Marcos Lutyens: a sensory story

Marcos Lutyens: a sensory story

The world loves stories of space exploration. The infinity of space is a challenge for humanity, in how we explore, map and experience it. However, it's nothing compared to the challenges of mind exploration. The rolling expanses of the mind – a perceptual entity based on the physical organ of the brain – is a place that we all like to explore: in dreams, in memories, and in alternate realities.

The mind sometimes plays tricks on us. With some, it can play tricks at every move. The study of synesthesia, neurological responses to environmental stimuli, is not without its difficulties. Both personal and deep, synesthesia is the mechanism by which something in our physical environment occurs, but we understand it to be something else.

As an artist, Marcos Lutyens' work with synesthesia and related "trickery" such as hypnosis, is based on years of work with neuroscientists. His interest is to use the mind as a forum for exploring art, with the culmination of this research and work being the FlavourCollider, a work with Absolut Vodka.

FlavourCollider involves the wearing of a special headset, which transposes the taste of a flavoured vodka into dizzying visuals. While the headset undertakes the computational work in terms of the visualisation, it's fundamentally the mind that is the enabler here. As Lutyens himself observes, in recent years "...I have investigated a number of approaches as to what's going on with the mind, and have come to the realisation that there are so many different, fragmented things going on in our lives: phones, the Internet... all of these other ways of perceiving our reality. They all so fragmented that the only convergence point is in the mind."

Lutyens' research has involved deep and close working with synesthesia – people that have a pre-disposition to associate different sensory modalities (in basic terms, interpreting things differently). synesthetes do not have control over how they interpret the world around them. "It's rather poetic, metaphorical creativity. It happens to them, whether they want it or not." The research featured work with a group of synesthetes in San Francsico, where Lutyens sent them to a McDonalds, and asked them to describe it. One participant understood words as having different colours, so their view was that the golden arches were wrong, because they should have been "red". Another interpreted all of the sounds within McDonalds as sensational body movement. A third, who had been working with pioneering neuroscientist Richard Cytowic, interpreted the numerical factors such as prices and dates in terms of physical factors around her. Although these interpretations and processes are different, Lutyens has yet to meet a synesthesia that turns taste into visuals, the purpose of the FlavourCollider.

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The free design

The free design

The disruptive force of digital media within markets has not gone underreported. As technology companies become some of the world's largest, they have played a fundamental role in creating new markets, and completely transforming existing ones.

The compliment to these commercial successes is the extraordinary culture of 'free' that has worked in an unwritten partnership with commerce, to give us the democratised online world that we see today. The pervasiveness of the free culture, spirit and approach means that not one commercial force can control the Internet, although many have tried (and many more than once).

While many column inches have been written about the rise of global players in tech, less has been written about how 'free' has made such a tremendous contribution to the development of culture, technology, working practices, and the perception of value. Ranging from the major contributors to free software – such as Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds – to those that spend an hour or two a week making a contribution, it's a story that appears to warrant greater telling, and it's one that is still being created. Without the culture of 'free', you simply will not be reading this article in its current form.

Bill Thompson's appreciation of free software and culture is shared by many. He agrees that the story is a remarkably successful one, even if it is told at less volume than the stories generated by commercial success. "We've done remarkably well; it's just not very apparent. Some don't appreciate how much the hacker ethos, the sense that the community works together to solve problems, that many people are willing to give their intellectual effort to solve problems and then make the solution available to the community without looking for financial reward... actually underpins what's going on."

The principles which underpin 'free' are entirely compatible with Thompson's own leftist beliefs. It is easy to consider global markets in 2011, with their austerity measures, bailouts and socially-driven volatilities, as being driven by doom. Believing this does the success of our mixed economy a great injustice. It's this mix – between the production and supply of products for free, those in a commercial model – that has never prevailed, anywhere, at this level. Societies have often had capitalist or communist markets forced upon them; the rich mix of choice and availability across free and commercial products within one framework is unique to where we are, right now. One wonders as to whether locking Smith, Keynes, Marx and Engels in a room (a complete hypothesis, of course) would have enabled such a subtle, blended economic framework. "I believe in a mixed economy. In that sense, things are far from ideal, but I don't despair all the time and for people on the left in politics, not to despair all the time is a win, frankly."

