The Egotist Briefs: Albert Poon, Executive Design Director at Odopod

By Egotist / /

Our Egotist Briefs series continues. Today we’re talking with Albert Poon, Executive Design Director at Odopod. Albert talks about Odopod’s history, their work for clients like Tesla, and the best way to immerse a consumer in your brand.
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Odopod has undergone several transformations over the past few years – from Odopod to Nurun. How have these changes affected what Odopod is today?

The transformations are probably more an evolution than anything else. We are still very much the same people — passionate about great work and doing the very best for our clients — but we are doing more and more varied things and adapting our processes to do them.

At the end of the day, the thing that we do best for our clients is to help them think through their creative challenges. Whether it is an end-user communication challenge or a product design challenge or a long-term product strategy problem, we help our clients to understand the transforming business landscape in which they operate, and figure out ways to apply digital technology in a way that gives them new capabilities or competitive advantages.

Odopod has done work for some really forward-thinking companies like Tesla and Sony. What do you guys look for when it comes to new client opportunities?

The projects that excite us the most are the ones where the answer to a client’s challenge isn’t obvious, when it hasn’t already been done hundreds of times before. So much has changed in the past few years and we’re seeing more and more unique design problems. It’s fun because it stretches us to think, and to ask questions and collaborate with our clients to design new kinds of solutions.

The work with did in the Tesla Store was a brand new way to present and sell cars. It’s a completely different model for a customer’s experience — learning about the product, buying the product — that demanded different kinds of solutions. In this case, it was a fully integrated digital experience in a retail space that presents information about a completely new kind of car.

We’ve done many projects with Sony over the years, and one of the things we love most is helping them define new kinds of experiences for new products. For example, we worked with them to help define the Playstation 4 user interface and the product interface for Playstation Vue, a whole new way to buy and watch television on the console and mobile devices. I think we provide the greatest value and we’re the most excited about solving these new classes of design challenges.

When it comes to fully immersing a consumer, what are most brands missing or not thinking about?

What’s not a mystery is how the smartphone has taken over the world. There are billions of units globally in use and it’s completely transformed how people interact with digital experiences, how they communicate with each other, and how they interact with the world in general. The expectation is that people can find, interact and get what they want any time from the personal supercomputer in their pocket or purse.

What that means is there’s opportunity to engage, connect with your prospects, customers and users anytime, everywhere. The opportunity is there, but how do brands pay that off? How do brands make it worth it for users to think of them in that way? So that they think of brands as useful and relevant more often where they are? That’s huge. And it’s nowhere near obvious how different brands should do that.

And which brands do you think are doing the best job of that?

If you are thinking about brands marketing to consumers, there are always going to be limits to that. There is only so much marketing consumers are going to accept whether they like your brand or not.

But, if you are thinking about brands providing ongoing value to consumers, the sky’s the limit. Consumers will look for ways to connect to brands, and an experience that gives them value. That sounds kind of obvious, but many brands haven’t figured out how they can provide that. Many brands are really thought of in very limited ways and they haven’t convinced consumers to expand their perceptions.

For consumer goods, it’s tough. I think Nike has done a great job not just selling you shoes and athletic gear, but also really engaging their customers in lifestyle content and activities. It’s marketing, sure, but there is also utility to tracking one’s runs and workouts. Their competitors — think Under Armor and MyFitness Pal — are definitely close on their heels.

For companies with deep customer service aspects of their business — health care, financial services, commerce — it’s a little easier to see what kind of value they can provide in this new world. The trick is delivering and maintaining a great experience that meets and builds on their brand’s reputation. I think Kaiser Permanente, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Intuit TurboTax, Amazon, Instacart, and Starbucks all have done much to engage customers more often and in more valuable ways — offloading customer services costs and increasing incremental sales — through mobile technology.

Content, media and publishing companies are, of course, delivering more online, more on-demand, more in a purely digital format. That enables them to sell different kinds of services and deliver them a new ways. Netflix, MLB Advanced Media, HBO, YouTube are all leaders in their spaces and are riding this new wave of ubiquitous personal computing to increase their customers engagement — getting them to consume more, more often, and all sorts of new contexts.

