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    Remember back in April when Barack Obama called President Trump a “total and complete dipshit?” Okay, it was really Jordan Peele doing his flawless Obama impression, over an artificial intelligence-generated video that made it look almost exactly like the former president. Peele created the video with BuzzFeed as a warning to us all about how deep fakes could be used to distort reality, and it has been a constant topic around political and societal stability, how we can all protect ourselves against being duped, and the potential consequences if we can’t.

    Now, Turner Prize-winning British artist Gillian Wearing is using deep fake video to create a new extension of her work, as part of the Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition “Life: Gillian Wearing.

    Wearing, whose work can be found at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and L.A.’s Hammer Museum, is known for being a part of her own creations, using lip-syncing, masks, and more. The Cincinnati Art Museum describes her current exhibition, a series of video installations and photography, as charting new territory in Wearing’s “identity, self-revelation and contemporary media culture, exploring tensions between public and private life, the drive to tell our own secrets and know the secrets of others, and the blurry line between documentation and a constructed point of view.”

    The idea for the deep fake ad, in which a series of strangers appear on screen with Wearing’s face, came out of a conversation with Cincinnati Art Museum curator Nathaniel Stein about how they might market the exhibition. Wearing says she came up the idea of creating an ad of herself, which led her to researching the best in recent advertising. Then she saw Nike’s “Nothing Beats A Londoner.”

    “I loved it because it felt very in the moment, and it felt like a short film as well as an ad,” says Wearing. “So I looked up who made it, and it was Wieden+Kennedy. And it turns out they’re located just a few streets away from where I live. I contacted them, and we had a meeting straight away.”

    Wieden+Kennedy London’s executive creative director Iain Tait says they wanted to provide Wearing with the most classic advertising brief template to fill out, as if she was the product or brand, making the process as much like they would go through with any other client.

    “In talking about things, we started chatting about deep fakes and showed her the Nicolas Cage example, and a few more,” says Tait. “At that point, it got clear there was something in this. So we started exploring  it, doing some prototyping to see what we could do with it. At the same time, Gillian started thinking about it as well.”

    Wearing says she knew she wanted other people to be her. “When I saw the deep fakes, it just seemed like the perfect idea, as it has this feeling of un-realness, a bit like a mask,” she says. “And I do become other people in my work via silicon masks, and this seems like the perfect way for other people to be me without actual masks. I started casting actors to be in the film, and it happened over quite a few months.”

    Part ad, part artwork, Wearing sees the film and the use of deep fakes as both a relevant and creative way to market her work, as well as a statement on her need to do so in the first place.

    “I was very interested in using this technology to question the veracity of truth and identity, which are relevant to a lot of things we’re all in the midst of at this moment in time,” Wearing says. “I just thought this was an interesting time to think about how I put myself across to people who don’t know who I am, for this particular piece. There is a lot of noise out there, so how do people stand out? It’s an interesting question.”

    The full five-minute film is only available within the Cincinnati art Museum exhibit, with future touring dates and locations to be announced at a later date.


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    In September, a decade after he began knitting together an online marketplace for independent boutiques across the globe, Farfetch founder and CEO José Neves took the company public. It’s now worth more than $7 billion and encompasses the original platform (which sells items from more than 980 stores and brands), white-label e-commerce services for designers such as Thom Browne and Derek Lam, and even physical retail.

    Fast Company: You launched Farfetch two weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. What was it like to debut a company that championed luxury fashion at such a moment?

    José Neves: Starting a company is already scary. Starting a company in the middle of a financial storm was terrifying. There was this fear of Armageddon in the [fashion] industry. And here we were trying to start a very ambitious project: to create a platform for boutiques and brands. But there was also collateral beauty in the financial crisis. I’d been a shoe designer since the age of 22, and I knew the industry moved very slowly. I had wondered how open people were going to be to the internet—to a new concept and to [Farfetch’s online] marketplace model. [During the crisis] people were very open to new [sales] channels, new opportunities. There was less to lose.

    FC: There are growing concerns today that we may be heading into another financial crisis. Do you have any lessons from 2008 for navigating that?

    JN: The luxury industry is not only very resilient, but the shift from offline to online is pretty much still [happening] today. Only 9% of sales are happening online. So even in the event of a crisis, we think Farfetch is very well prepared.

    FC: Since acquiring the legendary London boutique Browns in 2015, you’ve been experimenting with physical retail there and at the year-old Browns East in the city’s Shoreditch neighborhood. What does the store of the future mean to you?

    JN: What Amazon is doing is fantastic with [its automated] Amazon Go [stores]. Alibaba is even further ahead, with its Hema stores in China. But what is being developed for convenience stores and grocers will not work in luxury: This is not about someone walking out with 10 Chanel bags without speaking to anyone. That’s not what Chanel wants, and that’s not what the customer wants. They desire an elevated experience where the human interaction is allowed to happen in a much more seamless way, enabled by invisible technology.

    The first fundamental is removing the friction from the shopping experience so that [stores] can focus on [customers], on storytelling and experience. The second pillar is personalization. In the digital world, experiences are personalized. When I log on to Netflix, they know which series I’m watching, which episode I was on. They are able to recommend other things coming up. Retailers know nothing about you coming in—and learn nothing about you when you go out. It can’t continue like this.

    FC: Do you think customers are wary of how their data is being used to enhance their experiences in ways that they want and ways that maybe they don’t?

    JN: All of this needs to be opt-in. [Shoppers have to be aware that] there is a trade-off between making yourself known when checking into the store and allowing your data to be used. But the thing is, no one’s selling advertising here. The luxury brands are not selling advertising. The reason to collect data is to improve the [user experience]. We are talking about brands that started in the atelier business and only gradually moved to ready-to-wear. Very gradually, they’re moving to technology. The need to protect the privacy of their customers and [deliver] very discreet service is paramount.

    FC: As you create more direct relationships with fashion brands and start selling them on the Farfetch marketplace, are you introducing competition among the boutiques that have long been your partners?

    JN: Farfetch is an enabler for the entire industry. We see [fashion] as an ecosystem where every creature needs the other. The big brands need the small ones, because that’s where they go to hire the amazing creative minds, the Virgil Ablohs, to be their creative directors. The small [designers] need the boutiques, because these stores will be the first to pick up their collections when they come out of Parsons. And the consumer benefits because fashion becomes more culturally relevant and exciting.

    The fashion industry should never forget that people can buy other things, like [apartments] and experiences. By keeping this ecosystem alive and creating an industry that is full of creativity, new voices, and new talent, everyone wins.

    FC: You relaunched your shoe brand, Swear, last year to create hyper-personalized sneakers. Is customization going to be a big part of fashion in the future?

    JN: The biggest problem in fashion is overproduction. The way fashion works—where merchandisers and buyers take guesses on what people are going to buy and where [they’ll buy it]—is extremely inefficient. The supply never meets the demand in a perfect way. That has made fashion among the most polluting industries in the world. The most powerful way to tackle this problem is to move from a system of ready-to-wear to a system of made-to-order. And if you’re going to do it made-to-order, you may as well personalize it, because fashion’s all about the manifestation of individuality. But the industry will have to adapt because obviously factories are not used to [this].

    At Swear, we’re working with factories to shorten [manufacturing] times. It’s now two weeks, but it should be two days, then overnight. The manufacturing challenge is very much an organizational problem; it’s not technological. It takes literally two hours to cut the leather and the pattern, and then stitch a pair of shoes. But the factories are organized to receive an order in bulk, and plan the production a month, two months out. Production at scale is cheaper, yes. But you have to offer discounts of 30% to 40% for what you [over]produce, and all that money goes away, and you’re damaging the planet. [Made-to-order] is about doing something that is right for the industry, but [also] makes the whole proposition compelling for the consumer.