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Ruth Catlow: Internet interventions

Ruth Catlow: Internet interventions

Networks are disrupting our society. They offer new opportunities, while bringing age-old issues into sharper focus. If networks offer us a chance to engage and connect with others in order to crystallise thinking, the devices that provide a connection to them can be ecologically unpleasant. According to Ruth Catlow, we are nowhere near a harmonious resolution to these problems – even though we can almost feel them within our grasp.

Catlow is the co-founder and co-director of Furtherfield, a digital community of co-creators that are interested in the intersection between art and technology, complimented by the Furtherfield Gallery in north London, a space dedicated to the exhibition and performance of work. Underpinning the organisation is a creative approach which is inspired by the metaphors and material media of networks within art.

The discursive culture within Furtherfield is substantial and important. Many artists from an online community of around 15,000 collaborate with the organisation each year. The behaviours within it, and within Furtherfield, are largely non-hierarchical: its motto is DIWO, Do It With Others. It requires Catlow and her team to be constantly considering new systems of co-operation, which in themselves may require new models of operation and sustainability.

Furtherfield came from the development of critical approaches to digital and media art in the mid-1990s. These thinkers and artists saw networks as a space: one that opened up new ways for them to produce work, and to intervene in existing processes, particularly given the democratic nature of the Internet. As Catlow says, "... it is the old Brechtian idea that art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it. If you put art and technology together, then that really makes sense. Art and technology can shape society, shape people's thinking, and can form a 'group imaginary'."

In recent years, the organisation has been running an informal programme around issues of digital culture, including its relationship with, and impact on, the environment. It was decided by Catlow and her team that this programme, including exhibitions and artistic work featuring imaginary engagements with issues of technology and the environment, should also take the form of an event.

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Mark Coniglio: Repetition and invention

Mark Coniglio: Repetition and invention

Before you read this article, make a small movement, then repeat it.

Repetition. Looping. Over and over again. It's something that we assume that we can do. The performers of Loop Diver will give you a rather different view.

Loop Diver is a work from New York-based group Troika Ranch, led by Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello. Coniglio's seemingly unrelenting flow of creativity has resulted in work across media, performance, and software – with no jarring between these supposedly individual, different disciplines. Indeed, one might consider Coniglio to be one of the forerunners of much of the contemporary thinking around transmedia.

Electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick played a vital role in shaping Coniglio's career, enabled him to mentally conjoin composition with technology. Making software with Subotnick, as well as learning composition from him, enabled a practical understanding of the role that new media and technology could play in composing, and performing, artistic work. Subsequent innovations have included, for example, the first MIDI-powered system for dance, measuring joint inflection on the dancer and allowing them to create music by bending their limbs. Meeting choreographer Stoppiello at CalArts set off a partnership that has flourished over two decades. Through Troika Ranch, they have made pieces which carefully integrate performance with media, spanning film, performance, and installation.

Loop Diver is the latest piece in this partnership, recently performed in the UK as part of London's Digital Stages Festival.

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Magic manufacturing

Magic manufacturing

Since the 1970s, the transformation of advertising businesses into multinational forces has been rampant. Two particular, inter-related, forces have been at play in recent years: the growth of BRIC and their commercial possibilities; and the permeation of interconnected digital media. These have helped advertising and marketing groups to grow their revenues from millions to billions, and to create networks that can be overlaid onto the territories of multinational clients, while being cognisant of local, cultural nuances.

Japanese communications giant Dentsu is no stranger to the opportunities and challenges of scale. With offices across the world, it has a rich heritage of interesting, creative work that has made the business one of the world's largest in the sector.

