By amee shah on September 16, 2010
Hello Big Spaceship! Nice to meet you.
I was a digital stowaway at Big Spaceship for two months, sitting in a long row next to strategists and designers. Yes, I admit it; I snuck aboard Big Spaceship at the end of February, taking a six-month sabbatical from my Creative Director job at BBH, NY. Why you may ask? I had gotten to a point in my career where there were some really interesting things happening in the digital industry and I wanted to see firsthand what made these creative, smart, innovative companies tick. I also felt like I wanted a personal change. So I took a leave of absence to become a 38 year-old intern. I figured no three-day seminar, panel, or school could teach me as much as plain old fashioned doing. I also thought I could teach along the way. I emailed Michael, and he agreed to sponsor the first leg of my professional experiment. I started that afternoon. My plan was to spend two months at Big Spaceship; then two months at Google Labs in New York, finishing off at North Kingdom in Sweden. I looked at this as a work-study program. The only difference is I’m not a sophomore in college, I’m half-way through my career.
To my surprise, the overwhelming response to this experiment was, "Cool!" Followed immediately by, "How the hell did you pull that off?" And what did I think I was going to learn? Truthfully, I didn't know what I was going to learn, except that I wanted to roll up my sleeves at the best places, and try to get a base knowledge of what a native digital person knows and how their creative process works, from concept to execution. I'd sat in enough meetings where the ad agency and digital agency were supposed to be "collaborating" on a campaign but in truth had no real idea where the other was coming from. It seems it would behoove everyone to break down walls, swap skills and learn where the other is coming from. For me, I wanted to know if I was asking the right questions, worrying about the right things and pushing the work in the right direction. So I jumped in.
I noticed first and foremost that creating digital ecosystems is incredibly complex, non-linear and requires a lot of disciplines, expertise and passionate people. It was very helpful for me to brainstorm with digital natives. I’m usually used to working with one other person — a copywriter. At Big Spaceship specifically, brainstorms happen amongst 8-10 people. All disciplines contribute. Strategists, Producers, Designers, Art Directors and Developers. What I learned very quickly from these brainstorms is that most of these digital answers are generated not just as creative “solutions” but are generated on anticipating what the user wants, not what a brand wants to show them. Ideas are built around users’ existing behavior with the brand. Also ideas that rose to the top were the ones that supported users long-term, so that they can start to depend on a platform. Some of this is different from when you’re creating a traditional campaign where it’s all about controlling the perfect story, the perfect gag, because you’ve got a captive audience. Agencies and people working on both the messaging and the engagement platforms sometimes have a hard time separating the two. I know I did. I realize now the same insight may not be right for both.
As thinking about the user experience becomes muscle memory for me. I have few more lessons I would like to share. I’ll break them down in different posts in the days to come.