    FC: How do you plan to foster innovation now that the company has gone public?

    JN: We’re now 3,000 people, and as we become a global business there is a natural tension between investing an extra dollar in optimizing the core business, or investing that extra dollar in an idea that may—or may not—work. That tension is the innovator’s dilemma. [In September] we launched the Dream Assembly accelerator, which [supports] 10 startups. We had 150 applications from more than 20 countries. This just began, and we’ll have a second, third, and fourth cohort. Google is a huge source of inspiration. They’ve optimized the core business, which is advertising, but they do not give up on funding constant moonshots.

    FC: Having been a software developer since age 19 and a shoe designer almost as long, you have a unique perspective on technology and fashion. I think it’s clear that fashion can learn a lot from technology. What can the tech world learn from fashion?

    JN: Most people don’t think programming computers is a creative endeavor, but software [development] is inherently creative. You sit in front of a computer and there’s a blank canvas and you are solving problems. And fashion is not just creative. It has elements of functionality and industrial design: Clothes are meant to be worn. Our team is a big melting pot of people coming together from the luxury and fashion worlds and the tech world. We learn from each other.

    Stitches in time: Neves’s other companies laid the foundation for his success with Farfetch.

    Swear: Neves’s 22-year-old London-based shoe brand, Swear, anticipated the rise of streetwear. The company recently pivoted to selling unisex shoes that can be completely customized via Neves’s Platforme software.

    B Store: In 2001, he launched the Savile Row boutique B Store, which quickly became known for selling and championing emerging designers. The store closed in 2012.

    Platforme: Neves created this customization platform in 2015, which enables brands, including Fendi and Sergio Rossi, to create personalized products for customers.


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    Users of Google’s Fusion Tables, a kind of hybrid spreadsheet/database/data visualization tool that was never fully integrated into the Google Drive productivity suite, got an email Tuesday saying the service will be shutting down on December 3, 2019.

    “Google Fusion Tables was launched almost nine years ago as a research project in Google Labs, later evolving into an experimental product,” according to the email. “For a long time, it was one of the few free tools for easily visualizing large datasets, especially on a map. Since then, Google has developed several alternatives, providing deeper experiences in more specialized domains.”

    Fusion Tables was often used by journalists, scientists, and others interested in quickly plotting data on a Google Map without having to do any coding. Google encouraged users to switch to other products, like its BigQuery cloud data warehouse system, its Google Data Studio business intelligence tool, or simply Google Sheets. The company says it’s also working to make other mapping tools, currently used internally, available.

    Users can export their existing data from Fusion Tables. They’ll also need to migrate any visualizations they have embedded on other websites to other tools or they will stop working when the product shuts down. That’s long been a frequent use case for Fusion Tables, so it’s likely interactive maps across the internet, created by people who have since moved on to other projects and organizations, will stop working next December.

    The planned shutdown–or “turndown,” as Google referred to it in the email subject line–received some sad mentions from data visualization experts on Twitter.


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    The Real ID Act is about to be a real pain for air travelers. The law was passed by Congress in 2005 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in hopes of establishing minimum standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards. The idea is that it would prevent identity theft and increase national safety. For travelers, it means that starting on October 1, 2020, anyone who resides in the United States, even if they’re flying domestically or to U.S. territories, will need Real ID identification to pass through TSA security checkpoints at airports.

    As of October 2018, 37 states, territories, and the District of Columbia are Real ID compliant, per DHS. The other 19 jurisdictions (states and territories) are noncompliant, but have been granted a temporary extension from enforcement. Some of those noncompliant states include California, Illinois, and New Jersey, home to some of the largest airports in the U.S.

    If you want to see where your state stands on the Real ID rollout, the DHS’s website has a clickable map. (U.S. passports are already compliant.)

    As for when the Real ID rollouts will begin in the noncompliant states, it’s complicated. As the Patriot-Ledger points out, Massachusetts is now compliant, but people aren’t exactly flocking to the DMV to get their new Real IDs, even though the deadline is looming. Perhaps that’s because residents must physically go to a DMV office with their identification documents—such as a birth certificate and passport—and who has time for that? Additionally, just today NJ.com published an op-ed by that state’s former public advocate calling for New Jersey to ensure that “the privacy violations and bureaucratic nightmares of the federal Real ID Act” not be passed along to New Jersey residents, noting that the ACLU had to halt the rollout of New Jersey’s previous attempt to comply with the Real ID Act.

    Still, unless the government grants another extension, travelers will want to be prepared. Skift spoke with several travel advisors and they all seem to say the same thing: Get your paperwork in now, because 2020 is coming sooner than you think and no one wants to buy a ticket, pack, and then drive to the airport just to be turned away at the gate.


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    Nearly 31% of all philanthropic giving happens in the month of December. Yet all too often, donors make decisions about their contributions based on their good intentions as opposed to rigorous research.

    From increasing inequality to climate change, there is no shortage of social problems to solve right now, and the good news is there is no shortage of people who want to help solve them. But here’s the thing: Good intentions aren’t enough. If we want to be more impactful in our giving, we need to do a better job of teaching the best practices of social change–to students, to donors, and to nonprofit leaders themselves (you can hear more about this in my new TedX talk).

    Here are three ways that you can be more effective in your end-of-year giving to maximize your impact.

    [Illustration: FC]

    1. Research an organization’s performance

    A recent study showed that while 85% of donors say a charity’s performance is important, only 35% conduct research on giving, and just 2% give based on a group’s performance. And yet, my research shows that one of the key indicators of whether an organization will be successful is whether the nonprofit tracks its performance. Taking a data-driven approach is important not only for nonprofits to prove that what they’re doing works, but to improve their programs as they grow. For example, New Door Ventures, a job-training organization in San Francisco, takes a rigorous approach to measuring how effective they are at providing a path for low-income young people into the workforce. When one of their technology training programs wasn’t demonstrating strong results, they closed that program and channeled their funding toward their T-shirt business, which was helping their youth get jobs faster. As a donor, one of the most important things you can do before giving is look at a nonprofit’s impact report to see if their programs are actually meeting their goals.

    [Illustration: FC]

    2. Make sure that you contribute unrestricted dollars

    By some estimates, 80% of philanthropic contributions in the U.S. are restricted. What does this mean? It means the money is given on the condition that it’s only used for specific services. This would be like going into a restaurant and saying, “I’ll pay for the food, but I’m not paying for the time for the chef to prepare it, or the salary of the server to bring it to me.” The nonprofit sector is one of the only places where investors feel entitled to pick and choose what we pay for. Too often, we ask our nonprofit leaders–the people who have dedicated their entire lives to solving some of the most difficult challenges of our time–to fight these battles with one hand tied behind their backs. If you want to be effective as a donor, you have can’t just fund programming, you have to invest in the infrastructure required to make that programming successful.

    [Illustration: FC]

    3. Don’t just give money, give time

    Finally, one of the most effective ways that you can make an impact is by giving not just your money but your time. For example, 97% of millennials say they want to apply their work skills to volunteering. This is a huge opportunity for companies to harness their employees’ talents for good. Last year, Google committed $10 million to Goodwill, a job training organization, to help them teach technical skills to 1 million people. But they didn’t just give money, Google also gave the time of 1,000 employees to help with career coaching and digital skills training. Rather than just engaging employees in one-off volunteer days, companies should find ways to apply their talent and expertise to help the causes they care about.

