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Opinion and Insight
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Europe’s Coolest Creative Technologists

LBB Editorial, 7 months ago

Hack your way round Europe with the smartest minds from UNIT9, R/GA, AKQA, abstr^ct:groove & more

Europe’s Coolest Creative Technologists

Europe is the birthplace of the renaissance, a moment in time when art and science came together to ignite a flourishing flame of technology, beauty, innovation and creativity. And that renaissance spirit lives on in the form of creative technologists, tinkering and hacking away in corners across the continent. LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with some of the most interesting thinkers and makers across the European advertising industry to find out what makes them tick.

 

Xavi Tribo, Glassworks, Barcelona

What makes Barcelona particularly exciting from a creative technology perspective?

The weather, the cuisine and the Mediterranean environment. To be close to the sea and the mountain causes your neurons to produce synaptic connections in a very special rhythm, encouraging creative skills and a creative teamwork.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting to you from a creative technology perspective? Why?

In general terms, all the places that are far away from symbolic tech centers, like MIT, are exciting. Cities where your access to emergent technologies is difficult or where the technological immediacy is not a priority are potentially creative key points. The effort and the difficulty to get these resources results in mental states where the sparkles of creativity can be born.

 

Which piece of technology is exciting you most right now and why?

All new technologies that are invisible to the user, hidden. Technologies the user can’t see, so they forget they are interacting with them. These are for me the ones that move my soul and shake me deeply. A good example right now are some sensors such as LIDAR devices, a tiny laser that in less than 20 milliseconds is able to scan the space generating a point-cloud of 100meters of radius.


Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

I believe that self-driving cars will change the way we move and how goods are transported. And this will make the world change essentially.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

The mobile internet is the most disruptive of all, no doubt. It is a turning point in human communication.

 

Yifei Chai, Innovation Architect, UNIT9

 


What makes London so exciting right now? 

London is a place full of the old the new and the borrowed. For the old, I love to visit all the galleries and see creative technology of each time and era for inspiration. For the new, London is equally filled with opportunities for pioneers to invent/reinvent new ways we engage with technology on a day-to-day basis. For the borrowed, this city is like a hotpot of culture, merging the traditional and creating disruption.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? 

Guangzhou China. By the way this is the city famous for many of the ‘MADE IN CHINA’ merchandise and sweatshop suicides. This is the heart of Chinese techno-creativity. Anything you can do, we can do it cheaper and faster with half the cost. You develop it in two years? We copy it in two weeks. And we will even throw in some additional features.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

AR, because ultimately we still live in the atom world. So advertisement though AR will be more effective and relevant than VR.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why? 

The TV. The first ‘magic box’ that was able to show moving imagery on personal demand. This is the starting point of us wanting to visualise a virtual world in a more personal way compared to cinema. Since then, the content of the magic box has become more interactive to meet our growing demands. Computers, VR and the forthcoming AR. All from the notion of looking at a world through a screen.

 

Markus Wård, Freelance Creative Technologist (formerly at Acne Stockholm and also creator of Nissan’s #ProjectController)

 


What makes Stockholm so exciting right now? 

For one thing, all the tech-focused companies and startups. Also, ad agencies and clients here are very well versed in smart applications of creative tech and often work with such ideas. It just feels like we’re always up to date with tech and are trying to push the boundaries with it. There are also quite a few technologists here which leads to information sharing and possibility to collaborative efforts.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective?

Tokyo has always been super interesting for me as a tech and gaming fanatic. It always feels like a city years ahead of everyone else in implementing tech into society and in their everyday lives. A city where the general opinion about robots is that they’re cute or cool rather than scary or complex is my kind of city. Also, New York seems like an exciting city right now, considering so much creative tech projects and companies seem to grow from there.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

In technology, I think we’ll see a lot of VR driven ideas. Even though it’s not really, as of yet, a consumer product per se. The broad audience may not experience it first hand, but I think creative uses of it will create huge interest. It’s one of those tech things where anyone can see the potential, but great implementations of it are still lacking. The best example I’ve seen so far is The Void. The idea of spending ‘a weekend’ inside a completely different world, fully immersed, makes me super excited.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

For me personally, it’s the Amiga 500. It’s what drew me into technology in the first place and offered a way into creating experiences for others to enjoy. I still love that format and simplicity of old school platforms. I’m currently in the final stretches of completing an Amiga game left uncompleted back in 1993.

