02/22/2017

Foster + 2A = goodness

By: Jonathan Shaw

Foster + 2A = goodness

Here at 2A, our roots run deep with University of Washington’s Foster School of Business – as we like to say, we’re “Foster-led and Foster-fed.” The Foster school turns 100 (!) this year, and we jumped at the chance to feature our story on the school’s online centennial timeline. If you scroll through the 2000s until you hit 2007, and you’ll find the post that reveals the little-known 2A backstory.

While we could have approached this post as a text-only piece, we opted for an infographic instead. This allowed us to convey several different points in a simple, cohesive visual narrative. It’s why we love infographics: we can flex both our content and design chops in this medium, all in one complete package.

Our clients, particularly the technology product marketing teams we work with, often seek to develop a story that relies on data. The infographics we’ve built for them do this job remarkably well – they concisely and elegantly communicate a data story. For example, in our Foster infographic, the timeline and data points work together to show an alumni relationship that spans time and flourishes in the present. And yes, we really did play all those instruments!

Are you thinking about using infographics to tell your story – but not sure where to start? Drop us a line; we’d love to chat with you!

Foster infographic

01/11/2017

What’s driving the smart cities movement?

By: Jonathan Shaw

What's driving the smart cities movement?

I have vivid memories of an early ’80s family road trip. As our station wagon wended its way through downtown Seattle, I was transfixed by the sight of a massive skyscraper under construction. This was my early glimpse of the Columbia Center, which has been Seattle’s tallest building for over 30 years. Today, plans are in development for an even taller Seattle building: the proposed 93-floor 4/C Tower.

The real story with 4/C, however, isn’t about height (although I love the thought of a true supertall tower coming to Seattle!). It’s the fact that this building will evolve over time to adapt to life in Seattle 50 (or 100) years from now. The architects behind 4/C have designed parking floors to accommodate a different use in the future: additional residential space. Why? Because the coming decades will involve declining interest in individual car ownership, the rise of connected autonomous cars, and improved public transit. Future cities will be smart cities: they’ll function as integrated systems rather than disparate components. Smart urban planners and architects recognize this fact, and they’re planning accordingly.

Consider the current state of technology-assisted navigation. According to Uber and Lyft drivers I’ve talked with, the most effective navigation product available today is Waze, which provides route guidance based on crowdsourced user input. Waze works great, but it can still get stymied by uncooperative traffic lights. But this problem will go away with traffic lights that adapt to changing conditions in real time. Intelight, which develops intelligent traffic management solutions, is actively laying the groundwork for this transition. We’re currently working with the Intelight team on a number of fronts, and it’s been absolutely fascinating to collaborate with them on developing a narrative for transportation agencies operating in the smart city era.

Districts within cities are currently driving tremendous change. EcoDistricts, a non-profit that focuses on neighborhood-scale sustainable development, has grown rapidly from one pilot program in 2010 to over 400 participating cities worldwide today. The 2A office is actually located in the middle of an EcoDistrict, and we’re just a few a few blocks from what’s described as the greenest commercial building in the world. A profusion in sensor-generated data is fueling the transformation: cities are actively using open data as currency to incent local startups, working with APIs from firms like Seattle-based Socrata. Last week in Las Vegas, CES included a Smart Cities Hackathon with over 300 developers building solutions with the Intel IoT Kit, Amazon Alexa voice-activated skills, and open data provided by Las Vegas.

The technology to power smart cities is already here. Zero energy buildings, which consume only as much energy as can be produced on-site, are now technically feasible. IoT infrastructure solutions continue to proliferate. The challenge is stitching all of these developments together with a truly systems-based mindset. It presents an opportunity for gifted storytellers to help frame the narrative. This is why we’re so excited to be working with clients in the smart cities space right now — along with the smart buildings industry, as I wrote previously. Are you involved in the smart cities transformation, and if so, where do you see the opportunities? Let’s chat!

