What is a creative technologist? We ask one.
Namely, Gracie Page from Y&R London. Here’s what Page said.
(And remember if you’re looking for a new role yourself to check out the Econsultancy jobs board)
Econsultancy: Please describe your job. What do you do? And who do you report to?
Gracie Page: I am a creative technologist at Y&R London. The role is incredibly varied, and that’s what I love about it. I act as a roaming consultant to various departments within the agency: One day I’ll be developing digital content ideas in collaboration with creative teams and working with strategists to understand the significance of user behaviors in our digital approach. The next day I could be helping pitch innovative solutions to current clients and prospects. I love to spend down-time tinkering with new technologies and thinking about how to apply non-obvious innovations to the advertising space. I report into the agency’s managing partner and ultimately our CEO both of whom really champion the innovation agenda.
E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
GP: The ability to think laterally is key. Designing new customer experiences requires a good handle on what’s new in the digital space but also in society more broadly: after all, if you’re designing for people you should understand the jobs they’re trying to get done and how a given product or technology will be key to adding value to their lives. It’s important to be a rational thinker. Having the ability to walk through problems logically, find solutions and design experiments for testing hypotheses comes in handy day-to-day. The power of persuasion doesn’t hurt either, it always helps to bring colleagues with you along that day/week/month’s journey!
E: Tell us about a typical working day…
GP: There’s no such thing! I try to get my hardest tasks of the day done within the first four hours (as science shows this is the most productive time of day), then I set aside time for research and reading during the afternoon. The rest of the day can be filled with internal client-focused or pro-active brainstorms, fleshing out technology elements of client briefs, or writing a new thought piece. When I have a spare minute, I find myself chatting with colleagues over cups of tea and exploring useful technologies for the accounts they’re working on. Sometimes I even spend half an hour looking at examples of great design (don’t underestimate the power of Pinterest!), to help spark new ideas.
E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?
GP: I love the variety it affords me. I approach a problem that has an evident answer then dig deeper to try to find a less obvious, more elegant way to bring value to the customer’s day. My job grants me the unique opportunity to add value through the medium of advertising or branded content. Connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated worlds to build something completely new is intellectually stimulating, and emotionally gratifying.
What sucks? How bamboozled people are by my job title! I always need to explain what I do, because let’s face it, it’s not obvious. It’s always the first question in external meetings, and it can be a struggle to show you’re adding value when the person across from you doesn’t instantly get what you’re doing. I’ve now come to realise that showing is more powerful than telling.
E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
GP: My goals are multiple and varied, but always centre around tapping into the magic that lies at the intersection of humanity and technology. I am allergic to the use of technology for the sake of it (not only in advertising, but in life) so I always champion a responsible usage. I aim to create a safe, fun space where colleagues feel they can talk about tech and innovation more broadly.
Success metrics don’t relate to me or my role, but rather the work I contribute to. This isn’t a lone-wolf position, everything is collaboration. The success of a campaign I contribute to is therefore my success.
E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
GP: Noise-cancelling headphones! Absorbing information is hugely important to do my job as I read a lot. Perhaps somewhat ironically, I’m a huge fan of pen-and-paper, and always have layout pads and journals in my drawers (and I swear by Muji 0.5 gel pens). Lastly, if you’re after a fantastic free text editor to code with ease (complete with syntax colour coding), Sublime Text is my tool of choice.
E: How did you become a creative technologist, and where might you go from here?
GP: I became a creative technologist via a long and winding road. Having studied molecular biology, I started my career as a genetic engineer! I like to think the scientific methodology has followed me into advertising. I went on to do a masters in technology entrepreneurship and set up my own company, which got funded but ultimately failed: an experience that taught me a lot in agile thinking and growing thick skin. From there I entered advertising so I could learn how to identify audiences and talk to them. Having started in production, I learned the nuts and bolts of how things are made. Now I get to be involved a lot earlier on in the process, and spend time understanding the psyche of our target customers.
I could see myself going many number of ways from here: I’m most passionate about the harmonies between technology and people, rather than the collision of the two that many focus on. Only time will tell!
E: What work has excited you in the past year? Which brands?
GP: I’m fascinated by Apple’s introduction of LTE functionality into the latest Apple Watch. This self-cannibalisation (making calls from the Watch inherently disposes the wearer of the need to carry their iPhone) is a smart move that takes a lot of courage. I’m excited to see how their consumers’ behaviours might change in light of this.
IKEA’s AR-enabled app is also very exciting. Augmented reality technology has been around a while, but never has it been so readily accessible to the masses as it is now. IKEA is the perfect brand to be leveraging this technology – they’ve designed an experience that truly adds value to their customers’ lives by starting with a strong understanding of what their customers need to get done. It’s not rocket science, it’s just really smart, nicely packaged, and well delivered.
E: Do you have any advice for people who want to do a similar role?
GP: Do not discount non-traditional experience: if it has helped you to think “outside of the box”, it will help you in a creative tech role. Read as much as you can, and practice applying seemingly unrelated ideas to brand challenges. Lastly, just start. You’ll have fun, I promise!