    This giving season, donors must ensure that they are putting in the time and effort to fund programs that work, invest in the critical infrastructure incredible leaders need to run effective programming, and give not just money, but time and skilled expertise to the causes they love. That’s how we turn good intentions into tangible results. That’s how we turn feel-good philanthropy into real-good philanthropy. The problems we face in this world are simply too big to wait.


    Kathleen Kelly Janus is a social entrepreneur, author, and lecturer at the Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship. Her new book, Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up and Make a Difference, is a playbook for anyone who wants to make a difference, and her new TEDx talk, “Social Startup Success,” is about how to teach these strategies.


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    While homelessness in the United States is on the decline overall, new research shows that places where people spend more than a third of their income on housing are more likely to see big increases in homelessness. “The areas that are most vulnerable to rising rents, unaffordability, and poverty hold 15 percent of the U.S. population – and 47 percent of people experiencing homelessness,” says a report from property marketplace Zillow.

    More and more people are gravitating toward metropolitan areas, putting pressure on housing resources and rent prices. There are two thresholds that lead to more homelessness, according to the report. The first is when people are putting 22% or more of their income toward rent or a mortgage. “Any uptick in a community’s rent affordability beyond 22 percent translates into more people experiencing homelessness,” the research says. The second is when people are paying more than 32% for housing. In such a circumstance, homelessness begins to tip into crisis territory.

    Though the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 553,742 people live without shelter or in emergency or transitional housing, Zillow’s research suggests that figure is actually much higher. The number that Zillow research fellow Christopher Glynn of the University of New Hampshire, Thomas Byrne of Boston University, and Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania came up with is 660,996.

    Furthermore, the data indicates that of the 386 markets reviewed by this analysis, 100 of them are rent burdened. In Monroe County, Florida, home of the popular tourist and retirement destination Key West, the median market rate rent is 62.9% of the area’s median household income.

    What happens in these high rental markets? You probably already know: “Some high-income renters who typically rent more expensive apartments turn to lower-priced rentals, pushing middle-income renters into even less expensive housing. The lowest earners are forced to work multiple jobs, find multiple roommates and otherwise struggle to make ends meet,” the report says. When a city’s more reasonably priced housing is all taken, higher earners turn to more affordable cities, in turn pushing out middle- and low-income earners in those regions.

    Of course, rental prices are not the only factor causing homelessness. For instance, a study from the National Alliance to End Homelessness shows that between 2007 and 2016, North Dakota saw a decrease in the number of  “poor, renter households experiencing a severe housing cost burden” and yet in the year between 2015 and 2016, homelessness increased 18%–the most of any state that year.

    While homelessness and its solutions remain complex, it is hard to ignore the role that rising rents play in the phenomenon. It’s harder still to overlook this issue as more big tech companies look beyond Silicon Valley for top talent. Amazon’s second and third headquarters, which are slated to open in New York City’s Long Island City and Virginia’s Crystal City, will no doubt put pressure on the already squeezed resources in those areas. The question is, will city officials do anything about the coming housing crunch?


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    From concerns over blue light to digital strain and dryness, headlines today often worry how smartphones and computer screens might be affecting the health of our eyes. But while the technology may be new, this concern certainly isn’t. Since Victorian times people have been concerned about how new innovations might damage eyesight.

    In the 1800s, the rise of mass print was both blamed for an increase in eye problems and was responsible for dramatizing the fallibility of vision too. As the amount of known eye problems increased, the Victorians predicted that without appropriate care and attention Britain’s population would become blind. In 1884, an article in The Morning Post newspaper proposed that:

    The culture of the eyes and efforts to improve the faculty of seeing must become matters of attentive consideration and practice, unless the deterioration is to continue and future generations are to grope about the world purblind.

    The 19th-century was the time when opthamology became a more prominent field of healthcare. New diagnostic technologies, such as test charts were introduced and spectacles became a more viable treatment method for a range of vision errors. But though more sight problems were being treated effectively, this very increase created alarm, and a subsequent perceived need to curtail any growth.

    In 1889 the Illustrated London News questioned:

    To what are we coming? … Now we are informed by men of science that the eyes used so effectively by our forefathers will not suffice for us, and that there is a prospect of England becoming purblind.

    The article continued, considering potential causes for this acceleration, and concluded that it could be partly explained by evolution and inheritance.

    Examination by ophthalmoscope in JF Phillips’ Ophthalmic Surgery and Treatment, 1869. [Photo: Wellcome Library]

    Urban myopia

    Other commentators looked to “modern life” for explanation, and attributed the so-called “deterioration of vision” to the built environment, the rise of print, compulsory education, and a range of new innovations such as steam power. In 1892, an article, published in The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, reflected that the changing space of Victorian towns and lighting conditions were an “inestimable benefit” that needed to be set against a “decidedly lower sight average”. Similarly, a number of other newspapers reported on this phenomenon, headlining it as “urban myopia”.

    In 1898, a feature published in The Scottish Review– ironically entitled “The Vaunts of Modern Progress” – proposed that defective eyesight was “exclusively the consequence of the present conditions of civilized life”. It highlighted that many advances being discussed in the context of “progress” – including material prosperity, expansion of industry and the rise of commerce – had a detrimental effect on the body’s nervous system and visual health

    Another concern of the time – sedentariness– was also linked to the rise in eye problems. Better transport links and new leisure activities that required the person to be seated meant people had more time to read. Work changed as well, with lower-class jobs moving away from manual labour and the written word thought to have superseded the spoken one. While we now focus on “screen time”, newspapers and periodicals emphasized the negative effects of a “reading age” (the spread of the book and popular print).

    Reading advice from JD Browning’s 1887 book Our Eyes and How to Preserve Them from Infancy to Old Age. [Photo: Wellcome Library]

    Education to blame

    In a similar manner to today, schools were blamed for the problem too. Reading materials, lighting conditions, desk space, and the advent of compulsory education were all linked to the rise in diagnosed conditions. English ophthalmologist Robert Brudenell Carter, in his government-led study, Eyesight in Schools, reached the balanced conclusion that while schooling conditions may be a problem, more statistics were required to fully assess the situation. Though Carter did not wish to “play the part of an alarmist,” a number of periodicals dramatized their coverage with phrases such as “The Evils of Our School System.”

    The problem with all of these new environmental conditions was that they were considered “artificial.” To emphasize this point, medical men frequently compared their findings of poor eye health against the superior vision of “savages” and the effect of captivity on the vision of animals. This in turn gave a more negative interpretation of the relationship between civilization and “progress,” and conclusions were used to support the idea that deteriorating vision was an accompaniment of the urban environment and modern leisure pursuits – specific characteristics of the Western world.

    And yet the Victorians were undeterred, and continued with the very modern progress that they blamed for eyesight problems. Instead, new protective eyewear was developed that sought to protect the eye from dust and flying particles, as well as from the bright lights at seaside resorts, and artificial lighting in the home.

    Despite their fears, the country did not become “purblind.” Neither is Britain now an “island full of round-backed, blear-eyed book worms” as predicted. While stories reported today tend to rely on more rigorous research when it comes to screen time and eye health, it just goes to show that “modernity” has long been a cause for concern.

    Gemma Almond is a PhD Researcher at Swansea University. This article is republished fromThe Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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    Numerous studies have confirmed that listening to music can improve productivity, but new research suggests that some genres are more motivating than others.

