Building a Multi-Touch Table: Kickoff

Posted on January 25, 2010 by 2 Comments

Waggener Edstrom gives employees the opportunity to create something we call an Experience Influence Project, or EIP. This project is a self-paced, self-designed learning opportunity, and can be done as an individual or group effort. The real goal is to bring some learning to the agency in a way that expands our understanding of influence.

We had an idea floated several months ago that I decided to follow up on for my EIP — building a multi-touch table from scratch. Touch computing has really taken off and doesn’t seem like it will be going away anytime soon; most cell phones support single- or multi-touch, Windows 7 supports multi-touch on tablet PCs, Apple has a tablet PC coming soon according to long-standing rumors, and there are high-end multi-touch systems like the Microsoft Surface table. The goal of my EIP project is to build a multi-touch table along the lines of the Surface computer on a limited budget (the cost of a Surface is north of $10,000).

I started out by gathering a small group of co-workers to help me complete the main build of the system. Once the project is completed, we’ll go into a more broad, open development pattern that involves more people with an interest in the project or environment. The current group consists of me (Lead Experience Developer), Scott McAuliffe (Digital Experience Designer) and Allen Newton (Experience Developer).

In building the table, the first thing we did was a ton of research. There are several methods that can be employed to create a multi-touch environment:

  1. Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR). For this method infrared (IR) light is cast into an acrylic pane. The IR light becomes trapped inside the pane by internal reflection. When the surface of the acrylic is touched, the light is “frustrated” and scattered downwards out of the acrylic. By placing an inexpensive IR camera beneath the acrylic, the touch points can be detected and processed. To improve the touch sensitivity and feel, a “compliant surface” (usually a vellum sheet coated on one side with silicone) is placed on top of the acrylic pane.
  2. Rear Diffused Illumination. Using this method, IR light is shined at a glass, plexiglass or acrylic screen from below at a diffuser that is placed on top of or below the touch surface. Objects touching the surface reflect more light than the diffuser, and an IR camera is once again used to detect the extra light. A “Front Diffused Illumination” setup casts IR light at the screen from above the touch surface rather than behind.
  3. Laser Light Plane (LLP). To implement this method, a plane of laser light is cast just above the touch surface (acrylic, glass, plexiglass, etc.). The laser light plane is about 1mm thick  (about 10 times the thickness of an average human hair). When a finger intersects the laser light plane, the scattered light is cast through the touch surface and registers as an IR blob to a camera beneath the touch surface.
  4. Diffused Surface Illumination (DSI). This technique is similar to FTIR described above, but uses a special acrylic that contains particles that reflect and spread the IR light cast into the acrylic to the surface.

We’ve elected to go with the FTIR setup as it seems to be one of the easier and faster methods to employ, and is not terribly expensive. There are some downsides, which we will explore later as development advances, but that’s part of the learning experience.

For now, I’d only ask that you sit back and enjoy the knowledge we are able to share. I will be posting updates on this blog as we make progress. Also, if you’re at Waggener Edstrom and would like to check in on our progress or see it when it gets to an interesting point, feel free to swing by one of our cubes (we’re all on the fourth floor of the Portland office).

Thanks to the efforts of the Natural User Interface group at NUI Group for the wealth of information they share on touch computing (and where the descriptions of the above types of multi-touch systems came from).

Is Metrics the New Creative?

Posted on September 17, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Account Director, WE Studio D

The Adobe Omniture acquisition announcement earlier this week kicked off a flurry of discussion amongst our team to the tune of “is metrics the new creative?” Certainly it’s looking that way, between the communications cataclysm reshaping our industry and the “econopocalypse” driving marketers to focus ever more keenly on trimming the fluff and driving hard ROI.

Against this backdrop, it’s interesting to note P&G’s latest ROI-driving model. For some time there’s been discussion around moving to performance-based compensation models. P&G, together with Coca-cola, has been leading the charge in this direction with the announcement that its creative agencies would no longer be compensated based on billable hours, but instead on the effectiveness of the work. Though uncomfortable for the agency world, as change often is, there is an undeniable logic to a performance-driven model.

Now P&G is taking a similar tack with its media partners, pushing for a cost per engagement model. P&G is not the first to focus on engagement over impressions; last year Volkswagen ran a campaign with Times Online in which the publisher was paid based on views and downloads of video, podcasts and other brand materials. And for sure engagement is a whole lot more meaningful than impressions. But…

I think we’re rather missing the point here.

As the saying goes, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For advertisers, paid influence is the nail, for communicators, earned influence is the nail. But let’s not be hammers. Let’s look at the big picture for a moment.

The reason that brands are not seeing the results — which I think we’d all agree is ultimately about driving influence through to action, regardless of vehicle — is not because media doesn’t have the audience reach, and not because the creative isn’t compelling, and not even because we aren’t measuring correctly. It’s because maybe, just maybe, your customers just aren’t that into you.

Precisely because online media is so measureable, it becomes painfully obvious when audiences are ignoring you. And also when they are displeased with you.