With growth comes new opportunities, and while it is easy to create adaptation offices, or cut-and-paste offices - using either the HQ or local agencies as the master - the creation of a new London office suggested a different approach.

The UK is not short of creative talent, and Dentsu has come the market at a later time than others. As agencies should have a reasonably good grasp on the principles of differentiation – as it's what they do every day with their clients – the team at Dentsu was given the possibility to conduct such a strategy with its new London office. The resulting business, Dentsu London, is a very different business to its parent.

Dentsu London has been given the freedom to be as creative in its execution as in its business model: offering original, quirky, independent executions in response to local ideas, developments, and briefs. Head of Strategy Beeker Northam explains the thinking. “We have been given freedom as to what we do, what we say, how we make money, and the kind of work that we make. When I came on board, it was a blank slate: an opportunity to consider what might be a different way. We wanted to create a philosophy that would fuel everything, and to encourage ourselves to deliver the most ambitious work that we could.”

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On curation

On curation

 

The late-nineties analogy of "surfing the Internet" no longer works. The explosion in digital content makes the experience less of a breezy ride on a wave of crafted material, and more of an attempt to cut through a leafy jungle with a blunt scythe. And blindfolded.

As a result, filtering has become more and more important as a way to establish quality and relevance to a personal experience of consuming digital content. The concept that underpins this, is curation – a hand-picked selection of material.

Why is curation now so important? Why has it become so interesting, so quickly, and what can be done to ensure that with curation comes quality? We asked three digital content leaders for their thoughts.

Philip John

Why has curation become such a hotly-talked-about concept?

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A question of taste

A question of taste

What a banana looks like should be a fairly easy question to answer.

What does the taste of a banana look like? Does it look different to the taste of a strawberry, and if so, how?

These and many similar questions have been at the forefront of the minds of teams at OgilvyOne and Greyworld in recent months, charged with bringing a requirement – to visualise taste – to life for consumers, based around a small ice cream brand with only one store in the UK.

That brand is Freggo. A sister brand of Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho, the brand is known across its native country as Freddo. When a UK store was opened two years ago, just off Regent Street in London and next door to Gaucho, its premium products were unknown to consumers, who had little experience of very-high-quality ice cream. The store quickly gained a loyal customer base through its quality offering, and its long opening times (until 3am), which gave it visibility to West End clubbers.

Having just one outlet in a market dominated by FMCG and chain retail immediately suggests something of a struggle. The brand must punch above its weight and offer something different and participatory, without necessarily resorting to cliché. Responding to the brief at Ogilvy were the creative partnership of Rae Stones and Fiona Sanday. Over 15 months, the duo, working with Andrew Shoben of Greyworld, conceived a campaign which led to the development of an interactive installation at the Menier Chocolate Factory gallery. Here, visitors could try a sample of an ice cream, and "visualise" their taste by describing it through using slider controls in a purpose-built Java application. The resulting, personalised, visual is projected in the gallery, as well as emailed to the recipient. The end result offers a personal relationship with data visualisation.

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Transmedia expressions

Transmedia expressions

The increase in interconnected devices, exponentially increases the potential to tell great stories. With new ways to tell stories, become new opportunities for many.

Push-button publishing has transformed the way in which we consume content, as well as give new, and newly-democratised ways to make and distribute it. Many of these innovations, as we know, are converging around one term: transmedia.

Because transmedia opens up a wealth of new possibilities, the interest in the concept and its models is gaining massive focus. With technology offering new possibilities within narrative, desires to tell stories in new ways are starting to become addressed by transmedia. It comes at a time when multiple industries are questioning themselves, and where they go from here.

Lance Weiler's interest is in telling stories that are relevant to this century, and to now. His work, including Pandemic, The Last Broadcast, and Head Trauma, involves creating stories which are designed to create social connections between people.

 

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A literate journey

A literate journey

"He's much nicer in real life than he is online".

