Vivid Ideas 2017: My Impressions

I was recently lucky enough to escape the Melbourne Winter and head to Sydney for Vivid Ideas 2017. On top of some incredible light shows and witnessing one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen from French music duo, Air, I had the opportunity to attend a number of thought-provoking events as part of Vivid Ideas. Here are the top three events I went along to:

Marketing to the Machines: Why Algorithms Will Define the Future of Everything

Humans will be replaced by algorithms. It’s not a new thought, but one which will define the future of marketing. Algorithms already play an extremely significant role in our lives. In their sold-out presentation, Suzie Shaw and Simon Kemp from We Are Social said that “they influence who we talk to, what we own, where we go, how much we earn and even who we marry”.

As our dependence on technology increases, so too does our dependence on algorithms. According to Shaw and Kemp, this as the reason why algorithms are the new marketing. For them, algorithms become most disruptive to marketing when looked in the context of voice controlled devices, such as Amazon Alexa. These devices not only have the power to alter speech and natural behaviour, but they redefine how customers interact with brands. As interaction with these devices is invisible, we will shop in terms of needs and categories, not brands. Before delving into what marketers can do to overcome this challenge, the presenters deep dived into what has become expected in talks of this nature – the singularity, weaponisation and empathy of artificial intelligence. Rather than being fearful, they reinforced being mindful of the elements when using it in marketing practice.

So what can markets do to get ahead in this algorithm laden world? According to Kemp, the first thing is to understand where you stand, in relation to the “Four Horsemen” (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) and to issues of privacy. The second point, and the one which summarised the premise of the talk, was the understand your adversary. In this, Shaw and Kemp attributed algorithms to be “more predictable than customer behaviour”. The last point was simple but effective – get started today.

While the topic of the power of algorithms in our lives and its influence on marketing is nothing new, the talk reconfirmed the need for marketers to not be fearful of technological advances and to embrace change in a way that works for them.

Rhodes Art Walk

Not coming from Sydney, I wasn’t aware of the suburb of Rhodes – and of the hour long train ride from the CBD to get there. The suburb is serving as an innovation hub during Vivid Ideas, hosting a huge program of masterclasses, workshops, activities and talks that focus on 3D printing, robotics and wearable art and tech.

On Tuesday afternoon, I trekked down to Rhodes for a guided Art Walk tour of the area. In a small group of 10 people, we were taken around the peninsula, waking past over 10 contemporary commissioned works and told of the artists practice and development in the area.

Hosted by Sophia De Mestre from Culture Scouts, a cultural walking tour company, alongside Rhodes town counsellors, we were told of how art played an integral role in town development. Once overrun with factories, Rhodes was recently redeveloped into premier suburb, boasting state of the art buildings and facilities in a beautiful waterfront location. As a revived suburb, Rhodes was fortunate in that it could work with town planners to incorporate art and technology as part of the foundation for the suburb. Communal parks featured highly durable table tennis tables painted by renowned artist Mulga the Artist, and would be eye-sore water tanks were disguised by jig-saw like, graffiti-proof art by local artist, Emma Anna. For what is usually taken for granted in the area, all of these pieces played a role in developing a narrative for the suburb.

What was most impressive of the area was The Learning Space at The Connection, a state-of-the-art community facility. The facility features a digital art gallery, pay-per-use 3D printers and thoughtfully designed shared-working spaces.

In attending this walk I didn’t know what to expect, but it was very exciting and rare to see an entire suburb placing such great significance on art and technology. This walk also offered valuable insights on the role of space and community in the lives of individuals and families, and the need to put well-thought out and meaningful plans in place when developing areas. Most importantly, it showed how you can find creativity woven into places you don’t expect.

Human & Machine: The Next Great Creative Partnership

The last session of the week was hosted by our very own Dave King. Organised on behalf of his creative AI company, Move37, the panel explored the role of artificial intelligence in the creative process.

Artificial intelligence has embedded itself in every industry across the globe. The creative industry is no different. The creative partnership of human and machine, according to Dave, has endless possibilities to enrich the way we work, think and create. 

The computer acting as a creative partner is nothing new. From a study in 2005 shared by Dave, there are 4 roles of computation partners – the nanny, the pen pal, the coach and the colleague. However, far too often, the computer serves an additional role in the creative partnership – the slave. This tends to occur because many fear that in adopting AI in the creative process, their role will be made redundant. But for Dave, rather that automating creativity, he believes it will augment creativity. How exactly? What is suggested is that creative AI is simply another tool in the creative process. For him, artists have always used tools to create. For illustrators it is the pen, for photographers it is the camera. Now, creative AI is the new generation of creative tools.

Then, on stage comes the artist who has popularised this new generation of creative tools, Ross Goodwin. As the keynote for the session, Goodwin delved into ‘Narrated Reality’, and spoke of how he has utilised creative AI in his artistic process. Goodwin is an intimidatingly impressive guy, with an undergraduate degree in Economics from MIT, a stint as a ghostwriter during Obama’s presidency at the White House and has a graduate degree from NYU’s ITP program. But he is very humble about his accomplishments and attributes his success to chance, mainly because he discovered an interest in coding and machine learning as a way to be more efficient during his time as a freelance writer. Fast forward a few years, and Goodwin has many AI-powered artistic projects to his name – from Lexiconjure, his dictionary of invented words, to, a camera that narrates photographs in real time, to Sunspring, the world’s first film created from an AI-written screenplay.

