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‘I look in unexpected places for inspiration’ – BBDO New York’s Simon Mogren on life as a creative technologist


By Katie McQuater | Magazine Editor

December 30, 2014 | 5 min read

It’s a job title that has been popping up more and more of late and is now a key role at some of the world’s best creative agencies, but just what inspires creative technologists? Simon Mogren of BBDO New York tells us what makes him tick.

Creative technologists are responsible for all kinds of weird and wonderful inventions to fuse the best of creativity and technology, so The Drum caught up with a few of them to find out what's on their desk, what inspires them and what's getting them wired up for the year ahead.

We've already heard from Dare's Charlie Perrins, Kumi Tominaga and Joe Wolff of R/GA New York and Scott Ross at DigitasLBi. Now we catch up with Simon Mogren, director of design, experience and innovation, BBDO New York.

What does each item on your desk mean and what role does it play in your average day?

I like to keep my desk clean. Creative people can be messy, but to enable me to focus and feel calm, I need a clear and organised surface. Maybe it helps organise my messy thinking!

On my desk is, of course, my laptop – the one thing that is always there. My role is a hybrid of design, technology and user experience, so I use my laptop all the time for research, design, prototyping and everything in-between. And as head of the design and innovation department, I do my fair share of emailing.

Everything else on my desk can change. At the moment I have my new Nexus 6. I love Google and material design. I spend too much time customizing interfaces or researching small design features and interface animations. The phone is huge, but once you go to a big screen, it’s hard to go back.

Right now, I also have a couple of Google Cardboards on my desk. I love it when 'exclusive' technology becomes available and accessible to everyone. Sure, you can get a Oculus or a Gear VR, but a piece of cardboard and a Android phone is accessible to everyone. In my opinion, the best idea are created when end-user can play around around with the technology. Otherwise, you easily end up with tech solutions for tech people.

What are you inspired by outside of the office?

All the amazing stuff that happens outside of the advertising industry. Design, art, music, engineering, product development, architecture... I look in unexpected places for inspiration. Even visiting my kid’s pre-school opens my eyes to new ideas.

Do you or does anyone else you work with have any rituals or cures for creative block?

I always try to move away from my comfort zone and my physical space. I walk around. Sometimes just around the office to talk to people, show them what I'm struggling with and get their feedback. Other times, I put my work in a public space and see how people react to it. Try it – you’ll get a lot of feedback and insights. The best feedback often comes from people that are not your direct peers, that don't do what you do every day – the receptionist, the door man or my teenage daughter (she actually taught me more about mobile user behavior than any conference, hack-a-thon or article).

What's the main challenge of operating at the intersection of creativity and technology?

I sometimes get split between functionality and design. It needs to look great, but sometimes at the expense of the functionality. The best feeling is when they both come together in an immersive experience. But to be honest, I wouldn't separate technology from creativity. Creativity is not a profession, department or something exclusive to certain people. I believe that anyone can be creative and that creativity is a way to view and analyse things and solve problems. Actually the best way.

What technology / creative developments have excited you the most in the last year and what fires you up about the year ahead?

I started my career working for Jesper Kouthoofd when he was at ACNE. Now he runs Teenage Engineering and everything they do makes me excited. Technology, experience and design in a beautiful mix. They have got some interesting projects happening.

But right now, I'm excited by the possibilities of virtual reality in a broader sense; how to apply great storytelling and make an immersive experience, not just for effects. It needs to be relevant and add value. I also get excited by connected systems and seamless experiences. Google, Apple, IBM and GE are doing some great work in that field.

It will also be interesting to see what comes out of the wearable scene. And now that Apple is getting more involved, it will undoubtably be more 'public'. I hope that we will see more innovative (and relevant) solutions for wearable technology in the year to come.

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