This comment, made during IPA 4 to Richard Huntington, encapsulates the difference between the supposedly controversial, poky, conflictive author of Adliterate; and the real, warm, friendly – and opinionated – guy that, by day, is in charge of strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Where this mismatch between perception and reality comes from, is in Adliterate: Huntington's passionate, and discursive blog that celebrates its sixth birthday this year. From that particular grain of blogs that sprouted up mid way through the last decade, Adliterate has a distinctive, personal voice - and then some. If blogging is about bringing a distinctive voice to life, then it has clearly succeeded. And, while the blog may be a more amplified, extreme version of Huntington in real life, he doesn't shy away from making sharp, opinionated points in real life either. It's almost as if both the "real" and the "Adliterate" selves are, in a sense, validating each other.

But, for Huntington, blogging has provided a way to give focus and a sense of purpose to a nascent community, as well as provide a platform to encapsulate current thinking.

"All of a sudden, in the early part of the last decade, all those thoughts you had on your way to the tube that were slightly random and weird: suddenly, there was a place to write them down and put them out. It was a gift to planners, because blogging was all about the random shit that you were thinking.

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Art and science: bonded by creativity

Art and science: bonded by creativity

If you were asked to define creativity, what would you say? The chances are that your definition will vary with others – many others. There is no instruction manual. While the creation of certain products may follow a ruleset, this process isn't creativity per se.

So, creativity is perhaps more concerned with a realisation of something intangible: turning loosely-formed but clearly-visualised ideas into something that is truly groundbreaking. By this broader definition, creativity not just informs artists to produce spectacular results, but also scientists, given that the common quest for artists and scientists is to effectively visualise the invisible.

Arthur Miller's work focuses on the cognitive processes and powers of visualisation that enable the boldest and most powerful creators to see a world which exists beyond sense perception, where there resides objective truth.

His talk, taking place tonight at UCL, uses examples of artists and scientists making bold, world-changing discoveries borne out of one's own sense of creativity to stunning effect.

Miller's views on creativity start with the similarities between artists and scientists in that nascent, magical moment of discovery. Both artists and scientists initially think along highly conceptual lines; Einstein and Picasso discovered new aesthetics to produce their best work. An aesthetic which was new to Einstein produced the Theory of Relativity, and Picasso developed a new aesthetic of reducing forms to geometry, something which would become the hallmark of cubism.

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Finding Facebook

Finding Facebook

"This morning my yoghurt told me to find it on Facebook. It didn't tell me why, it just told me to find it. Why on Earth would I want to find a yoghurt on Facebook? It's a yoghurt!"

This brief rant from my boss inspired me to do a little experiment. I called it Find us on Facebook, for it is this generic, uninspiring and uninformative 'call to action' that is slowly starting to get plastered on every piece of communication the world over: from TV adverts, to email newsletters, websites, posters and - yes - even yoghurt pots.

I proudly announced that I will live a week as a "social consumer", without entirely realising what I was letting myself in for. Every time a brand said "Find us on Facebook", I will Like their page and capture the experience. It sounded simple and innocuous enough, but I had naïvely expected that this yoghurt and its lack of effort - or inspiration - may have been a one-off.

It wasn't.

Over the course of a week, 46 brands (that I had noticed) asked me to find them on Facebook with a variety of different messages and calls to action: find us, like us, search for, follow, visit. What shocked me was that out of those 46 brands, only 10 of them had actually provided me with a reason to like them on Facebook. 21 of those brands told me to do it and that was it. The other 15 didn't really say anything at all; they just slapped a URL or a logo across their communications to inform me that they were on Facebook. Well, thanks for telling me.

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Re-inventing reality

Re-inventing reality

Augmented Reality is no longer just a concept; it itself is real. Once – like many innovations – a mainstay of semi-realist science fiction novels and films, the smartphone revolution has propelled it into the big league. While AR has become commonplace in mobile B2C campaigns, it is clear that such subject matter scratches the surface of possibility.

