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Making AR real for clients

28 May 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

Like many design agencies we’ve spent many years working across both print and digital mediums. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses and therefore often play different, but complementary, roles in any...

making ar real for clients steven giannoulis

like many design agencies we’ve spent many years working across both print and digital mediums. they each have their own strengths and weaknesses and therefore often play different, but complementary, roles in any communication programme. augmented reality (ar) provides a cool way to integrate the two together in a seamless way. we see ar as the future of effective communications and that’s exactly why we’re working hard to help our clients embrace its business potential.

augmented reality uses every day technology - like your phone or ipad - to superimpose sounds, images and text to the reality you see. whereas virtual reality (vr) is about a made-up-world, ar is about enhancing the real world.

and what that means for business is that we can take a real thing like a product, an image, a postcard, a document or a graphic on a wall, and make it into a trigger for a more immersive and engaging communication experience. a good example is our recent ar work with mercury, taking a stylised map of the waikato river as the kick-off point to tell a visually rich story about the area and the power stations they have there. photos, video, real stories, sounds and a host of moving animations like water, steam, birds, clouds and cyclists bring a static display alive in a fun, informative, immersive and three-dimensional way.

but it’s not all fun and cool gimmicks, the business opportunities are endless. here’s just a few:

  • sales – customers use ar to see themselves interacting with your product. for example, walking around the house you are trying to sell them, or wearing the dress or driving that car they are interested in. if they can see themselves in it, they are well on the way to buying it.
  • design thinking – ar allows flat designs to be created in 3d spaces, providing a real sense of how things work together. visualising the finished product allows greater opportunities for teams to work together to address potential issues before the costly process of manufacture begins.
  • training – ar allows richer learning in environments that are just like the real thing. and that extends to customer training as well – imagine being able to add video or audio to your product manual and customers can access it on their phone.
  • customer experience – ar has the potential to add rich information, games and other interactions that your customers can tailor to what they want. this makes their engagement with you richer, more personalised and a whole lot more fun – all the time adding to their perception of you.

these example are already in play today, changing how companies are communicating with their customers to achieve better results. despite this, we’re still finding that many clients see ar (and to a greater extent, vr) as an emerging future technology – the stuff of blade runner, not of the shop floor in 2019. and we’re keen to address this.

last month we launched our own ar experience to help our clients understand, and visualise, the potential of ar. nellie the astronaut is a great piece of wall art (and a printed document) that highlights a multitude of ar techniques from video, to games, to user interaction and response. clients think it’s cool and enjoy playing with it, providing us with the perfect platform to discuss potential applications for them. already this has seen us develop client specific ideas to demonstrate key issues to investors, improve property selling and to enhance the effectiveness of destination marketing activities.

along with the medium being unfamiliar to most of our clients, cost remains the biggest barrier to client take up. and that’s the next big challenge for us – making ar cost accessible enough for clients to trial it. and we are not far off from making this a reality as well.


you can experience our ar demonstration for yourself right here, right now. simply download the free scopex app from app store or google play, open the app and hit the top square: 'scan an ar image', point the phone at the above image of nellie the astronaut and wait a few seconds. each of the spinning artefacts takes you down its own fun rabbit hole.
augmented reality, ar

The future of learning

13 Nov 2018 by Jeremy Sweetman

On a recent visit to Melbourne, I was privileged enough to visit  Wooranna Park Primary  in Dandenong. Privileged!? A visit to a primary school isn’t typically wrapped with the word ‘privileged’ –...

the future of learning jeremy sweetman

on a recent visit to melbourne, i was privileged enough to visit wooranna park primary in dandenong. privileged!? a visit to a primary school isn’t typically wrapped with the word ‘privileged’ – particularly if (as a parent) you make daily trips to your own – so let me explain.

on visiting the primary school, our group was welcomed by the principal (ray trotter) and tech-educator (kieran nolan). our welcome provided the most ‘ordinary’ thing about this school, because as we stepped through the doors it was clear that the school was anything but ordinary.

very quickly i realised this school is unlike most others. firstly, traditional classrooms don’t exist; instead, the learning spaces are rich and engaging in their own right. instead of rows of desks, you’re presented with learning spaces offering a real difference.

