Prototyping is a useful tool for brand innovation. This is what happened when graduate students joined the Crowd DNA team for a hands-on workshop...

Prototyping was the subject of this morning’s team training session at Crowd DNA and we invited some students from the MA Innovation Management course at UAL Central Saint Martins to join in the fun.

We use prototyping in two ways at Crowd DNA: for design thinking and as a research method, but we were also interested to find out how our guests bring prototyping into their work. Jose N, for instance is interested in bringing art thinking to business, which he feels opens up more creative ways to innovate than design thinking. Inga has worked with AI while Nina and Jose C (who built a prototype of an Amazonian community) are interested in design for social impact.

Leading the session was senior consultant Ken Wallraven, who explained that prototyping is a way of “thinking and expressing with the hands”. With that in mind we were split into groups and challenged to reinvent ‘breakfast on the go’. A noisy ideation and building session followed a discussion of needs, where ‘wearables’ were made from colourful string, vending machines were fashioned out of stationery and balloons were turned into drones.

While presenting our prototypes the discussion covered breakfast shaming (the perils of eating messy and smelly food on public transport), how we can learn from other categories and – if we want to think differently – why app ideas should be banned (at least in this session).

Interestingly, the prototype doesn’t always have to be a viable product. Provotypes are designed not to work but to provoke discussion, while pretotypes (derived from pretending) involve channelling your inner actor (something that certain members of the team did this morning) to mock or act out a function of a product or service.

Finally we looked at how prototyping could be useful for specific brands. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch with our Products and Services expert, Tom Morgan.

Oculus Nights Out

Crowd DNA associate director Eleanor Sankey didn't think she was a gamer until she played with Oculus. Now she wants to use it in her day job...

Last week we attended an event hosted by Oculus to showcase the new content landing soon on their Rift and Gear VR. Rubbing shoulders with premier league footballers, tech and gaming bloggers, and Jonathan Ross, I wasn’t convinced it was going to be my thing.

I swore off computer games in the 90s, when SimCity 2000 saw it fitting to destroy Eltown with a hurricane, and it was going to take a lot to make me reconsider.

Kicking off, we coordinated our troops in real-time strategy game Brass Tactics before singing our hearts out in a virtual stadium in SingSpace and finally slashed our way through zombies on Killing Floor.

The experience was exhilarating, if not a little overwhelming at times! With our senses seamlessly transported into these virtual worlds it took no time at all to forget our audience and become unselfconsciously immersed in the physicality of the game. I was hooked.

2017 looks to be a pivotal year for VR with anticipated growth evolving the technology from a curiosity to a tangible tool. Transcending the gaming market, we’re already seeing it used in sports and film with the NBA broadcasting one game a week via VR headsets and Amsterdam establishing the first VR cinema in 2016.

Moving beyond the entertainment space, the technology is being used by the military to replicate conditions of real world combat when training soldiers in bomb disposal and piloting drones. Equally, in the healthcare sector, it’s proving vital for educating staff but also has the potential to revolutionise how we treat pain and physiotherapy.

At Crowd we’ve already been using VR to help immerse our clients in the lives of consumers across the globe in an intimate way that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. And given my experiences last week, I’m very excited to see what we can do next.

 

Crowd DNA filmmaker Tom Eccles explores the latest broadcasting tech at BVE 2017 in London...

BVE is one of the UK’s largest entertainment and media tech events. It’s a metaphorical sweet shop for filmmakers, broadcasters and tech addicts – with over 300 exhibitors showing off the latest film equipment, and a packed programme of seminars exploring the world of entertainment.

We kicked off the day with a talk from none other than national treasure (and personal favourite) Louis Theroux. Known for his irreverent, innocent and playful interview technique, he offered plenty of practical advice for budding documentary makers that can also be applied to research. One of his first tips (made slightly awkwardly at a tech-obsessed event): don’t obsess over the technology. The story is key – and tech should enable you to tell that story, rather than entirely driving it.

