Happy Holidays With Deco-Tron 3000

This season we were too busy for decorations, much less a holiday card. So we built an internet-connected robot catapult to take care of both. Meet the DECO-TRON 3000, the first ever tree decorating robot powered by our friends and family sitting at home.

Learn more about how the Deco-Tron 3000 worked at SS+K Labs.


Smile Train: Dreaming of Midnight

Today on Giving Tuesday, SS+K and Smile Train are launching Dreaming of Midnightan interactive video that shares the story of a Mexican New Year’s Eve celebration through the eyes of Camila, a child with an unrepaired cleft.

Follow Camila through a child’s magical, whimsical view of traditions and holiday joys, and feel firsthand how difficult it is for a someone with cleft to experience them.  Watch for twinkling hot spots that can be clicked to make a donations give children born with cleft the promise of a new year, and a new smile.

Watch Dreaming of Midnight today.


When You’re Smiling For Smile Train

Imagine a world where every child can smile. That’s the world our client Smile Train, an international children’s charity that provides 100% free cleft repair surgery to children in developing countries, strives to create by providing the resources needed to give every child born with a cleft the surgery and related treatment to transform his or her life.

Recently with Smile Train we launched “When You’re Smiling”, an interactive art installation that lives online and as as a traveling exhibit.


On the Smile Train website participants around the world can record a video of themselves singing a line from the classic song “When You’re Smiling” and join the collective voices that sing the full song together. The site then loops everyone’s recordings through ever-changing arrangements, encouraging viewers to share Smile Train’s message, and donate.

A pop-up exhibit brings the web experience to life giving people an opportunity to fully immerse themselves and lend their voices in support of Smile Train. The installation recently premiered at Photoville in Brooklyn, NYC, a one-of-a-kind annual event that uses repurposed shipping containers to create a constellation of photography exhibits each year. Smile Train’s exhibit featured two customized containers – one where participants could record a line from “When You’re Smiling” and see their video stitched together with other voices on large-scale LCD screens.

 In the second, adjacent container, Smile Train exhibited photojournalistic images that tell the stories of five patients (of over one million) whose lives have been changed by cleft repair surgery provided by Smile Train.



10 Lessons on design and making things I learned at Brooklyn Beta

The 10 most important lessons I learned at this year’s Brooklyn Beta conference about design, business, and technology when it comes to making stuff:


  • Giving people just what they need, when they need it, and not more, is fundamental to the user experience. Tavi Gevinson publishes only three new stories per day on Rookie magazine, timed to ‘After School’, ‘Dinner Time’, and ‘Sweet Dreams’. Her teen readers know new content will appear just when they need it, and in manageable doses.
  • Creators innovate on ways to provide value, as well as how to make money from their ideas. Over time Tavi has grown Rookie into a triple thread with an annual published book for sale, as well as an physical event series. They all work together to deliver Rookie’s promise.
  • If you can’t win the game, change the game you’re playing. When David Hieatt realized his small town denim factory couldn’t win in the market for denim jeans competing for the best price, he started over as a brand focused on quality and innovation at a premium.
  • Purpose makes your company stronger, makes people believe in you, and want to support you. People believe in Hiut Denim Co. because Hiut’s mission is to bring jobs back its town and enable its craftsman community to put their wealth of skill and knowledge to work.
  • Be an ideas company that applies ideas to a your business platform of choice. Hiut is an ideas company that makes denim jeans. They constantly innovate on the product, the experience, and the story of their denim jeans. Ideas are what can have a multiplier effect.
  • Limitations can give your product direction and distinction. While a majority of the jean market is for pre-washed jeans, Hiut couldn’t offer this because of the impact on the town’s water supply. Instead, Hiutcreated the “no-wash jeans” club and embraced the uniqueness of jeans that have creases from the wearer’s life instead of a machine.
  • Consider the impact your decisions will have on our culture for the long term. Getting wrapped up in the Internet party and not thinking about the clean up after is destroying our heritage. Jason Scott said 40% of URLs they index at Internet Archive are gone. Everything important about us is on the shakiest foundation since the dawn of time.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether you’re achieving your goals.Brooklyn Beta co-founder Cameron Koczon rated their conference a C+ despite a 5 year run and thousands of passionate happy attendees because he felt it became too design focused and didn’t help bridge the gap between design and development + business they intended.
  • You can choreograph empathy and creativity by paying close attention to the details. Brooklyn Beta succeeded as an un-conference because the organizers perfectly choreographed the experience. Things like no announced schedules, no Internet, DIY creator stations, ample conversation breaks, and unlimited coffee + beer set the pace.
  • Do the stuff that matters to you the most. Have big, audacious, scary dreams. It’s not the job of dreams to be realistic, it’s the job of dreams to be damn near impossible. If you work hard enough, you might achieve a jean company that employs a town, a magazine for a new generation, or a conference that inspires and changes people’s lives.

