Foster creativity within a company

Ford urges car designers to talk about anything but cars – movies, music, and travel – to keep them inspired.

Hyundai goes a step further. The Korean automaker tapped Universal Everything to create a series inspiring animations to be played on the company campus outside Seoul. These weren’t traditional advertisements to be played at trade shows but internally focused media, to generate new ideas from within.

A Fast Company piece by Mark Wilson looks at the processes which lead to the stunning films.

Universal Everything took an abstract, logo-less approach to ensure every viewer finds their own interpretations. The clips play in a continuous loop at Hyundai’s Vision Hall, welcoming engineers, scientists, and various workers to entertain new possibilities on an 82-foot-wide screen, displaying a spectacular 16K resolution accompanied by 36-channel surround. (Yes, seeing a car being carved from a solid block by wind is breathtaking.)

Bringing life and human presence to abstract materials creates deeper and far more empathic connections.

It reaches the parts logic cannot reach.

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Simon & Schuster ventures into self-publishing

Big ol’ stalwart Simon & Schuster is leaping into the self-publishing market.

It’s teaming up with Author Solutions to create a new house called Archway Publishing, which will be available for authors wanting to self-publish fiction, nonfiction, business or children’s books.

Simon & Schuster hopes to distinguish Archway from other self-publishing options by positioning it as a premium service, at a premium cost to the authors. In addition to the standard editorial, design and distribution services normally offered by Author Solutions, Archway will offer a new range of incredibly expensive packages to keep the bean counters at Simon busy counting beans.

Authors will be offered packages ranging from $1,599 for the least expensive children’s package, to $24,999 (yikes!) for the most expensive business book package.

In return, authors will get a Pulitzer Prize and a golden goose. Actually, no they won’t.

What they’ll get is the chance to be charged even more money to be part of a speaking bureau or get a book trailer made and distributed. Author as profit center.

Simon & Schuster is not quite the tweedy publishing company you imagine. It’s a media powerhouse owned by CBS that prints over two thousand titles annually under 35 different imprints.

It’s a machine for printing money. In this case the authors’ money will do just fine.

Jobs to be done

Clayton Christensen likes to look at the relationship between consumers and products from the perspective of the jobs-to-be-done theory.

The author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Innovator’s Solution” doesn’t believe people go around looking for products to buy. Instead they take life as it comes and when they encounter a problem, they look for a solution — and at that point, they’ll hire a product or service.

The key insight from thinking about your business this way is that it is the job, and not the customer or the product, that should be the fundamental unit of analysis.

In a recent Nieman Reports piece on disruption in the news industry, Christensen uses the contemporary example of “I’m waiting in line for coffee and have ten minutes to kill.” The person with the problem hires their smartphone to entertain or educate them for those ten minutes.

Within the scope of contemporary digital publishing are many, many, many yet-to-be-satisfied jobs-to-be-done.

What’s yours?

Digital publishing lightens up

There is an intuitive usability implicit to the physicality of our printed books and magazines.

A reader is given two possible directions — which one depends on language and culture. And from there, a mostly linear, usually obvious interface.

Digital publishing? Not so much. In fact tablet and smartphone books and magazines usually need tutorials explaining how to use them.

When Homer Simpson was asked to design his ideal car, he made The Homer. Given free reign, Homer’s process was additive. He added three horns and a special sound-proof bubble for the children. He layered more atop everything cars had been. More horns, more cup holders, more whatever.

In product design, the simplest thought exercise is to make additions. It’s the easiest way to make an Old Thing feel like a New Thing. The more difficult exercise is to reconsider the product in the context of now. A now which may be very different from the then in which the product was originally conceived.

An insightful entry by Craig Mod looks at how simple tools can retool digital publishing by steering clear of old models and standards and trying something altogether new. He calls it Subcompact Publishing.

Yes, the manifesto is worth reading and applying. Yes, it aims to make digital publishing effortless. Yes, it’s open.

Craig is very excited by a digital publishing venture called (if you can believe it) “The Magazine.” The website is minimal and optimized for two actions – reading and converting you to download “The Magazine” app to your iPhone or iPad.

