CreateTech 2013 Insights

Last week, creativity and technology came together in the heart of a neighborhood which has come to define ‘cutting edge’: the ever-evolving Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  The celebrated music venue/bar/bowling alley Brooklyn Bowl was the perfect setting for CreateTech 2013, an annual investigation of new ideas hosted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s).  As bowling lanes and pins made way for a packed-in audience and inspiring speakers, it was evident that putting science to work in creative new ways is incredibly fruitful for agencies and clients alike.

To start things off, Limor Fried spoke about how she grew an unassuming blog of personal projects with simple robots and sensors into one of the most prominent maker sites to date.  Limor stressed the importance of engaging a user’s sense of joy at an early stage, well before worrying about scaling up or becoming ‘production-ready’.  Next, Zach Lieberman discussed the expansion of his popular open source visualization library into a full-blown institution: The School for Poetic Computation.  Zach’s mission is to demystify technical tools for the general public, working towards a ‘fearlessness around code’ for all.  In that same vein, Mark Avnet of 360i presented his in-agency institute, 360iU, built to bridge the technological gap for his co-workers and clients. 

One of the most common ways agencies are now deepening in-house creativity is through the use of technology labs.  Several panels explored how a lab can grow from just a showcase for clients into a more effective and valuable asset.  Depending on the agency’s perspective, labs can be viewed as a necessary cost of doing business, or held fully accountable for project growth and profit.  Some labs are the sole domain of a few internal ‘ultra-creatives,’ while others are democratically distributed for each team member to invest 10% of their time.  Overall, it’s clear that labs are an ever-growing and completely flexible tool, largely reflective of an agency’s specific culture — and one size does not fit all.

There were many great examples of agencies bringing creativity out of the lab and directly into the client’s hands.  Two standouts were presented by ExxonMobil + Hush and McKinney + Big Boss.  Hush collaborated with ExxonMobil to create a beautiful and tactile interactive piece that explores one of the largest drilling operations in the world.  Hush was able to consume massive amounts of raw data from ExxonMobil’s oil pipeline and build an engaging narrative, illustrating the financial and economical impacts of the industry giant’s breakthroughs.  On a smaller scale, McKinney worked with North Carolina-based microbrewery Big Boss to create a custom arcade cabinet and game that distributes beer to happy customers.  McKinney walked listeners through the journey from designing game characters inspired by the client’s unique beer labels, to the actual game cabinet and beer-keg construction.

It was obvious from the two-day conference that technology and creativity are now intersecting at an unforeseen pace, and the value to agency and client alike is incalculable.  In the near future, I’m sure we’ll see exponential growth from this sector, as collaborations between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences continue to evolve and deepen with the common goal of bringing new ideas to life.