    The most popular music for improving productivity, according to a study by CloudCover Music, is classic rock, followed by alternative and pop. On the other hand, hip-hop, heavy metal, EDM, and country were considered the most distracting.

    “It really is up to an individual’s preference,” says Meg Piedmont, a project manager for CloudCover Music, who helped put the study together. “It’s about creating your own workspace, personalized to what will allow you to do the best work you can do.”

    Piedmont points to hip-hop to demonstrate how subjective the impact of music can be on the individual listener. While 21.1% labeled the genre “productive,” making it the fifth favorite in the workplace, 37.7% of respondents said it was “distracting,” making it simultaneously the most detested.

    One thing most respondents agreed on is that music is preferred over any other background noise in the workplace, with 94% of respondents saying they listen to music at work, compared with 42% that listen to radio, 35% that listen to podcasts, 25% that listen to news, and 15% that listen to audiobooks and sports.

    How headphones became a standard work accessory

    According to Piedmont, there are a number of converging trends that are making headphones a standard workplace accessory. Open-office layouts might help the real estate budget, but they also result in a lot of noise pollution. In fact, 30% of respondents admitted to using headphones at work primarily to cancel out background noise, while 46% said they used them to avoid conversation with colleagues.

    “Listening to music with headphones might help people keep focused and feeling like they have their own space in an open workplace,” says Piedmont. “It’s also really easy to have access to music these days—it’s usually right on your phone or right on your computer for free—and the easy access might also be a reason why we’re seeing more people listening more frequently throughout the day.”

    According to the study, 82.2% of respondents are permitted to listen to their personal music in the workplace using headphones. Of those listening to some form of audio in the workplace, roughly 42% listen throughout the entire day, 39.5% listen a couple of times a day, and about 19% listen a couple of times per week.

    Nostalgia drives listening habits 

    Music can help bring colleagues together, according to the study, but it can also push them apart. Roughly 26% of respondents judged their coworkers for their music preference, but 59% of employees and 65% of employers believe music helps them connect with their coworkers.

    The difference often comes down to nostalgia and association, according to Teresa Lesiuk, the director of the music therapy program at the University of Miami.

    “There’s what we call an ‘associative memory network,’ so if you have memories with a piece of music, that’s going to attach to memory nodes, to emotional nodes in the brain,” she says. “Music that creates associations is very powerful.”

    Lesiuk adds that perhaps the most popular genres in the workplace—such as classic rock, alternative, and pop—are actually just the most nostalgic.

    “The music from your 20s, when you’re very active and are having an identity formation taking place, that tends to be the most powerful to people,” she says. “It makes sense then that classic rock and alternative and maybe now hip-hop are popular, as the population gets older.”

    Silence is still golden

    Despite the trend toward more music at work, the best background noise for concentrating for important workplace tasks is silence, according to author and researcher Josh Davis.

    “In almost every circumstance where you’re trying to do knowledge work, where you need to be focused, you’re better off with silence,” he says.

    In Davis’s book, Two Awesome Hours, he explores ways to maximize the individual’s two most productive hours of the day, explaining that environmental factors like noise can have a significant impact on productivity.

    “For the stuff that is really going to move your career forward, the stuff that’s really going to make you successful, for that you really need to be at your best, so I would push for silence for your two awesome hours,” says Davis, who has contributed to Fast Company. “For the rest of the day, put on music that makes you feel most pleasant or productive, that makes it easier to get through the stuff that might be less pleasant but has to get done.”

    The right playlist for the right task

    When silence isn’t an option, however, both Davis and Lesiuk suggest trying to match the genre with the task at hand.

    “There’s certain kinds of creative work where it’s not about focused attention, but being creative in more of an artistic sense,” says Davis. “For that, having some background noise has been shown to free people up from constraints, precisely because they are a little distracted.”

    Lesiuk advises workers to consider several factors when choosing a playlist, including internal factors like mood, personality type, and personal preferences, as well as external variables like the nature of the task and the work environment.

    “Let’s say it’s a boring task, but you’re highly stressed when you approach it; you have to take care of that mood state first,” she says. “You could match the music to the state that you’re in first so that you can reflect into the music, and then you might want to slowly choose music that will bring that mood state toward being more relaxed.”

    Lesiuk’s research has also found that music can be effective in combating drowsiness and a generally negative affect, thus improving workplace performance.

    “Whatever the genre you choose, find something that is a bit more up-tempo, something that has a melody and rhythm that moves a lot, because those properties will make you more alert,” she says.


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    A while ago it may have seemed like a small whisper, but now it has coalesced into a multi-diaphragm-projected yell: Amazon workers want a union. In Europe, workers have been pushing for unionization for over year, and the tension has resulted in numerous protests and strikes. And in the United States, there have been isolated instances, including a recent unionization effort by Whole Foods workers. But now a new Amazon warehouse has announced plans to form a union, and it’s in an especially contentious location for Amazon.

    According to Bloomberg, a group of workers from a Staten Island warehouse have launched a unionization effort. This comes right after Amazon announced its plans to build one half of its new headquarters in New York City. While the company is trying to convince New Yorkers that its presence in Long Island City, Queens, will be a good thing, the warehouse employees in the other borough say they their working conditions are bad.

    The issues the workers are hoping to improve, writes Bloomberg, are “safety concerns, inadequate pay, and 12-hour shifts with insufficient breaks and unreasonable hourly quotas, after which they lose more of their day waiting unpaid in long lines for security checks.”

    Reached for comment, Amazon sent me a statement that pushed back against unionization, saying it prefers its “open-door policy,” despite years of news coverage about poor conditions at warehouses:

    “Amazon associates are the heart and soul of our operations, and we respect employees’ right to choose to join or not join a labor union. Amazon maintains an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team for discussion and resolution. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”

    The company has also been known to crack down on unionization drives. Last September, Gizmodo discovered a video the company showed its managers. The video trained them to look out for certain behaviors that may indicate possible organizing efforts. However, it seems these methods didn’t help Staten Island managers quell this current drive.

    Amazon’s ability to extract as much value from its workers as possible is why it has become the powerhouse it is today. And the company plans to continue in this vein as much as possible. We see this with the deals it struck with both New York and Virginia, in which Amazon saves billions of dollars in tax credits all in the name of building new offices. This growing unionization drive is one way workers are trying to demand not to be treated as mere cogs in Amazon’s ever-expanding system of domination.

    We’ll be keeping an eye out for any updates in this movement.


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    The new normal of climate change–from increases in flooding and hurricanes to intense wildfires–is already costing companies money. But a new study suggests that they’re underestimating future climate risk to their businesses, and vastly underreporting the financial implications to investors.

    “We found five key blind spots in companies’ understanding of climate risks,” says Allie Goldstein, a scientist at the nonprofit Conservation International and one of the authors of the study that appeared in Nature Climate Change, which combed through reports that more than 1,600 companies made to CDP, an organization that gathers data for institutional investors. “One was the magnitude of the financial implications.”

    Global estimates of the cost of climate change are in the trillions of dollars, she says, but the financial risk reported by all of the companies collectively was at least two orders of magnitude smaller. In part, that’s because some companies report risks without estimating the associated cost. And many companies may simply be underestimating the risk they face.

    That’s not to say that they’re fully unaware of the problem. A separate report out today from CDP gave some examples from companies with locations in the U.S. Real estate companies with holdings in Florida and Texas are concerned about hurricanes and sea level rise, and the risk that insurance payments won’t fully cover losses–or that insurers may choose to drop policies. Unilever sees the risk of drought impacting one of its factories in Arizona (and the supply of ice cream to the West Coast).  McDonald’s is thinking about how changing weather patterns will affect the farms growing its ingredients. Some companies have connected climate risk to their own need to cut emissions–like Ryder, the truck company, which suffered millions in damages during Hurricane Sandy and recently invested in a fleet of 1,000 electric vehicles.

