Digital Reinvention

Cannes 2017: Digital Craft as State-of-the-Art

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I was privileged to join the Digital Craft jury in the second year of the category at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Our mission was to narrow down thousands of global submissions to a shortlist of winners. The judging began online a month earlier, and while the sorting of each entry became instinctive, it was only when discussions began that a pervasive question arose: what exactly defines digital craft? As we considered truly exceptional entries from around the world, we wrestled continuously with how to balance the technical aspects of form and function against the holistic whole and final impact on end-users in a connected world.

Before I get to the winners and highlights, let me expand the gist of that question, so that, as IBM designers, engineers, and executives we may better evaluate not only what we create but how and why, so that we are constantly assessing how the elevation of our digital craft can shift the needle for our clients:

  1. Is digital craft essential to the effectiveness of the ultimate experience?
  2. Is digital craft in place to impress designers or connect to the end user and move the market?
  3. What relationship does digital craft share with classic disciplines, such as writing, art, music, and film, and what distinguishes it?

During the lively exchanges among the jury, we were looking for intent, purposeful choices at every step of the design; weighing the risk of stepping outside of the status quo and drawing from all the components of our technology toolset to tell a story in a new way, finessing it via UX, UI, VR, 360, or any other platform at hand.

The judging criteria was execution and experience across 22 sub-categories, including Form, Content, Function, Data, and Technology. Still, how to evaluate the use of the night sky as a new canvas for 300 drones versus a film that uses craft to integrate a hidden hearing test?

Honestly, you do it the same way you judge a Michaelangelo: through rigorous examination of technique, and ensuring that, while it’s exceptional, it doesn’t trumpet itself over its final impact on the audience.

Because in today’s digital landscape, creativity is no longer a luxury. It is a differentiator. In a Darwinian business environment, where B2B and B2C have been replaced by B2 “I” ( Business to the Individual) digital craft must consider the personal connection it creates between the brand and its audience. The exceptional craft we reviewed came down to the choices made at every step; a unified “feeling” of excellence that elevates the final experience to something unique, memorable, unprecedented, and sharable. Something new, that people can’t wait to tell others about.

Consider our Grand Prix winner, a VR experience for Bjork (caveat: only the real experience can do it justice) that took immersive technology to a new level. Strap on the VR headset and you’re transported below the ocean’s depths, to a murky, slightly ominous environment. Steps away, a small, writhing mermaid-like figure in an exotic mask grows taller throughout the experience until you are looking up at it. You are alone, treated to one-to-one performance by Bjork, amidst strange underwater creatures, descending slowly from above as the music swells. Digital craft? For the 12 of us it was yes, and yes. No question that that it was one of the most effective uses we have ever seen of immersive VR technology but in addition, the technology used was completely in service to the idea, instead of the other way around. Consider some of the other shortlisted finalists:

Nosferatu: While converting a silent classic into a talkie, the piece served a higher purpose of selling the Getty audio library. (And making it completely easy for editors to tap and download any sound they heard.) I wished that I were a sound designer who could play in that sandbox as it deconstructed the craft of movies and sound.

Gatorade Active: Digital engineering that constructed a running athlete out of water droplets. Not just because it was “cool,” which it was, but because it amplified the compelling message that people are made of water, of liquid, and that Gatorade understands and delivers on this belief better. It pushed the brand into an incredible story, a new realm of experience that connected the strategy to a beautiful, seamless, and breathtaking outcome.

Tilt Brush by Google: Imagine the physical world as your digital canvas. This incredible tool draws on digital craft to turn the art of the possible into 3D art.

On the potential downside, I’ve never seen more super-slow motion since Chariots of Fire. It’s wonderful, but, like any effective technique, it can too easily turn from an innovation to a trend to a cliché – a small matter when balanced against the intangible “wow, I wish I’d done that!” that we saw over and over again in the jury room.

Please check out some of my other Digital Craft favorites: Through the Dark, Expedia presents Great Britain, as well as The Blaze: Territory for Digital Film Craft and Van Gogh BNB for Creative Effectiveness.

My net takeaway?

Showing up as digital isn’t enough to capture eyeballs. The creative interpretation and ease of operation of the technology must fit, hand in glove, with the emotion and story to deliver a solid idea, with no hiccups, that meets the goals of the customer brief. In short, there is no longer a divide between the brand, the technology, the design, and how it is marketed. Exceptional digital craft draws on it all to deliver a memorable experience in which the seams never show.

Today we are all digital craftspeople, using our full toolset, including Blockchain, Quantum and whatever comes next, to create Cannes Lions-worthy experiences for our clients that move an audience to action. As a definition of this category at the highest level, that seems like a good enough stalking horse, for now.

If you have any other questions, please reach out to me to continue this conversation.

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Crystal Ginn

Superb post! Thanks for your insight Alex!

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