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Screens Touch People

  |  March 2, 2011   |  Comments

As brands seek new ways to create relationships around the world, touch screens and dynamic symbols will surely be part of the picture.

The touch screen experience is the most intimate of all personal computer interfaces. There's nothing quite like it.

Caress a screen and be whisked across the globe to a romantic locale. Gently press your fingertip to a logo and watch it blossom into an irresistible app. Pinch an icon and a dazzling 3-D animation springs off the screen. There are hundreds of millions of these close encounters every day, and, with the proliferation of tablet computers, smartphones, and touch screen monitors, more brands are being touched by more people than ever before.

In this age of convergence, brand managers should recognize that the world of communications is going to play out on touch screens. Even though we may be typing on keyboards for decades to come (remotes can't go away soon enough!), it's just a matter of months before devices with touch-activated screens of all shapes and sizes are ubiquitous.

As more and more consumers grasp innovative technologies and transact more comfortably in the digital world, the immersive experiences set in motion by a dynamic icon will actually create brand advocates. As a result, touch screens present a new and exciting format for brands to make personal connections with vast global audiences. They are a platform for elegantly simple experiences and unexpectedly fresh stories that can be widely disseminated in imaginative ways. Most importantly, these interactive moments lead audiences to perceive brands as alive, responsive, and above all easy to engage with.

Brand managers would be well advised to understand how to use touch screen experiences to express their brand promise. I think it's important to take a cinematic approach to this particular touchpoint. Audiences are engaged and energized by entertaining, useful experiences featuring targeted content and an array of engaging intellectual and sensory experiences. Achieving that requires an optimal design process.

These days, I am not alone in thinking about logos as personas, with distinctive characteristics and personality traits. When you are actually touching a logo, it becomes much more than a visual representation of a brand; consider it a living, moving entity that interacts with consumers in a direct, authentic, and natural manner.

According to a recent survey conducted by global advertising agency Euro RSCG Worldwide, more than 80 percent of consumers said they wanted companies to show "a more human face." Underscoring this notion is Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who says that brands are now expected to behave like people, especially in today's "participatory culture, where we all contribute and feel socially connected, living much more public and increasingly creative lives."

Last month on the game show "Jeopardy!" a competition took place between two past champions and Watson, IBM's supercomputer. Researchers scanned some 200 million pages of content - or the equivalent of about 1 million books - into the system, including movie scripts, scientific journals, and entire encyclopedias.

Watching Watson easily trounce his human opponents got old fairly quickly. More fascinating was observing Watson's logo, in essence, his face - the swirling electronic avatar that changed color and speed as the clues were provided. Veteran digital artist Josh Davis took a globe motif and added a swarm of particles - a single "leader" chased by the others - to spin around on the globe's surface, indicating that Watson was "thinking." Davis created 27 possible states that the avatar could be in, from confident (globe glows green) to unsure (globe grows orange).

The Watson logo mimics human associations and provides viewers with the illusion of a well-defined thought process. Watson's expressions brought humanity to the icon and implied a narrative that elicited a uniquely human response from viewers - empathy. Feelings of empathy transformed Watson's audience from viewers to advocates, the grand prize for brand managers. Clearly this marks a huge leap forward in identity design.

As brands seek new ways to create relationships around the world, touch screens and dynamic symbols will surely be part of the picture. And as intimate moments proliferate, we can all look forward to being touched by touch screens.

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Howard Belk

As Siegel+Gale's chief creative officer, Howard challenges our design teams across the globe to breathe life into brand strategies. He believes that powerful identities bring humanity to brands and generate belief in their essential promise. "Doing this successfully for organizations that operate globally," he notes, "requires supreme simplicity."

A prominent figure in the industry, Howard has led global branding programs that span virtually every business sector, receiving international recognition and numerous awards. He sees an extraordinary future for organizations operating at the nexus of social changes in health, energy, education, technology, and communications. His work includes programs for Pfizer, ConocoPhillips, Aramco, AARP, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, SAP, Tata Consultancy Services, Qatar Telecom, Allstate, and Bank of America.

You'll see Howard frequently quoted by the business press regarding branding and design issues, or speaking at professional conferences on topics that range from brand building's foray into areas like product development, human resources, community service, and customer experience, to how smartphones and touchscreens are opening new ways for people to interact with brands.

Earlier in his career, Howard founded a marketing services agency that was acquired by Omnicom in 2001. He also spent time at Interbrand, where he was a group director in their headquarters office.

Howard earned a bachelor of fine arts at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, where he later served as a guest professor. He completed Omnicom's Senior Management and Graduate Management Programs at Babson College in 2007. He sits on the Board of Directors of apparel manufacturer Kahn Lucas Lancaster.

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