Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Never Brainstorm with a "Blank Slate"

Consider the following two statements:You can do anything you want.

You can do anything you want with this box of colored pencils.

Like most option-obsessed humans, you might prefer the limitless potential of the first statement. And like most creatives, you might believe this “blank slate” is an essential element of your ideation process. But Will Turnage, VP of Technology and Invention at digital advertising agency R/GA, thinks you’re wrong.

As the man in charge of guiding and developing R/GA’s groundbreaking digital products, Will believes that paying respects to the unique capabilities of individual mediums builds the most efficient bridge to great work.

Step inside R/GA’s Manhattan offices, and you’ll likely find Turnage and his team engaged in a practice he calls, “Technology First.” Like the colored pencil example, Technology First starts by selecting a very specific medium for communication, then creatively exploits its full potential.

In other words, it’s the opposite of blank slate. And according to R/GA, this approach creates a powerful informational framework for ideas to emerge, with benefits that include more efficient ideation, faster implementation times, and better campaigns.

 

Technology First starts by selecting a very specific medium for communication, then creatively exploits its full potential.

For R/GA’s roster of international clients, this hyper-focused constriction has resulted in highly creative, highly effective digital work. Like the Nike+ mobile app, where focusing on Facebook’s “Like” technology led R/GA to produce an imaginative twist on standard tech. By rigging status updates submitted through the app to trigger applause, runners can now spread the word of their athletic activity online with a status update — and their friends can literally cheer them on through their headphones by “Liking” that activity.

Or The Digital Dinner Bell, an Android app for spice and seasoning brand Lawry’s. The creative process for this app began with the question, “If you could shake your phone like a dinner bell, what useful activity might that create?” Today, parents can automatically text message their families about what’s for dinner and when it’s ready, just by “ringing the bell.”

“When we sit down to brainstorm, we don’t ask ourselves, How can we use technology to reach this brand’s objectives?” says Will. “We’re very specific – How can we use the technology behind Facebook’s ‘Like’ function to reach this brand’s objectives?”

Hatching a strong creative concept is never easy, so we asked Will for his tips on thinking with a “Technology First” mindset.

Enable creative thinking by embracing arbitrary constraints. What if your idea only worked between 2:13 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. each day? What if your mobile app could only show one sentence and one button at a time? “You’re basically saying, look, you’ve got text, links, and 140 characters,” says Will. “What can we do with that? It’s normally a lot more than you think.”

Put emotional adjectives in front of specific technologies. What does a sad tweet, ecstatic check-in, or head-over-heels text message look like?  How does it work? This exercise can loosen up your team and get the creativity flowing.

Pick an everyday interaction and internet-enable it.  What if the door knob to your conference room had a Tumblr?  What would it do? What would it say?

How about you?

What brainstorming constraints does your team use?

Carmel Hagen

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Carmel Hagen heads up brand partnerships at OneRiot, a realtime social advertising network.  A TEDx speaker, SXSW Web Awards finalist and former Pillsbury Bake-Off dominator, Carmel is a sought after strategist and thinker.  She is an ongoing contributor to many art, design, and trendspotting publications.
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