 

Andre Assalino, Interactive Creative Director, MPC London


What makes London so exciting right now?

London is a cultural capital, and it has a proven record of mixing traditional and popular art forms effortlessly. Both great talent and international businesses are attracted to London’s cultural vibrancy, and with that come a lot of opportunities to create new and engaging experiences, as well as heaps of inspiration.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? Why? 

I find Berlin quite interesting. It’s a hub for a lot of tech startups, and a favourite destination for young creatives, making it an ideal breeding ground for great ideas.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why? 

A lot of industry people are touting VR as the tech for 2016, and while it is very cool and very exciting, I hope it doesn’t turn into the next tick box for briefs. Different headsets provide different experiences, and what you can do on the HTC Vive is worlds apart from the cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. I hope good content, storytelling and craft remain the core of what we see from the ad industry next year, no matter the tech we see it in.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

The ‘all-time’ bit makes this a tricky question! I think that, while obvious, the Internet takes the cake for me. A piece of technology that at its core ‘just’ connects computers is as complex as neural networks. And well, I don’t need to tell you about how it’s changed the world…

 

Theun de Bruijn, Technical Director, B-Reel London

 


What makes London so exciting right now? 

Having moved to London just 411 days ago (I had to look that up), it’s proven to be the hub of technological innovation I so dearly wished for. Here’s a couple stats to paint the picture.

- The UK has one of the best talent pools in Europe, with four of the world’s top six universities. Our 170 universities and other higher education institutions create the highest number of graduates in Western Europe

- 251,590 are in digital employment across Inner London, more than any other city in the UK

- UK tech has seen the most billion dollar valuations of any European country, with 14 unicorns so far, valued at over $40bn collectively

- Over the next ten years there are expected to be 46,000 more digital jobs in London, according to research by Oxford Economics

(source:  techcityuk.com)

While all that sounds splendid, more importantly the UK capital fulfils all the other conditions so easily overlooked, but critical for delivering creative work that matters.

A quote from Rohan Silva, David Cameron’s former tech adviser: "What's so special about London's tech scene is that it's transforming other industries – finance, fashion, advertising. It's a collision of fields and disciplines which isn't happening anywhere else." (source: wired.co.uk

Specifically this combination of creative arts, culture and advertising is what makes London unique and has made it claim a special place in my heart so quickly. I love this place.


Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? Why? 

While the hotbed of innovation surrounding Silicon Valley is hard to ignore, if I had to pick an alternate spot it’d be Stockholm. Having spent a good couple years living in this Scandinavian Valhalla – insert comment noting that I’m referencing Norse mythology, thank you very much – I learned to appreciate its forward facing and positive attitude towards integrating technological innovation.

Happily extending beyond their own fair share of startup unicorns to a future where the interface between the government and its citizens can be handled entirely digital. Most impressive.


Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

Putting the promises of machine learning to the side for a moment, the concrete piece of tech taking centre stage will most definitely be virtual reality. It’s easy to forget that while tech-focussed agencies have been experimenting and delivering VR projects for years now, it’s still a form of expression that the audience at large hasn’t been exposed to.

With Facebook’s Oculus, HTC’s Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR all scheduled to hit the market this year, and rumours aplenty about Google’s efforts in the field, 2016 is shaping up to be a very exciting year indeed.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why? 

Haha, excellent question. While I’m keeping up with all kinds of innovations and have worn, lived, and shared my private life with more wearables and home automation widgetry than I’d like to admit, the piece of tech that keeps bringing me joy is a simple 14 watt foldable solar panel made by a little company called Anker.

It might not be the most ground-breaking piece of tech released this decennium, but it’s genuinely useful. And let’s be honest, harnessing the power of the sun is still very much awe inspiringly awesome.

Even in a town where I’ve yet to manage getting a tan.

 

Mauro Mastronicola, Technology Specialist / Creative Technology Project Director, abstr^ct:groove


What makes Milan so exciting right now? 