    There are construction companies that are thinking about the risk of workers not being able to work in extreme heat waves. Airlines are thinking about planes not being able to fly, as happened in Phoenix last year when some midday flights were canceled as the temperature was forecast to hit 120 degrees. Globally, some companies are thinking about the risk of employees getting sick from an increase in mosquito-borne illnesses. And the list goes on.

    But the study found that companies were missing the full picture. Another study suggests that climate change could reduce average incomes by 23% by the end of the century; yet another study suggests that consumption of goods could drop as much as 20%. But most companies aren’t considering a possible loss of customers. Most of the risks that companies identified (and potential adaptation strategies) focused on direct impacts to their own operations, not what might happen in society at large, or even in their supply chains. They also tend to focus on the problems that are most obvious–such as extreme weather events that are already happening–rather than the risk of more radical, abrupt changes, like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and sudden sea level rise, or the dieback of the Amazon rainforest. For the risks that they are reporting, most companies haven’t reported the cost of those risks or the costs of adaptation. Even a single event can incur massive costs; when monsoons flooded Thailand in 2011, for example, Hewlett-Packard had to shut down a hard drive factory there and lost $4 billion.

    All of this means that it’s not possible for investors to truly understand which companies are most likely to survive. “The state of reporting to investors right now is not sufficient to essentially pick winners,” says Goldstein. That’s bad news for anyone with a retirement account. But some progress is happening, the researchers say. The Financial Stability Board, an international organization that monitors the financial system, set up a task force that developed guidelines for companies to report climate risks, and investors are beginning to promote those guidelines. “We are seeing companies that have acknowledged those [guidelines] are changing the way they report as a result,” she says. “So I think there’s definitely positive movement in that direction.”


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    Normally, Kanye West swinging by the Oval Office to pay a visit to Donald Trump would be headline news (and sure it was), but their meeting was completely upstaged by Kanye’s remarkably poor choice in passwords. That’s why he made the list of password manager Dashlane’s third annual “Worst Password Offenders.” 

    It’s easy to understand why people try to make passwords easy to remember–Dashlane found that the average internet user has more than 200 digital accounts that require passwords, and the company projects this figure to double to 400 in the next five years. Get yourself a password manager, stop using these terrible passwords, and try to avoid mistakes that will earn you a spot on this list:
    • 10. University of Cambridge: Someone left a plaintext password on GitHub of all places, allowing anyone to access the data of millions of people being studied by the university’s researchers via a Facebook quiz app. (NB: Don’t take Facebook quizzes; it rarely ends well.)
    • 9. United Nations: U.N. staff forgot to password protect their Trello, Jira, and Google Docs documents, leaving their internal data and international development plans open to anyone with the link.
    • 8. Google: An engineering student gained access to a Google TV broadcast satellite, but you can’t even call what the did as “hacking” per se because he simply logged in to the Google admin page with a blank username and password.
    • 7. White House staff: Some White House staffer wrote his email login and password on official White House stationery and then left it at a Washington, D.C., bus stop.
    • 6. Texas: The Lone Star State left over 14 million voter records exposed on a server that wasn’t password protected, leaving 77% of the state’s registered voters, including addresses and voter history unprotected.
    • 5. U.K. law firms: Researchers in the United Kingdom found over one million corporate email and password combinations from 500 of the country’s top law firms available on the dark web, some stored in plaintext.
    • 4. Nutella: Nutella decided it would be fun to convince its Twitter followers to use “Nutella” as their password as a way to celebrate World Password Day.
    • 3. Cryptocurrency owners: Poor cryptocurrency owners couldn’t access their potential newfound wealth because none of them could remember the passwords to their digital wallets. Did they try “Nutella”?
    • 2. The Pentagon: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that they were able to guess Pentagon passwords in just nine seconds. That wasn’t even the most alarming part–they also discovered that multiple weapons systems were protected by default passwords that any member of the public could have found through a basic Google search.
    • 1. Kanye West: If you’re going to have your iPhone passcode set to “000000” don’t show it off in front of a room full of TV cameras broadcasting around the globe.

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    New York bent over backwards to score one of the two next locations of Amazon HQ, offering $3 billion in subsidies to make the deal happen. Yet nothing encapsulates just how much the state gave away than what it did to its own logo. Because in the first pages of its submission to Amazon, the city replaced the famous “I love NY” logo with “I Amazon NY.”

    The Amazon arrow-smile took place of the heart. Or, perhaps, it skewered it.

    [Images: State of New York (left), Milton Glaser (right)]
    Celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser created the original logo in 1977 to boost tourism in the state. It has since become one of the most recognizable icons of New York City itself. No officials reached out to Glaser for the Amazon adaptation, his office tells us. Given that the state owns the mark, it’s not legally necessary.

    “Outside of copyrighting everything you do, there is almost no way of protecting your work from being imitated,” said Glaser in a statement on the matter–before throwing a bit of shade in a way that only an icon of iconography can. “In this particular case, the Amazon logo is not very harmonious with the rest of the logo.” Glaser takes on limited projects at this point in his career, and his team implied to Fast Company that this probably would have been a pass if he had been asked. One thing is clear: Amazon is coming for New York, and life will never be the same.


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    Delta Air Lines has a brand new “simple” way for passengers to board its planes and it will finally give travelers a chance to use the algebra they learned in middle school. Starting January 23, 2019, passengers on Delta will be divided into eight distinct boarding groups, requiring passengers to remember their aisle, seat, priority, cabin, and color scheme, the airline announced today.

    [Photo: courtesy of Delta]
    Groups one through three are for people who can pony up for premium classes, including first class, business, and premium economy (Delta Comfort +, the choice for thousandaires everywhere!). Group four will collect any remaining priority passengers, including silver medallion, credit card holders, and other Sky Priority types, while lowly passengers in the main cabin are spread out through groups five through seven. Basic Economy schlubs will be stuck in boarding group eight.

    Believe it or not, this is all less complex than American Airlines, which has nine boarding zones, and United Airlines, which only boards with five zones but, after an update to its boarding areas, now loads those five zones through two lanes (ugh, math).

    According to Australia’s ABC, passenger boarding delays cost U.S. airlines almost $40 billion each year, so it makes sense that they would want to speed it up while still making the high-paying customers feel special. (Delta’s chief marketing officer made a statement explaining that the new system is partially to give the people what they pay for. )

    Despite the new-fangled boarding hokey-pokey, studies have shown that so-called block boarding (the method currently used) is actually the slowest way to board a plane. The fastest method, according to an astrophysicist named Jason Steffen, is a complex system of boarding based on alternating rows by seat type (window, aisle, middle). Steffen used an optimization algorithm and a computer simulation to devise the method and found that his scheme cut passenger boarding time by three quarters, despite its complexity. In Steffen’s experiments, it took less than half the time of block boarding.

    In effect, it’s hard to see how Delta’s new system will counter the boarding chaos.


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    I really, really, really want to live in OHIO.

    And in about five minutes, I bet you’ll want to join me.

    OHIO is a magical land where emails rarely linger in your inbox, mail doesn’t pile up on that corner of your kitchen table, and you don’t have that nagging voice in your head that says don’t forget to text your friend about dinner on Saturday. OHIO is a land of efficiency, of feeling in control of your actions and having a clear head.