Louis spoke about the changing patterns of video consumption – pointing to long-form documentaries like Making A Murderer as evidence that on-demand platforms are creating new opportunities and formats for filmmakers to take advantage of. One interesting audience question asked for the three ideal qualities of a documentary maker. His answer: curiosity, the ability to get on with people without being too imposing, and tenacity – that journalistic edge, allowing you to take the interview to an uncomfortable area. All of which can be as equally important qualities for researchers.

Advice from Louis Theroux
Advice from Louis Theroux

Next up, Peter Collis from Inition, London-based VR and AR specialists, gave valuable insight into editing 360-degree video (something we’re branching into here at Crowd). His first lesson centred around the creation of a VR performance of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Initially, the film was intended to be based solely in the middle of the orchestra – but the team wanted to add more insight and storytelling to the experience.

To achieve this, they went back and filmed other environments building up to the performance – the backstage corridors, the entrance, and the pre-show practice. This builds up to the eventual grand performance and, coupled with an interview with the conductor, gently eases the viewer into the VR space.

Peter’s second example was a 360-degree film produced for Unicef. Without the use of traditional film techniques, such as close-ups or focus shifts, the challenge was to direct the viewer through an experience in which they can look in whatever direction they like. Inition used animation to bring the viewer into the VR world, and having viewers all starting at one specific point (termed the “north point”) helped to provide a clear point of focus from the beginning.

Our next event was a panel asking whether VR is a fad, or here to stay – surprisingly, the latter! Catherine Allen, who has produced a range of VR content for the BBC, believes that VR should only be used when there is a genuine purpose; for example an experience or place you wouldn’t normally have access to – incidentally, one of the reasons we think VR is perfect for research. Some stories, she argued, are simply better told through traditional film.

Matt Graff, co-founder of VR City, wants to see VR escape the confines of the headset. He gave the example of a giant projection dome created for a whisky client, giving a virtual distillery experience. In a similar vein to Louis Theroux, he made the point that technology shouldn’t get in the way – it’s about how you can use that technology to bring people closer to an experience.

Francisco Lima, VFX technology supervisor at Gramercy Park Studios, pointed to studies having shown that people recall VR experiences like real life memories – as if they actually happened. Once headset/projection technology improves, it will be less virtual reality, more teleportation – which then raises ethical considerations.

All valuable insight for exploring further VR and 360-degree film work at Crowd DNA.

 

Game Changers

Crowd DNA's Gabriel Noble explores how innovations in digital, social media and gaming are changing the sports we love and creating new opportunities for brands...

Sport is one of the last spaces to be truly disrupted by digital. As such, its stakeholders can take inspiration and lessons from past industries who have got it right, and wrong.

That was one of the key takeaways shared at the Digital Sport seminar at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. And based on the evidence shared by Chris Paget and Jonny Madill, two Sheridans sports lawyers who led the seminar, disruption is, as usual, being led by fans.

Sports fan behaviour is rapidly shifting. Fans of football, basketball and NFL no longer devote their undivided attention to live matches. In fact, 87% of fans second screen when watching live sport. The decreasing attention spans of audiences has led to cord-cutting: Premier League viewing figures have gone down 22% per game since the 2010-11 season, and viewing figures at the halfway stage for this season compared to the halfway stage last season have decreased by 11%. However, it’s not only decreasing attention spans that are causing this shift. Sports fans can now stream matches on various devices, and can catch the highlights as they happen via clips shared on social media.

Broadcasters are responding to this accordingly. Sky, for example, are investing more of their marketing budget on Sky Go, their streaming service, while BT Sport and Sky both upload goals from matches on Twitter immediately after they happen. Credit has to go to these broadcasters, who are adapting and engaging with their audience on their own terms, and in doing so creating new relationships with them.

However, this shift to social media doesn’t come without competition. Just this week, it was reported that Facebook were in talks with Major League Baseball about streaming one game per week from their upcoming season. This is a deal with a solid strategy from both sides in place. Facebook are reportedly keen to invest more in streaming live sports as they see it as an effective way of attracting sports fans to use the platform. Meanwhile, the MLB get the attention of a young audience, one that the league has been struggling to attract, as soccer and eSports continue to grow among this audience in the US.

