Huge thanks to The SF Egotist for a great interview with our very own Tim Barber.
The SF Egotist
September 22, 2010
Tim Barber is a founder and the executive creative director at Odopod in San Francisco. For the past 15 years, he has practiced his craft—creating entertaining and meaningful experiences for people using new technology platforms. He draws on a unique combination of technical insight, entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for storytelling. Tim leads work for the UFC, Sony, PlayStation, Nike, MTV and Google.
Creatively, how’s San Francisco doing these days?
Something weird is happening in San Francisco.
For quite a long time, it’s been home to a lot of inventive, world-changing companies — phenomenal ad agencies, graphic design studios, industrial design companies, and technology companies. And now the fences between all these creative people are being dismantled — agencies are creating apps, start-ups are inventing media properties, and big brands are learning to behave like tech startups.
When the rules change like this, it creates a huge amount of tumultuous, inventive energy.
I really enjoy it. The tumult plays to our strengths. Since we started, Odopod has had one foot in the advertising world and the other in the software world. We work comfortably on big campaigns and big applications – doing our best when they come together.
After 10 years, we’re no longer an anomaly.
Now, we’re refining the model. We want to create the equivalent of IDEO for the digital age — a company that can reveal unique insights and then martial design and technology to act on them. We want to improve the way brands and businesses operate, especially how they connect with people who use their products.
What creative trends are you seeing that you like?
I guess I jumped the gun with the first question. Regardless, there are two other trends that are currently drawing a lot of my attention.
First is the rise of data. Data as a source of inspiration and data visualization as a craft are both enjoying some much-deserved attention at the moment. Data visualization is especially fascinating because it serves a genuine need in a time of information saturation. Good Magazine, Feltron, the Now Network campaign for Sprint, and DonQ’s LadyData all play in this space.
I’m also super interested in the Internet of Things. Its expansion is closely related to the rise of data. We’re doing some exciting work in this area, using sensors to give everyday objects a network presence. The implications for people and businesses are almost unimaginably far-reaching. Stay tuned.
What did you set out to do when you started Odopod?
We wanted to create a company with the ideas and resources to execute big and the metabolism and culture to behave small. It’s a great combination for our clients and us.
How would you describe your creative culture? Did that evolve naturally or was it a concerted effort?
It’s probably obvious, but companies are a lot like people. Their culture is their personality. And from what I can tell, most of that culture is a direct byproduct of the personalities of the people who run the place. If they’re brilliant and volatile, well, the company is likely to follow suit.
Ours has a few identifiable threads.
One is a sort of earnestness. Some might say it’s overly serious. We’re a disciplined, thoughtful bunch and we’re very honest with our clients. I think this is the foundation that Odopod is built on.
Another is about enjoyment. This one translates into being approachable, collaborative and playful. It also makes showing up at the office fun.
The last one may be characterized as inventive. It’s that appetite for being insightful, innovative and experimental. This is one that we intentionally cultivate and invest in.
For example, we have an annual event called Odopod Hack Days where we solicit project ideas from the entire company. Then we shut down client work for two days to design and prototype the best of the ideas. It culminates in a big internal presentation of all the prototypes. Then we select a couple to complete and release. Our OdoSketch app is one of these internal projects.
How does digital innovation fit into your creative process?
Innovation is more thematic than procedural at Odopod. It’s less a part of our process than it is an expectation that we have for our work and ourselves. We repeatedly ask ourselves, “What’s the opportunity to break new ground here?” If you ask enough, you end up with answers.
This debate has been raging for a while, but can a digital agency be a lead AOR for a major brand?
Yes, with two sizable caveats:
1) I think the idea of a “digital agency” has an expiration date. And it’s in months, not years.
2) I think that AOR relationships are becoming less essential to producing the best, most relevant work. That’s because it’s increasingly difficult for anyone (client or agency) to “integrate” the vast array of marketing services. I think that integration will become such a siphon of energy that big brands will begin to look more for “impact”, wherever they can find it.
The AOR role will remain an important strategic role and a huge financial lure. And it’s clear that the best shops are all racing towards the same territory. The ”once-traditional shops,” the ”previously-digital shops,” the ”indies” — they’re all seeking deep strategic relationships with big brands and control over an ever-wider array of executions.
I suspect that in ten years their offerings be will overly complex and largely indistinguishable.
That’s why we’re interested in a new model.
We can all come up with a million ways technology has positively affected creativity. But are there ways it’s affected it negatively?
There are brilliant ideas and horrible ideas being made every day, probably at the same rate. I’m not sweating any influence technology has on creativity.
From a digital perspective, what do you like to see in the creatives you hire? People that do well here are the ones that can connect dots, see opportunities, distill insights and collaborate with enthusiasm.
The problem is that it’s hard to see those qualities in a series of interviews. So, instead, we look for the following:
1) We look for a person’s ability to think and communicate. Clearly formed thoughts and sentences are a great indicator of more general smarts.
2) We look for a spark of raw talent. This might show up in a person’s craft or ideas. Either way, we want to see something truly special in their work.
3) We look for versatility. People that have talent in more than one discipline thrive at Odopod. Their ability to anticipate hurdles and connect dots leads to great work.
How do you sell interesting new technologies to clients who probably don’t understand them or see the possibilities?
Instead of selling technology, we make an effort to sell insights and ideas. The technology almost always plays a starring role in each story we tell. But the story arc is shaped by how the idea can affect the business, usually by building the brand in some new area or deepening peoples’ relationship with the brand.
Give us three tips for creating incredible work.
1) Tell yourself and your team that you expect great work then hold yourselves to it.
2) Dig for insights — into the brand, the business, the audience. They’re the kernels of great work.
3) Work really hard.