5 Tech Trends to Look Out For in 2017

For the better part of the last decade, the tech world has been abuzz over mobile devices and their increasingly wide-range of functionality. Watching the transition of our clunky, primitive Nokia's and Blackberries to today's lightning fast, sleek, and powerful iPhones and Galaxys, was a treat to be sure. Every year it was as if some new feat of technological prowess was just around the corner.

That fervor regarding mobile devices has finally slowed a bit, opening the door to other technologies. Not to say that there aren't interesting new mobile devices on the horizon (the Samsung Galaxy S8 Edge being foremost among them), we can't help but notice the shifting tide. The last couple of years have left us somewhat underwhelmed at mobile devices in general, which culminated in the disastrous Galaxy Note7 fiasco. We've seen what mobile devices can do, but it's clear that we're in for a new wave of innovation in the coming months that for once isn't simply centered around what we keep in our pockets.

According to multiple trends, Millennials are spending more time with their PCs than ever before. In fact, PC usage has been up across the board lately, as their multimedia capabilities continue to increase. Home theater and gaming usage for PCs has been steadily rising since 2012, and as of last year, it's been reported that more people watch movies on PC than on smartphones and tablets put together.

**In other words, certain advances of mobile devices are bottoming out. As great as they are, they can't beat high quality displays and the sheer range of functionality that can be found in even a modest modern PC. “As people become prolific creators and start sharing content, the display innovations in 2017 will be a key feature that will drive customer satisfaction in PC segment,” believes Lenovo.

Here are the top 5 tech trends for 2017

Virtual Gaming – The VR gaming space is projected to explode as a trend in 2017. More than 50 different varieties are already confirmed for CES 2017, so it's going to be the hottest new way to play in 2017. Console gaming has long played around with VR technology, but as innovations increase and prices decrease, evolved forms of this tech are finally gracing PCs.

Seamless Integration – We're seeing "the Internet of things" take off in every corner of the industry. From Amazon's new Echo Dot, to the ambitious new home robot helper Kuri, and it's all coming together. Your home PC is likely to become more of a base of operations as all of the functionality of these devices begins to integrate. Instead of rendering the PC obsolete, these new innovations provide new and interesting ways to utilize a PC.

Amazon's Echo Dot is poised to revolutionize the way we think of home technology.

Amazon's Echo Dot is poised to revolutionize the way we think of home technology.

Versatility – 2017 is shaping up to be the year of the convertible device. Nintendo is only weeks away from releasing its much anticipated Switch video gaming unit, which doubles as both a console and mobile gaming platform. We are seeing a rapid increase in Laptop-to-tablet devices, or tablets that integrate seamlessly with keyboards, as well as all-in-one PCs that are easily transportable. This versatility is redefining the role of these devices, as their traditional uses are continually expanding.

Extended PC Lifecycles – Technology is getting better, and with that comes better PC dependability. The nature of PCs will be home integration, and as such, their tenure in a home will be seen more as an investment, not unlike an appliance. We're starting to see this already, as commercial PCs are being designed with more than just gaming and office use in mind. They are now full multimedia hubs, and as such, they are expected to last long and require less upgrading.

Affordability - Advances in PC tech have definitely driven down prices over the years. How soon we forget that it was just 15 years ago when a computer many would consider to be a dinosaur today would cost nearly $1000 out of the gate. 4 and 6 GB HDs with minuscule chunks of RAM and paltry processors. No longer is this the case, as prices for even top of the line hardware has been dropping as it becomes easier to produce higher standards. Look for bargain deals on solid graphics cards, 2 TB Hard Drives, and there's no reason to settle for less than 8 GB of RAM when you can nab it for only about $50.  Only a few years ago a "gaming PC" was out of the price range of most consumers, but the stark changes in the market have given us cheap and powerful technology. A solid gaming rig that can play just about anything you can throw at it on respectable settings is doable for around $800. Back in 2010 this would have been unthinkable, but not anymore.

We're keeping our eyes open for more upcoming tech trends as 2017 gets underway. We're also expected to see advances in gaming as well as the new release of the Adobe Suite which is promising more team-orientated settings, VR integration, and more.

- Information and photo credit: Amazon.

3 Invaluable Tips for Rebranding Your Business

During the course of a business or company's lifespan, it often undergoes several iterations, some better than others. As the market changes, a business must adapt accordingly, and unless it was built with change in mind, any deviation from the norm can leave business managers scrambling for answers.

Rebranding is not a new idea, although lately it has become something of a buzzword. As we find ourselves in the midst of the digital age, many longtime businesses are having to change their look and feel in order to accommodate the changing environment. However, issues arise during these times of change, because there are no hard and fast rules for rebranding a business. Worse yet, many businesses start a rebranding campaign for all the wrong reasons.

