Very Recent History: 15-Mar-11

I’ve been distracted the past week, unable to do any “real” posts, but here are a few things I’ve been reading or seeing lately that have gotten me most excited…

Crowd at SXSW agency talk (via @malbonnington)

Agencies and SWSW

I’m a relative outsider to the advertising agency world, but I find their ongoing discussions of how they need to evolve in the new digital age to be fascinating and exciting. They may frequently speak in terms that exclude the “technologists” they’re interested in attracting, and most of the people speaking are from inside the advertising world, but the ideas that spin out are often smart, and it’s great to see firms able to articulate the need for change.

Last week’s SWXW panel “Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies?” was an opportunity for several thought leaders in this area to get together talk in more detail about things they’ve previously blogged and tweeted. I’m sad I wasn’t there — but for those of us not there, Rachel Pinn’s write-up is a must-read. (As are are these summaries from Mary Toves and FastCompany.)

Some of the key points from the panel:

  • Lots of traditional agencies try to function in a digital space by hiring a “translator” but when it’s crunch time and you have short deadlines, that person is the first to get left out of the conversation when they’re most needed
  • You can have people help you from outside, bring them in when you need them,… What’s not okay is to pretend you are savvy enough to have those conversations. {DO NOT fake it till you make it}
  • Software companies also need to act like agencies: ad agencies distil culture, understand who your buyers are, and offer untethered creatives who can inspire, create and launch.
  • “Creative technologists” were born out of creative. We need “strategic technologists” born of strategy.
  • Innovation happens at the intersection of skill sets

The Internet is Over

The Guardian was attending SXSW and posted an interesting overview of the conference: The Internet is Over. Or rather, it’s not so much over but is now instead everything and everywhere. “the arrival of the truly ubiquitous internet is something new, with implications both thrilling and sinister – and it has a way of rendering many of the questions we’ve been asking about technology in recent years almost meaningless.” The list five points about where things may be headed, all interesting, all ways to rethink everything we’ve been doing. Web 3.0, gamification, the dictator’s dialema, biomimicry, and ‘we are meant to pulse.’


One last point from SXSW… two tweets about Clay Shirky’s talk really struck me.

“access to conversation matters more in politics than access to information” -@cshirky – via @frogdesign

One of the biggest values of the Internet is that it allows amateurs access to the public sphere and start a dialogue. #talkingcure – via @marciikeler

Together they’re nice reminders not just of the power of interaction, but the responsibility we have as designers to support the free exchange of ideas.


I recently rented Note by Note — a beautiful documentary following the making of a Steinway piano. (via Design Mind and their post on The Wonder of Craft.)

A piano’s creation process is remarkable. From selecting raw materials, watching the wood be formed to give the overall shape, pounding (to break it in), the multiple stages of tuning, and the degree of precision, detail, and love that went into ever step — it a surprisingly complex task. But it was interviews with the staff — all sort-of hybrid between factory workers and artist/craftspeople — that were so enjoyable. They clearly loved what they did; what they did was part of a long tradition or knowledge passed down from one generation to the next.

The interviews with customers — from professional pianists auditioning pianos, to families buying pianos for their children — were equally remarkable. They knew that each piano was special, and that finding the right match was a very personal choice — starting a relationship that would evolve over the years.

The interviewees were all very passionate about what they did, or the way the piano communicated with them. Each person had their own way of describing the traits they were looking for, the way the piano would respond (or fight-back) to their playing, or the nature of the sound produced.

The film brought to mind one of my favorite quotes, from an interviewee, in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s under appreciated The Art of Seeing: An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Experience

“There is a certain danger in being too articulate about these things, which may have a certain satisfaction to it all of itself and may remove the art experience, the aesthetic response, from what the real aesthetic response is, which is, of course, silent. It has nothing to do with words at all.”