NEW YORK David Armano is vp of creative at Critical Mass, a Calgary-based digital shop 50 percent owned by Omnicom. He leads a 40-person department in Chicago that includes writers, creative directors and visual designers.
Armano also writes Logic + Emotion (darmano.typepad.com), a top-ranked blog about the intersection of marketing and design that attracts more than 2,000 daily visitors.
Armano, 36, joined Critical Mass last year from Digitas, and previously worked at Agency.com. He talks about why blogging has helped his career, the importance of social media and the evils of "Flashturbation."
Q: What made you start blogging?
A: When I was at Agency.com, I started a profile on Blogger. I had an urge to experiment, but I never did anything with it. When I finally started, it was because I was a reader of blogs. I thought it would be cool if I could do this on my own. I already had a personal blog, which I called Logic + Emotion. The idea's always been that experience design is the lens I put everything under, making the functional work with the emotional.
Has it helped your career?
Yeah, in a couple ways. It's made me better at what I do. It transformed how I think about interactive experiences. People are spending more time in social channels, more than the rich, immersive experiences you see out there. It's made me a better creative. When I talk about empathy, which comes when you experience something yourself, it makes you better at thinking of how you can employ social principles in marketing and avoid some of the stumbling blocks. It makes you more in tune with the nuances.
Your blog has a strong following. Has working at a digital agency made it easier?
If I wanted to share my ideas at a traditional creative agency, I would submit a white paper. That was the way things used to be done. Or get on the speaking circuit. But I circumvented all of that.
Did you get any pushback from your bosses?
Digitas was pretty supportive. I didn't have [the blog] at Agency.com, but if I did, I frankly probably would have gotten pushback. It was new then. At Critical Mass, it's really part of my job.
You're an active user of social media. Shouldn't you be spending your time on client work? What does it do for them?
Opportunity for innovation in this area is borrowing from A and applying it to B. I've proposed specific functionalities or loyalty programs that aggregate content already out there that borrows from NetVibes. Because I'm using these tools, I'm always looking for ways it can be applied into projects.
Why don't more agencies blog?
Some agencies don't feel the need to participate. But I do think that's overlooking some of the benefits. The great thing about social media is it's an alternative route. For some agencies, the reason to do it is to offer some value to clients, but that's a big commitment. There's a lot of opportunity to show what you're made of. You don't have to. The more people get exposed to the more authentic dialogue that happens in these channels, the more they expect it. If a big company like Dell is out there being pretty authentic in their communications, you begin to expect that from others. The same applies to agencies.
You started a Critical Mass blog. What other agency is doing a good job with its blog?
Organic is doing a nice job with its blog, pointing you to other things. You end up wondering why other [well-known] agencies aren't doing that.
Social media got a lot of attention in 2007. Is it just a fad or really important?
It goes back to a basic human truth: People seek authenticity, and there is a lot of it in social media. When you put up a blog, you're not hiding a lot. It's direct engagement; there's not a lot to hide behind. People end up seeking that. But at the same time, it can provide the opposite. Like in Second Life, you can live out fantasies, which speaks to another human truth, which is people like to live out fantasies. I've seen droves of people jumping on board with it. They didn't have a profile even six months ago. There's the basic human appeal of removing the middleman and talking to each other.
How do you explain experience design, and how does it differ from a traditional creative role?
We're not in the communications business. We're not creating 30-second spots, where it's a story. We're focusing on the customer experiences within the digital touch points, which can be on the PC or the phone. We try to think of the customers even before they engage in the digital channel, like what caused someone to sit down with their laptop, trying to understand their mind frame as much as possible to create the best digital experience for them.
What mistake do brand sites make?
You can do so much online now that involves special effects. It looks like Lucas Arts. There's that temptation to put on a show without there being much substance to it. Flashturbation is a symptom of a bigger disease: bright and shiny object syndrome. Marketing and advertising are very hype driven. The biggest problem is things are moving so fast that people are either dismissing things without trying them or rushing to adopt them.
Your blog was critical of Honeyshed, the Droga5 and Smuggler digital effort to meld commerce and entertainment. Why?
My knee-jerk reaction was it felt like the broadcast model. It wasn't usable and the content wasn't good. It had that feeling of trying to be hip, and I didn't want to watch it. I didn't think the format was all that engaging it. It was very passive.
Do you think agencies are struggling to adapt to the rapid changes in digital media?
What agencies are struggling with big time is this notion that much of the content coming out that's not from agencies is better. That's why you're seeing the [user-generated ad] contests. A good example a couple years ago was when an agency created fake blogs for a state tourism board. In my mind, that crystallized the issue. No matter how hard a copywriter tries, he can't recreate the authenticity.
Who is your favorite designer?
As far as architects go, I really like Frank Gehry, and how he turned architecture on its head. His architecture transforms cities. Chicago is a good example. He did the amphitheater in Millennium Park, and it's instantly become one of the icons of the city.
Where else do you get inspiration?
I get a lot of inspiration from observing everything, seeing what works and what doesn't and what people gravitate to.
You've worked at a few digital shops. What's different about Critical Mass?
I like how we fly under the radar. The No. 1 thing is it feels different. I got as close as I wanted to to the traditional creative agency, which is very ego driven, the typical brilliant creative director type of thing. At Critical Mass, it's more team driven. By nature when you work on digital initiatives, it's more collaborative. It's not the genius creative director who has a vision, then goes to L.A. and gets his ad shot. I like that we're a true digital agency.
What was the biggest advancement in digital media the past couple of years?
YouTube. It reinvented how we consume media. In a way, it's a simple idea. But one of the things that gets overlooked on YouTube is they were able to standardize viewing video on the Web, in addition to making it portable. Those types of innovations are platforms. They're fucking up advertising. They're making people spend time elsewhere. It's like a virus.
How much will advertising change in the next five years?
We'll see more of what's happening now. The irony is we're all feeling it. A lot of this isn't too hyped. Even though there's not mass adoption of a lot of these things, people aren't behaving the same way. We're not just hanging out on our couches. Even if we are there, we're probably fiddling with another gadget.