This article was first published by Kevin Skobac on Medium.



Rob Shepardson Talks Millennials and Politics

AdWeek spoke to SS+K’s Rob Shepardson about engaging millennials in politics, and our experience as President Obama’s youth agency during the 2012 re-election campaign:

Because young adults view Washington as “a cesspool,” creative agency SS+K was determined to “sell a politician by not being political,” notes Rob Shepardson, the shop’s co-founder and partner. “They knew Obama, liked him as a person, but were disappointed with the economy and generally alienated from politics,” he recalls. “There was an enthusiasm gap. Our job was to create that enthusiasm.”

“Millennials will align with somebody regardless of political labels based on values. Communicate through issues, not through the candidate. Negative ads and politics-as-usual can turn millennials off. They are quite shrewd when it comes to marketing. You need to get to a point or a benefit that matters to them. We had to be very careful not to make one false move and fall back into the traditional way of marketing.”

Find the whole AdWeek article here.


With Apple Watch, Don’t Be Afraid To Dream Big

On Tuesday Apple finally unveiled the Apple Watch, ending years of rumors and seemingly insurmountable hype. The reviews have been mixed, at best. There are critiques about the design, critiques about the interface, critiques about the feature set. But mostly people are just saying “why would I ever need a watch when I already have a phone? What could it possibly do better?”


The ‘Why’ is what’s important.

The challenge of new technology is to overcome the obvious and enable the unprecedented. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a device has failed just because it can’t do what we already do, any better than we already do it. It’s much harder to think about what a new device, especially one with such unique features as the Apple Watch, is capable of enabling in our lives.

This is precisely the same question we’re pursuing with Google Glass.

If you put on Google Glass and simply take a picture, do a search, or even play a game, you might feel like you are wearing an overpriced Halloween costume. When it comes to reproducing existing behaviors Google Glass often feels inferior, clunky, even infuriating. For that reason, over two years after Google Glass was first announced, it’s considered by many to be a dud.

But when you begin to think about what it could mean to augment people’s vision with the information they need, without taking up any additional human faculties, you look at Glass a little differently.

Recently SS+K partnered with Mark Morris Dance Group to build an application for Google Glass specifically tailored to augment the lives of people living with Parkinson’s disease. Taking advantage of Glass’s heads-up display, bone-inductive audio, and verbal and gestural navigation, we’ve discovered new tools that will give people living with Parkinson’s greater control and freedom in their lives. In a way that only Google Glass, and nothing before it, could make possible.

This is equally true of other Glass-based projects now underway. Remedy is a medical technology company building Glass software that enables physicians to lend their eyes to specialists for remote consultations. Quest Visual is making international travel easier than ever before with their application Word Lens that magically replaces the foreign language words you’re looking at with the proper translation, right before your eyes.

So when I look at the Apple Watch I’m not thinking about text messaging, Google searches, Facebook, or phone calls. I’m thinking about how the Apple Watch could be more consistently and more prominently connected to us than any mobile technology before it. How the underside of the watch face has a heart rate sensor. And how the watch body can generate varying degrees of haptic feedback to the wearer. I’m trying to think about the things that have never been before.

