April 27th, 2012

Notes from PSFK Conference: Innovation and Sharing

We sent a couple folks to a PSFK Conference in New York a few weeks ago, and asked them to report back. Here’s what George Morse, Senior Interactive Designer, and Summer Fiedler, Interactive Art Director, had to say.


From George: Insights on Innovation





Innovation is a word that gets tossed around frequently in the advertising industry. It’s one of those things that sounds great, but in reality, more people talk innovation than actually create innovative work.

We wanted to get a better understanding of what goes into creating a truly groundbreaking solution and learn about the problems innovators are currently focused on solving. At the recent PSFK conference, we listened to renowned writers, entrepreneurs, designers and technologists speak about their projects. We noticed that the majority of innovation involves big data, natural interface design and the initiative of individual designers.

Leveraging Big Data

A lot of statistics popped up at the conference about how much information is currently being created. One of the most memorable was that there was more information generated in 2011 than in the history of the world. The information comes from all kinds of connected devices, social networks and institutions. This glut of data provides a huge opportunity for those who can figure out how to aggregate, analyze and apply it in a useful way.

Robert Kirkpatrick, the Director of the United Nations’ Global Pulse initiative, discussed how his team is using all the information to get a real-time understanding of crisis situations in vulnerable communities around the world. By aggregating and analyzing the data from the communities, the UN is able to quickly detect a crisis and deliver the appropriate aid. By analyzing the data even further, they may even predict a crisis before it happens.

Brett Martin talked about his mobile application, Sonar. Sonar works by using your social data from Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook to discover the hidden connections you have with people close by. The application rates the 15-20 most relevant people around you and then plots them on a map for you.

Grant McCracken, anthropologist and author, pointed out, that back in 1962, a man named Wilfred Winkenbach found a creative way to use all of the free and seemingly useless data generated by the NFL. He created the first-ever fantasy football game while having drinks with some friends in a New York City hotel. Fantasy football has since grown into a $3.5 billion industry.

Natural Interface

The way we interact with technology is changing dramatically. We continue to move further from the desktop computer as the digital world blends more seamlessly into our everyday lives. The standard conventions of graphic user interface are starting to be supplemented. Products like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Kinect and Google’s Project Glass are just the beginners in a new field in interface design called natural interface.

Microsoft’s Steve Clayton believes everything will have a digital interface in the future. The information we need could be communicated to us on any surface through a mixture of audio and gesture controls. He displayed a demo of the Magic Window, an interactive screen that can see what’s in front of it. He also showed a video of a wearable projector that can turn any surface into a digital display.

One of the most interesting projects he shared was a project called IllumiShare. IllumiShare allows remote people to share physical or digital objects on any surface. It looks pretty simple, but then you realize that two people are working together on something without a screen or a controller.

Self-initiated Projects

Designers typically spend most of their time working for clients. However, they sometimes run into problems that they feel compelled to solve on their own time. A few designers spoke about their projects and their motivation.

Jonathan Harris was troubled by a few trends he noticed emerging online: the dramatic decline in the amount of self-expression—a shift towards curation of content versus creation of content, and in general, a shortening of all content shared.

In response to these trends, Harris created Cowbird, an online community for storytellers who want to create and share richer, more engaging content. The site acts as a repository for what he calls teachable moments—those moments in life when we learn something that has a profound effect on who we are.

Tina Roth-Eisenberg got tired of her daughter wearing poorly designed temporary tattoos. She knew she could create better ones. She emailed a number of designer friends, created a website and launched Tattly, a site with beautifully designed temporary tattoos.

Abe Burmeister loved biking to work. Unfortunately, no one made pants that were designed to withstand the rigors of cycling yet looked good enough to wear to work. He decided to make his own pants and founded a clothing company, Outlier. He launched a website that had an image of his pants and a PayPal Buy Now Button. The first pair of pants he released sold so quickly he was forced to take down his site while he figured out how to fulfill all the orders.

Being around all the brilliant people at PSFK kind of made us think, for just a second, that innovation is easy. It’s not. It requires a huge amount of creativity, drive and luck to be able to create something that is both groundbreaking and popular. We look forward to seeing what kinds of interesting products are created using big data and natural interfaces. Who knows — we might even take a shot at solving some challenging problems on our own.

From Summer: Sharing Is Becoming a Natural Behavior





The recent one-day PSFK conference, “where disparate ideas can come together in new ways to fuel work that changes the world for the better, over-delivered on inspiration and proved to be the perfect intermission from the daily nine-to-five routine.

Though the conference’s speakers presented on a variety of topics, sharing emerged as a recurring theme linking their presentations. Whether it was sharing data to make the world a better place or sharing a teachable moment, it became apparent that sharing is becoming a natural behavior.

Three subthemes support this concept.


Our digital lives encourage us to constantly produce data. We take this data, decipher it and make lists. We identify ourselves by these lists, and they become a representation of who we are. And, we have great flexibility with these lists—as we curate data and create online personas, we have the ability to create our self-identities in different ways. We have the opportunity to be something/someone that isn’t truly us.

2. Creation.

Jason Silva, in his presentation “The Creating and Sharing of Awe,” proposed that creation is a lonely experience. At first thought, it seemed a bit odd, but after further explanation, he made perfect sense. A) it only happens in our head and B) since no one can read our mind, it is solely up to us to take our inner thoughts and creative ideas and make them real and comprehensible.

Even if creation is viewed as a solitary process, human interaction is practically unavoidable. Any type of collaboration (or interaction), whether physical or digital, can spark creativity. This explains why much creation of happens with others. Through our experiences, interactions and collaborations with others, we can become inspired and cross boundaries that we otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to cross.

3. Sharing data to make the world a better place.

By transforming digital services into an array of censor networks, we can provide help to people during — and possibly even before — a crisis or disaster. We have the ability to pull out real-time data faster to provide immediate solutions. As Robert Kirkpatrick from United Nations Global Pulse described, we live in a hyper-connected age with interconnected markets. Shock can ripple around the world. The true effects of global shock become evident years later through stats and data. When needs within a society change, so do its digital patterns.

As technology becomes seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, sharing is becoming a natural way of behavior. We have constant access to data. Any and everything we own is shared for mass consumption. We are constantly creating and curating data that can anticipate our needs. Technology makes it easy to share and we want to reap the benefits that go with it.