The app is very streamlined. By keeping issue size small, there’s no need to zoom out or show a macro view of the length of each article. With only four or five articles per issue, you intuitively sense the edges. Navigation need be no more than a simple list.

There’s no instructions page or fancy video. The app mimics the intuitive usability of a printed publication. The integration with Apple’s Newsstand provides background downloading of content and paid subscription conversions. (Newsstand is the only place in Apple’s iOS that allows third party applications to download content in the background. What this means is that new articles are automatically available when published in “The Magazine’s” backend. Which means as a reader you don’t have to preemptively load content before getting on an airplane or subway. If there’s new content, it will be waiting and cached for your offline reading pleasure. Ahhh, magic.)

The clarity of “The Magazine” is exciting. It’s doubly exciting because it’s precisely the sort of app which incumbent publishers balk at. This is to be expected.

Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

We are the new customers. The new readers, the new writers, the new publishers. “The Magazine” is indeed cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient than most other publishing apps.

It shows how the publishing ecosystem is now primed for complete disruption.

I share therefore I am

What sort of content gets shared the most?

‘People like to share things that portray them in a good light,’ says Ian Schafer.

‘Sharing a photo of a cute dog or cat makes them look sensitive. A humorous photo makes them look funny. In many ways, we define ourselves by the content that we share.’

Whether or not they’re image-based, the posts that do best tend to be more timely and relevant to what people are currently talking about in social media. Tools such as SocialFlow keep you on the pulse of what’s hot and point you to post content that people are most likely to share.

Schafer is the CEO of Deep Focus, one of the smarter digital shops out there.

‘One of the most valuable forms of engagement is whether or not content gets into people’s newsfeeds. The more these individual pieces of content finds its way into people’s newsfeeds, the better we’ve done. If people are sharing this piece of content, then we know we’ve done our job.’

It’s not about one-off campaigns any more. Brands are learning they need to be always on.

The c word

Come on, you know the word I’m thinking of.

Content. Don’t you just hate that word. It’s so, er, flat and useless.

It sounds like stuff you just pour in without rhyme or reason. It certainly doesn’t sound like something you seek out. (‘Hey, read any good content lately?’ ‘Did you see that content Friday night!’ ‘Man, this content sounds amazing!!’)

Calling our stories and pictures and jokes and anecdotes and songs and movies and narratives and lines and paintings and photos and all the ways in which we express ourselves simply content ultimately cheapens and commodifies their effect.

And if content wasn’t bad enough, branded content is twice as terrible. Maybe brand content is a little less irksome.

A good many firms are starting side shops dedicated to creating brand content optimized for sharing on Facebook and other social platforms – and doing it at the pace of news and memes, not advertising or design.

That’s kind of the exciting part. Shifting advertising and marketing from campaign thinking to more of a publishing mindset.

A fast article by Paula Bernstein details a new studio dedicated to creating brand content designed for social sharing.

Traditional advertising campaigns take a long time to produce, making it next to impossible to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of pop culture.

But with real-time brand content production, marketers can immediately jump on timely trends in order to drive engagement.

It’s more creative newsroom than design firm. Think short, typically image-driven posts produced and approved on the fly. One or two iterations at most. Made in hours not weeks.

It’s more editorial in nature than the classic grueling creative process. With fewer revisions and fewer rounds of approval.

It’s more about the speed of culture.

Ahhh, yes, that other c word.

Everything

An all encompassing idea for a new advertising agency.

Everything is advertising, right? And Everything is a new ad agency that signs up clients on the proviso that it signs off on every iteration of the brand’s expression.

Not just the traditional television commercials, radio spot and magazine spreads. More than print, point of sale, newspapers, billboards and the typical media buy. More than the graphic design, brochures and signage. Even more than the latest social media.

Everything handles everything. Whether it’s choosing the carpet and interior design, the fleet of cars and uniforms, the social media feeds. Every way the brand expresses itself is decided by Everything to ensure everything is aligned.

Everything is responsible for the entire brand ecology. It grows the brand into a living system.

It employs thoughtful people with names like Christian, Jessica, Brad, Mila, Sean, Kate, George, Anne, Matt, Cameron.

The naturally lit agency offices are located within a botanic garden.