Milan has radically changed in the last two years. The city has been evolving differently from the rest of the country. A rapid innovation has impacted and changed many things related to design, fashion, communication and retail landscape. But the revolution here has just begun and it will probably drive the cultural switch of this country. I’m excited about it because market confidence has increased so there are many opportunities at the moment.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? 

The Asian market is pushing development to a new level; Bangkok and Mumbai for example are becoming increasingly innovative because people have an alternative understanding of creativity and technology, participation is popular and needs are market-based. Under these conditions creative technologies can actually have a huge impact on people's lives and this is really exciting.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why? 

I think that the real innovation will be in the way we use the technologies that we already have: our iPhones, headphones and wearable technologies will probably be connected to each other and to interactive technologies in public spaces. It will change the way we experience shopping in a store, visiting a museum or an art gallery, take our vacations, go to a gig or a festival. That's where the ad industry will have the biggest impact.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why? 

House of Mamba, by Nike is my favourite because the experience is a mix between gaming and real life action, while the objective is training.  

Seeing the results of each athlete on a giant screen and playing in a court made of LED are just two elements that make the experience epic. It's like a show. This opens the doors to many opportunities for the ad industry. It’s easy to understand why this project evolved and now features a coaching tool.

 

Pasi Helin, Partner & CCO, MediaMonks Stockholm


What makes Stockholm so exciting right now? 

Sweden has earned a reputation globally for producing digitally driven creative work. In recent years, it's been hard to miss the presence of Swedes amongst the credits for truly ground breaking, digitally driven work. Being renowned as digital pioneers, and having the proof-points through high-profile award-shows, is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy; being famous for innovative work expands the scope of work we get in the future. In that sense, Stockholm is a playground for ideas.

Adding to that, we have a rich digital heritage and have, in many ways, laid the path for the rest of the world when it comes to digital talent. Just take a look at Hyper Island and the reputation it has built. I would say Hyper Island and its global success is a very clear indicator of the way Sweden has entered the global stage these last few years. We are not only players on the international stage, we are game-changers.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? 

LA and Amsterdam are both interesting in their own ways. We've had an office in LA since 2013, and MediaMonks' West Coast operation is the busiest and most successful of all our offices, including New York and London. There's a specific buzz in LA, allowing creative people to stay creative, that opens up doors to extremely exciting projects. Particularly in regards to virtual reality, LA is the perfect place to create truly global work. There is definitely a push by brands for more global production and LA is the best spot to be if you want to offer both scale and quality in innovative work. 

Then there's Amsterdam, with its unique collaborative culture. I think the city’s size and scale has pushed the industry to be lean and mean, constantly pushing for smart and effective rather than bigger and better. You truly notice that the Amsterdam scene is more open to breaking the rules and challenging the norms. This is reflected in its start-up culture, there's little dogmatic thinking and people are always pushing for innovation no matter the form.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

All things VR. The fact that we are pushing ourselves into foreign terrain reinvents the whole production process which in turn pushes technology forward in exciting ways. It goes without saying that VR experiences are progressively fuelled by technology. Sophisticated technology that is. The number of elements that need to be done well to make even the most elemental of VR experience a success has grown exponentially. It requires new technologies throughout each step along the way from VFX, post and dedicated media distribution.

 

Paul Slattery, Technical Director at AKQA in Berlin


What makes Berlin so exciting right now? 

The start-up scene in Berlin is thriving and the city is filling up with vibrant creative thinkers and hackers. I believe that with the European mind-set we will see more attempts to use technology to solve bigger issues than delivering laundry on demand. Berlin is a place with a great tradition of technology as art, this is realised in many of the installations that are currently in galleries. It is also home to one of the original hackerspaces, The Chaos Computer Club – now Europe’s largest association of hackers.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective?