So here's 3 essential tips for rebranding that should act as something of a foundation when you begin to undertake the process. It doesn't have to be obscure or arduous as long as you begin in the right place.

1. Know Why You are Rebranding

Rebranding isn't something that should be done on a whim. What exactly are you trying to accomplish by rebranding? Do you want to attract new clients? Are there new products you want to advertise or new demographics you want to reach? It is important in the infancy of any rebranding campaign that you do some self-reflection and research. Look into the reasons why you think your business needs to be overhauled in such a way. Acquire some hard data - don't do this off of gut instinct alone or you and your team will be scratching your heads, wondering why you have no direction.

Your business is only as strong as the purpose it exists for - think about that for a second. Your products, your message, these are the reasons why your business exists. Start from a client-first mentality and slowly build up imagery and substance around it. You'll find that your rebranding campaign will automatically take shape when you have the right data to make judgment calls from.

It might not be a bad idea to conduct surveys or utilize focus groups if the campaign is large enough. Rebranding can have huge consequences for your business. Remember always that your brand communicates a constant message to your clients and customers. What kind of message do you want to send? Over the last decade we've seen both highly successful rebranding attempts by major businesses, while we've also seen rebranding attempts that have tanked. Hershey's and Netflix are two companies that decided on a more flat, minimalist brand image and ended up with backlash and consumer confusion. If something works, don't follow a trend just to follow it. Your rebranding should be about communicating a fresh message to your clients, not simply hopping on a bandwagon because you see everyone else doing it. The "flat design" craze is going to be passe a couple years from now anyway, and then they might be forced to rebrand once again.

2. Continuity is the Key

It's noble to say you want to transform your business model or switch up your branding, and done responsibly, this can net a positive result. However, it is easy to get lost in this process. Far too often, rebranding means "let's blow it up." Just because it might be easier to start from scratch on some aspects of your business's imagery, doing so will often have unforeseen results on your overall market reach. Branding, after all, relies primarily on client and customer perception. From this perspective, a rebranding project isn't so much about what you might personally believe is a good new look for your business, but what is the natural next step for your business to remain competitive and relevant in regards to its base.

This is the kind of outside-the-box wisdom that is easy to forget about when you get the urge to take another direction. Remember that whatever the end product is, it needs to be connected to what came before it, otherwise you stand a great risk of confusing your client base and breaking their connection with your brand. If your new logo does not impart the same energy of your original, you could very well lose people. This is a very real issue, one that often blindsides businesses, even ones with long histories that should know better. In fact, some rebranding efforts go so far out to left field, that they do much more to harm the brand image than to help it. If your new imagery doesn't organically follow from the old, it will almost surely give off the wrong impression. 

It is easy to dismiss the subjectivity of consumer opinion as something that should be led by the brand, but wisdom tells us that it is often the other way around. A smart business listens to its base, and adjusts accordingly. If the general feel of a business is fine in the minds and eyes of its consumers, rebranding is likely not what's needed. The most important factor of the rebranding process is continuity. How well does the look and feel of the brand emerge from the old, how well does it form a bridge so that its clients and customers may walk across. If you don't supply the bridge, don't expect everyone to find a way to follow you.

3. Have a Gameplan in Place

Don't put pressure on yourself or your team to perform a full rebranding in a small amount of time. Chances are if there's an issue large enough to warrant a rebranding in the first place, it will warrant careful planning and strategy in order to address properly as well.

First and foremost, market research is a must, and this can be a process that spans several weeks. You should get the advice of branding professionals and designers who gel with your ideas, form a team, and start hashing out a plan. Is this just about the logo or will the entire visual message of the business get changed? Does the website need to look more modern or does the storefront? Weak tagline or textual messages on the website or on other branding materials? Write down exactly what needs to be changed and why, then go from there.

After the foundations of the gameplan have been thoroughly investigated, start planning out what will be done in phases. Making an instant switch is not only impractical, it can affect how your customers view the business. Start making small adjustments and record customer feedback. Get your base involved and run a few polls, incorporate them into the process. This is one common tactic businesses use to ease a transition process. Don't be afraid to take your time during every aspect of the rebranding. Spending a month longer than you would like to get this off the ground will pay dividends when the alternative is a confusing brand message that has to be retracted. If you have a solid plan in place that takes your clients and customers into account, even if the branding doesn't work out, you will be better prepared to backstep or adjust, and there will be much less chance for confusion over the message being sent.

Communication is paramount in branding. Get this down and you're halfway there!

