Audio in Branding

Logos and images are some of the most historically powerful brand identifiers, but with today’s overcrowded, sugar-rushed digital landscape, visuals alone are no longer enough to cut through the noise. The use of audio in branding is proving to be just as important as graphics for developing positive brand perception, creating a richer environment for users to interact with.



Audio technology has changed drastically in recent years thanks to artificial intelligence-powered systems like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other voice-assisted devices. Amazon has already licensed Alexa into everything from speakers to toys, and many brands are looking at how to best utilize these devices to help sell their products.

Fashion brand Perry Ellis is launching an “on-demand styling service” using Alexa technology, which allows users to vocally ask for style recommendations based on occasion, location, weather, etc. The connected app can generate a rendered image, showing customers how outfit pieces would look together and directing them where to buy the products.



According to Perry Ellis president Melissa Worth in her interview with Digiday, the verbal questions captured by Alexa will also become an important source of consumer data for the brand. By learning what their consumers are curious about and what new trends they’re interested in adopting, Perry Ellis can tailor their marketing and product development strategies accordingly. This is another advantage of audio branding, that brands now have the opportunity to learn new information about their shoppers by allowing bots and other voice-enabled technologies to engage them in verbal conversation.

Podcasts also provide a unique content marketing channel for brands, one that can command all of their sense of hearing – unlike visual mediums, which must constantly fight for attention. GE, Tinder, Spotify, Virgin Atlantic, Netflix, and State Farm are just some of the companies that are experimenting with audio shows as a way to improve consumer engagement.

Other companies are taking advantage of podcasts by cross-promoting with established broadcasting networks. For example, Gimlet Media did a branded podcast series for eBay called Open for Business, and it quickly became the top business podcast on iTunes. The second season of the series launched in March.



On October 11th, Blue Apron is debuting a podcast, also in partnership with Gimlet, called Why We Eat What We Eat. Hosted by recipe maven Cathy Erway, the production will take an anthropological approach to the biggest food trends of today. Blue Apron – which has reportedly been experiencing a series of financial problems – is likely hoping that this marketing campaign will be profitable enough that they can cut back promotional spending in other channels. Last year, Blue Apron’s revenue gains significantly lagged behind their increase in marketing spending, and they have been dealing with criticism ever since.

Corporate podcasts are a natural extension of the branded content phenomenon. Written pieces have worked well for brands looking to make a meaningful connection with consumers, and podcasts are similarly inexpensive to produce. According to Forbes, “the cost-to-value ratio for podcasts is incredibly low…the average CPM for a successful podcast can be between $20 and $45, compared to $1 to $20 for web ads, or $5 to $20 for TV.”

Brands that rely on purely visual mediums of engagement are going to lose out. By taking multisensory media approaches, companies can become a more integrated and important part of their customers’ daily lives.

Brand Stories: Magic Leap


Founded in 2010 by Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap is a fast-growing startup that has been shrouded in mystery since its inception. In fact, it has earned the reputation as one of the most secretive firms in the tech industry, and its headquarters are located in Southern Florida to maintain its discretion (which would be nearly impossible if it were located in Silicon Valley).

The startup evolved from a small company called “Magic Leap Studios”, which was focused on creating a graphic novel series and feature film franchise. Abovitz had hired visual effects studio Weta Workshop to develop the imagery, following their work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

However, Abovitz became frustrated that the augmented and virtual reality world he’d read about in sci-fi novels wasn’t available in real life. He aimed to make it so. In 2011, Magic Leap Studios became a corporation, releasing an augmented reality app at Comic-Con that year called Hour Blue.

How They’re Trying to Change the World

Magic Leap is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display that has been compared to the Microsoft HoloLens. It superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects by tricking the brain into thinking that digital light signals created in the headset are in fact reality. Gizmodo said they are trying to build “a Google Glass on steroids that can seamlessly blend computer-generated graphics with the real world”.