Tel Aviv. It’s a combination of a thriving start-up scene (The Silicon Wadi) right in the middle of a non-stop 24-hour city.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

Machine Learning. If a 19-year-old can write a legal chatbot that resolves parking ticket disputes, then I think this indicates that we are on the verge of a total game change. In the future, people won't likely need to hire lawyers for simple legal appeals. They'll just use a bot. Likewise for the marketing industry we will see this technology used to great effect in areas such as programmatic advertising.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

The Amiga 500. A ground-breaking personal computer that launched an incredibly interesting 'demo scene' where hackers competed to squeeze the most out of the hardware pre-Internet via swapped disks I became connected with an entire group of likeminded people. I still have my original machine and sometimes boot it to revel in 16bit nostalgia.

 

Anthony Baker, Technology Director at R/GA London


What makes London so exciting right now? 

London is booming with creative technologists that specialise in a variety of fields, from Virtual Reality, Connected Devices and the Internet of Things, to connected cities, lifestyle services, and machine-assisted technologies. Being an international hub for Europe and having a diverse working force makes London the perfect city to breed and grow innovation and disruption, without losing sight of business opportunity and potential.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective?  

I believe Istanbul is an incredibly interesting city. It’s dense and multicultural, situated just in the middle of Europe and Asia. Istanbul is the bridge of many cultures, and technology has a terrific opportunity to make a big difference in people’s lives. In Istanbul, technology is a powerful platform used for storytelling and making social connections, and the city is thriving with young creative talent wanting to make a difference. Currently, I see a lot of exciting tech initiatives coming out of Istanbul, showing the region has a promising future in this area. 

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

It goes without saying that AI-assisted technology has the power to interact with people on a more meaningful, significant, and personal level. The way mobile is overtaking traditional consumer interactions breaks the current ad status quo. Messaging platforms have become the primary channel for people to interact with humans and companies alike. The ad industry needs to understand, and yet come up with a way to be part of, this new conversational trend. 

However, Virtual Reality, or even better, Mixed Reality, has huge potential to make an impact on the ad industry. For starters, it is a new and unique medium where consumers are offered an alternative way to interact with information and content. From simple, phone-based VR experiences like Google Cardboard, to more immersive and complex systems like Oculus Rift and Magic Leap, VR means redefining the way advertising works. 

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why? 

Connected devices have always fascinated me because of their potential to change the way we interact with the environment. Sensors and circuits that can connect to us and react across spaces and environments present us many possibilities. For example, Copenhagen have seized the concept of Smart Cities by installing smart traffic systems that prioritise cyclists and overcrowded and delayed buses, improving the city’s transport and security. Brands have also grasped this type of connectivity by reinventing the way we interact with retail spaces and physical environments to create a completely immersive experience. New products, including wearable tech, that use flexible and incredible thin electronics that we can stick on our skin and hide to track our health and activity, are another exciting way connected devices have changed the way humans interact with technology on a daily basis. These devices feed from an incredible pool of creative technologists that are working to reform the way we use technology every day.

Beyond all this, and with a more futuristic and long-term mind set, I am incredibly excited about biotechnologies and how they might completely change our lifestyle. I have recently been following several experiments and studies that combine biotechnology with fabrics to create clothing that react to our body’s chemical changes. From changing colours according to our vital signs, to changing texture (even creating openings in the fabric) to help us get warmer or cooler depending on our temperature, biotech would completely change the fashion industry. And of course, biotechnologies can be applied not just to the fashion and textiles industries, but to others. The possibilities are endless. 

 

Diederik Veelo, Head of Innovation, Founding Partner Ambassadors Lab

 


What makes Amsterdam so exciting right now? 

Amsterdam has always been keen on its position as a creative hub, serving as a base for a wide range of national and international advertising agencies. It also managed to cultivate the startup scene by attracting hundreds of brilliant and innovative technologists from around the world. Amsterdam currently houses over 1100 startups, supported by incubators, accelerators, investors and universities. Over the years the Netherlands has become a test bed for new technology. If it works for the Dutch, it’s set for global success. Amsterdam has become the tech portal to the rest of the world.

 

Which other city is particularly exciting to you from a creative technology perspective? 

Many world cities offer great opportunities to new and creative technology. If I wouldn’t have lived in Amsterdam then San Francisco would probably have persuaded me. Great initiatives and open-minded ideas seem to be pouring out of that city. And most importantly its open-minded citizens embrace the new with great curiosity.

 

Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why? 