Communication is paramount in branding. Get this down and you're halfway there!

Putting it all Together

Your brand is the sum of your reputation others have of you, their perception of your value as it exists in the market. As your going through your rebranding, get continuous input from others, including friends. Ask them what your core strengths or greatest assets are. You're on the right track if this is an easy question for people to answer, because a muddied message will instantly show up in your branding. You need to be clear and concise, and there is no better way to tell if that is the case than from consumers themselves. The world wants to hear what you have to say as a company, and branding is the means by which you accomplish this. The work involved in rebranding may seem daunting, but the results of a proper rebranding campaign can pay off in spades if you are able to better communicate the message of your business. Your unique brand message separates you from the pack, giving customers a way to internalize what you are all about without going into a long-winded explanation. This is invaluable in our over-saturated society. Rebranding is about clear communication. As long as you remember that, your campaign will stay on the right track.
 

Photo credit: Treasure Keep

Branding / SEO Campaign Services: http://www.crimsonsigilmedia.com/branding

New Instagram Features: Everything You Need to Know

It's not often that Instagram, the well-loved photo-based Social Media platform, rolls out huge updates, but recently they did just that, introducing a bunch of new features, including Boomerang. Let's take a look and see if these additions bring anything truly new and useful to the tried-and-true Instagram platform.

Instagram Stories: Boomerang

With the popularity of short video clips and GIFs all over the Internet it's no wonder that Instagram is now trying their hand at the platform. It’s a super simple add-on that let's you shoot a short succession of five photos that are automatically transformed into a video clip plays back and forth in an endless loop, just like a GIF. They are saved to your phone's camera roll like any ordinary photo, and can easily be shared on Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere else that supports rich media, since the end product isn't tied to the app. It doesn't even require you to log in to use.

There are obvious similarities you can draw from the now dying Vine platform, which just last month was announced to be ending its services. There's no reason to think Vine and Boomerang share the exact same demographic though, as this app doesn't have much in common with Vine other than creating quick video snippets. It functions more like Snapchat's new Rewind feature than anything, with the aim being the capturing of a specific special moment rather than making a short "story" as was often the case with Vine.

Despite the appeal of a service like Vine, this kind of "storytelling" was always limited by the constraints of being painfully short. Boomerang isn't about telling a story, although there's no doubt it could be used to that extent if one were to get creative with it. This new Instagram service is aimed at creating more of an interactive picture that captures something cool as its actually happening, and freezing it.

instagram-man-spinning-ball

The keyword here is "moments" - a term being capitalized on by many social media platforms as of late, as they each in their own right vie for the attention of teens and young adults, their primary demographic. Due to Snapchat's rise in popularity, it is evident that short video snippets do have a huge audience, but they don't necessarily need to be there to tell a story. These "moments" are better suited to show off the fun little things that you might encounter on any given day. It's the next logical step for Instagram, which has tried its hand at video before without much success. Which brings us to Instagram's other newly debuted feature.

Instagram Stories: Moments

It's no shock that Snapchat is taking the social media world by storm. The app is on pace to grow by 27% in 2016, which makes it the second most popular social media platform in America after Facebook.

It should come as no surprise then that other social media platforms would have to try and bandwagon off of their success. It is true that Snapchat in and of itself is not the greatest marketing tool - but it can be used to connect with clients and customers alike, and provides just another outlet to communicate your brand message, if done properly. Despite its drawbacks, there is no denying that the transient nature and fun aspect of the app lend to its success and enable it to reach a wide demographic. Enter: Instagram Moments. To say that it is a Snapchat clone would be putting it mildly. The app is another addition to the "Instagram Stories" platform, and it is basically Snapchat Lite.

However, it would be careless to dismiss this new feature as just a lackluster Snapchat parody. On the contrary, not only does Moments function well, it does things that Snapchat doesn't do at all. For example, to engage properly with Snapchat, even with Stories, the user has to be acutely aware of timing. Posts shared to Snapchat Stories only last for 24 hours, after which they disappear. This does nothing for SEO or sharing. It could only ever be used to directly engage with one's audience in the now. Instagram is different in that whatever the user posts, it stays on the timeline for good. This allows for both on the spot engagement as well as longtime retention and SEO. If a post exists on the Web indefinitely, it can be shared and utilized in some fashion for an ongoing marketing campaign.