Forbes perfectly described the experience in relation to Pokemon Go: “VR takes you to another place. AR can make a Pikachu appear in your living room. Mixed reality keeps you where you are-and makes that Pikachu come to life.”

While this technology has outstanding potential for gaming and entertainment, Magic Leap aims to use it to revolutionize the way we work, communicate, and play.

Quick Success Led to a $4.5 Billion Valuation

Forbes estimated that Magic Leap was worth $4.5 billion, even though they have not released a product to market yet. It raised $1.4 billion from a list of impressive investors, including Google and China’s Alibaba Group.


It earned highly publicized early contributions thanks to its overwhelming claims that the technology would “forever change the way we interact with images and information”. The prominent investors were convinced with early prototype demonstrations and technology that was still in development.

Standing Up to Big Competition

Magic Leap is not the first (or only) company to pursue mixed reality. Apple is working on an AR device, startups Meta and Atheer are working on their own headsets, and the MIT Media Lab has also constructed a 3D display using “compressed light fields”. The Microsoft HoloLens is the largest competitor and already has developer kits available. The difference, according to Magic Leap, is that Magic Leap’s breakthrough technology provides better resolution than the HoloLens, making it far superior.


Misleading Claims Revealed

Most people who have tried Magic Leap have positive things to say. However, not all of the attention surrounding the startup has been good.

Magic Leap may have exaggerated what it was able to provide. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Magic Leap posted a misleading video demonstration of its tech. Magic Leap didn’t help things when it used YouTube videos to prove what its tech can do, using a video that was later revealed to be created by Weta Workshop.

As it stands now, the Magic Leap tech won’t outshine the Microsoft HoloLens’ tech. During a recent rare demo with The Information, the images produced by the headset were often blurrier and more jittery than Microsoft’s prototype.


While the startup wasn’t ever planning on rushing to market, it seems as if the technology is in reality years away from completion. The fiber scanning display that was set to be Magic Leap’s breakthrough tech has also been demoted to a long-term research project. They have also promised to provide a small headset resembling glasses, but have not yet trimmed down from the bulky helmet prototype.

However, this hasn’t slowed Magic Leap, which just acquired the 3D division of Swiss computer vision company Dacuda and formed a partnership with Disney’s Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB R&D unit to create a joint research lab at Lucasfilm’s San Francisco campus. Abovitz believes that one day, Magic Leap’s technology will replace phones, tablets, computers, and televisions.

Creative Titans: Charles Csuri, the Father of Computer Art


Charles Csuri (better known as Chuck) is an American painter who transformed works of art by creating a series of digital drawings based on renowned paintings. He is known as the father of digital art and computer animation, and paved the field for artists in the future. Named an All-American college football player by the Ohio State University, he turned down a professional football career to instead pursue his studies in computer art at the graduate level.

Popular Work

Csuri is a pioneer in computer graphics and has continues to teach and inspire others with his interactive works of art. In the 1960s, he studied computers, which he used to help him form the art of computer graphics and animation. His interest in computer graphics began when he saw a computer generated face in a publication from the Department of Electrical Engineering. He created an analog computer, which he then used to make various transformations of a drawing.

Csuri has always been ahead of his time and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) even recognized the artist as a leading pioneer of computer animation. His most notable pieces are “Random War”, “Hummingbird”, “A Happy Time”, and “La Primavera”. His work has also been featured in a number of television programs and by Walt Disney Productions.

His work has been studied and presented around the world. He has also been privy to a number of awards, honors, and achievements around the world, including both the prestigious Governor’s Award for the Arts and the Ohio State University Sullivan Award in 2000.

Design Strategy

Csuri’s paintings are based on paintings from such masters as Durer, Goya, Ingres, Klee, Mondrian, and Picasso.  He is also inspired by the work of Sir D’Arcy. Csuri discovered a way to convey a new set of feelings and emotions from a work of art originally designed by another artist. Each brush stroke conveys a different emotion and Csuri believes that the bolder the brush stroke, the greater the power and feeling. He also offers different styles of art, ranging from vector/plotter computer imaging pieces to algorithmic paintings.