Social media’s ability to attract a younger viewership was illustrated in the deal that the NFL did with Twitter. Though the stream of the first NFL game to be viewed totalled 2.1 million compared with the 14 million who viewed it on TV, 70% of people who watched it on Twitter were under the age of 35. This is extremely attractive to leagues like the NFL, who are keen to engage with, and win over, a young audience.

NFL's Twitter partnership
NFL's Twitter partnership

But where does all this leave the brands who sponsor sports teams, leagues and events? One place to look for inspiration is Budweiser and how they sponsored Euro 2016 highlight clips that ITV shared on Twitter. Throughout the tournament, 150 real-time tweets of Euro 2016 action were shared by ITV, with Budweiser advertising shown at the beginning and end of each clip. This exemplifies how sponsors should be adapting their strategy for the digital age.

Finally, how does this disruption effect the sports themselves? In January, the NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA are looking to speed up the end of their games, in order to attract and retain fans who “have increasingly short attention spans.” He added, “it’s something that I know all of sports are looking at right now, and that is the format of the game and the length of time it takes to play the game.”

However, this is not a strategy that would be welcome in all sports. As Niall Coen on the Digital Sport podcast said, “mess with the formula of Premier League football, you do so at your peril. There’d be quite a backlash.”

A strategy that could be adapted by sports teams and leagues without affecting their integrity is acquiring eSports teams. eSports is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. In 2014, the League Of Legends World Finals attracted an audience of 45,000 in a stadium that once hosted the Fifa World Cup final in Seoul. The overall viewership of the Finals was 27 million. In 2016, the overall viewership of the Finals was 43 million.

League Of Legends World Championship Final
League Of Legends World Championship Final

Traditional sports teams have been getting in on the act by snapping up eSports teams. The Philidelphia 76ers, for example, have bought a League Of Legends eSports team. And football teams have been following suit, whether it’s Manchester City signing their own eSports player, or the French football league partnering with EA to create “e-Ligue 1”.

The investment in League Of Legends eSports teams is particularly interesting, as it suggests that traditional sports teams and franchises may become content platforms and brands outside of their own sport in order to adapt to the digital age.

One thing’s for sure, the digital model of eSports is working, and all stakeholders in the sports industry should take note.

The question that Chris and Jonny left on was, can sports keep pace with technological developments and consumer trends? We will have to wait and see, but it’s certainly a fascinating time to be involved.

360 & VR For Better Insights

We’re increasingly adding 360 and VR to our toolkit - here’s some best practice advice from Crowd DNA director Anna Chapman...

Many of our projects at Crowd DNA involve helping our clients to understand consumer needs and behaviour. And as consumer culture adopts new ways of doing things, we bring these trends into our work. That’s why last year we started to explore virtual reality and 360 cameras for insights work; after all, 89 million VR headsets were sold in 2016 (many of them in time for Christmas).

Consumers have an appetite for VR because it allows them to learn and experience the unusual in the comfort of their own home. From self-development to gaming to shopping, they’re keen to explore these opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to be on stage with their favourite band or fly around the moon without having to spend $150mil? Clients are keen to step into this virtual world too, exploring consumer lives through 360 footage and immersive experiences.

We’re using VR in two ways – as a tool for gathering insights (eg. using 360 cameras) and as a content format for immersing clients in the consumer world and socialising insight. Below are some thoughts around best practice for both.

- Google Cardboard is the go-to device for consumers – it’s inexpensive, easy to use and compatible with most smartphones.

- 360 footage is great for exploring spaces eg. if a client wants to look at the layout or products in a participant’s home.

- Keep VR experiences short (definitely under 15 minutes) – some people suffer side effects like tired eyes and dizziness. Not something you want a client to feel.

- Wearing a VR headset is more fun – and engaging – than looking at a powerpoint deck. Make this an activity at a client debrief or a workshop if you can.

- Think about how the content will be consumed – a 360 photo shot on a smartphone is much cheaper to produce and can be hosted on YouTube (see the Crowd office example above). At the moment this is more impactful and easier to send to a client than creating a bespoke headset experience.

