This article was published on December 23, 2012

Google Creative Lab’s Steve Vranakis: Technology should be both a tool and a toy

Google Creative Lab’s Steve Vranakis: Technology should be both a tool and a toy
Amalia Agathou
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Amalia Agathou

Amalia Agathou is the Community Director for The Next Web. She's studied Information and Communication Systems Engineering and has shared he Amalia Agathou is the Community Director for The Next Web. She's studied Information and Communication Systems Engineering and has shared her time between the startup and fashion scene. She has worked as an editor for The Next Web, House& Garden and Glamour magazine. Follow her on Twitter

Google Creative Lab’s projects aim to help people discover the magic of the Web and spark their imaginations to get creative with tech. Steve Vranakis moved from the world of design and advertising to the tech industry when he joined Google Creative Lab as the Creative Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Vranakis has worked on a series of projects so far like World Wonders Project which provides access to the world’s heritage sites through Street View, and YouTube Space Lab Channel, a worldwide initiative for 14- to 18-year-old high school students in partnership with NASA, that challenged students to design a science experiment that can be performed in space.

The latest project he worked on was Web Lab, a series of interactive installations connected to the web live at the Science Museum in London, which in the 5 months since its soft launch it counts more than 4 million online visits and 175,000 in-museum visitors from 196 countries (Top countries: US, UK, IT, RU, FR, BR, IN, ES, DE & MX).

I had the pleasure of watching his talk for TEDxAthens “The Ones Who Do” and we caught up for a short interview after that:

TNW: Through Google Creative Lab’s projects you help people open their eyes to the possibilities of tech, do you feel we’ve somehow lost the wonder for its powers lately?

Steve Vranakis: I’m a huge proponent of technology. It can be used to create efficiencies, for distribution, to connect and as we’ve seen recently to liberate. When we recently created a ‘digital to physical’ series of experiments (Web Lab) it was to show the world how we can all connect to things together both on and offline in a physical space. I don’t think we have forgotten about how powerful it is, but every now and then we need a gently reminder of its beauty and magic.

TNW: How can entrepreneurs manage to keep their focus on money without sacrificing their creative vision? How can they give their products a touch of magic?

Steve Vranakis: Some of the most pioneering individuals in history did so on a shoestring. I don’t think you need to sacrifice creativity due to lack of funds. It just means being a bit more resourceful and imaginative. Constraints and limitations create tension. Tension can lead to creative breakthroughs. Magic comes from being surprising and unexpected.

TNW: Coming from the word of advertising to the world of tech, what elements of the advertising industry could the tech world use?

Steve Vranakis: Advertising agencies create some of the world’s best storytellers. Sometimes we need to be able to take the ‘not so naturally appealing’ and create these incredible engaging worlds around them. Combine this with interactivity and social and you’ve got the recipe for some very big ideas.

TNW: You have kids, how does the way they interact with tech inspire you? Do they surprise you with the way they use it? What do you think will change in our relationship with tech for the next generations?

Steve Vranakis: I have two boys, one is five and the other is two. The five-year-old jumps from smartphone to tablet to laptop with utter ease. The incredible thing is how the two-year-old knew how to unlock my mobile at about 18 months old. He immediately knew how to navigate based on gesturing simply by watching me. Today’s devices are incredibly intuitive and require little to no previous experience. More and more websites are following tablet design principles and have done away with superfluous elements. As technology becomes more ubiquitous and at the same time invisible we will learn to coexist naturally with it as it continues to provide us with utility in our everyday lives.

TNW: You closed your TEDx Athens talk with the message ‘Re:code//Greece’. How do you think the European startup ecosystem can make a difference and help Europe get out of the crisis stronger and more united?

Steve Vranakis: Europe is already producing some of the worlds biggest and most cutting edge technology (just look at the Airbus A380!) Countries like Greece need to include IP and digital ideas on their list of exports. We have an incredibly skilled and educated labor force that just needs the environment to be put in place to help start and grow these types of companies.

The beauty with tech startups I that if their idea is good enough it travels easily around the world. It takes a slight shift in thinking to go from what Negroponte called a few years back ‘atoms to bits’. The recent crisis is both an economic as well as cultural one. We need to feel comfortable with technology playing a key part of the Greek society and economy and feel confident in producing it.

TNW: You’ve mentioned in a past talk that you see tech more as a toy and less as a tool. What are your favorite fun destinations on the web (or apps)?

Steve Vranakis: Technology should be fun and not be taken too seriously. It should be both a tool and a toy. To the user a tool, to the creator a toy. What I mean is that the developer should love the designing, coding and overall production of whatever it is they’re making. They shouldn’t feel pressured to deliver a world-changing application and approach it with an element of fearlessness. To the user, it should feel as simple to use as some of the most basic tools we use in our every day lives. If it’s difficult to understand and navigate and you need to learn how to use an application you’re probably going about it the wrong way.

Stick to existing user behaviors and build your platforms around these. I personally love useful apps like Flipboard but at the same time I’m a massive fan of fun apps like ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore!’

You can watch Steve’s TEDxAthens talk below:

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