Writing off Apple Watch based on how it performs against today’s tasks is a fool’s errand. Instead, we need to look at Apple Watch as a new opportunity that we have the capability to make wonders with.

What’s possible is only limited by our imagination.

This article was first published by Kevin Skobac on Medium.



Are Anonymous Apps The New Confessional?

I was recently interviewed for the Adweek article, “Anonymous Apps Like Whisper and Secret Have A Dark Side — Abusive Language and Bullying Have Brands Proceeding With Caution” My rant was longer than what appeared in the pub, so I’ve posted the other questions and answers here. I’d love to know your thoughts on this one since it’s a fairly polarizing topic. Please feel free to comment.


1. In general, what’s your view of apps and services that allow people some level of anonymity when they communicate?

First, I should tell you that I have 13 year old boy/girl twins so I’m acutely aware of these apps and the risks associated with them. Chief among them is the potential for bullying. However, at the risk of coming across pollyanna, I prefer to see these apps as more liberating than dangerous (for everyone but my kids ;-). Of course, social media creates great opportunity for both good and evil. Apps and services that allow people anonymity demonstrate a shift among Millennials from hyper-curated profiles and content to real, authentic, and grittier musings that convey a sense of vulnerability. This audience wants to show the world fully formed online personas and narratives, replete with sad and happy thoughts, silly faces, and no make up selfies — a shift from the lopsided, ‘happy’, stylized narratives we’ve become accustomed to online. But, not everyone is ready to associate their names and faces with their raw and candid thoughts. It’s an evolution in social media (which always come with some risks) and apps like Whisper, Secret, Truth and are helping people move along the continuum.

2. Have any of your agency’s clients run campaigns in anonymous apps?


3. If one of your clients wanted to appear in one, what guidance would you give? What are the pros and cons to consider?

As with every platform, we’d make sure our clients thoroughly understand how the app/service works, how people are interacting with it, the rules of engagement, dos and don’ts, an analysis of like-services, brands who are currently integrating with the platform, what if any opportunity exists for their brand, and the most effective way(s) to leverage their brand in the desired platform. We’d underscore the risks of insinuating a brand into one of these apps — especially at this embryonic stage in the lifecycle of this particular ecosystem. My guess is few if any corporate brands would go for this right now, but SS+K does significant advocacy work and these clients might consider a test and learn approach.

4. Perhaps Whisper, Secret,, etc. are great venues for some types of brands, but bad venues for others?

Correct. Brands with a high threshold for risk (e.g., media and entertainment, spirits) seem well-suited to test and learn their way into these services. Also, pro-social brands with broad permission structures, specifically geared towards advocacy could take advantage of important issues of the day being discussed anonymously on these platforms.

5. What advice would you give to a client that advertised in an anonymous app, and the next day a news story broke that a teen was bullied in that venue and committed suicide? What should the client do?

This is a tough question. It’s not just clients, but everyone should ask the logical questions about what better precautions can be instituted without impinging on freedom of speech. It’s a very significant issue for all of us. As I said above, social media creates great opportunity for both good and evil.

6. Is digital anonymity here to stay? Will the category grow? Do you think the risks — bullying, possible libel, etc. — are just the risks we have to take?

There’s a sense of liberation and freedom that comes with expressing your thoughts openly and honestly without judgement. As more people discover this they’ll contribute more and more often to these platforms. I think the category will grow if apps like Whisper, Secret and others continue to demonstrate a sincere respect for privacy, a path towards growth and a bridge towards marketing. The risk of bullying and possible libel have existed since the early days of social on virtually every platform. Being able to do it anonymously will certainly add velocity to these threads but my hope is that communities will continue to self police and extinguish these hateful rants with positive dialogue and a no tolerance policy that ensures there’s very little room for the behavior.

This article was first published by Brad Kay on Medium.



SS+K Partners with Mark Morris Dance Group on Moving Through Glass

Today Google announced grants for a select group of non-profits that are pursuing ways to use Google Glass and its unique abilities to further their causes. We’re proud to be a friend and partner to one of those select organizations, Mark Morris Dance Group.


