Cummins, Creative Partner, The Royals Sydney and Melbourne

This post originally appeared on industry website Campaign Brief.

Going into the judging at Spikes Asia this year, I was concerned that national styles would play a big part in the judges’ decisions. I was lucky enough to be on Kentaro Kimora’s Digital and mobile panel along with judges from China, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines. So we all had the potential to be drawn to very different styles of humour, insights and solutions. But that wasn’t the case.

Although the work we judged – which started as a list of over 500 entries – was very diverse in tonality and levels of craft, the judges were very consistent in their views. Another thing that was very consistent over the four days of judging apart from the humidity, was how everyone entering these kinds of festivals ends up building the same style of case study.

There is a formula for a reason, I hear you cry. And yes, there are probably a few things that are important to keep doing but the problem is everything ends up looking like this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRDhx8Lo37E

The great thing about judging awards like this is you get to hang out with incredible people from our industry, from all different parts of the region and the world. We really are an amazingly smart, insightful, creative and funny bunch of individuals.

So why when it comes to representing our work do we lose our gift of great storytelling and end up producing cookie-cutter over-hyped communications? I don’t think a case study should necessarily outshine the entered piece, but surely there are other ways to represent our work. I asked my fellow esteemed judges what they felt about this and here are a few thoughts.

Get to the point. Every judge I met was really bright even after several Tiger beers the night before. You don’t have to tell them lots of people are using their phones these days or that people are distracted by lots of messages every day. Get straight to the point – what did you do and how did you do it? Personally I don’t think you even need to over-explain the brief or problem you are trying to solve. It will be obvious what your brief was if your solution is award worthy.

Don’t exaggerate. Dipping in to a big tub of hyperbole to get your entry to be taken seriously doesn’t work. We forget that a solution doesn’t have to have changed the world to win an award.

Keep it real. We watched a lot of videos of stunts, experiments, pop-ups, and activations. It was nice to see so many friends from agencies in the background looking intrigued and elated. The problem with this is not just their mediocre acting skills – it also makes great ideas feel like scams. People don’t have to point or clap or cry to prove an idea worked well or is great. So if you are going to record reactions, use the real audience reacting in real ways. And avoid creating a perfectly photoshopped example of your execution. Judges love picking that stuff to pieces and again, it makes the work feel dodgy.

Don’t over-animate. The amount of spinning, crashing, zooming stats, Tweets and quotes was incredibly distracting. And finally music is obviously important. Most case studies did this well. Finding the right track and voice to deliver the appropriate emotion can make a huge difference.

This year, teams entering the Spikes innovation category got to present their work to the judging panel. This I think is a great way to judge work. If you are ever lucky enough to make that shortlist, get ready to be grilled.

Nick.

Eddie Nerds Out at San Diego Comic Con 2016

If you work at The Royals you would now know, by my incessant bragging, that I’ve just come back from attending the world’s biggest pop-culture convention in San Diego, Comic-Con. But I’m discovering that not many people really know exactly just what Comic-Con is. So here’s my experience and run-down of, what is quite possibly, the most nerdy thing ever.

San Diego Comic-Con (commonly referred to as SDCC) is basically a big shopping spree for those of us who are pop-culture inclined. It’s where you can buy all your favourite merch, and get a chance to check out all the new gear before it’s out. There are celebrity appearances, artists and heaps of other cool people there you can see. It covers everything from film, TV series, video games, anime, manga, technology, and even comic books (although that section grows smaller every year due to waning interest!).

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I’d cut the whole thing into 2 parts; the market hall, and the panels. The market hall is, I want to say thousands, of little booths that are hawking their merch. It’s massive. Almost the entire convention centre is the market hall. I predominantly gawked at toys (“Dad, they’re called ‘figurines’ and they’re art!”).

Mingled in with all the stores, are activations and showcases from companies. I played a Playstation VR demo for Resident Evil 7 inside a big cardboard house, and played the upcoming Dead Rising 4 (and badgered a developer for information which he was not forthcoming with).