most of the spaces have been crafted to provide engaging and immersive environments designed to spark the imagination. in one area, you’re met with a giant spaceship, complete with a flight simulator. walking into another, you’re met by an impressive red dragon boat, designed to provide students with sea-faring adventures using google earth to guide them across (actual) oceans. 


the area where we started our journey was fully decked out with a green screen studio and supported a large array of technology and tools to provide students with a seemingly unlimited canvas of possibilities. fun fact: this technological space – officially named the ‘enigma portal’ – was democratically voted upon by students using blockchain voting – that the students set up.


to date, the school has been likened to disneyland rather than a typical learning space – a comparison that ray is obviously proud of. from where i sit, i can see three large flat-screen tvs – one of which is connected 24/7 to schools located in both new zealand and korea. in one corner, the school is creating an augmented reality sandbox (of particular interest to me as we’re undertaking a similar project); whilst in another, a cisco network suite allows students to design and build their own computer networks.


the technological toys didn’t stop there. we experienced 3d printing, robotics, minecraft virtual reality (vr) which they were programming, google earth experiences; and heard stories surrounding various bitcoin endeavours and the success of their mentoring programme – in which it pairs students with industry experts (recently pairing a student interested in black holes with an expert at nasa). that said, not everything was driven by technology. for the non-technical, we received invitations to stroke a selection of bearded dragons housed within their impressive nature classroom. 

remember, this is a primary school!

interestingly, despite all the technology, ray is a self-proclaimed technophobe and cites his level of technical prowess as (almost) mastering his mobile. however, this mismatch of technical savviness is quickly forgotten when you listen to him speak and hear his passion for teaching, his vision, and ultimately, why he’s expanding his students’ minds.

what about the educational value?

this is where it gets interesting.

firstly, let me start by saying i’m not (at any level) an expert on the australian educational system. in fact, my knowledge has been gained primarily by anecdotal means and in large, through the honesty offered up by ray and kieran and my interpretation of their stories.

educationally, wooranna park primary is duty bound to deliver the same educational curriculum as every other australian primary school – which they do. the primary tenets (as outlined by the government and as i understand them) are numeracy, literacy and student attendance. it’s here where ray believes the system is failing the next generation; in doing so, passionately reminding us that the world is full of learning opportunities beyond this outlined framework.


he goes on to reference buckminster fuller’s ‘knowledge doubling curve’ which (currently) suggests that human knowledge is doubling (roughly) every 12-months. but according to ibm the development of the ‘internet of things’ (iot) will lead to a doubling of knowledge every 12-hours. ray suggests that focusing primarily on numeracy and literacy (not forgetting attendance of course) won’t come close to preparing our children for the future.

however, this stance has come at a cost. ray uncomfortably and honestly shares that wooranna park is below-average through assessment by the national assessment program – literacy and numeracy (naplan). although, through this discomfort, his passion and pride surface again when you hear the long-list the other results & accolades the school has achieved. some of which could be argued rival the set curriculum.  

honestly, as his story unfolded, i initially perceived ray as a bit of a ‘bad-boy’, riding down the educational highway, offering up two fingers to an educational system that he felt was failing to prepare the minds of the future. a rebel born through a long career in teaching. however, by the end of our tour, i believe him more a visionary, with both his heart and head in the right place – although still carrying a smattering of bad-boy, but only insofar as to ensure he can continue to colour outside the lines and deliver a learning environment that continues to expand his students’ minds.

don’t get me wrong, numeracy and literacy will (obviously) remain core subjects, but our world continues to evolve. with the exponential momentum of augmented/virtual reality (ar/vr), artificial intelligence (ai), crypto-currencies and robotics (to name just a few), and the unprecedented access to new knowledge through the developing iot – why wouldn’t we want to prepare our children? why shouldn’t we be more prepared?

i wish ray and kieran all the luck in the world. they’ve inspired me. in our industry, technology changes… quickly. the solutions we deliver today won’t be the ones we provide tomorrow, and that’s exciting. it’s also encouraging to know that more digital natives are on their way, thanks to the efforts of schools like wooranna park.

i know this innovative approach to education won’t be for everyone. there may be flaws in the vision, glitches in the plan that are still yet to surface. from my perspective, i can’t see any –  can you? 

ps. i know wooranna park welcomes visitors to their school, so don’t be shy if you’re knocking about melbourne and looking for something different – reach out. 