Mark Morris Dance Group, along with Brooklyn Parkinson Group, runs Dance for PD™, an amazing award-winning program to enable people with Parkinson’s to harness the strategies of professional dancers—helping people regain a sense of control and independence as they go about their daily lives.

One challenge they face, however, is bringing learning from the classroom into the real world. That’s where Google Glass comes in.

Together with Mark Morris Dance Group and Google, SS+K will be exploring how we can further empower people with Parkinson’s disease by building Moving Through Glass, an application and program made specifically for Google Glass. Moving through Glass will create an intuitive, portable, dance-based toolkit for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

We are the beginning of an amazing technological revolution powered by exciting new connected devices. Products like Google Glass and Google Wear bring with them a whole new potential to empower people to live their lives in ways that were never before possible. We hope that by taking advantage of Google Glass sensors and heads-up display, we can help develop significant advancements for people with Parkinson’s. This is just the beginning.

To learn more about the project, read:

  • Press release: Mark Morris partners with SS+K to develop new Google Glass app
  • Brooklyn Paper: Google funding Ft. Greene studio’s Parkinson’s-dance app



HBO Go “Awkward Family Viewing” Earns A Few Lions

We’re back from Cannes and what a week it was! We’re very proud to have picked up five Cannes Lions for the HBO GO “Awkward Family Viewing” campaign and incredibly honored to have received these industry accolades among extraordinary competition.

Congrats to all the winners and thanks to everyone who made it possible.

Gold Lion: Film Craft – Casting
Silver Lion: Film Craft – Direction
Silver Lion: Film Craft – Script
Silver Lion: Film – Internet Film
Bronze Lion: Cyber – Webisodes/Episodes


On Digiday: It’s time for Instagram to evolve

At 200 million users, Instagram is the current heavyweight champion of social photo sharing. And while there may be communities with more members, few can likely lay claim to having affected amateur digital photography as much as Instagram has. Square photo formats and packages of stylistic filters are cost of entry today for any photo application, but Instagram is responsible for popularizing both.

The platform brought ease and beauty to mobile photography. Borders and filters enabled the lay person to share attractive photographs regardless of camera quality or skill. Square cropping added a comfortable familiarity to scanning hundreds of photos in the feed at a time.

These were all critical to the success of Instagram, and their impact can’t be overstated. But does their importance still stand?


Exploring Instagram today, most uses of borders feel amateurish (or antiquated) and most uses of Instagram’s filters feel harsh or overly dramatic. More and more people appear to be using neither, when originally it was both.

That is not to say stylistic enhancements to photos are dead. Filters haven’t necessarily gone away, but people’s habits and tastes appear to be evolving toward more subtle, more natural-feeling editing applications like VSCO CAM.

Square imagery, on the other hand, increasingly feels like an unnecessary conformity. More and more Instagram users are skirting the limitation by using applications like InstaSize and Squaready (which ad gutters to a rectangle image to make it square format) to maintain the purity of their wide or tall photographs. Mobile photographers are recognizing the square format can hurt the quality of a photograph, and the forced constraint is no longer necessarily driving creativity.

VSCO CAM only launched on Android in December, and already Google lists it as having between 1 and 5 million downloads. Instasize has been out on Android a bit longer, and Google lists it as having between 5 and 10 million downloads. Nearly 40 million public uses of photo tags #vscocam or #instasize combined appear in Instagram’s explore tab. And these are just two of the many popular apps being leveraged to expand the artistic possibilities of photos shared on Instagram.

Even more tellingly, brands like JCrew are using rectangle crops to stand out in a stream of squares.

It may be that maintaining a square window per photograph helps keep a clean browsing and consumption experience in the Instagram application. However, Instagram could still allow for users to post non-square images in the space without having to destroy the integrity of the original photo by adding artificial gutters.

Instagram has become the photography application of choice for millions of people. It doesn’t have to react to every trend, but it needs to recognize the progressions that it helped make possible. It needs to enable us to be the mobile photographers we’re now capable of being.

This opinion piece was originally published on Digiday, May 5th 2014.