In regards to his design strategy, he has said, “Sometimes I prefer the mix of my traditional background as a painter and my experience with the computer.” He utilized two basic procedures to achieve a computer sculpture: a mathematical procedure and a comprehensive set of computer programs. He also said the creative process works best when he is “able to live in a space of psychological uncertainty”.

To create his unique works of art, he said, “I see and feel a single object from many points of view. When I make copies of an object, they become captured instances of time representing inner agents and different psychological states. Symbolically, it represents past, present, and future states and becomes a character within a virtual space.“

Creative Titans: Shigeru Miyamoto and the Story of Nintendo

Miyamoto and Nintendo Design

Shigeru Miyamoto is the mastermind behind some of the world’s most recognized and influential video games. He is one of the most respected game designers around the world, and has also sold the most titles ever.

Popular Work

Miyamoto’s most highly recognized and admired works include Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, and Zelda, to name a few. While he was the designer on most games he worked on, he has also served as producer, supervisor, and/or director on many popular games.

As a child, Miyamoto didn’t have any toys, so he made his own puppets, cartoon books, and toys made from wood and string. He also spent a great deal of time outdoors, surrounded by nature, and playing in caves. He has an infamous cave story, where he describes a series of dark caves and passageways that he explored as a child. He was intrigued by the shapes and movements that the shadows created from his lamp. He attributes that experience and that time of exploration around the city of Kyoto to helping him design his renowned video games.

In the late 1970s, Nintendo was going bankrupt and needed a miracle. Miyamoto began working for Nintendo in 1977, and in 1981 Miyamoto created the characters Donkey Kong and Mario, and has been helping design games and characters ever since. Over the years, he has been doing what he loves, and it shows. To this day, he does not receive a higher salary than the other Nintendo developers and has said, “The money which I earn is mainly dedicated to video games and I am very content.

Miyamoto and Nintendo Design

Design Strategy

Miyamoto tests his games on himself, and his friends and family because he is confident that if he finds the games fun, so will most other people. He also focuses more on the challenges in the games, rather than over-the-top graphics. He also prefers fun, quick storylines to long film sequences, providing yet another example that sometimes, simplicity is key.

He left inspiring words for fellow designers and artists: “A great idea solves multiple problems at the same time.” His designs create memories, let children’s imaginations take flight, and set the stage for mindblowing video game designs to come.

What the New iPhone is Missing

While the new iPhone may include some cool new features, there was one very noticeable omission with the iPhone 5S and 5C: a near field communication chip (NFC). NFC is a technology that has been around since the 1980s, and essentially allows you to transfer data from one physical object to another, just by moving the objects close together (within 5 cm or so). You may have seen one of Samsung’s Galaxy phone commercials where people touch their phones to other phones or to posters to transfer music. In any event, that is an example of NFC technology.

However this technology will be deployed, the key to its widespread use will be to include an NFC chip in most or all cell phones on the market. And the one major mobile phone that does NOT have an embedded NFC chip? The iPhone. To that end, many experts have predicted for months that the latest version of the iPhone will include an NFC chip, and as a result NFC would begin to really come of age. Well… not so fast. Apple left out NFC from its latest iPhone in favor of fingerprint sensors, which are likely more secure and more intuitive for consumers. Given all that, it now looks like the NFC revolution is dead, or at least somewhat delayed.

That being said, if you are a marketer, NFC may yet have a place in your world. Watch this video on how McDonalds is using this technology to captivate and engage its young customers. While consumers will have to wait for this technology to mature, marketers—often the first adopters—don’t see a need to be as patient.

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Augmented Reality is (Probably) the Next Big Thing

Works Design Group’s very own Director of Business Development, Kory Grushka, wrote this article about augmented reality that was published in Brand Packaging Magazine last week.  The article looks at how marketers and packaging managers can use this technology to create some truly innovative package design concepts.

