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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

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

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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