This by no means makes Instagram Moments a "Snapchat Killer" as some have proposed, but it does give them a run for their money and something to think about. There will always be a market for "flavor of the year" products like Snapchat, but Instagram's brand power will see fewer users jumping onto Snapchat just for the sake of sharing video clips if the very same functionality can be found on Instagram, which is already hugely popular with young adults. Instagram has been my personal favorite social media platform for awhile now just because it does so many things right without trying to do too much. It harnesses what I believe is the perfect mixture of reach and personalization, the two ends of the Social Media spectrum. Snapchat isn't particularly good at either - favoring more of a direct communication approach. While this isn't necessarily bad, it doesn't lend itself well to the one enduring benefit of most social media, it's ability to be shared and disseminated all over the Internet. As long as Instagram doesn't try and be a full on Snapchat clone (no need for funny filters - let Snapchat do what it does best!) it should expect success from its new services.

- Photo credit: Instagram.

 

 

Pokémon Sun and Moon and the Keys to Iconic Design

With the success and ubiquity of Pokémon Go coloring the summer of 2016, and the imminent release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, we're once again seeing the power of iconic design, and how it plays a role in the success of the franchise.

mewtwo-iconic-design-crimson-sigil

We're no strangers to Pokémon. It feels like Nintendo's popular franchise has been around forever, even though it only dates back to the mid-nineties. Pokémon has that special tendency to be around even when it's not around. Whether it's Pokémon TCG tournaments at your local comic book store, new episodes of the ongoing Anime series, or something fun to watch on Youtube, such as the newly released mini-series Pokémon Generations, the franchise has a way of lingering in relevancy even when its been three years since the release of Pokémon X and Y, the games that kicked off the 6th Generation of the franchise. 

There are many factors that lend themselves to Pokémon's success, not least of which is the fact that the games are just plain fun. Despite this, Pokémon games over the years have been criticized for being too similar to one another. Anyone who has any sense knows that if something isn't broken, don't try and fix it. This is a rampant issue in the gaming industry today, which suffers from more unnecessary innovation than perhaps any other kind of media. Pokémon understands this, and so it rarely deviates from the expected. This is one of its clear strengths, regardless of the naysayers.

One strong bit of evidence for this are the bountiful and almost hilarious amounts of Pokémon hack games there are, most of which barely deviate from the gameplay and style of the official Nintendo releases. You have Pokémon Emerald, Glazed, Legendary Ashes, and the now infamous Zeta/Omnicron, just to name but a tiny few, all with their own art, story, and gimmicks, but nonetheless based on the tried and true Pokémon framework.

Legendary Ashes and Glazed

Legendary Ashes and Glazed

So we know the gameplay and concept is solid. Pokémon does what it does, naysayers and critics be damned. But what of the graphical elements? What is it about the creature designs that have stayed with us and have continued to populate Nintendo's world when they just as easily could have changed things up along the way?

I'll be the first one to say that some Pokémon designs are somewhat lackluster. The latter generations, especially, get harped on for what many consider to be poor designs, or outright bad ones. However, I would also beg to differ. Nothing's changed all that much as far as Pokémon designs go. For every ice cream cone and chandelier Pokémon, I can point out amorphous blobs and awkward ostriches from the first generation. This is part of what makes the Pokémon iconic in the first place. It's not that they are overly detailed or especially cool (well, some of them are. I'm looking at you Aggron!). It's that they are designed to be memorable.

Ever remember the design of a Pokémon but can't remember its name? With the influx of new Pokémon fans that came with the Pokémon Go craze, I noticed this quite a bit. You might not remember the name of that rock with the arms, but if you see it, you know what it is. That's the design of Pokémon in a nutshell. When you get deeper, you begin to associate what they do with what they look like, as well. It's all part of what makes the Pokémon world unique.

It is a mix of simplicity and use of archetypes that designers in general would do well to pay attention to. Pokémon doesn't pretend to be some graphical innovator. When dozens of high-end AAA games offer us a plethora of extremely realistic, detailed characters that are all as unremarkable and unmemorable as the next, Nintendo can still show us an electric mouse with red cheeks and more than half the world knows exactly what it is. How many other franchises can say that?

Why is this design style important? In one sense, it's surely a meal ticket for Nintendo. They've been making money off of Pikachu, Charmander, and all the rest for decades now. It's more than that though. This design style is how they relate to their audience.

The Pokémon we know and love are in effect tools of communication. This is the same philosophy used in other mediums, such as logo design. A logo does not need to be overly detailed or ingenious, otherwise it may be lost on people. Many of us could name dozens of Pokémon, but unless you are a hardcore gamer, most of us would be remiss to name even a half dozen characters from the current top-ten selling video games on the X-box One and Playstation 4, especially from games that haven't been released yet.