Below is an excerpt from the article that gets to the bottom line:

Though still in its infancy, AR is a transcendent technology that has the potential to revolutionize the consumer experience.  At a minimum, you should be monitoring the development of this technology, familiarizing yourself with the key industry players and tracking its use in the marketplace.  While a discussion about Google Glass is beyond the scope of this article, you should be paying particularly close attention to its progress, as it has the potential to completely revolutionize the AR landscape (and much sooner than you might expect).

At this stage, it may be worthwhile to dip your toes in the water with short-run or seasonal packaging to become acquainted with the integration process and the many benefits that it can introduce (unique consumer insights, social media buzz and other earned media, among others).  Alternatively, if you are able to incorporate AR into your packaging with truly value-added content, it may well be time to jump in head first. As of this writing, the best examples of this technology come in contexts unrelated to package design.

At some point, however, a truly remarkable AR experience will arrive in the packaging context, and when it does, it will be built around value-added content. If you can identify that type of content and you can commit to the integration process, it might be time to jump in.


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The End of Skeuomorphism?


In a world where there is an increasing dependence on virtual interfaces in the form of computer, tablet and phone screens, there is been a natural desire to hold on to familiar pasts. While a touchscreen device offers unlimited possibilities for interface innovation, we’ve found ourselves peering into a reflection of obsolete pasts–vestigial pieces that only exist to make us feel comfortable about the future. Why is this? In a time where humans are creating new technologies at an incredible pace, we should be focused on how these can best be nurtured rather than weighing them down with our past. In order to free ourselves for true innovation, we need to rid ourselves of our dependence on skeuomorphism.


What is a skeuomorph? A skeuomorph is a design element that imitates a feature that was functionally necessary to an original design, while being merely ornamental in its current state. For example, a modern “engineered hardwood” floor may have a printed wood-grain pattern on its surface. While the engineered material is likely a vast improvement over natural wood—with no warping, staining, or cracking to worry about—the idea of real wood is familiar and comforting to us. After all, few people stand in awe of the perfectly aligned particulate beneath our feet. Another example is window mullions—the dividing bars of a window pane. While at one time these were necessary to divide individual pieces of glass, we now have the capability to produce more efficient glass panels at any size, rendering a grid of smaller panes obsolete. Still, we have a cultural connection to those bars, going so far as to superficially glue them to a window that is perfectly functional without them.



This theme is nothing new. From hubcaps to greek Greek columns, pleather jackets to flame-shaped lightbulbs—this idea is instilled in us. It has only been with the rise of the on-screen interface that we’ve seen how deeply engrained skeuomorphism is within human culture. One of the earliest adaptations in the computing world is the file folder. Most of us use tabbed file folders everyday. But, how many of them are physical folders? I see 15 folders on my desktop right now and not a single one is made of paper. Rather, they are made of pixels, and hold nothing but 1’s and 0’s. If you save a document, likely you will be clicking on an icon shaped like a floppy disk. Yet, when was the last time you saved something to a physical floppy disk? I haven’t even seen one in a well over a decade.


In recent years, Apple has been at the forefront of the skeuomorphic interface. Their iBooks are neatly displayed on a wood-grained bookshelf and all calendar events are posted in a leather-bound planner. Are these visual cues necessary? Will a user lose all reference for their task if they are not reassured by objects from the real world? As a designer, I feel there is a better solution. Microsoft—not known for their design chops—has challenged Apple’s direction with the introduction of Windows 8. With a heavy dependence on typography, blocks of color, and simplified icons, Microsoft hopes to break current trends. This week Apple has taken note, firing their lead software guru Scott Forstall, who along with the late Steve Jobs is a proponent of the skeuomorph.



While it has yet to be seen whether consumers will respond well to the lack of real-world reference in early stages, it seems to me that this is the direction that we need to move. We need to embrace technologies as they apply to us now, not as they once did. But what of the future? Will we one day be using some unfathomable device in which its book reader feature looks like an old-school iPad? We’ll have to wait and see.