    In OHIO, you Only Handle It Once.

    Sounds great? Luckily, you don’t have to shove your all your worldly possessions in a U-Haul and drive to Dayton to get there.

    OHIO is a productivity tactic that, when used correctly, can change your life.

    In short, the goal is to only handle things once. Read an email? Respond right away. Grab your pile of junk mail? Go through and toss or keep things, right then and there. See a text requiring a response? Hit back your friend with a string of emojis.

    No delaying, no dithering, no overthinking.

    The idea, which was outlined by an MIT efficiency expert in Extreme Productivity, a book seemingly made for my nightstand, can help you manage your workload. Because if you put off answering that email, you might believe you’re not thinking about it, but let’s be real: Knowing that you need to respond is always there, just bubbling under the surface. And putting it off can lead to a heavy load of guilt, which just makes it even harder to start.

    That’s where OHIO can help. As Alicia Adamczyk writes for Lifehacker: “When you need to do something–from the mundane, like answering an email, to the more exciting, like writing your memoir–the best course of action is always to just do it. As soon as you think of the idea, as soon as the email lands in your inbox–just take care of it, then and there. Then it won’t be weighing on your mind.”

    Research bears this out. Studies suggest that multitasking is actually less productive than completing one task at a time. One study at Stanford University also showed that heavy multitaskers who love juggling a million things at once are actually worse at completing tasks than those with a slow-and-steady consistent pace.

    So when you feel like you’re conquering the world because you’re chugging coffee with one hand, answering texts with another, all while speed-walking into work? You might be doing more harm than good.

    That’s why OHIO works so well. It’s not asking you to try a million things. It’s simply asking you to micro-focus. Do one task quickly. Pause. Quickly do another task. Repeat. And move on.

    How to OHIO on the Reg

    So, because I am my own best personal guinea pig, I gave this tip a try–and OHIO really works.

    When I get emails that I think warrant a long, thoughtful response, I will let them sit for what I think will be an hour. But three days later, they’re still staring at me. (All right, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s three months.)

    But one day, I decided before doing the ol’ “click-and-let-it-sit,” I asked myself, “How long will this actually take to respond?” The answer was about two minutes. (You can write a lot in two minutes.) So I type up my reply—and moved on—it took me two minutes, and saved me 24 hours of guilt for putting it off.

    Then, as text messages rolled in throughout the day, I responded right after I read them. Yes, I want to go on a run with you tomorrow a.m.! Yes, that’s a good musical—you should go see it! Yes, friend, you’re doing a great job prioritizing your life.

    What I started to notice: Knocking out these little tasks made my to-do list load feel so much lighter. Putting off little tasks adds up—it’s like having 47 tabs open in your browser at all times. By the way, OHIO works for all those open tabs, too. If you open up a really great article—read it, then and there.

    When You can’t OHIO right way

    Sometimes, of course, you won’t be able to finish everything ASAP.

    When that happens, Bob Pozen, the author of Extreme Productivity, says to put a reminder on your calendar to respond to a specific request in the future. This way you’re giving yourself a deadline, and you don’t have to worry about when/where it’ll get done.

    But do this sparingly! And only for tasks that you truly can’t OHIO. If you’re avoiding a task, try to identify the root cause. Are you nervous? Do you need more information? Do you need more advice? Dig down into it, and you’ll feel more prepared for tackling even the stickiest tasks.

    And I can’t wait to hang out with you in the land of OHIO.


    This piece originally appeared on Shine and is reprinted with permission. You can download the app here and join 2 million+ people who start their day with Shine’s morning pep talk. 

    More from Shine:


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    Puma’s RS-Computer shoes, originally released in 1986, were way ahead of their time. For the first time, a pair of running shoes could track your steps, distance, calories burned, and running time electronically, just like your phone or smart watch does today. Now, the German sports company is re-releasing the rare sneakers for the dorks of today. I say dorks because–well, just take a look at this news report from CES 1986.

    I mean, look at them! I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Gates had a pair in 1986–nor if Zuck buys a pair when they’re re-released on December 16. But I digress.

    [Photo: Puma]

    The two versions of the shoe are visually identical, and the new release still tracks all the same metrics. The only real difference is that those metrics are much more precise than the original shoes thanks to a modern 3-axis accelerometer that replaces the old rudimentary chip of the original. The big plastic heel attachment–which was so big because it needed to house a big circuit board and regular batteries–now includes a USB port for charging an internal lithium-polymer battery, along with plenty of memory to record all your information and LEDs that indicate the shoe’s status.

    [Photo: Puma]

    Likewise, instead of using a 16-pin serial cable to upload this information to a text-based program running on an Apple IIe or a Commodore 64, the new RS-Computer shoes use Bluetooth. Once paired with your phone, the shoe will transmit the running data to an app that looks pretty much like the original text-based software that people used back in the day.

    If you want a pair, get ready: Only 86 units will be released on December 16 in Puma stores in Berlin, Tokyo, and London–for an undisclosed price.


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    Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison today after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and lying to Congress.

    In federal court in Manhattan, U.S. Judge William Pauley said Cohen essentially admitted to a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,” according to CNBC.

    Federal prosecutors last week argued for substantial jail time for Cohen, who is accused of paying hush money to two women who say they’d had affairs with the president. Court documents allege that Cohen acted at the direction of Trump, who was a candidate for president at the time.

    In the courtroom today, Cohen himself implied as much–citing “blind loyalty” to Trump for his actions, and claiming to have been led down a “path of darkness instead of light.”

    Cohen is due to begin his sentence on March 6. Twitter insults from the president are likely to come much sooner.

    Read more about Cohen’s sentencing here and here.


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    Welcome to the season of buying people junk they probably don’t want or need. While the spirit of giving is commendable, it often means people just buy the first thing at hand, giving gifts that are quickly relegated to the back of a closet or the bottom of a trash can.

    Erik Marks, the founder of nonprofit TisBest Philanthropy, recognized the problem decades ago while attending Harvard Law School. In 2007, after working as a transactional real estate lawyer and founding a construction waste recycling company, he realized technology had advanced to the point of a solution.

    TisBest sells universally accepted charity gift cards online. Each offering is customizable by amount and appearance–you can add a family photo, say, or perhaps a corporate logo–and delivered on one of three ways: email, printable format, or an actual plastic card that ships the same day it’s ordered.

    “The story I always say when people were coming across the prairie and you gave someone a wooden spoon, it made a lot of sense,” says Marks. “When you’re talking about, like, Menlo Park and you give someone a wooden spoon for their kitchen, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense and yet we continue to do it.”

    [Image: courtesy TisBest]

    Since launching in 2007, TisBest has been persuading more people to chose a socially good alternative. Last year, the company channeled an estimated $2.3 million to different charities. Total sales volume is expected to growing another 20% this year.

    On TisBest’s site, gift recipients can learn about and choose from more than 300 partner charities (or search for any of the 1.5 million listed in IRS filings). The idea is that if your brother likes cats, he can surf around to find the right feline-saving service. If your sister loves the outdoors, there’s probably an environmentally friendly effort that matches.

    But while Marks first envisioned TisBest as a person-to-person alternative, more than 65% of sales are corporate. Businesses distribute branded cards to their customers, suppliers, or employees, who can then choose where to spend them. The average value per card sold is just under $50.

    During its first year, the company sold fabric cards in stores. Recipients had to go online and punch in a code to redeem them, in part to avoid violating an early patent around charitable deliveries via the internet. When that standard relaxed, its approach evolved, along with cost-efficiencies.