That's the genius of Pokémon Sun & Moon. The game is not even out yet but already Nintendo's new characters are drawing us in. Some of us have picked our "starter" Pokémon already (Team Rowlet!!), and we haven't even bought the game yet. How's that for marketing? It's all about iconic design. The simple yet effective characteristics of the Pokémon make each of them unique. The three new starter Pokémon in this generation are based on a cat, an owl, and a sea lion. There have already been cats, owls, and the closely-related seals in Pokémon, yet each of these designs will inevitably speak to different people.

An iconic design is one that can effectively communicate an idea. That's all there really is to it. Without knowing much about these new starter Pokémon, it is easy to infer what Nintendo was going for with their designs. By purposefully appealing to different archetype demographics, it automatically creates variety, excitement, and tension in the Pokémon community. 

There's three main components we can draw from this kind of design style:

  • Just Enough Detail
  • Color Association
  • Symbols and Patterns

These iconic principles are exactly what makes for an impressive, memorable logo, or brand packaging. I'll briefly touch on each point, because their each worth exploring as a basis for solid design.

 First, "Just Enough Detail" means just enough to effectively communicate the purpose of the design. There doesn't need to be a ton of pointless detail in order to make a character that people can connect to. In fact, usually the opposite is true. The more random spikes, claws, arms, ears, eyes, and wings that are thrown on a creature, the less likely it's going to connect with someone, because it ceases to be an archetype. The same holds true for a logo: a potential client is unlikely to feel anything toward a logo that is a mass of elements thrown on top of one another just 'cause. Think of the most iconic logos: Pepsi, McDonald's, Ford, Apple. These logos are all vastly different, but for the fact that they forgo pointless detail for the sake of memorable simplicity. Most of the Pokémon designs follow this same formula, which makes them easy to remember, and easy for the mind to associate with and relate to.

Next is the idea of Color Association, which is basically how the color scheme of a design relates to its purpose or message. Though we don't actively think about it, most good logos have some kind of reason behind why they are a certain color. A perfect example of this in Pokémon is how many are colored based on their element typing. Since many players have an affinity for certain types of Pokémon, such as Fire, Ice, or Fairy, the colors will communicate this idea to the player, automatically eliciting a response from them. Many fans of the series guessed that Litten's final form would be Fire / Dark simply because of its coloration, and they guessed right, even though there has never been a series starter with the Dark type before in the history of Pokémon. Color Association is a powerful tool that can communicate ideas to your clients before you even bring out a slogan or show them a product. Remember that.

Finally, we have the Symbols and Patterns used in Pokémon. Notice, for example, the markings on Litten, Rowlet, and Popplio above. The jagged whiskers and head markings of Litten infer flames, while the soft, round shapes of Rowlet give the impression of feathers and leaves. Even Popplio's frilled neck invokes the shape of waves. This is all fully intentional, though the casual observer might simply chock it up to cute design. A large amount of the Pokémon from every generation have these kinds of traits, because they form symbolic impressions that stick with us. If Pokémon were a game that featured highly realistic graphics, they wouldn't be able to get away with as much of this as they do, because there is less license for simple shapes and colors. Typically in such games, characters are remembered more for their place in a story or their acting, rather than pure design, and if the game fails to deliver on this point, well, we know how that turns out. Needless to say billions of people worldwide wouldn't be able to recognize said characters in any context whatsoever.

These same principles apply to all aspects of design, not just for cute cartoon video game characters. As much as Pokémon might be seen as having bland or even lazy design, nothing could be further from the truth. These characters have endured for a generation and there's no sign that they are stopping any time soon. If you're serious about design, you'll take what Pokémon does seriously, not just as a gaming phenomenon, but as an artistic monolith which has spawned hundreds of beautiful and powerful designs. The same elements that make a person fall in love with Pikachu can make a person embrace your logo or other corporate branding. It's not always about looking "professional" - that logo you has commissioned which you think looks professional and high quality might look stuffy and uninteresting to your clients. Have some levity in your design practices, and use the elements of iconic design to your advantage. I don't necessarily advocate that your logo feature a fire-breathing racoon or anything, but you get the point. It might make the difference between "just another design" and something that truly attracts people to your brand.

 

We're less than a week away from the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon. Find out more about the game by visiting the Official Pokémon Website.

- banner credit: Arkeis Pokemon | Download: http://arkeis-pokemon.deviantart.com/art/Wallpaper-Pokemon-Sun-Moon-Starters-608263591

- information and photo credit to serebii.net.

- Pokémon Fan Games: http://pokemonessentials.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_fangames

- Pokémon Glazed: http://pokemonglazed.com/

- Legendary Ashes: http://pokemonromhack.com/pokemon-legendary-ashes.html