What brands need to flourish in a social media-empowered universe is not going to be solved by a change in media strategy, nor in creative strategy, but rather a change that has to happen at the brand’s very essence. It’s about your product. It’s about what you stand for. It’s about how you regard your customers, and interact with them. It’s about your leadership, and your organizational structure. Just ask Whole Foods. Who, I might add, actually uses social media really well.

Ultimately, brands must make their customers care by offering them something compelling to engage with — whether in the form of a cause they believe in passionately, or zippy content that makes them chuckle. But it can’t be false. To be false is to be either irrelevant or derided. Because social media is the great B.S.-detector-amplifier. We all have one deep down, social media empowers us to shout it out.

So in summary, I’d say no, it’s not metrics, but rather authenticity that is the new creative. Metrics is important too. But authenticity is the new make-or-break. And it can’t be bought for a $300M media spend, even if your agency and media partners are 100% ROI accountable.

Cereal Brand Puts the “No” in Innovation

Posted on July 16, 2009 by Comments Off

Erik Bergman, Senior Editor

I’ve seen too many diet plans and so-called collectibles hawked in Parade Magazine to raise my pulse. But Sunday’s ad for Post Shredded Wheat grabbed me with its headline: “Beware of New.”

Shredded WheatNow, a print ad in Parade defines the term “old media.” A print ad for a 117-year-old breakfast cereal surely defines as goose quill and parchment. If Parade is your grandfather’s magazine, then Post is your great-grandmother’s cereal.

My Web search hasn’t turned up a copy of this print ad, which is appropriate, so I’ll sum up Post’s rant against modernity with some quotes. The Shredded Wheat folks sound a touch grumpy here: “Being new is not always a good thing. In fact, “new” is usually a fancy way of saying untested, untried and unready.”

True, something new is not necessarily better or best; it is merely novel. Classic example: New Coke, a brand debacle.

But then Post’s copywriting grows testier. “Some proof? Instead of creating more free time, new technologies have made it harder to leave our jobs at the office.” (This, BTW, smacks of heresy to those of us in digital communications.) Further, these curmudgeons claim, “new shoes always give us blisters.”

When they go on to say, “Why on earth would anyone unleash something new?” I can’t tell if they are pulling our legs or acting out their passive-aggression. The tag line boasts, “We put the ‘no’ in innovation.”

The related Web site,, is the clincher, though, that the Post creative folks have their tongues firmly in their cheeks (along with a cud of Shredded Wheat). The videos that riff on progress (and why we don’t need it) are a hoot. Well played, Post Shredded Wheat, well played.

Creativity Helps Small Competitors Topple Giants

Posted on July 14, 2009 by Comments Off

Pam Edstrom, Executive Vice President

In the 1960s General Electric and DeBeers were found guilty by the U.S. Department of Justice of being an illegal monopoly.

The case centered around the distribution, use and sale of industrial diamonds. GE, after considerable thought, settled with the Justice Department.Diamonds

DeBeers, on the other hand, in essence walked away and could no longer legally be a business in the United States.

This decision didn’t impact its business as it continued to sell its diamonds in Europe, and if you were big in selling diamonds in the U.S. you left the country to buy your diamonds from DeBeers.

Fast-forward to the late 1980s-early 1990s. Even though DeBeers was still unable to be a business in the U.S., its marketing programs had been successful in establishing the four Cs as the way to evaluate diamonds. Cut, clarity, color and carat became the standard in choosing a diamond. In addition, DeBeers was successful in convincing American buyers that you should spend at least three months’ salary on an engagement ring.

DeBeers was able to do all this marketing and continue to maintain market share from outside the U.S.

It didn’t matter that it really did have a monopoly on the supply of diamonds.

It didn’t matter that it treated its workers poorly.

It didn’t matter that some diamonds being sold were fueling conflicts in Africa.

DeBeers still owned the market.The Canadian Flag

Enter the Canadians. They made a huge discovery of a very large diamond field in Canada and began to mine them.

But the marketing dilemma was how to take on DeBeers and win.

Their strategy was brilliant: They co-opted DeBeers’ marketing

First the Canadians treated their suppliers with great care and thoughtfulness, and let them have the pick of the best stones.

They then expanded the definition of what was a GREAT diamond.

It wasn’t the 4 Cs; it was the 5 Cs: Cut, clarity, carat, color and CLEAN.

Canadian diamonds didn’t start wars.

Canadian diamonds didn’t exploit workers in poor conditions.

They didn’t rip off Africa.

They were CLEAN.WSJ_Debeers_040714 (2)

And to reinforce this, they etched a cute polar bear into their diamonds. This was to assure buyers they were getting the CLEAN diamonds, not blood diamonds.

They worked closely with the high-end  jewelers to promote the polar bears and the fact that this was a new type of diamond.

The Result

In 2004, DeBeers settled with the U.S. Department of Justice and paid close to $10 million.

The next year DeBeers opened its first store in New York City on Fifth Avenue.


Because DeBeers had been outgunned, outmarketed and outsold by the Canadians.