    Historically, the service has been free to charities but charged donors 3% of each transaction, plus $1.99 to cover credit card fees and basic operations. That changed in November, when TisBest shifted to a totally free model. It can now give 100% of each donation to whatever charity the recipient selects by applying breakage–the industry term for outdated, unredeemed donations–to any outstanding costs.

    Personal donations have far less breakage than corporate ones. And the customized plastic cards are typically spent more often compared to email-based deliveries. Marks calls the effort a “gift solution” as opposed to a new fundraising tool for charities. “We compete with things like bottles of wine, boxes of chocolate, hundred dollar bills, so we’re not a way for charities to raise money. We’re a way for people to give a more meaningful, a more connected gift, and we would say a better gift.”

    Because that’s the other holiday irony: No one really needs more stuff, but that doesn’t mean they’re not comparing who gives what.


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    The Camp Fire–the deadliest, most destructive wildlife in California history–started around 6:30 a.m. on the morning of November 8. By 8 a.m., it reached Paradise. By the afternoon, as the fire raged, the smoke reached cities like San Leandro, nearly 200 miles away. As the air filled with smoke, two Google Street View cars drove around the East Bay, using air quality sensors to map the pollution.

    The level of smoke sometimes varied dramatically even in the same neighborhood or on the same road. On the first day, one car recorded a jump in air pollution as it crossed the Bay Bridge. On the second day, as a car drove back and forth in the city of Richmond, it captured data showing concentrations of PM 2.5–tiny particles of pollution–that were twice as high in one area as a location just down the street. “In a space of two to three blocks, you’re in significantly dirtier air,” says Melissa Lunden, chief scientist at Aclima, the startup that designed the air quality platform now used in certain Street View cars.

    [Image: Aclima/Google]

    By the next week, the smoke had covered the entire Bay Area. One car drove to the top of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay; once it reached a certain elevation, the pollution reading suddenly dropped. “You can see a line at which the air above is relatively clean, and below it, you’re in the soup,” says Lunden. In 2017, when another catastrophic fire burned in Santa Rosa, the cars gathered similar data about the smoke drifting down to the East Bay.

    The cars typically measure everyday smog; the high-quality sensors gather data as cars cover cities, helping build a far more detailed picture of pollution than the current handful of official, stationary sensors. Even on a typical day, pollution is hyperlocal. In one past study, the cars found that one end of a block was five to eight times more polluted than the other end.

    In an event like a wildfire, the data from the cars could potentially be used to build models of how plumes of smoke travel through the area to help better prepare for future disasters. “If you could get more sophisticated models of how smoke starts to move around in areas, you could really put out location-specific alerts with that modeling compared with other types of measurements,” Lunden says. “It’s clear that we’re just going to continue to have fires now, unfortunately. So the driving helps support neighborhood-focused data.”


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    For the fourth year in a row, Fast Company is highlighting some of the best holiday ads we’ve seen this season. So far, 2018 is awash with memorable commercials, from the clever to the hilarious to the heartwarming. But as is our tradition, instead of telling you why an ad worked, we spoke to the creatives behind the spots to hear how their ads of this festive season came together.

    “#NotARetailStore”–Twitter U.K.

    Joe Mackay-Sinclair, founder and executive creative director, The Romans.

    Every Christmas, the U.K. collectively waits with bated breath for the John Lewis spot, and subsequently races to Twitter to analyze, deconstruct, and answer the question, “But was it better than last year’s?” A significant proportion of these ad-related tweets (as well as others about washing machine warranties and store opening hours) are erroneously aimed at @JohnLewis, a technology lecturer in Virginia, and definitely not a retail store. Nevertheless, every year, John Lewis (the man) patiently and humorously responds to the tweets he receives, which are intended for his retailer namesake, an act that has over the years attracted a fair bit of media attention along the lines of, what a stand-up guy this John Lewis is.

    So we thought, what if for once John Lewis (still the man) got to star in his own ad? And in doing so, we not only reward a cool guy who does a cool thing every year, but also remind the U.K. that Twitter is a place where anyone can join a conversation and share in some seasonal humor.

    So, we slid into John’s DMs, flew to Virginia, and shot the most meta ad of the year: an ad about John Lewis, parodying John Lewis ads, starring a guy called John Lewis, designed to jump on the conversation already going on in the U.K. about the other John Lewis ad. The result: millions of views and encyclopedic volumes of media coverage across the U.K. and beyond. Thankfully, the ad trended on Twitter–it would have been a bit embarrassing if it hadn’t–and, for the first time ever, people were able to legitimately tweet their congratulations to @JohnLewis about his new ad.

    “Reindeer Games”—Microsoft

    David Banta and Shayne Millington, executive creative directors EVP, m:united//McCann New York

    In gaming, when a player is about to reach a new level or beat a high score, there is an emotion and tension that is real, memorable, and universal. Anyone who has ever been that close to beating a game—or has watched their child come close–can relate to that feeling. This story is about that moment.

    The hero could have been anyone: boy, girl, man, woman, young, old. It doesn’t matter. Because the game is the same for everyone. We wanted the viewer to get caught up in the emotion, not the physical ability of the player. The skill to beat the game comes from the player’s passion, not his or her size or speed. The desire to win is the same for everyone.

    The fact that Owen is specially abled and is playing with a new piece of technology from Microsoft is secondary. We wanted to downplay it, almost ignore it. Because the world of video games is one where everyone can be equal, and with the adaptive controller, the field is even more level. This is not a story about a specially abled kid who deserves our sympathy. It’s the story of Owen and his friends, and that epic day he crushed the game, proving, “When everybody plays, we all win.”

    “The Magic of Christmas”—Currys PC World

    Jack Smedley and George Hackforth-Jones, creatives, AMVBBDO

    Dickensian Britain was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The best because they witnessed the very birth of Christmas [as we know it] and yet, the worst because they had nowhere to plug in a 4K OLED LG TV.

    Festive traditions haven’t changed much since Victorian times, so we thought it was about time they got an update. As the home of all things technological, who better than Currys PC World to bring outdated Christmas cheer from the lamp-lit age of Dickens bleeping and whirring into the 21st century?

    We had ourselves a merry old time sprinkling festive favorites like chestnuts, carols, and mistletoe with a generous dusting of consumer electronics. The street where Christmases modern and traditional collide turned out to be a fun place to be–of course, for everyone but Scrooge.

    “We have to see more of each other”—Ruavieja

    Juan García-Escudero, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett Madrid

    We wanted to try to convince people to spend more time with their loved ones, but we realized that’s easy to do. The hard part is getting them to really change their behavior. That’s when we knew we had to create something different, more than a campaign—an eye-opener–to wake people up to a reality that they hadn’t even realized existed, so that they can become more aware of it and begin to do something about it.

    The true heart of the campaign lies in the tool we created: an algorithm that can calculate how much time we have left to spend with the people who we care about most. No speculation, just hard, cold data with a clear purpose to make you rethink your priorities.

    The beauty of it is that it has worked in a way we never imagined. It has become the most watched and shared Spanish ad in history, and inspired people to get together for real. A constant flood of grateful messages and pictures of reunions arrives to the Ruavieja team every day, and that’s the best proof that we’ve done something worth doing.

    “Santa Crashes Christmas”—ALDI Australia

    Alex Derwin, executive creative director, BMF Sydney Australia

    “The more the merrier” is an idea that we’ve been working to for a couple of years now. It embodies the inclusivity of an Aussie Christmas where anyone and everyone can drop by night or day. It positions ALDI between that Aussie generosity of spirit and the reality of not blowing your budget sky-high. This year’s ad takes the idea to the heart of Australia and its rural community. Santa crashes his sleigh in Outback Australia and is welcomed with open arms. It’s the contrast between this outsized festive figure and a gritty, hardworking rural community that gives the ad its interest value.

