How Google Zoo combines tech professionals and creatives to make “unimaginable” solutions

Combining tech and creative professionals can result in unimaginable product solutions, a Google creative director says.


Iain Nealie manages the Asia Pacific wing of Google Zoo creative teams in Sydney, Singapore and Tokyo and speaking at the Pause Fest tech conference, he says many people don’t even know about this wing of the global tech corporation.


While Google Zoo’s concept has been evolving, Nealie says it is a “think tank for brands and agencies”.


“When I see that I think what the fuck does that mean?” he said.


The organisation explores creative uses of Google and come up with new ways for consumers to interact with brands.


“We try to tell a story through a product,” he said.


With a mix of technology and a lot of creative brainpower, they’ve been able to develop highly innovative ways to do this and this approach to advertising has resulted in far more meaningful product solutions for their clients and their consumers, he said.


“Almost 50% of creative jobs available today are not at agencies,” Nealie said.


The magic of creative-tech collaboration


Nealie said one of their recent projects looked at resolving the issue of finding lost pets.


Pedigree Found, an app released last year, uses GIS mapping technology to reconnect lost dogs with their owners by alerting people in the area via Google’s digital ad network.



Through this integrated approach between the creative and tech worlds, while working at Saatchi & Saatchi, Nealie helped develop an interactive storybook Penny the Pirate for OPSM.


Through collaboration with the University of Melbourne and illustrator Kevin Waldron, they created a book that screens children’s eyesight while they read to help parent’s get a better understanding of their eye health.


Nealie said one of the key reasons tech companies look to creatives is their approach to problem solving.


“We have the ability to look at a problem and figure out the core hole,” he said.


For body wash Lux Sekura Dream, Google Zoo’s Tokyo team designed an app employing the same technology used to visualise cities if all the ice caps melted to make users see their streets with newly planted cherry blossoms.


How do they do this?


At Google Zoo, Nealie and his team have a “triage process” that helps them filter problems they want to work on and clients they want to work with.


When it comes to clients, he says it’s a 50-50 blend of brands they approach and those who come to them, and they’re extremely selective.


“We’re pretty ruthless so we don’t make a lot of friends,” he said.


The three-part process comprises a huge problem, breakthrough technology and radical solutions, starting with finding an opportunity in an issue that is worth tackling.


“We have a really in-depth filter,” Nealie said.


Then they work on “radical” ways to solve that problem.
Simply throwing a lot of technology into a tiny device without really considering how consumers will engage with that technology is not the best approach, Nealie said.


“Are you augmenting or complicating the process?” he says.


After finding an innovative solution and product concept, they must sell their idea to the client.


Before this they work on proof-of-concept videos based on detailed research of how their product could work and how a minimal viable product performs.


“Prototyping, pre-totyping, pretzel-typing – I don’t like terms like this,” he said.


“You don’t have to do a prototype every time.”


Next, they take it to client and start delivering.


“If you’ve done a good job of managing expectations with clients up to this point they’ll be on board with development,” he said.


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