We placed a bet on the ad industry back in 2014 when we officially launched Cube. We foresaw a future which would empower the advertiser or agency to create rich dynamic TV commercials or online video right from their web browser on a dedicated cloud platform. Dynamic video ads are generated on the fly, based on input from a user or any external database. It sets the future for truly targeted advertising where it is possible to automatically produce fully customised video commercials for any individual. Cube was recently put to the test in Belgium for a large retailer and we have every reason to be super excited about its opportunities for advertisers.

 

What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why? 

Technology is at its best when it touches our lives. We’ve seen this when personal computers entered our living rooms, and we saw it again with the smartphone. We’ll see it soon when self-driving cars will transport us to wherever we need to go. I’m not so much indulged by a current piece of technology. I’m more fascinated by the technology that has yet come to announce itself.


Emilien Chiche, Creative Technologist, Biborg

What makes Paris so exciting right now?

I am currently working in the Biborg agency Lab in Paris. As it's a capital city, it offers many things that cannot be found in others cities whether in an artistic or technical perspective. Of course everything is not qualitative, but in my opinion, the many cultural venues, the art exhibitions, the conferences, the fablabs and some other big events like Futur En Seine or Maker Faire, allow anyone who is curious to open up on a lot of subjects. Recently we've also seen some groups of creative technologists forming groups such as Creative Tech Tank. They gather to discuss and share, but also to reflect on their new status and try to find some standards for it etc. It is much like the case of UX designers a few years ago. Internet facilitates exchanges, of course, but meeting people and discussing over a drink is still much more enjoyable.


Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? 

I must say I don't travel enough to have an accurate opinion but via Biborg’s extension in London, I noticed a fairly significant difference. I don't want to characterise it, but the Anglo-Saxon state of mind seems much less procedural and more willing to take risks in innovation than the French. The British don't hesitate to test and to analyse the success or failure of an idea. It's the process we have put in place in our Lab. For me it is important to have a mindset of "Test and Learn", which allows us to always stay in the process of producing and maintaining a creative freshness.


Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

I honestly have no idea of what is really going to break into the market but we will certainly have difficulty to miss out on VR headsets. I expect a lot of things about virtual reality and all that it will bring in terms of narrative and immersion, but I truly believe that technology must only be here to support concept and not the other way around. It has to be as intuitive and invisible as possible and I think we will just have to wait for good content before we see the success of virtual reality. Also, when we plan our ideas as a team, the staging takes a very important place. In addition to planning user experience, we need to inspire people that are watching the installation. That's why we are currently thinking of solutions to open the individual and exclusive side associated with this technology.


What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

There are so many, it's pretty difficult to choose just one but I would say the Internet. To communicate and share knowledge, this tool has just changed the world.


Matt Jakob, Head of Creative Technologies, Nexus

What makes London so exciting right now?

London is thriving with opportunities and is home to many fantastic creative companies and studios always at the forefront of innovation. The retail, entertainment and cultural offerings in London are also very varied and competitive which means there’s always plenty of inspiration.


Which other city is particularly exciting you from a creative technology perspective? 

It’s hard to choose one city in relation to creative technology. I think the most exciting things happen in the workspaces, labs and bedrooms of the various individuals. Certain cities provide easier ways for creatives to find places to experiment or a better quality of life for doing research – I am thinking of Berlin and Barcelona in Europe, Pittsburgh or Portland in the USA, Vancouver in Canada…


Which piece of technology do you think will make the biggest impact on the ad industry in the next year and why?

I think the technology is secondary to how it is used: for this reason I am more interested in design and strategy trends. I particularly like what Google has been doing recently with its geo-located ads. At Old Street roundabout in London, for example, there are three large LED banners which constantly display relevant information using Google’s services and change based on the current time, weather, traffic conditions, etc. I think it’s a new level of targeted advertising.


What is your all-time favourite piece of tech and why?

Mobile phones! They constitute a massive change in society and opened up an incredible number of possibilities for creativity, services and ways to communicate. Their disruptive power amongst millennials (think of Snapchat) is incredible and so is their role in VR (think of Google Cardboard). I think it’s the piece of technology that changes most and picks up the new trends as they take shape.