The Lessons?

You can compete with the big guys if you are creative in looking at what your strengths arGavele.

What and how can you use them to out-compete the other guys?

Here is a New Yorker article that I also think brings this point to life:

“How David Beats Goliath”

Musician Plucks Public’s Heartstrings in Hunt for Better Customer Service

Posted on July 12, 2009 by Comments Off

Mark Hanson, Writer, Studio D

Dave Carroll, a musician from Nova Scotia, is sticking it to “the man.” After United Airlines broke his $3,500 Taylor guitar last year (and refused to cover the damages), he promised the customer service representative he would write a series of three songs about his experience. On Monday of this week he posted the first of three videos on YouTube, titled United Breaks Guitars. Two days later, the video had been viewed more than 148,000 times and at one point Twendzrated the negative sentiment toward United as high as 50 percent. After more than a year of unresponsiveness, United finally woke up and tweeted that Carroll’s song “struck a chord” and they would get in touch with him to make amends.

Several lessons can be drawn from Carroll’s approach (and United’s), but what really stood out for me was this: he made the most of his talents to gain a groundswell of attention, but he also provided a more substantive, thorough explanation of his dealings with United on his Web site. The video was great because it was creative and well-done, and will likely attract some new listeners. But the story shows that he’s not just some opportunistic musician — that he has a case and is serious about presenting it on the Web, while having fun at the same time.

What “chord” does this story strike with you?

Barriers Can Help You Create Innovative Communication Programs

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Comments Off

Pam Edstrom, Executive Vice President

One important factor in creating innovative communications programs is the presence of a critical barrier or blockage to the channels you need to communicate. When there is a legal, cultural, social or technical barrier, you are forced to think more creatively. You are pushed into a corner so you must innovate to get out.

One example of this is the Edwardian suffragettes. Their problem to solve was to raise awareEdwardian Suffragettesness, educate and recruit so that they could achieve voting rights for women in England.

In 1903 London there were many very widely read newspapers available. The problem was that none of these news outlets nor the power structure that controlled them believed that women’s suffrage was a credible issue. The suffragettes were viewed as a manic fringe group.

How could the suffragettes reach people, especially the middle-class women who were predisposed to listen and believe? How could they reach these listeners to say:

  • This is an important issue!
  • We are having a meeting tonight.  Come hear our message!
  • Come join our cause!

So the suffragettes invented new ways to communicate to get their messages out.Dirigible

They were the first group to leaflet London in 1904. They hired a dirigible and dropped leaflets to provide education about their cause.

They chalked sidewalks with the time, place and location of their meetings.

Finally, they used the strategy of getting arrested  to bring their messages into a legitimate venue: the courts.

Once they were arrested and tried in court, the news media had to cover the trial, as the courts were a legitimate subject for news.

The suffragettes used the system that wouldn’t acknowledge them  to get their mSuffragette Arrestessage out in a very creative but difficult way.

Being denied access to the legitimate channels of communications the Edwardian forced the suffragettes to be creative and innovative to get their message out.

I have more examples, which I will share on an ongoing basis.

But meanwhile, think about what you would do if you couldn’t access some channels of communication. This is actually happening today with a lot of our traditional media.

Free the Brain: Unlock the Strategy-Creativity Impasse

Posted on June 3, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

In the communications business, we wear many hats — we are communications consultants, marketing strategists, problem solvers, influencers, and for most of us, in our heart of hearts, we are storytellers. But in our day-to-day work, we frequently find that we are called to serve two masters: Strategy and Creativity. And this sometimes feels like a paradox.

Not to say these masters are mutually exclusive; our best work embodies both. But they do require different types of mental positioning. Strategic thinking tends to be linear and logical, whereas creative thinking is lateral and generative. It’s difficult for a brain to do both at once. Add a layer of stakeholders and a few review cycles, and the best ideas get SNOWED, as Jeremiah Owyang details in a recent blog post.

And then there’s the ROI piece. As marketing budgets shrink, we know we need to deliver ever bigger ideas that break through the noise with more impact, but at the same time, we must be able to justify every aspect of the spend. Looked at through the ROI magnifying glass, too often the creative sizzle becomes “nice to have” versus “critical for success.”

So how do we free up our brains? How do we ensure that creativity prevails, isn’t stanched by our strategic imperative and is recognized as a key ingredient in our solutions?

Here are a few thoughts, but I’d like to hear more:

  • Recognize the difference between lateral and logical thinking (tenet #1: “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” More on Edward de Bono’s web page).
  • Differentiate “brainstorms” from “sourcing meetings” — people can’t think laterally if their brains are busy absorbing information.
  • Slice and dice the problem. Instead of “we need to solve for X,” position the challenge as “we need to think of 3 different channels we could use to reach X audience.”
  • Be prepared to argue for how creative executions affect the bottom line. For example, an interesting UK study conducted by the Design Council in 2004 revealed that companies that effectively utilize design consistently outperform the general stock market indices.

How do you free up your brain?

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