There are also mini appearances, where people of note do signings (or y’know, just kind of appear). This is where I saw Adam Wingard, director of You’re Next and The Guest, as well as the upcoming Blaire Witch sequel that was announced there. Being up close with one of my favourite directors was incredible, and the kind of thing most people can only get at a convention.

And then you have the panels. The things were all the stars of your favourite show sit at a desk and talk at you and a big audience about past and upcoming stuff. Then sometimes you can try to ask them questions through your flop sweat and stammering when that practised sentence comes out backwards and that guy you love so much on TV just looks at you weird. Exhilarating.

Most of these are impossible to get into. You’d have to get there hours before the event opens and then sit in line for hours more to get a chance of getting into something like a Game of Thrones panel. It’s not gonna happen for you. But I did just kind of walk into the Capcom panel where they announced a few video game tidbits, nothing of real interest (HOW DO I BEAT THE RE7 DEMO WHY WON’T YOU TELL ME YOU FRAUDS).

There’s also a lot of big activations around the exhibition centre. My favourites were South Park, which had photo-op props of notable scenes from the show, and Ash vs Evil Dead, which build an entire replica of the Evil Dead cabin which you could walk through (to get free shit).

And then there are costumes. Boy, are there costumes.

07

Or as we call them in the biz, cosplays. Not everyone dresses up, but a lot of people do. Saturday seems to be the peak day for getting costumed and sweaty. And in the San Diego heat, you’re going to get sweaty. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience. Which is why I didn’t do it. But it doesn’t stop most people.

08

(My friends dressed up as Howl and Sophie from the Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle)

The convention itself holds a competition for the best cosplay and gives out prizes. I’ve never attended this event, but I’m sure it’s great. And yes. There are “Furries”. Although recently they’ve been usurped by the new gross fandom I saw a lot of this year, Five Night’s At Freddy’s. A horror game where animatronic pizza parlour robots attack you while you cover the night security shift. But I guess people want to have sex with the cartoon robot animals. Don’t google this.

To give you a good idea of this phenomenon, Adam Savage of Mythbuster fame has videos where he dresses up as his favourite thing of the year and roams the market hall incognito. It gives you a sense of scope of the place and just how much effort some people put into their costumes. He’s so renowned for this, attendees will just come up to the best costume they’ve seen and just ask ‘Adam?’. And most of the time they’re right.

Last year he totally jacked my Dredd costume, but we worked it out and we’re still cool. Brian Cranston once did this, wearing a big latex mask of his own face from Breaking Bad. Truly horrifying.

And then we have the mostly ignored and unfortunately neglected part of the market hall – artists and (very) minor celebrities. Last year, the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, attended and had a stall where people could just come up to say hi and get things signed. But every time I walked past, he was just sitting by himself. Everyone too focused on the big pull of the Star Wars or whatever. The same goes with the comic book artists, it’s a few aisles that have significantly less foot-traffic than the rest of the convention. Considering it’s the longest running tradition and namesake of the convention, it’s sad to see. But every year I visit one of my favourite artists Jason Edmiston, of Mondo popularity. He signs my toys and I buy a poster, it’s a great relationship we have.

I bought so many things and got so much free loot that I had to buy another carry-on to take it home and now I’m poor again. But I went, I conquered and I patted the furries. Until next year!

Eddie,
The Royals.

Job Role: Pokemon Go Hunter

UPDATE: This position has been filled. Thanks so much for all the entertaining applications!

I love Pokemon Go but I have a really busy job at The Royals. I’m so busy. We do a lot of strategy and innovation here. Some days I hardly have time to play table tennis or darts at work. So I’m looking for an intern to take out my second phone each day and find me some Pokemon. I don’t want to get left behind. And I really want an Oddish. You’ll get an incredible amount of exercise (cheaper than a gym membership!), see the sights (it’s like a free city tour) and we can talk about Pokemon before and after each of your hunts. That’s probably the bit I’m looking forward to the most. Apply here.

Or, go for one of these other awesome jobs at The Royals: http://theroyals.com.au/jobs

Dave

Update:

Here are some of the super applications coming in vying to be my Pokemon Go Hunter:

poke1

poke2

poke3