    The idea of Santa being stranded in an Outback town seemed so universal and likable, it was too good to pass up. It’s blazing hot down here in December, so the image of an oversized man with a thick beard and a woolly red suit sweating it out in an Outback town gave us all the encouragement we needed to turn it into a campaign. One of my favorite Aussie films is the original Wake in Fright, which is a dark take on small Outback towns. Our story is the opposite of that film—in our Outback community, the locals are friendly, the hospitality is warm, the local pub serves milk, and our community wants to help our hero on his way instead of trapping him.

    From script to production, it was one of those projects that got better and better with every iteration. Director Hamish Rothwell has worked on the last two ALDI Christmas ads, and he has again added nuance to the characters and an honest beauty to the environments. One of the reasons it works is because Hamish has successfully played the gray area between reality and fiction. The word authenticity gets bandied around a lot in advertising, but it’s definitely something we were striving for. Our Santa had to be believable–you had to feel for him, and care if he got his present delivery back on track. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about the ad’s success is how it’s been received by rural Australia. The farming community here has been having a tough time–they’ve been through a record drought, with rainfall at all-time lows. This ad celebrates the hardworking, easygoing hospitality of Australians, and Australia seems to have embraced it.

    “The Heathrow Bears Return”—Heathrow Airport

    Modupe Adeboye, marketing communications lead, Heathrow Airport (Havas London)

    The nation’s love for the Heathrow bears Doris and Edward has been overwhelming since we first met them in 2016. This year, set to Paul Young’s emotive ’80s classic, “Every Time You Go Away,” the bears rush themselves back toward the British twilight, arriving into Heathrow–the same location their eyes met and their love story began 50 years ago.

    For many people, being close to the ones they love is what really makes Christmas special. This is why we see the bears return to their family from warmer climes, as many of Heathrow’s passengers make similar journeys home for the festive season.

    “A Dog is For Life, Not Just for Christmas®”—Dogs Trust

    Peter Larkin, creative director, Nice and Serious

    In such a crowded Christmas marketing space, we really wanted to create something unexpected for Dogs Trust this year that would allow them to stand out from the crowd.

    A key part of the process was getting the brief just right. Our first couple of attempts led to ideas that were either too celebratory of dogs, which might have had the opposite effect of making people actually want to gift a dog, or too sad—which just isn’t the right tone for the Dogs Trust brand.

    After spending some time focusing the brief with the client, the idea appeared from one of our creatives. Quite simply, It’s just ridiculous to think about treating an animal as a present—wrapping it up would be madness. So, what if we showed people treating their regular Christmas presents like dogs? The result was a brilliantly simple idea that connects a bit of festive fun with a very real, and serious, Christmas message.

    “The Never-ending Stocking”—TK Maxx

    Hollie Walker, creative director, Wieden+Kennedy London

    TK Maxx isn’t quite like any other shop, especially at Christmas. You never know what you’re going to find in there, and you always get more than you bargained for, which is why giving shoppers the chance to get their mitts on a never-ending stocking and get Christmas presents for a whole year felt spot on for TK Maxx.

    It’s a campaign with an in-store activation at its heart and its own set of Christmas feels. While other ads tend to get all sentimental, we always try to do something a bit different that’ll stand out among all the Christmas merriment, and a never-ending stocking burping out loads of brilliant gifts felt like it would do the job.

    “KFC Crossroads”—KFC

    Hermeti Balarin, partner, Mother London

    KFC Crossroads is funny, irreverent, surprising, and provocative at a time of year when ads are usually none of those things. Most Christmas campaigns are completely generic: Christmas is a time to share, to come together, blah blah blah . . . almost any brand in the world could say something similar, and indeed most of them do. Then you have to get into an arms race on media budget or celebrity sparkle to make any impact. So, for KFC to stand out, we had to do the unexpected.

    And that wasn’t the only tradition we wanted to steer clear of. Once a year, millions of us sit down to eat our Christmas Turkey. But it’s dry. It’s boring. Most people don’t like it. And we spend the other 364 days of the year resolutely not eating it. In contrast, people love fried chicken (remember when there was an unfortunate shortage of chicken [in the U.K.], when people called the police demanding the crisis be resolved?). So we brought back our strutting chicken to remind everyone that while turkey may get its 24 hours on December 25, for every other day of the year, there’s finger-lickin’ good chicken.

    Going for humor instead of people’s heartstrings meant we stood out from the crowd and got lots of laughs, especially from our fans on social media. When people watch it, there’s an a-ha! moment of acknowledgment–when you really think about it, everyone only eats turkey because of some strange festive obligation.

    [Note: Mother London was also the ad agency behind this year’s most heartbreaking ad, “Rang-Tan.”]

    “Bouygues Christmas”—Bouygues Telecom

    Stéphane Xiberras, president and chief creative officer, BETC Paris

    It is always funny the way some ads find great successes and become super popular. We can try all we want to understand and find the perfect recipe for the perfect holiday ad, but unfortunately, it is rather tricky to pin down. In the case of Bouygues, I immediately fell in love with the script that I found simple and fair in regards to the product. I also liked the idea of remembering the time when we were all mad about our Startacs and proudly programmed our favorite tunes for ringtones. That was the future, right there in our pockets!

    However, there were four essential ingredients that were key to the success of this particular little comedy: the director (thank you so much, Martin Werner!), the casting of the dad (and the way that his aging doesn’t get too cheesy), the music, and the dancing. Mentioning the music, I’ll admit we were a bit lost to begin with. Music is so subjective, it is hard to be rational. Some of us wanted a rock anthem, others a pop hit from the time, but I just thought, no, this is a film with a tiny, quirky dance move, we need something groovy that stays away from the old ’80s hits. In short, we struggled to find the right match. And then one day, the creative team said they thought they had it. I listened and just thought, “These guys are too good, it is spot on.” It was the perfect mood, and given that I’m a huge Marvel fan (RIP, Stan), it didn’t take much convincing to go for this little wink to the Guardians of the Galaxy and its legendary intro scene.

    Sure, some might say, “Alright, it’s a family story: You added a Christmas tree and some good music. That’s it, then—the recipe for the perfect holiday ad.” Yes, but no. Look at the first scene, the actor in his shorts, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, his plump little legs doing the silly dance: That’s also the secret of the film. Like in all good ads, the first seconds decide if you’re going to “buy” the story or not.


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    What:“6 DIY photography gifts to make at home”

    Who: COOPH, the Cooperative of Photography.

    Why we care: The expression, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer” was once a go-to barbed retort for catching someone staring at you. Now that everybody has a camera in their pockets at all times, it just sounds like a regular old invitation, and so it may backfire as originally intended. However, when it comes to gift giving, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer” is actually great advice.

    The Cooperative of Photography, who have provided all kinds of amazing photo hacks in the past, have just released a video touting six ideas for DIY photography gifts, and instructions on how to make them. Imagine the look on your boyfriend’s face when you give him a wine glass with a photo of your face on the bottom. (Don’t just imagine it, make it happen–it looks shockingly easy.) The Christmas ornament and Lego sets look slightly more complicated but doable, and all of these ideas seem like they’ll be more memorable than the Amazon gift card you are at this moment contemplating buying for someone.

    Have a look at all of the tips below.


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