Joining Dave and Ross on the panel that followed the keynote talk was an interesting mix of significant people in the creative AI space. These included Joanna L. Batstone, Chief Technology Officer of IBM Australia and New Zealand, John Mccormack, an Australian-based artist and researcher in computing and Michaela Futcher Head of Strategy with us at The Royals. According the panelists, the biggest highlights in the human and machine partnership is the scale of effort. For Batstone, the aggregating of huge amounts of data will free artists from mediocre tasks and allow them to learn from the data to create great ideas. However, we must be weary with the data the machines use. According to John, we can’t widely appropriate things without acknowledging its origins, as sources of “grand truth” can be quite bias. Instead, it is our responsibility to understand and be conscience of the exchange when we sign up to use these tools, which, as Michaela points out, will be second nature to the upcoming generation who are aware and more than willing to hand over their data if it means they can have access to these tools.

I wish I could find myself in a room with impressively intellectual people more often. Although extremely intimidating, they made me are of possibilities and considerations for creative AI I never thought imaginable. This new generation of machine creative tools open a world of possibility for artists to commence an artistic pursuit they never thought possible or to expand they already exisiting endeavours.

Louise “Shred” Richards
Y2, Program Manager.

Announcing Y2: our new research & prototyping lab

We’re very excited to announce something special today.

Y2 ( is our new product development offering launched in partnership with Deakin University. The lab’s programs will explore the fields of creative and communication technology that are driving contemporary interfaces and experiences.

Over the past few years, we’ve all noticed that it’s not only technology companies that need to be technology companies. It’s not only publishers that need to act like publishers. And it’s not only interface design companies that are in the business of creating compelling, interesting, valuable, products and experiences to put in front of people. Every client or organisation we know seems like they are being challenged to act like something they’re not, to look a little bit sideways in directions they haven’t looked before or to explore places they haven’t previously needed to. And what this makes us think, is that we need to continually remind ourselves what it is we do at the core, what we’re best at as an individual or organisation, but now importantly, we also need to continually reimagine just how we do it.

So we are launching Y2 today with the goal of helping organisations do exactly that.

With Y2, we are building a culture of thinking by doing, of understanding what’s possible by actively exploring it. We’ve fine-tuned methods of helping rapidly move an idea from a chat over a coffee or a beer, to a working prototype that can inspire and galvanise an organisation.

With Deakin University onboard as a our foundation research partner, it cements an exciting, and an original type of partnership in this country. We are super pumped about exploring a bunch of different collaborative models that help us bring industry and research closer together. We’re reaching out into the Deakin community to find collaborators for all kinds of projects, and we’re helping be a catalyst for technologists, engineers, artists and creatives from different schools and faculties to work together, with us, in different ways.

We’ve already been working with great people to help prototype products that address a range of interesting challenges. Some things we’ve asked ourselves over the past couple of months:

How might we use AI and conversational experiences to help a major Australian organisation evolve and innovate its own customer service strategy?

How might we use VR and mixed reality to provide educational experiences that are so immersive and memorable that people can’t help but learn and remember?

How might we create a whole new operating system for the home that helps people live better together?

The main way we’re working with clients is through our Incubator Projects. This is where we apply our teams to map out and prototype an opportunity, product, service, interface or new media form and find new types of creative and commercial advantage.

Another important part of our programming is our Research Residencies. These are 6 week projects for researchers and practitioners, often higher degree by research or PHD students, to consider, research and prototype around a specific remit. Applications for the first Y2 Research Residency are now open:

We’re also dedicated to articulating and sharing our thinking and discoveries along the way. We’ve been deep in the throes of developing conversional experiences for the past 6 months, so we’ve created an exploratory review called Talking to the machine. Copies are available by request from Louise Richards (email).

The team is really excited to see where this takes us. Please feel free to pop in and see our new space in Melbourne soon.

Dave King
Director, Y2




Small Heroes: Are we missing the target?

Our second Small Heroes event, this time a breakfast panel in Sydney, is called “Are we missing the target?” The discussion will explore the rapidly changing face of small business in Australia, and how well (or not) government and corporates are responding in providing products and services relevant to this ever evolving audience.

Come and join our expert panel who will explore this changing landscape and uncover who is taking advantage and how.

Our panellists for the event include:

Jane Betschel
Head of Product
Marketing and Customer Acquisition

Duncan McGrath
Product Marketing Manager
Small and Medium Business

Aaron Wallis

Jill Lawrence
Australian Small Business Ombudsman

If you’d like to come along, please RSVP by May 4th to
No, there’s no charge. But yes, there’s a light breakfast provided.
Strictly limited invitations.

Wednesday, May 17th 2017 7.45am – 9.00am
Work Club, 8/99 Elizabeth St, Sydney NSW 2000

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:   


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;

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 (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:


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.    


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 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.

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:



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





Job Role: Junior Account Manager

Have your sights set on Account Service superstardom?

We’re on the hunt for an Junior Account Manager (full-time, Sydney-based) who’s destined for BIG things. What’s a day in the life of a Royals look like?

  • You’ll work closely with the Royals teams to deliver well-managed, polished, outstanding work for our clients on time and budget.
  • You’ll manage and nurture client relationships to keep them super happy.
  • You’ll master the skills of all-round project management. At the Royals, a ‘Can Do’ attitude is everything – you need to be super keen in order to learn everything there is to know to become the next agency Account Service All-Star. Ideally, you’ll have 1 – 2 years experience and already have an understanding of general agency processes so you can hit the ground running on an amazing portfolio of clients. What else are we looking for in our new Royal?
  • You’re hungry and cannot learn enough, fast enough…about our industry, our clients and our crazy world.
  • You know how to keep calm and be proactive.
  • You’re inherently curious and not afraid to ask questions.
  • You’re an admin wizard.
  • You hate leaving the office with anything still left on your ‘To Do’ list.
  • You’re passionate about the importance of delivering first class client service.
  • You can juggle multiple things (plates, fire sticks, projects) all at once.
  • You’re organised and an organiser.Interested? Find out more by talking to Kristy at