- VR isn’t going to replace real life, it just adds another layer. Similarly, use VR to add an extra dimension alongside other methods and outputs.

Of course, the world of VR is changing rapidly and as it does, so will our methods for gathering and socialising insight. Microsoft’s HoloLens is calling out to developers to get involved in Mixed Reality or MR, which will merge the best bits of VR with Augmented Reality. Once this becomes more affordable, we’ll be able to offer headset-wearing clients even better experiences for exploring insights.

LOUD & CLEAR

Voice activation is set to become a dominant interface between ourselves and brands and experiences. Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell gathers up notes from our recent work in the field, exploring the barriers to overcome and the opportunities ahead…

It isn’t so much a new thing, but voice activation – or voice computing – is certainly a fast gaining momentum thing. We know this because of the sales and media coverage of devices like Amazon Echo. But, as a business, we also know this as it’s a topic we’ve been asked to explore in several client briefs recently (that’s not something that would have happened much over a year ago).

Clearly there’s a huge opportunity here to create more frictionless and empathetic experiences – particularly in-home, at-work and in-(smart)car. Many of the experts we’ve been speaking to see it as a paradigm shift, something as revolutionary to our relationship with digital utility and entertainment as the rapid advancement of our mobiles was five to ten years ago.

As with most innovations of this kind, there’s a certain clunky-ness to it in its formative stages. Barriers stand in the way of true adoption. Recent data suggests 69% of Alexa’s 7,000 skills either have no reviews or just one review – this implies very low levels of adoption. Of those who enable a voice app on Google Assistant or Alexa, only three-per-cent are still active the week after. Moreover, we’re still to ascertain what kind of relationship we really want with a voice assistant – should it have a name; a gender; where does voice activation intersect with mood recognition and a deeper understanding of what’s on our mind?

Google Home
Google Home

Plenty of challenges, then. But the experts we’ve met believe that, once good use cases become popularised and eulogised, once the recognition process takes the necessary and inevitable steps forward, voice activation will gather pace quickly. They’ve spoken to us about how crazy it will soon look to be swiping away at a mobile. How we need to start comprehending the notion of invisible apps and invisible actions – the invisible interface, ultimately. That we should be ‘viewing’ voice computing as the next great platform.

What’s in it for media and for brands? A lot of our interviewees have spoken about untapping latent intent – all of the new things we will do, or things we currently do but will now do more abundantly – if we don’t have to reach for our phones, and if the cognitive load is reduced. The opportunity is there, they enthuse, for media and brands to be with us more often and more relevantly; to work towards seamless narratives that flow across devices and day parts.

So Nike tell us to ‘Just Do It’, and McDonald’s affirm ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, but how will they deliver against these messages on this emergent interface? Also fascinating is how a lot of the heavily used marketing maxims of recent times – the requisite for brands to have an authentic voice of their own; the need for brands to have a two-way conversation with consumers – will suddenly take on new and more direct meaning in the age of voice activation. Lots to think about – even more to talk about.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…

 

 

Looking Good!

From narrated galleries to 360° cameras, here's six ways to gather and share visual insights...

Visual communication is taking over the world. That goes for the world of insight, too. Our \Socialise team have put together this handy little guide to some of new and exciting ways to gather and share visual insights that we’ve been experimenting with at Crowd DNA. Find out more here

LG2
LG2

For the third episode of our Keeping Company series, looking at innovative and exciting businesses, we meet designer Laurie Nouchka, who creates art you can wear...

Keeping Company is Crowd DNA’s short film series, in which we search the world for inspiration from innovative, disruptive, culturally switched on and just plain unusual businesses.

This episode we meet Laurie Nouchka, an artist and designer whose vibrant, wearable artworks have taken the sportswear world by storm. Manufactured here in London, Laurie’s leggings take inspiration from the architecture of global cities. Legs become canvases for towers of glass and steel, rendered in vivid colour palettes and contemporary designs, all coming together to make dazzlingly unique, timeless pieces made for movement.

We talk about creative vision and the fine balance of maintaining your artistic integrity in the world of business.

www.laurienouchka.com

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