10 Digital Innovators Who Are Defining Creativity in a Tech-Fueled World

The only thing more impressive than the seemingly limitless world we live in now is what's just around the corner. Innovation is exploding across every industry, and ideas that once seemed impossibly fanciful are now just months or even days away. As part of Adweek's Creative 100, profiling some of the most inventive professionals in the U.S., we're highlighting 10 digital innovators who bring blue-sky thinking to tech in an array of fascinating ways.

1

Cynthia Breazeal

Founder and CEO
Jibo

The idea of having a helpful robot for your home is as old as science fiction, but it's also surprisingly close to becoming reality. And one of the key people driving that innovation is Breazeal, an MIT associate professor who oversees the university's Personal Robots Group. Her "social robot" startup, Jibo, racked up a staggering $3.7 million from an Indiegogo campaign, and there's a growing wait list for the $749 device.

So what does it do? As you can see in the video below, Jibo is a sort of personal concierge who can order your food, take photos and serve as a video chat tool whose head can pivot to follow someone's movements. Breazeal tells Adweek we live in "exciting, creative times" in which developers and designers are able to "craft new skills and abilities for robots that can entertain, assist, inform, educate, connect, care, delight and inspire us in wholly new ways."

2

Alex Fiechter

Head of Product Development
Local Motors

The car of the future might not be built in a sprawling factory. In fact, you might help build it yourself. Local Motors is looking to lead the industry (or create a new one) by blazing the trail for 3-D printed automotives created collaboratively with customers in "micro-factories." Guiding the company's creative approach is Fiechter, who refuses to be constrained by either tradition or technology. "If you reach a point that you have a clear path to create everything you are dreaming up," he tells Adweek, "you are not dreaming hard enough."

3

Richard Howarth and Alan Dye

VP of Industrial Design, VP of User Interface Design
Apple

While Tim Cook and Jony Ive may be household names to most Apple aficionados, the real duo behind the brand's product portfolio these days are Howarth and Dye. Recently elevated in the company, the two now report directly to CEO Cook and are tasked with creating the next generations of Apple gear. Howarth has been a lead designer on every iteration of the iPhone and guided creation of the Apple Watch, while Dye (who has a background as a design director for Ogilvy and Kate Spade) has been central to the creation of operating systems like iOS 7, iOS 8 and the watchOS.

4

Nick Coronges

Chief Technology Officer
R/GA

Part of the reason R/GA had such a dominant year at Cannes, taking home 33 Lions and Agency of the Year, is the shop's ability to weave digital innovation into top-notch creative. The burden of bringing the ideas into practical reality falls on Coronges, who heads up R/GA's technology practices and also co-founded the R/GA Accelerator program to boost worthy startups.

"The challenge that most companies face is how to continue to do the things that drive the business today, and at the same time, invest in the things that will create growth in the future," Coronges says. "Agencies aren't bound in the same way to established ways of working. We can adopt emerging technologies and behaviors, and then act as curators and accelerators for clients. "

5

Astro Teller

Captain of Moonshots
Google X

Say what you will about Google Glass, but the polarizing contraption certainly ushered in what is now clearly the Era of Wearables. The device was the most high-profile product created by Google X, a "moonshot factory" division aimed at producing bold new ideas for the tech giant.

At the helm is Astro Teller, a computer scientist, novelist and relentlessly forward-thinking technoprophet guiding projects like the Google self-driving car and Project Loon, which hopes to use balloons to provide global Internet access. Is Google getting its money's worth from all the big thinking? Earlier this year, Teller told The New York Times, "I think generally Google feels the return on investment for Google X has been pretty good so far."

6

Noah Brier

CEO and Co-founder
Percolate

Percolate's goal is as succinct as it is ambitious: create "the system of record for marketing." Or, in the the Middle Earth vernacular, it might be "one ring to rule them all."

Unifying social media, content marketing, ad performance and optimization, Percolate has attracted more than 200 clients including Airbnb and Johnson & Johnson. Brier, the startup's highly regarded chief, says "the key to creating the right kind of culture at a company is to empower talented people to make independent and creative decisions, while also making sure everyone understands the shared mission, vision, and values."

7

Amber Gadsby

Director of Digital Marketing
Domino's Pizza

Call to order a pizza? Bah. Smartphone app? Who has the time? Tweeting an emoji to order a pizza? Now you're talking. That idea, developed with agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, scored an extra large serving of publicity for Domino's and even won a coveted Titanium Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions. The business brain behind such initiatives on the client side is Gadsby, who has managed to balance consistent innovation with real consumer benefit.

“We are always looking to find innovative and convenient ways for our customers to order and enjoy Domino’s," she says. "Our recently released emoji ordering, which is a fun and unique way to order pizza and engage with the brand, is just one example of the cutting-edge ideas we like to pursue.”

8

Neil Druckmann

Creative Director
Naughty Dog

The Last of Us is not simply one of the best video games ever written. It is unequivocally one of the greatest entertainment experiences ever created. Although it was released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3, the bleak, post-apocalyptic game has maintained its popularity, and the "remastered" version is now the centerpiece of Sony's most popular PlayStation 4 bundle. A Hollywood adaptation is in the works, too.

Guiding the storytelling that made the game a smash hit, Druckmann created a powerful narrative of love, loss and endurance driven forward by equal amounts of adrenaline and heartache. Currently working on Naughty Dog's highly anticipated 2016 release, Uncharted 4, Druckmann tells Adweek that we've entered an era in which "technology is no longer a limitation for narrative—the sky is the limit for creators of all types."

9

Erin McPherson

Chief Content Officer
Maker Studios

With more than 55,000 content creators generating 10 billion (yes, that's billion) monthly views on YouTube and elsewhere, Maker Studios has taken digital programming to mind-boggling new heights—and gotten bought up by Disney along the way.

So how does McPherson find signals in the noise and keep the multi-channel network moving forward in innovative, productive and creative ways? "I work to eliminate fear, both in myself and for my team," she says. "For creativity to thrive, people have to feel safe to make mistakes—and even to sometimes fail." Workplace culture at Maker plays other important roles in the creative process, she says. "I've had 'walking meetings' where a colleague and I head outside to take advantage of the Southern California weather, or playing with a dog (Maker is dog-friendly), or meditating at some point during the day—even just for a few minutes—can bring new perspective to any challenge."

10

John Carmack

Chief Technology Officer
Oculus VR

More than two decades after revolutionizing the video game industry by creating iconic titles like Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, Carmack again got the attention of game enthusiasts in 2012. But that's not to say they all bought into his eccentric new vision: a virtual reality headset he literally cobbled together with duct tape and began showing off at E3.

Soon the world came around. He joined emerging VR leader Oculus in 2013, and Facebook bought the company for $2 billion in 2014. Today he is the driving technical force for a product expected to propel an entire industry forward when it launches in early 2016. "Every new platform starts with the familiar creative modes awkwardly pushed onto it. Only once a basic level of confidence is gained can the new aspects of the platform really start to come into their own. Next year will be 'year one' of consumer VR, and we won't be through the awkward phase yet," Carmack tells Adweek. "We probably have a decade of solid improvements to look forward to as the technology and content co-evolve before we start looking at it as a mature field."

11

More of Adweek’s Creative 100:

Check out all the honorees by category:

30 Copywriters, Art Directors and Creative Directors
10 Chief Creative Officers
10 Digital Innovators
10 Branded Content Creators
10 Viral Content Creators
10 Commercial Directors
10 Visual Artists
10 Celebrities and Influencers

You can also browse the full list alphabetically or follow the entire Creative 100 on Twitter.

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.