innovation, technology, innovation

Taming the HiPPO

06 Nov 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

OK, so I’ve put on a bit of weight lately but I still took exception to the recent description of me as a Hippo. Turns out they were right – I have been throwing a bit too much weight around when it comes to...

taming the hippo steven giannoulis

ok, so i’ve put on a bit of weight lately but i still took exception to the recent description of me as a hippo. turns out they were right – i have been throwing a bit too much weight around when it comes to generating ideas. so i’ve put myself on a tight leash and i’m learning to tame my natural instincts.

let’s be honest, the best ideas aren’t always the ones that get chosen. how many times during my career have i been in this scenario: a roomful of managers listen to a strong pitch from the most senior person in the room. after the spiel, one or two people agree. the rest say nothing, reluctant to disagree or suggest better ideas. it’s the idea we end up going with even though, more often than not, it’s not even the best idea we’ve got.

and that’s the downside of involving hippos (highest-paid-person's opinion) in the early stages of idea generation. 

we hippos aren’t all bad

don’t get me wrong, we hippos aren’t all bad. teams often need us to lead the charge and to keep them focused on the goal. and not all our ideas are bad ideas. but hippos can stifle the creative process. the challenge is to not let them dominate creativity and innovative thinking. if you do, you may end up with very narrow ideas, based on one or two people's experiences and gut feel. worse still, you end up going with bad ideas that everyone’s afraid to challenge. in other words, how do you tame the hippo in the ideation process?

i’m the hippo in most brainstorms at work. i often feel that everyone is waiting for me to come up with the ideas or when ideas are presented, everyone looks to me to decide whether they are good or not. for ages this has frustrated me, but thinking about it now it says more about me, and the culture i’ve created, than it does about the team. and that’s why i’ve been trying some new things to self-silence my inner hippo and to help us generate better ideas. some approaches worked better than others and i definitely found some easier to do.

silencing the inner hippo

  • co-creation – incorporating clients and wider groups into the brainstorming process. this introduces more people interested in the best outcomes rather than the politics of seniority. of course, the client becomes the most important person in the room. 
  • silent brainstorming – using sticky notes and getting everyone to put all their ideas down first before coming up to present them one by one. every sticky note has equal value. this stops the first and loudest dominating the brainstorming. i’ve found this approach to be successful.
  • using a voting system – where everyone gets to vote on ideas. every vote is equal and we focus on only the ideas with the most votes, regardless of whose they are. in these scenarios, i try and vote last to stop influencing what others may think.
  • holding back - i’ve tried in a couple of brainstorms to actively stop myself from contributing ideas. i found this hard and wasn’t as successful at it as i needed to be! this puts the emphasis on others to generate the first ideas. in both cases there was awkward silence at the start but once they got into it, the team came up with some great ideas. 
  • building on other’s ideas only – in another session, i set myself a goal to not generate any new ideas but to only build on other people's ideas. i enjoyed this and there were some good collective outcomes.
  • playing a different role – rather than contributing ideas, i sometimes look to play a facilitator role, asking questions or offering insights that allow others to generate ideas. this approach lets me influence the direction without dominating the ideas.
  • agreeing an ‘objective’ criteria – establishing the criteria for assessing ideas upfront allows all ideas to be considered on the same basis regardless of who came up with them. it also gives others a legitimate basis to challenge the hippo’s ideas. 

for most of my career i haven’t been the most senior person in the room, so i know what it feels like to not have your good ideas heard. it therefore horrifies me that i might be the one holding us back when it comes to the new ideas and approaches. so if, like me, you’re the hippo in the room, fight your natural instincts and actively seek ways to help the team come up with the best ideas collectively. after all you, that’s how you got to be the hippo in the first place.

innovation, idea generation, brainstorm

Shifting creative conventions

04 Sep 2018 by Brian Slade

Christmas day early 1970s, I opened a bag of Lego blocks. Just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. One of my favourite ‘toys’, I loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. Today Lego produces hundreds of...

shifting creative conventions brian slade

christmas day early 1970s, i opened a bag of lego blocks. just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. one of my favourite ‘toys’, i loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. today lego produces hundreds of options, variations and themes and in 2008 it broke with its creative conventions, setting up ‘lego ideas’ as an offshoot of the japanese website cuusoo. it allows users to submit ideas for lego to develop commercially. fans get an opportunity to ‘co-create’ on submissions online and give feedback. if a project gets 10,000 votes, lego reviews the idea and gives the original creator 1% of the commercial sales once in production.

