It’s nice to see some debate swirling around the interwebs these days on what a Creative Technologist actually does. Having read a sampling of the articles I’ve seen a distinction difference between what an ad agency CT does and what a software or tech CT does. Most software and tech CT are more like creative CTOs. They do a lot of the hands on coding, development and database management while also moving the product forward. Seeing that I work agency side I’m far more qualified to comment on the ad side of working as a creative technologist.
In my experience an advertising agency creative technologist is more of a generalist who sits between creative, strategy and technical execution. In my own personal day-to-day I work early on with the strategists and planners to define a client’s digital strategy. Largely we look for the social object that the customer will be attracted to. This hopefully will also be the emotional connection with the brand. Even though I have “technologist” in my title and am responsible for pushing innovation in our company it doesn’t mean I don’t still care about connecting with people in a relevant, original and impactful way. Without a solid social strategy finding the big ideas becomes a lot more time consuming and muddied. Technology can do anything you want it to do so it’s best to be very clear up front what the strategy and goals are.
With a strategy in place I usually sit down with an art director and copywriter to start on the conceptual phase of the creative. Ad legend Bill Bernbach first paired art directors and copywriters together to enhance the idea so it only makes sense to have a creative technologist in the room especially when the creative solution is likely to have a large digital component. We crack the big idea and then work on communicating and selling that idea to our clients. At this point our specialities kick in. The art director works on the visuals, the copywriter on the language and I work on prototyping the idea and showing the consumer interaction.
Now, technology can often be intimidating for clients, but everyone likes a great idea, it’s important not to sell the technology but rather sell the creative solutions that will drive the business forward and resonate with consumers.
Once the idea is sold it becomes my responsibility to make sure the execution is so technically seamless that the end user never notices it. It’s always a temptation to build in every bell and whistle into an execution but if it doesn’t support the overarching idea and doesn’t build community with the consumer then it should be left off. Like art directors need to know how to get the best work out of photographers, directors, typographers and designers, I need to get the most out of developers, information architects and coders. Any digital build requires a big team to pull it off and without some creative technology oversight the idea can either be too tech heavy with no creative or too much creative flair with no intuitive consumer functionality that begets community and brand affinity. Nike + and Nike Chalkbot are very technically robust executions but at the end of the day what was really built was community and brand affinity.
One of our most recent projects that I’ve worked on was an interactive Twitter mural for Canadian Tourism. Our challenge was to communicate a sense of urgency to travel from the States to Canada. Most Americans think Canada is all well and good but don’t see it as a destination that they need to see this weekend, even though it’s only a few hours away. In working with an art director and creative director we decided on an out of home interactive billboard that would showcase Twitter updates from Canadians and visitors to Canada. These updates would be in real-time. This brought a little bit of Canada to major cites across America and delivered the brand message through an authentic tone of voice.
It was an extremely challenging technical build involving many moving parts of; back-end moderation, touch screen user-interface, mobile iPad forms and the OOH projection hardware, but in the end it became a fun immerse experience for people walking by which drove a ton of interest in the brand.
Ultimately it was the creative that made the idea so strong. As the popularity of the Creative Technologist role grows it’s my hope that it will always be a role that strives for more meaningful social connections through technology and not just technology for technology sake.