DDB & Tribal Worldwide, Amsterdam

What can other companies learn from how you conceived of and designed this experience?: 
A 2012 article by Marcin Treder outlines the ‘state’ of the User Centered Design (UCD) process:
Most UCD-processes look surprisingly similar. There is a visible pattern that we all use to design interfaces:
  1. Collecting information about the problem: Every UX designer needs to be a kind of detective in the early stage of a project. We need to find out as much as we can about the three Ps (people, problem, project).
  2. Getting ready to design: The ideation part of the process.
  3. Design: Creating wireframes and prototypes to document the experience and then hand them to the developers. Hi-fi design is left for visual designers.
  4. Approval: This phase often focuses heavily on stakeholder buy-in on client side. The presentations show all stages of the process, deliverables and interactions, and they aim to give stakeholders easy access to all of the information to avoid unwanted rejections of design outcomes.
Several known issues arise with this approach:
  • Spreading an understanding of the design process both across (design) disciplines internally and with the client.
  • Communication within the team and with the client to properly evaluate deliverables.
  • Demonstrating the process to the client to get buy-in
At DDB & Tribal Amsterdam, we’ve explored new, often more agile, approaches to the traditional (UCD) process. We found that key to success is dropping the ‘traditional’ agency - client relationship to enable acting together with your client as a lean start-up. This not only eliminates a lot of time and thought consuming business overhead. It spreads the understanding of the design process among internal and external stakeholders, it stimulates open communication and it demonstrates the process in all phases. Basically making both client and agency equal product owners in the process, and therefore equally responsible for the successful outcome of the project.
3 days to first concept
We ‘forced’ ourselves into this model by locking ourselves up, together with the client, in a hotel for 3 days. A lot of effort was put into creating a positive, constructive atmosphere, ranging from personal hotel lobby bells to ring whenever you heard something you liked to a healthy division between work and play. The positive energy coming out of these 3 days, as one start-up, set the stage for the 10 weeks after.
Writing the brief as part of the process
Another key feature of Spark is that the 3-day brainstorm didn’t have a brief as input, instead the outcome was a brief. The only ‘concrete’ input at the start of the project was: “Heineken mobile innovation”. This allowed for a wide range of ideas to be produced in a very short amount of time, to be ultimately condensed into 1 brief: the bottle should play a key role in the user interaction.
Refining, designing and prototyping
After the 3-day brainstorm came another 10-week pressure cooker of concepting, designing and prototyping towards the prototype launch in a real-life environment: the “Open Design Explorations: The Club” during the Milan Design Week. The very fact of setting a bold goal in a short amount of time again forced us to continue acting as a lean start-up. Instead of outsourcing critical resources (like electronics engineering) we took them in and whatever we could not bring in (like electronics assembly robots) we gave out to small, flexible and local companies with a passion for their business.
In the final week, parts of our (digital) design agency had transformed into a production facility where housings were glued to bottles, final circuit boards tested, assembled and wrapped up for transport. During that period the client remained an important part of the team. The whole process felt more like co-creating with a broader range of colleagues than having formal client - agency relationships where presentations and a complex approval system are main deliverables.
Please describe how the concept for the experience came about, and what research, information, inspiration, etc. informed it.: 

On the first day of the Spark sessions we invited 5 speakers. One speaker from a lean startup to learn us about how to cooperate over the next days and weeks. The other two speakers sparked what we would be talking about over the following days: innovative mobile technology.

Inspired by topics around Quantified Self, the Internet of Things, nightclubs and music festivals, combined with the presentation of devastating statistics about the actual use of branded mobile apps and the not-so-man-of-the-world association made with using a mobile app in a nightclub environment, the thinking converged into adding a layer of digital interactivity to Heineken’s flagship product, the Star Bottle.

The brief developed literally read: “The bottles cheer together and then 'magic' happens!”. What that magic exactly was, nobody really knew. A week later, when this brief was selected as the one to work out, we were facing a seemingly impossible challenge: how do we create a 'magic' Heineken moment in just 9 weeks for real people at a location that would only be finished in 8.5 weeks? There was only one certainty: the beer bottle itself. All of our thinking until then had revolved around creating an interactive installation triggered by bottles cheering, then somebody suggested to embed some LEDs into the bottle as a basic means of providing some basic user feedback. It turned out to be the only feedback we needed. The light effects turned out to look amazing, literally placing the product in the spotlights. And finally, we’d managed to define a clear and feasible scope without too many external dependencies. Now it was all down to execution.

What are the key ways the experience contributes to the realization of the business goal or strategy, both directly and indirectly?: 
The ultimate business goal was for the press and public to associate Heineken with Innovative Mobile Technology at and beyond the Heineken venue at Milan Design Fair 2013. The product would have to be connected to the brand promise: “Open Your World”.
PR reach
The Heineken Ignite prototype ,as launched in the Milan Design Week, was not a stunt. The film of the launch (shot and edited the same night) was not promoted to the public. The Tumblr blog with the production story for selected press was password protected, but received 3.500+ visitors. All videos on YouTube had a collective count of 200,000 visitors within a few days. The story went global and Heineken Ignite was featured on 300+ blogs including mainstream titles like CNBC, Engadget and Huffington post.
Sustainable product
The prototype launch provided the agency and Heineken the opportunity to learn from how the product would perform in a real life environment amongst an audience with high standards. The prototype itself was developed with the notion of ‘recyclability’. The bottle itself is only equipped with an extra ‘ring’ on the bottom, so the more expensive part with the technology ‘on board’, can be unscrewed and re-used. Based on the success, Heineken is currently finishing the end product that will be rolled out in nightclubs in 7 of their top 25 markets.

How might the experience inspire, inform, or act as a starting point for how your business addresses other goals and strategies?: 

The Spark process as we first set it up in the Heineken Ignite case was internally developed between the strategy and UX team and set-up as an inspiring starting point for innovation, helping our clients to shorten the process from strategy to execution and truly co-create solutions between client, agency ánd consumer.

DDB & Tribal Amsterdam has since further developed Spark and has successfully used it in several client projects, some of them with a heavy focus on user experience, some of them focusing more on creative or strategic solutions. Having said that, all disciplines within our agency play a role in each Spark process. Since most of our client solutions are ‘omni-channel’ by nature, they require for our teams to work closely together in any project. This might sound ‘obvious’, but for a large number of traditional agencies, truly co-creating, across internal disciplines, such as creative, visual design, UX, strategy and even account seems a challenge in itself. This often results in fragmented deliverables, not providing a coherent user experience across brand touch points. As much as anything, the Spark process has further strengthened our internal co-creation process. Adding to that collaboration between client and agency, both taking an equal share in product ownership, has lead to revolutionary outcomes so far, with Heineken Ignite as one of our most inspirational cases.