Tech Week 2019: People, Powered

As part of Tech Week, we hosted a breakfast conversation about the role technology plays in our industry. Here, Strategy Director Paddy has captured our key take aways from the session.


With our brains full of pastry, sugar and caffeine, Emma Barratt, Creative Director and Head of Design at Wolff Olins, kicked us off with a quick, provocative intro.

Emma asked us: “how, in a world where brands are becoming truly interactive through new technologies like MR and AI, can we still shape brands that are recognisable, relevant and – crucially – responsible? What happens when brands become invisible?”

Four speakers then shared their thoughts, each from very different places, each spinning a different thread but ultimately weaving together in a similar direction…

First, Cedric Kiefer from Onformative suggested that the invisible is unknown, so can be scary. But he thinks we should embrace that, focusing on the how – on the journey, the A-to-B, rather than just the B. Which doesn’t mean thinking about the tech first. Instead, he suggested we use tech to help us avoid the direct route, because “the direct route is obvious.” Experimenting with new tech, we can do things differently – arriving at various different and perhaps surprising Bs.

Pip Jamieson from The Dots carried this thought on, passionately inspiring us all to think about how “it’s the differences that make us brilliant”. She made the point that tech and data can help people, but aren’t enough alone. Alone, “data can’t innovate” – certainly not in the long-term. So if we want long-term innovation and successful, sustainable organisations, we should look to people. We should design for and with communities, avoiding bias by building teams full of difference – recognising that “creativity is a team sport”.

Dan Hennessy from Uber then asked the question “how can you humanise this thing in your ear” – what does ‘brand personality’ mean in the world beyond screens? Do brands have actual personalities now, and if so how? Across which touchpoints? He wondered how we can use the technology available to us to “facilitate our journey” through this “expanding world” – to not just sell to people, but to help them, using the example of Uber commandeering ad spaces in airports to help customers find their rides.

Finally, Daniel Hirschmann from Tech Will Save Us and Hirsch & Mann spoke about working “design-first, then tech”. His point being that if we’re trying to keep up with and include all the new tech in the work we’re doing, we’re missing the point. We should see technologies like AI as “mediums for expression”, exploring what they are capable of – how they can help us design better experiences for people, wherever those experiences may happen.

So in summary, our speakers were all thinking similarly – about how we can harness the power of tech for people. This led us to pose three questions:

1.Can we stop worrying about tech doing different things to us, and instead wield tech to do things differently? And do better things – things that have longer-term impact, are unbiased, community-first and ultimately core to who we are. Rather than doing things led either by a fear of the latest tech, or a desire to use it just because it’s there.


2. How can we augment our reality, to better augment our customers’ reality? How can we work with and alongside technology, to shape better brands and a better world?

And then:

3.How will we continue to work with technologies as they evolve from being things we can use to express, to things that can express by themselves? As they start to behave in ways that we don’t expect, in black boxes, beyond our control. What will that mean for how we shape brands?

Ultimately, we wondered whether Tech Week needed a rebrand… Whether we needed to stop thinking of ‘tech’ as this ‘thing’, on a pedestal, separate from us, and instead recognise it as the latest powerful set of tools, or perhaps a new member of the team – helping us to think differently, work better together, and ultimately be better for people.

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