While AR has been seen for some time as being potentially useful to museums and galleries, it has largely been seen from an experiential angle – adding value to a public visit, for example. A more powerful, and socially valuable, application is what Tessa Morrison and Ning Gu are examining at Australia's University of Newcastle.

The partnership was formed through a shared curiosity of improving the ways that people look at the history of buildings. As an architectural historian, Morrison's fascination was based on considering how the time-based visualisation of a building or area could be improved. On meeting Gu, an architect with a strong technological understanding, an idea was devised which led to their new project, combining AR with architectural history.

Morrison's ideas formed while working on a project which looked at Sydney Cove. The project utilised 2D and Archicad to produce 3D visualisations. However, she felt that putting these visualisations into a real environment, had genuine transformational and experiential power. When Gu told her about AR, a shared vision came to live, in terms of the architecture of buildings is visualised.

2D graphic design and 3D modelling have their benefits and limitations in exploring ideas. Even with 3D, although the idea is explored in a deeper way, the virtual world remains in total isolation: it is never connected with the physical environment. Where the duo see AR's potential, is to enable both the designer and architectural historians to insert digital information into a physical environment.

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New ad ventures

New ad ventures

Following our recent article on agency labs, it is becoming clear that agencies are becoming increasingly active in supporting and developing startups. What's in it for the agency, and what's in it for the startup?

We asked two people whose remit is to develop startups from within their existing businesses: Ian Priest of Chime Ventures, and Neil Munn of the Black Sheep Fund, a joint venture between BBH's innovation arm Zag and Spark Ventures.

 

 

Tell us about the background to the creation of your agency's venture.

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Milking it

Milking it

Fictional characters can build brands. Whether it's BT's Buzby in the Seventies or, more recently Aleksandr Orlov, they can touch an emotional "soft spot" and go on to achieve long-lasting recognition, way after the end of their campaign.

Such appreciation is both a blessing and a curse for agencies. While appreciation and recognition of the character is indicative of the campaign's impact, the character can also become bigger than the brand: enjoying success in terms of awareness, but with very little impact at the point of sale. These issues are brought into even sharper focus when digital comes into play, where characters can exist on YouTube and have their own Twitter account.

A recognition of these and other factors were important in the development of Bertrum, the lead character in the new campaign by Wieden + Kennedy for Arla's Cravendale milk brand. As consumer dairy products are of low interest to most people, W+K had quickly decided to develop an quirky initial campaign featuring three lead characters: a cow, pirate, and cyclist. Here, the objective was to metaphorically slap consumers around the face, and ignite interest into a brand and product. Any hope of the consumer absorbing any point of differentiation about the product – in this case, a triple filtration, preserving freshness for longer – required an execution which was quirky, different, and to an extent, provocative. Consumers had to notice it.

It was felt last year that the inherent creativity within that campaign had run its course, and that something new was needed. Its creartive quirkiness had something of a lasting effect on sales and on the audience, with the agency being mindful of the effect of turning the campaign off before its replacement could be turned on. As a result, a "farewell film" was made, with highlights of the campaign, in order to manage disruption amongst consumers sympathetic to the campaign: it was obviously important that this group could be migrated to a new campaign and thus remain customers of Cravendale.

 

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Review: Dangerous Ideas

Review: Dangerous Ideas

We recently ran an interview with Alf Rehn, the author of Dangerous Ideas. Here, Leila Johnston reviews the book.

"We might start by asking the question: do we need creativity at all? Such a question will, without any doubt, be seen as heretical, even dangerous," says Alf Rehn, presumably in a menacing whisper. So dangerous is the message of this book going to be that almost the entire first third is given over to preparing the reader. There's a 'warning' message, a superfluous introduction and many, many more pages supplying a protracted, "Are you sitting down? What I am about to say may disturb you".

