Approach to Innovation // Isobar NowLab

Transforming businesses, brands and people’s lives with the creative use of digital.

Understanding the practice of innovation is a key factor to the success of driving digital transformation for many of our clients. It is key to our founding mission: Transforming business, brands and people’s live with the creative use of digital.

By “innovation,” we do not simply mean technological innovation.

While technology is central to many of the digital product and service offerings we design and develop for our clients, we believe that technology is an enabler of truly innovative work. Applying new technologies to meet people’s needs requires experimentation and we do this through our NowLab.

 

The Isobar NowLab is a global Isobar initiative that was created as an accelerator for fostering a culture of innovation, and a proving ground for new concepts and technologies. By gaining a deep understanding of their capabilities, we’re able to recommend commercial applications with reduced risk.

The NowLab acts as a virtual community that connects approximately 1000 Isobarians across different disciplines – approximately 15% of our employees globally. The community regularly shares ideas and codes, builds on each other’s experiments, conducts R&D projects using new creative technology and prototypes new solutions or IP for client’s problems.

Isobar NowLab is for every Isobar employee and is not a stand-alone department or unit. It has an evolving research menu, helping our teams understand and contribute to the new areas of focus and drive innovation that is most relevant for our clients.

We’ve worked to develop a systematic approach to innovation that helps all employees, and our clients, innovate when there is a specific business challenge at hand. This includes anything from conducting innovation workshops for clients to applying innovation consulting process and tools.

While the NowLab is accessible to all employees, markets that find the uses more applicable have physical spaces as well. These spaces are a place where our people can make, hack, experiment and prototype. Certain spaces are also equipped with a demo space that showcases projects around the world. In addition, the demo space is also where we run workshops with internal teams and clients to stimulate innovative business solutions.

With NowLab accelerators operating in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, we have successfully scaled innovation across our global network, learning from both progress and failures and accelerating our ability to bring new ideas and IP to life faster than ever before.

Below take a look at our process as well as some of our greatest innovations that have come out of the NowLab.

With a defined innovation framework driven by a core philosophy, a culture of unfettered collaboration, a global reach, and unique strategic partnerships with the MIT Media Lab, Dentsu and Dentsu Aegis partners, Isobar NowLab has a solid track record of supporting our working teams in developing innovative solutions with our clients that succeed in the marketplace.

 

Process or Protocol?

 

In many agency “labs”, chaos reigns and there are not necessarily clearly defined goals for all of the time that gets invested. The Isobar NowLab counters that as we try to focus all of our work towards solving problems – both big and small and creating solutions to problems faced by our clients.  In some cases, we work to solve problems that don’t yet exist, or that we see on the horizon. In order to do so, we follow a series of rules and micro-processes that when combined make up the overall way we operate – which we have defined as our Innovation Protocol.

We aim to solve problems by using a blend of insights, creativity and technology.

 

Isobar Innovation Protocol

How does this all come together? First off, let’s start with the fact that we exist to help solve problems. We do so using new and sometimes unproven methods. In other cases, we pull out and dust off ideas that we came up with before, and reapply them to new things.  In any case, we start with the notion that we exist to come up with new ideas (products, services, processes, etc) that answer a real, defined need.  

All of the aspects of the Innovation Protocol that are defined in this diagram start and continue on, never stopping, but with different degrees of focus and intensity depending on what we are solving for and where along the timeline we happen to be.

Let’s look at a specific example: defining key tenets. It is said that creativity loves constraint. You might argue, but in the end, the most effective innovations can be measured. The definition of key tenets is critical to this. What market is the solution for? What budget considerations exist? Are there other considerations like regulations or disruption to partners that we need to take into account?

The key tenets define the box in which we are to innovate inside.  And yes, thinking inside the box is ok – it’s necessary for real innovation to happen and to have anything actually come of it.

Most people think of innovation labs as places where prototyping happens. This is paramount to the work that we do within the Isobar NowLab, but there is a method to determine what exactly gets made, and what form it takes. Prototypes can exist as paper-based designs, animations or movies, physical mockups, functioning devices, and full working software.   The level of fidelity of the prototypes depends on many various factors – all defined at some point within the protocol itself.

Much of the real magic happens in between the up-front tenet definition and the prototyping/making iterative loops that include creating something, testing it, measuring its effectiveness and promoting it to commercialization or relegating it to the backlog for use down the road.   These middle steps include a rather deep and ongoing analysis of trends, their impact to the challenge we are looking to solve for (and for whom) and how we are able to use those trends to our advantage or defend against them in one form or another.

The goal of all of this is to create commercial products and services that have a statistically better chance of success in the marketplace, making innovation more than a buzzword and elevating it to being repeatable and systematic.

Some examples of where The Isobar Innovation Protocol has been leveraged to create interesting new things: 

  • Using VR to augment a transformative brand experience for GM in over 10 markets
  • Creating a platform for wearables and head mounted displays geared towards helping people with Physical and Brain Injuries / diseases interact with their caregivers and regain control over their physical environment.
  • Working with Fiat to create “Safe Key”, a breathalizer inside a key-fob aimed at the Brazilian market.
  • A wearable innovation for a major electronics manufacturer that allowed for a consumer’s cell phone to charge when placed in the pocket of their jacket.
  • Integrated VR and neuro-sensing for Coke, leading to a consumer-facing experience / game.
  • Creating a patented technology platform for device-to-device communication called the Device Connectivity Framework that is foundational to the Internet of Things and connected devices aimed at consumers.
  • Brain/Computer Interfaces – Much of the global collaboration across the NowLab network has involved leveraging EEG (brain interface) hardware to real and better understand human emotions. This research and development, has led to various innovations.
    • am.here – a communication application for people with ALS and other medical conditions that prevent verbal communication.
    • UMood – Developed for Uniqlo, a retail experience that allows users to leverage their brainwaves to select the perfect t-shirt.
    • BVRain – Isobar China created a game that combines brain waves with virtual reality to give consumers a next-generation experience.
  • A device that uses infrared laser scanning to assist those with visual impairments, allowing them to replace their traditional “cane” with a small wearable computer – Project Whitecane.
  • Leveraging UAVs (drones) in new, interesting ways including capturing 3D content to be used in virtual reality experiences.

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