11/09/2016

Building the story of buildings

By: Jonathan Shaw

Building the story of buildings

Buildings are responsible for around 39% of energy consumption in the U.S. That’s actually higher than the share of energy used by transportation (28%). Unfortunately, buildings are notoriously inefficient, and they consume far more energy than they need: almost one third of energy consumption in buildings is wasted.

That’s the bad news. The good news: a rapidly growing group of organizations are tackling this problem through innovative solutions. One example is Seattle-based Optimum Energy (OE), which provides HVAC energy optimization software for buildings and campuses. The OE team recently launched a new product, and we jumped at the opportunity to create a video (see below) to help them tell their story .

There are several other firms in the Puget Sound committed to improving efficiency in the built environment, including Calico Energy, EnergySavvy, Paladino and Company, and (new kid of the block) Optio3. Local non-profit organizations including the Seattle 2030 District and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council are recognized nationally for thought leadership in energy reduction strategies.

There’s certainly plenty happening outside of Seattle as well. Ecorithm, based in Santa Barbara, delivers analysis and insights for building systems. We’ve enjoyed getting to know the Ecorithm team as we’ve partnered with them to develop a set of marketing and sales tools.

As our expertise continues to grow in this space, we’re formally launching our Smart and Efficient Buildings practice. If you’re working on improving building efficiency – whether that’s through an IoT platform, data and analytics, or structural upgrades – we’d love to help you tell your story. Drop me a note and let’s chat.

06/14/2016

VR and storytelling: time to get ready

By: Jonathan Shaw

Grandmother tries virtual reality

A good friend of mine is a video game artist. About a year ago, he told me that he’d been testing out different virtual reality (VR) headsets at work, in preparation for the advent of mainstream VR gaming. On each headset, he watched a set of short interactive films. But it wasn’t that he was passively watching, he told me – rather, he was somewhere else, exploring, interacting. Although the characters (human or otherwise) in this environment were clearly computer animations, they felt absolutely real, in a fundamentally different way from any video game or film he’d ever experienced. These were other beings, with a sense of real presence. “More like a dream than anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said, in hushed tones, “and this absolutely changes everything.”

My friend is a skeptic and certainly not prone to hyperbole – I don’t ever recall him describing something with this much excitement. So when he says something is a big deal, it’s worth noting. These first encounters with VR (or MR, a related emerging medium) are happening frequently in 2016: people describe their low expectations beforehand, and afterwards express astonishment over how real the experience felt. VR experiences are already so convincing (and they’ll continue to get more realistic) that they quickly become physically and emotionally overwhelming. Users must take frequent breaks, and motion sickness is common.

Clearly VR will have a huge impact. How should we prepare for it? Here are a few practical observations for those, like our team at 2A, whose jobs involve storytelling:

  • Keep current on VR. The rise of the internet snuck up on many of us. The rise of VR will be a bigger deal. Don’t dismiss this as a niche field for sci fi hobbyists. Film festivals set the course for mainstream cinema, and this year VR was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and in the Seattle International Film Festival, among other events.
  • Try it out. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an Oculus Rift. For $15, Google Cardboard provides VR experiences that, while bare-bones, are still surprisingly compelling.
  • Understand the landscape. A VR/MR ecosystem is already forming. Get familiarized with the current state of the landscape. Where are the gaps? Think back to the rise of the web; there are lots of opportunities here for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike.
  • Get creative. A number of full-fledged VR ads have been produced over the past year, among them an immersive VR journey to a Patrón distillery. Develop a shortlist of ideas for how your organization could tell its story better through a format that lets others see and feel things from your perspective.
  • Consider guiding principles. Much has been said about the potential for VR to inspire empathy. However, more troubling possibilities also exist, such as the potential for addiction. As VR experiences pack an increasingly visceral punch, what are the ethical implications?

In the late 2020s, my one-year old son will be a teenager, and VR/MR technology will, in one way or another, play a role in his life. It’s fascinating to imagine what this will look like, and we know one thing for sure: we’ll all play a role in this story.