It's a long time coming, but once you get past the excitable first section, there are actually some good ideas in there. The notion that we should be bolder in our thinking about creativity is intriguing, but Rehn's eye drifts off the ball sometimes as he gets palpably carried away in a game of semantics and logic. His thought process amounts to something like this: all companies want to be more creative, but true creativity is by definition the dangerous thing that no one wants to touch. So either one should never want to be creative (because it's bland), or creativity is going to get a shiny new meaning. Either way, it falls somewhat short of the brain-blast we've been promised. "Think about it: if everyone tries to be creative and think of new ideas, doesn't it follow logically that the most creative thing to do in such a context is to consciously try to be less creative and instead utilize old ideas?"

But, wait: is that a new idea - to use old ones? Why are we trying to be the 'most creative' anyway. At times Rehn wants us to do considerably less, and follow the pared-down business models of simple popular electronics, deciding this is 'punk'. In other places he asks us to consider looking to torture methods for inspiration to help us think outside the box. It's an electric-shock-therapy sort of theory - and admirable, in a way, for its efforts to push us out of our 'comfort zones'. But, ultimately, it feels rather rough and brutal. It's the philosophical equivalent of banging the television to try to get a better signal.

Creativity, Rehn insists again and again and again, is not a cute fuzzy concept but a devastating, confrontational one. It need not be about making anything good or even 'blue sky thinking'. Rather, it's the art of freeing ourselves from the 'boxes' of preconception that we don't even know we've created. Now this, I suspect, is an extremely important thing to say, but the message is fatally diluted through repetition and poor editing. The pictures of children screaming and hands giving me the finger scattered throughout the book push the point too far, and somehow look oddly corporate and obvious in a book so adamantly dedicated to the spirit of punk.

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Digital advertising: the speed and the slowdown

Digital advertising: the speed and the slowdown

Here's a fact to brighten up your day: mobile advertising grew by 166 percent to £83 million in 2010, up from £37.6 million in 2009. New figures from PwC/IAB show that the rate of growth is unprecedented and is a note of optimism in an otherwise hesitant online advertising landscape.

Here are some other take-home points from the study:

B2B and specialist media are increasing their share of the mobile ad spend pie, including telecoms and financial publishers, albeit from a low base.Mobile search ad spend has tripled from 2009 to 2010, from £20.2 million to £54.9 million.Mobile display spend was up 61 percent to £28.1 million, up from £17.4 million in 2009,Mobile display ads, all those banner ads, text links and flashing things that you all ignore, rose 62 percent to £23.7 million.Pre- and post-roll ads rose 492 percent to grand total of... £1.1 million (translation: people didn't used to have rich video-enabled phones, and now they have iPhones and Android phones).Entertainment is the biggest sector with 32.9 percent of mobile display ad spend, automotive is the smallest with a piddling 6.5 percent.

And the usage is, of course, through the roof. Smartphone ownership was up 58 percent year on year in 2010 to encompass 38 percent of the population – according to December figures from ComScore.

And we've not even mentioned tablets yet. Here's what Dominic Jacquesson, author of our new research report on mobile media strategies, says of them:

"When Apple released its Q4 2010 sales, it revealed iPad sales of 17 million in the nine months since launch. It took the iPhone 21 months after launch to reach the same point. Every major analyst tracking Apple has under-estimated the success of the iPad, despite all the hype, and we can now expect sales estimates for 2011 to notch up once again.

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Small pieces, tightly joined

Small pieces, tightly joined

 

Much of the art that we know was developed in the context of a collective, group, or school. From the Florentine school through to Fluxus and most recently the YBAs, a particular style, discipline or approach – theoretical or practical – lends itself to a wider grouping of artists into a tightly-defined entity: a brand.

Now, of course, everyone is part of one collective or another. We appear in someone's Twitter list. or belong to a multitude of Facebook groups. The potential to create branded collectives with pre-determined groups of people is therefore a logical extension, and we are clearly seeing that happen in the B2C marketplace, particularly in Facebook.

