April 20, 2024

Dentsu’s James Bush: “Quantum computing and artificial intelligence will drive personalization”

An industry veteran with over 20 years of experience in creative technology, James Bush has built a notable career path spanning startups, agencies, and personal passion projects. Now, as Creative Technology Director for Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) at Dentsu Creative, he shares insights into pivotal moments that ignited his passion for the field and propelled him towards an innovative career.

Speaking to LBB’s Tom Loudon, James delves into projects that combine emerging technologies to create unique user experiences. He talks about his time at Commonwealth Bank, where people-centred research drove viable innovation, and imparts valuable lessons from his business ventures. His perspective on the future of creative technology reveals a rich landscape of artificial intelligence, automation and IOT-driven possibilities.

LBB> Your career spans over 20 years in the creative technology field. Can you share a pivotal moment or project that fueled your passion for this field and set you on the path to your professional career?

James> I’m very fortunate that my career started just as the Web was starting to improve; there was a lot of money available and digital design was really finding its place. My first job was at a digital agency in London called AMX, where I worked under Alasdair Scott and Malcom Garrett. They gave me a lot of freedom to experiment with the code and discover things as I went. I won a D&AD pencil my first year, something whose importance I didn’t really appreciate at the time, but thinking about it, it was instrumental because it set a benchmark for artistry and boundary-pushing very early in my career.

LBB> As Head of Creative Technology at Dentsu Creative, you are responsible for designing innovative solutions. Could you give us an example of a recent project where you integrated emerging technologies to create a unique and valuable user experience?

James> One project we are incredibly proud of is Rae, a virtual influencer. We leveraged AI, game engines, and CGI to create Rae and ensure she could exist beyond a 2D avatar and live in the virtual world. Rae has unlocked AI, CGI, NFT, blockchain, AR and VR technologies, operating in virtual worlds, live streams and holograms.

Rae is more than just a virtual model: she has launched NFTs to support girls’ STEM education and encourage them to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The journey of exploration and experimentation continues as brands and retailers seek collaboration.

LBB> While at Commonwealth Bank, he led the design pillar of the Emerging Technology team. How do you address the challenge of translating human-centered research into viable innovation opportunities? Can you share an example of a successful outcome of this approach?

James> The simplest innovation opportunities arise from identifying unsatisfied customer needs or pain points. We spent a lot of time researching, using different lenses, from macro issues like cost of living or sustainability to data sources, to identify where these opportunities might exist. Our goal was to be able to deliver real value and utility to all of the bank’s customers, not just a select few.

Fuel Finder is a great example of this. We use machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn from customer interactions to drive personalized banking services. Basically, Fuel Finder checks a customer’s transaction history and predicts when they will refuel their vehicle. Locates nearby gas stations offering the best fuel prices and alerts them to the cheapest option in their area through the CommBank app.

LBB> You co-founded Outta Here Social Club, where you built a high-margin business using only third-party platforms and services. What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned from this entrepreneurial venture?

James> DTC and retail in general is difficult. While it’s easy to create a product, build the platform, and connect channels, generating consistent sales requires a lot of time to understand where your customers are, how to reach them, and get them to convert. Data can tell you a lot, but talking to your customers is invaluable.

LBB> You founded Twenty One Coffee as a personal passion project. Can you tell us more about this company and how your background in creative technology influenced the development and success of the brand?

James> This was a side project I chose to place outside of the world of creative technology. As someone who spends too much time sitting in front of a screen, I wanted a creative outlet that was very hands-on. Where I could learn something new and if I made some money simultaneously, it would be an advantage. Working with brilliant designers and strategists over the years helped inform the development of the brand, and my technical skills allowed me to get a website up and running very quickly so I could sell the products I had created.

LBB> Throughout your career, you have worked in various roles related to product innovation and design thinking. How do you foster a culture of innovation within your teams and what strategies do you use to encourage creative problem solving?

James> I firmly believe in curiosity, diversity of thoughts and asking for help. My technical background means I am very curious to understand how things work, which means I ask a lot of questions and value the opinions and experiences of others. I am equally interested in understanding what motivates someone to do something and why. Diversity of thought is also important. Sometimes that difference of opinion or another perspective is what you need to solve a problem. I’m never shy about trying to find a partner or subject matter expert to try to bring an idea to life. I actively try to encourage these actions in any team I work with. I never want anyone to feel like they are solely responsible for solving a problem or that an idea belongs to just one individual. I particularly enjoy when teams share what inspires them or something they’ve seen that has excited them.

LBB> Having worked internationally in cities such as London, how have cultural differences influenced your approach to creative technology and what have you learned from collaborating with diverse teams around the world?

James> Collaborating with diverse teams is always a learning opportunity. They learn from the experiences and knowledge of others. While there may sometimes be small language barriers, the team grows by developing trust and cohesion. Speaking slowly and listening carefully may seem obvious, but slang and idioms are quickly lost among non-native speakers. Accepting your teammates’ cultural differences is a great way to experience another culture, but also to gain insight into what influences their thinking and values. This ties into the previous question: to collaborate, learn, and grow, you need to be curious, humble, and open to feedback.

LBB> He has been involved in multiple startups and co-founded Streaker. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to launch their own creative technology projects?

James> Just start. Get ready to never stop thinking about work. Never compete on price.

LBB> You have also worked at agencies such as AnalogFolk and M&C Saatchi as creative technology director. Could you share a memorable campaign or project from your agency’s experience that showcases the power of creative technology in marketing?

James> I’m very proud to be the co-creator of Clever Buoy for Optus. We use sonar technology to detect sharks and satellite technology to communicate with lifeguards. It turned out to be a dream project, not only from the client’s perspective but also how we worked as a team and how the agency as a whole supported the work. We worked on Clever Buoy for 18 months. Seeing our idea and prototype become a commercial product and a business floating on the ASX was incredible and something I aspire to repeat.

LBB> Finally, how do you see the role of creative technology evolving in the coming years and what trends or technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on the industry?

James> We are just beginning the next wave of technological evolution. Creative technology will become more valuable as the advertising industry moves deeper into data-driven ecosystems.

In terms of technologies that will have the greatest impact, AI is already proving to be instrumental in shaping the tools we use today, and automation will become the norm in all facets of life. The Internet of Things will play a huge role in automation, thinking beyond smart watches and speakers and looking to IoT embedded in vehicles and medical devices to deliver real-time data that informs personalized experiences backed by AI. All this will be facilitated by quantum computing, capable of processing enormous amounts of data and allowing simulations unimaginable at the moment.

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