Brand Stories: Buzzfeed

BuzzFeed is an American “social news and entertainment company” with a focus on digital media and digital technology. It has expanded from quizzes and lists to become the “first true social news organization”. What is now “the web’s most beloved new media brand” was once a small “viral lab” side project for founder Jonah Peretti. Since the inception in 2006, they’ve also progressed from kittens and internet memes to serious reporting (with plenty of kittens and internet memes still sprinkled in).

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While they commit the majority of their resources to videos and entertainment, BuzzFeed News has also become a trusted, engaging news source for millennials. The site tackles hard-hitting issues and presents them in layman’s terms, and their coverage of last year’s campaign season was so well received that CNN poached an entire Buzzfeed investigative team in October.

 

It All Started with a Chain of Emails

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Source

 The idea for BuzzFeed started early on when Peretti was communicating with a Nike representative after they denied his request to customize a pair of shoes with the word “sweatshop” on it. He forwarded the email chain of messages exchanged with Nike to 12 friends around the globe. The email chain was forwarded on and went viral. Peretti was flooded with media inquiries regarding the viral messages, as well as his stance on labor practices.

After working with Arianna Huffington to launch the Huffington Post in 2005, Jonah Peretti decided to form BuzzFeed in 2006. He always had an interest in how and why people share things through the web and experimented with viral projects.

BuzzFeed Labs first experimented with BuzzBot, which used algorithms to message users with targeted links. They also used a site to highlight some popular links that BuzzBot found, but the company wouldn’t hit its true stride until they hired human editors.

 

Finding Success Through Social Media

 

Successful social media marketing, social sharing, and content creation can have a tremendous effect on any business. BuzzFeed is a prime example of this. They found enormous success by focusing more on sharable content, rather than trying to stay within Google’s stringent guidelines. Finding content that users want to share with their friends and family has always been BuzzFeed’s ultimate goal.

 

Avoiding Banner Ads

 

While many sites rely primarily on banner ads for income, BuzzFeed doesn’t have a single banner ad on its site. Instead, they generate revenue by working directly with brands’ chief marketing officers to create unique advertising campaigns that people will want to share and talk about. They have been remarkably successful in using content as the primary advertising strategy.

 

Branding You Can’t Ignore

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The bold red logo and simplistic, clean design and user interface are hard to ignore amongst an ocean of Old English-type news source branding. The bright yellow buttons featuring fun, social buttons like “WTF”, “LOL”, and “OMG” in place of the standard “Like” makes the site feel more like a gossip mag than Peretti’s original venture, The Huffington Post (which is now commonly known as HuffPost). The red trending arrow icon from the BuzzFeed logo is also used to represent when something is trending or “buzzing” to give further meaning to the logo.

 

The Future of BuzzFeed

 

BuzzFeed Community allows BuzzFeeders to now contribute content to the site that’s approved by editors. This allows BuzzFeed to capitalize on free sharable content. In order to stay successful, Peretti said, “we have to continually surprise people, we’ll have to continually evolve and change what we do”.

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Source

 After publishing an unverified dossier pertaining to Trump’s ties with Russia in January, Trump responded by deeming BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage”. But with a $1.5 billion valuation, over 200 million monthly unique visitors, and 75% of the traffic generated from social referrals, it doesn’t seem like BuzzFeed has anything to worry about.

Brand Stories: Magic Leap

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: John Maeda and the Art of Simplicity

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Born in 1966, John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist. Throughout his successful career as a programmer and as an artist, he has found a way to seamlessly interconnect the two.

During his time studying at MIT, famed designer Muriel Cooper persuaded Maeda to pursue his passions for fine art and design. He did so by teaching typographers and page designers to explore the freedom of the web through computer-aided design. Many designers credit him with laying the groundwork for interactive motion graphics.

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Maeda wrote the book on simplicity – literally – in 2006. His book, titled “The Laws of Simplicity”, covers the 10 laws and three key principles of simplicity, which range from thoughtful reduction to organization and time-saving.