Branded collectives were at the front of the minds of Kate and Rob Burton when they created Kiki Salon. The brand was created as a collective entity – an umbrella brand for a group of diverse and creative people who were identified and brought in by the couple, with the brand becoming the over-arching entity. Members included photographer Yiannis Katsaris and performance artist Stav B (pictured above). The brand was responsible for a line of products and exhibition, under the name Kiki Salon Presents.

The ability to create diverse and creative communities led by one or two figureheads is not uncommon: in addition to Asher and pop culture-influenced models such as the Factory and the Mothers of Invention, many creative agencies have a small team of "directors" and work with creative freelancers in a network model. Kiki Salon offers the natural evolution, which is to continue the collective model, but reinforce it through digital and, in particular, social media.

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SXSW Madness: Anjali Ramachandran's photojournal

SXSW Madness: Anjali Ramachandran's photojournal

Every March, Austin has an influx of geeks. SXSW is almost legendary in its popularity as the place to be seen if you are, you know, with it – but that's not what it is. SXSW is about people who love the internet coming together to be inspired, network and party in an atmosphere soaked with sun, margaritas and BBQ – and then so much more.

This is a snapshot of the 5 days I was in Texas this year – Austin as I will always remember it.

 

 

Austin is super-connected: taxi drivers accept payment by Square, Foursquare and Gowalla users battle it out for supremacy in every bar. One of this year's new features from Foursquare during SXSW is a partnership with American Express where AmEx users get $5 back for every $5 spent – an Austin special.

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SXSW and Magpies

SXSW and Magpies

(A precursor to this, and a massive caveat – my ranty tweets were picked up by the good people of Imperica, who asked me to give my views on SXSW. I've never been – my employer was there this year, and spoke. These views are mine, however. For what it's worth, I'm sure bits of SXSW are great, and bits of it are dross).

I love new things. Really, I do.

I also love new technology; fascinating stuff, especially when it's new. It's a little bit like magic. Who'd forget the first time they first watched Life in HD, or when they first played on a next-gen console?

So, all of that said, you'd have thought that the interactive part of SXSW would be right up my street.

Sadly not, and I'm going to try and explain why.

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Dangerous thinking

Dangerous thinking

When was the last time that you felt creative, or that you demonstrated best practice? Probably, quite recently. But, what do these words really mean? Have you truly been creative? Does "best" really equal... best?

Creativity used to be the preserve of people that could manifestly demonstrate it: architects, designers, and writers. Now, everyone wants to be creative. We are told to be creative – and when we are creative, we are told to be more creative. A world of creativity is a politician's dream: witness the concept of the "cultural quarter" in town planning, where optimistic public sector officials dream that a specific part of their city should be a pseudo-futuristic zone of inspiration, intellect, and iPads.

This ubiquity of creative thinking lends itself to a reframing of what "creativity" is. If everyone can demonstrate their creativity, then they are ultimately doing so within a context: witness the "think outside the box" rooms within corporate office blocks. Almost a pastiche of what creativity should be, this watered-down view finally led Alf Rehn to do something about it.

Rehn's revelation occurred when he was at an event, listening to a thought leader on creativity. Looking around, he noticed that people were happily taking in what the speaker had to say, without necessarily questioning it. If resistance is part of the human psyche, then it was not occurring in the room: after all, if we are in the midst of a "creative revolution", then there should be some insurrection. There was no friction, no resistance: creativity needs to thrive on these and other factors in order to survive. We always resist what feels uncomfortable, strange, or forcing us to change against our initial will. It was not happening here. The aggressive, "punk" qualities that should define a more purist form creativity were far from apparent.

A passionate objection to this watering-down of creativity led Rehn to write Dangerous Ideas. In the book, he argues that as wider society has embraced creativity and innovation, we have lost track of what creativity was actually supposed to be about: change, challenge, and pushing just that little bit further. However, when these terms are used so frequently by leaders in both corporate and political life, Rehn feels that the words become emptied of meaning.

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