fast company credits this breaking with convention for winding back a decade of sales slumps and putting lego in the same league as apple.

we all have ways of doing stuff. when we’re looking to stretch our creative, digital, and innovative thinking, it’s worth taking a look at our personal conventions and reshaping our thinking.


some tools to reshape your own creative conventions

a bit like therapy, you’ve got to ‘own’ the idea that there’s an opportunity to grow and develop. once this is done you’re on your way.

the next critical step is to move from theory to practice. one of the simplest ways to get tangible is to create a visual trigger. take some post-it notes and write reminders of what it is you're aiming for, such as:

"what’s the creative/innovative opportunity here?” 

"just be creative!"

"listen more."

you’ve just got to remember to refer back to them as you generate ideas!

like lego, you need to continue to develop your strengths, values and desire for co-creation by doing less in isolation in front of the computer. get busy communicating, sharing early and progressively with your project team. your best results will be achieved when you collaborate, value each other’s angle and captain your own specific area of expertise. 

as fast as possible, define clearly the issues and challenges you’re creating for. at the briefing stage, gain personal empathy for the task and ask the ‘dumb’ questions. get what you need to do the job. start with why? work on shared options through discussion then agree on a shortlist. 

agree on a ‘good enough for now’ thought process. this saves time and creates enough to communicate the ideas you most want to progress with. this will mean different things for different organisations obviously. working with each other creates a stronger, unified belief and understanding in the idea and direction, thus making it easier to support.

shape the individual and collaborative design process into four clear steps:

  • explore
  • expand
  • apply your knowledge and insights
  • focus

so that everybody in the team understands where you're at and where you’re going.

make time pressure your friend by using words only to describe an idea and why it works. it’s quicker to come up with the words ‘tomato with an umbrella sticking out of the top with a pink flamingo sitting on top’ than finding visual reference!

apply a bit of this thinking to shift a creative convention or two and you might just start humming the lego movie anthem… everything is awesome… 


credit: magenta lego house by luka hooper

visual design, creative innovation, breaking creative shackles

Tribe Behaviour

16 Jul 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

Spark has announced it's adopting an agile way of working across its business. I applaud them for so tangibly demonstrating their commitment to breaking down silos, improving speed to market, innovation and achieving...

tribe behaviour steven giannoulis

spark has announced it's adopting an agile way of working across its business. i applaud them for so tangibly demonstrating their commitment to breaking down silos, improving speed to market, innovation and achieving more customer focused solutions.

i’ll follow their progress with great interest, knowing that what they’re proposing challenges almost everything we know about organisational behaviour.


an agile spark transforms from a traditional hierarchical structure, with large business units, to small self-managing teams (squads), each with clear accountabilities. they collaborate with one another to deliver specific products and service projects for customers and for the good of the organisation. it’s no longer about people working in a particular business unit or function. in this model, senior leaders act as catalysts, setting direction and establishing systems for people to do their jobs effectively. and they assemble the right mix of skills, talent and experience to collectively make decisions about the what, how and when of each project.

i worked in a self-managing operational team 20 plus years ago (an experimental team within a bigger traditional structure) and my experience was mostly positive, especially at the start. some of us embraced the freedom self-managing teams offered and the opportunity to contribute ideas, to learn, to step up and have a voice beyond our title. for others, the transition from what they knew was a step too far. eventually, as we settled into bau, my enthusiasm waned and i got frustrated at the inability to just get on and do stuff without needing a whole team involved. over a year, people naturally settled into a more specialist division of labour. as far as i can remember, the experiment never ended, it just naturally devolved back to the old way.

maybe this experience is driving my slight nervousness about how spark’s tribes approach will work for the people who work there.