What recent idea makes you say, “Damn, I wish I’d done that.”?

I don’t know if there is any campaign or product design that I am envious. However, there are a few magical little things that haven’t gotten old for me and that always inspire a little wonder.

Purchasing in an Apple Store from the Apple Store app is always a little magical. Who doesn’t sometimes need to pick up another Lightning cable or a spare set of headphones? In these cases, it’s just so cool to cut out an entire step of the shopping experience. The app knows when you’re in an Apple Store and it turns on the bar code scanner feature, you scan the product, hit Apple Pay, and you walk out! So simple for the customer, yet deceptively complicated to pull off. Love that.

Also, Apple’s Wallet (Passbook) is also a little magical. I always buy my movie tickets on Fandango in advance, walk up to the theater door, flash my QR code ticket and boom. I’m in. Now if I could only pre-order popcorn, my experience would be complete!

Same with tickets to AT&T Park, home of my San Francisco Giants. Forgot my tickets? Want to sell or give away my tickets? With “Add to Wallet,” I never need to worry about paper. Again cutting out a step always feels like a little magic.

These kinds of experiences point to the kinds of convenience and utility that consumer actually love. Now these examples may not be super widespread, but they speak to a future where more and more of what people do and what people will expect is easier, more convenient, more valuable to them. Our jobs as designers to define and deliver these little moments of magic.

If you were the client, what’s the first thing you’d tell your agency before they started work for you?

I think the thing we’d love to hear more is not just the requirements for our project, but the business goals and rationale for the project. We really want to hear and understand what our clients are trying to achieve in the short-term and long-term so that we can execute the project with those critical factors in mind or we can offer ideas and perspectives about the different ways we can achieve their goals, which may or may not be the project and requirements that are in front of us.

We’re big supporters of the 3% Conference and promoting the achievements of women in advertising. But is the industry really making progress? And what more needs to be done?

At Odopod, we really believe that women and minorities offer a valuable perspective to every thing we do and all the work we deliver to our clients. I know that many agencies, including ourselves, rely on favorable word of mouth referrals and friends of friends to build their teams. This remains a valuable and reliable way to meet and hire great talent.

But, for an industry that isn’t quite there in terms of balanced representation, this approach alone can’t get us all the way there. We need to expand the different ways we find, vet and hire. I feel we all need to be much more proactive in recruiting from schools, reaching out to the local communities, making more connections and being more intentional to put ourselves in places where we just don’t meet the same people or the same kind of people.

For busy agencies, this sounds like new work. And it is. But, if we are genuinely committed to making a change in who participates, who leads, who can contribute to our work, we need to put in the extra effort. Otherwise, it’s just lip service.

Give us 3 tips that every design professional should hear.

1. Expand your perspectives
To create original and resonant concepts, you need diverse and unique inspirations. Meet new people. Get out of the office. Do fun things that are totally unrelated to design. Have hobbies. Have quirky personal passions. And then when called upon, bring all that weird uniqueness in. You can’t grow as a creative person unless you have continuous, inspiring and unexpected stimulus. Seek it out. Love your life, get out of the office.

2. Stay up to date with tech
How people see content, engage with brands, and consume services is dependent on technology. You may not be the neighborhood nerd, but you still need to know how these magical piece of silicon and glass work. Smartphone tech and software, cloud applications, Internet of Things are all developments that define and expand what is possible. If you’re not naturally tech-nerdy, get to know your favorite tech nerd better and let them help you. They’re excited to share.

3. Watch the kids
Kids today! For some of you youngsters (think under 23) your peers are probably a good proxy for kids. But, for everyone else, keep an eye out for your younger siblings, your nieces and nephews, your kids, your friend’s kids. They are going to do things, find things, use things in ways you can’t imagine. Watch them, ask them questions. What seems inscrutable to you is like breathing to them.