| posted by

MediaMonks’ Wesley ter Haar on AI, AR and designing for user experience

Adapting to the latest creative digital innovations and following how customers interact with brands has allowed creative production company MediaMonks to grow globally and stay competitive.

Co-founder and executive director Wesley ter Haar has helped lead the MediaMonks charge since 2001 and has seen plenty of trends come and go, but some technologies have made life easier for his team.

Artificial intelligence, and machine learning specifically, has allowed and will allow ter Haar’s teams around the globe to not only communicate better, but also run more efficiently, allowing for better creative, he says.

“On one hand, there’s a lot of weird, repetitive manual labor that is part of being a creative, especially a design-focused creative,"ter Haar tells The Drum in an interview at the Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles.

"So the more that can be automated and taken away from manual labor, the more space you have for your team and talent to do the bigger push – what’s the lighthouse, what are we trying to do for the user from a design perspective – so I’m always interested in that, because it frees up our talent." 

A higher level advantage of AI for ter Haar is that, with the right mindset around machine learning, a company can train its own talent. He says that the agency is doing a lot of internal testing around how machine learning can help scale up creativity, which can essentially make the creatives curators as well.

“You’re briefing a creative that has the support of a machine learning algorithm behind them that can scale up illustration examples or find the right potential images and photography. I like that extension and expansion of the creative scale,” he says.

Leveraging Adobe Creative Cloud, MediaMonks uses a wide variety of technologies and techniques to deliver personalized consumer experiences, including short films, visual effects, rich media, and animation components, along with AR and AI. The Cloud also helps the agency’s teams collaborate in real time.

Still, he says AI is at a “weird place” in its evolution. “In some areas it’s ahead of where you think it is, in some areas it’s not even close,” he says.

From a creative business perspective, ter Haar wants AI to take away as much manual labor as possible because it frees up his teams and his clients’ budgets.

“A lot of our clients are global and have to deal with what I call the hidden work of tool kits and…formats and versioning. The more you can automate that the more the teams are open to more exciting work, but also more budget becomes available to do that work,” says ter Haar.

As a digital-focused creative company, ter Haar sees more growing advantages in AR rather than VR, at least in marketing. He says with VR, the technology for the most part hasn’t been good enough, although the latest Oculus is a step in the right direction.

But VR also has cost issues, a lack of distribution and a small user base. Right now, he sees it as great for gaming but not really ready to be a mass medium.

While AR was behind VR a few years back in terms of shiny attention, it’s now leaped forward, says ter Haar.

“In our industry, money is oxygen for things to live,” he says, stating that to do a big VR piece, it might cost half a million dollars, but to do an AR filter on Snap or Facebook it might cost just a few thousand, making it cost-effective.

“It’s easier to do, and easier and cheaper to create. It’s a more actionable space for brands,” he says.

All the technology is still just a tool kit for approaching the creative for the modern user. He looks at the positive business impact of user experience in digital design as a real game changer. Doing it right involves connecting everything a company does to something that approaches a compelling brand narrative, he says in an Adobe blog post.

The customer journey isn’t linear, however, and that’s why designing for different customer experiences makes a difference, he says. Those who have great end products, like Airbnb, with good user experiences, make the most business sense.

With companies now realizing they have to hire more UX specialists, there is change in the way brands view the consumer experience – perceptive brands are trying to understand that dynamic and how customers engage with them throughout their journeys, says ter Haar.

MediaMonks was acquired by S4 Capital in 2018 and has since made acquisitions of its own, including Caramel Pictures, and agreeing to mergers with influencer agency IMA and Firewood.

Featured by The Drum

1