In his early work, he redefined the use of electronic media by combining artistic techniques with advanced computer programs to create truly unique pieces. He is also a proponent of the “STEAM” movement: He strives to have an “A” for Art added to the STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Maeda focuses on creating simplicity in the digital age by intersecting complicated technology with art and design. As a member of the Technical Advisory Board for Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, he is constantly faced with the challenge of creating something that is simple, yet still meets our complex needs.

Design Strategy

Maeda aims to balance simplicity and complexity in business, technology, and design. To achieve this, he said: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” He believes that we can learn to simplify without sacrificing quality, both in our professional and personal lives.

He has taken influence from Paul Rand and his love of creating pieces that are less structured. He also frequently praises Apple’s designs and how they simplify our complicated needs. Maeda found that “while great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.”

His work has been exhibited in Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris. It is also a part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Along with his museum contributions, he has also worked with companies like Absolute Vodka, Reebok, and Shiseido to create limited edition designs that showcase his appreciation for art and technology. He is also the founder of the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab.

He is the recipient of many awards, including the Smithsonian Institution National Design Award, the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize in Germany, and the Mainichi Design Prize in Japan. He was also named one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire and deemed the “Steve Jobs of academia” by Forbes.

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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It’s Monday, So You Know What That Means: Robot Videos!

Works Design attended the East Pack Expo in Philadelphia, PA last week. Among other things, we were there to check out the latest in manufacturing and innovative packaging technologies in a variety of industries, from pharmaceuticals to beverages. The event was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and as you can see from the picture below, there was a lot of expo’ing to be had.

While we took a lot of pictures at the show, we thought it would be best to focus on what you all really want to see…

Robots!

And not just any robots: these robots are blue collar, manual laboring, factory working, SUPERSTARS. Here is the video of how this guy from Kawasaki moves Pringles boxes around:

Not to be outdone though, we were mesmerized by a robot superstar from the Swiss company Staubli. Here is the video showing what that robot can do with a few tic tac boxes:

If all this seems futuristic and wild to you… well, we feel the same way. And if this gets you thinking about how the manufacturing industry (and manufacturing jobs) will be affected by all these new technologies… well, we were wondering the same thing.

Click here to read a recent article from MIT on this topic.

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.

LCA–what’s that?

LCA stands for: lifecycle assessment. This is a new tool that Kraft Foods has started using to measure its footprint on every step it takes to make a product, deliver it and consume it.

How you ask?

The LCA is based on the multi-year footprinting project Kraft Foods recently used to map its impact on climate change, land and water use. With help of LCA, the company can measure how product and packaging innovations improve on previous designs.

An example, given by Kraft, of utilizing LCA in the United States is their “YES” Pack salad dressing.  The Kraft YES Pack salad dressing team used LCA to prove their design has a reduced environmental impact, because they used 60 percent less plastic packaging than the previous container.

Kraft believes that LCA is a key component in their sustainability journey. Roger Zellner, Sustainability Director for Research, Development & Quality says, “It gives us a competitive advantage, as we now have more insight into how to reduce our products’ footprints, find efficiencies and validate and explain those benefits to customers and consumers. Together, we’re focusing and working smarter and communicating better, which is good for the environment, people and our business.”


 

More than design

Even though we normally talk about design on this blog, we of course are always paying attention to new trends and new innovation. Although this may have been premiered a few months back, I found the need to share this new product called YUPOClear.

If you are in the design or packaging field, you know how important color matching is to your brand and its identity. You can say that your brand color is blue–but as we all know the number of blues out there are endless. This new technology is designed to provide a no-label look with the convenience of pressure-sensitive labeling. The ultra-clear label stock eliminates bottle-to-label color matching for colored and opaque packages, and it is 100% recyclable.

YUPOClear Attributes:
YUPOClear possesses the attributes that designers, brand managers and manufacturers require for extraordinary results:

  • Eliminates bottle to color matching – always exact resin color allowing your brands true colors to show through
  • Allows for multi-color bottle creation – not possible before
  • Increased label size possibilities – more space for brand message
  • More control over your visual design language
  • Like all other IML options, YUPO Clear reduces cost compared to other decoration methods

YUPO For Bottle Labels and Packaging