"people at work are largely driven by fundamental motivators closely aligned with maslow’s hierarchy of needs."

history has taught us that people, and groups, at work are largely driven by fundamental motivators – closely aligned with maslow’s hierarchy of needs - like survival, recognition, reward, progression, belonging and identity. spark’s new approach delivers a number of challenges on many of these fronts. 

with more emphasis on the team’s deliverables over an individual's, how do people know they are achieving? team success is one thing but we all still want to be recognised for our own contribution. and without a clear and recognisable hierarchy how do people plan for progress and feel that their career is going somewhere? no doubt, as you deliver more and more successful outcomes you’ll get to work on more complex and wide reaching projects. maybe this represents your growth and progress but people may still want the visible symbols of progress that titles, responsibility and hierarchy offer. 

our jobs are a big part of our identity and therefore more fluidity in what i do has the potential to lead to less clarity in what i stand for. without a defined work identity there is a danger that people struggle to see themselves in their jobs and this could lead to some dissatisfaction for some.

traditional functions, teams and divisions also provide a sense of belonging that this team collective may not be able to replicate. i’ve worked with a number of clients who’ve moved to open plan, hot desk approaches only to find that people end up all sitting together in the same place and same desks every day. apart from the functional benefit, the clear lesson here is that people need to feel that they belong to something. as you move from project to project where do you actually belong? who are your people?

"as you move from project to project where do you actually belong? who are your people?"

organisational behaviour has a strong competitive undertow and this approach plays well to this. short sprint work allows quick results and satisfies our desire to achieve and win. but without that longer term focus, competitiveness may see the good of the project override the longer term good of the organisation. clear measures of success are needed to signal what really is important.

despite my concerns, i love the braveness of what spark are doing here. i really do want it to succeed. i encourage them to invest in a strong company-wide internal communications programme that builds momentum in the core idea behind this initiative. a programme that reinforces key long-term outcomes as well as immediate success stories, keeping people engaged with the entire organisation and its objectives. regular communication that promotes aligned interests and behaviours and helps people feel they belong to the bigger spark team and where the organisation is going.

agile, tribes

Innovation All-sorts

09 Jul 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

We’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. We’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters...

innovation all-sorts steven giannoulis
we’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. we’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters this. over the last few weeks i’ve seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges this brings.
we are working on a really big and really cool project for a client where they have expressly asked us to push the boundaries, incorporating out-there ideas and technologies. what better job to test our new-found innovation resolve.
we started with a team brainstorming session to generate ideas that could inform our approach. 
some team members were clearly idea generators, spitting out idea after idea with little consideration of the merits of each one. i fall into this group, finding it really easy to generate the volume of ideas but not always with an associated level of quality. 
others were idea builders, better at taking other people’s ideas and exploring and shaping them further. 
others were idea resolvers. they sat thinking to themselves, not participating in the discussion apart from every so often when they shared the fully formed idea they’d been working through in their heads. 
and then there were the few who added little or nothing to the brainstorming meeting. they seemed to have no ideas. for these more analytical-minded types, brainstorming sessions are just too fast and unstructured. ironically, a few of our best ideas came from one of these people. they went away, thought about it, and then came up with a couple of well-considered ideas that were clearly influenced by the discussions in the brainstorming session.
as the week following the brainstorming progressed, we once again saw a huge difference in attitudes and approaches.
some of us got very excited by the endless possibilities and took the leading ideas, rethinking them, stretching them, adapting them, combining them in different ways and generally just looking to find new ways to apply them. we developed a prototype solution and got the team together to talk this through.
some were happy to take the solution being proposed, adding value by suggesting refinements, ways to sell the ideas into the client or alternative approaches to help the idea become more achievable. i quickly learned that harnessing these groups can help take a solution from good to fantastic.
another small group quickly switched off, feeling little ownership of the proposed solution. they didn’t fight or discourage it, they just disengaged, agreeing to do what needed to be done with little passion or buy-in. they still have a role to play in allowing an innovative outcome but it’s mostly about doing what needs to be done.
and a final group actively found issues with the solution, focusing on the complexity, cost, timeframes and/or highlighting past scenarios where similar solutions had failed. the challenge with this group is to get their focus off the problem and onto solutions. how can we do this cheaper, quicker and simpler? i found challenging them to find alternative ways to achieve the same outcome allowed this group to utilise their skills and feel more involved. 
as we get ready to present the proposed solution to the client, i am excited with what we’ve come up with. it took a mixed bag of ideas to get us here and all-sorts of people to allow us to refine, evaluate and improve the solution. my preconception was that we needed big thinking ideas people but a better outcome was achieved by including a more diverse team of personalities and approaches. creating a culture enabling innovation to thrive means finding a way for everyone to contribute in a way that makes the most of their particular skillsets.
innovation, workplace, diversity, idea generators, idea builders, idea resolvers
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