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VOL. 7 | NO. 17 | Saturday, April 19, 2014

High-Tech Workshop

Creatives at archer-malmo cook up high-tech projects in new lab

By Andy Meek

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Give a crew of tech-savvy creatives a digital sandbox in which to stretch their imagination, and they’re liable to build something fun and inventive that requires so much inspiration it feeds back into their real job.

Price peers into a MakerBot 3D printer crafting the thumbtack holder, part of an effort from the “lab @ archer-malmo,” a high-tech workshop the marketing and communications agency decided to start at its Downtown headquarters.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

That’s sort of the idea behind the “lab @ archer-malmo,” a high-tech workshop that marketing and communications agency archer-malmo decided to start on the fourth floor of the Cotton Exchange Building Downtown where the firm resides.

It began as a purely creative outlet, a place where archer’s digerati can unwind creatively, tinker and try out ideas that might not otherwise find a place into their day-to-day work.

That makes the lab yet another employee-friendly perk at a firm already stocked with them, including places to store bikes and the way employees can bring their kids and pets to work.

The lab includes gadgets like circuit boards and a 3D printer, the latter of which already is being used to crank out work for clients. Robby Grant, archer’s director of digital development, said the firm did an offsite event for one of its clients where it used the lab equipment to create what looked like game pieces based on the client’s logo.

The lab’s 3D printer also is being used on an internal project, creating awards to honor archer employees.

John Markham, right, director of broadcast production along with Price and Robby Grant, left, director of interactive development, explain the computer controlling the interactive lighted logo in archer-malmo’s reception area at the Cotton Exchange Building Downtown.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“So we’ve had our creative people in the creative department kind of cross over to help with some of that stuff and working with the 3D printing,” Grant said. “We’ve also fleshed out some of the other prototypes we’ve been working on in the lab.”

The latter is a reference to the bright orange sign in the shape of a triangle that hangs in archer’s lobby, which has features that aren’t immediately obvious to visitors. Hacking it was one of the first projects undertaken in archer’s lab, so that now, if someone taps on the sign, the light visible behind it will dim and then flash in quick succession the same number of times the sign was tapped.

Grant’s comment was a reference to the fact that one of the projects now under way in the lab is figuring out how to add sound to the sign.

Archer-malmo copywriter Dan Price with a thumbtack holder created by the firm’s MakerBot 3D printer.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

That project didn’t serve an immediate purpose or translate into something directly useful in the course of the firm’s business – but then, again, it might, archer’s professionals say. Archer CEO Russ Williams, for example, makes repeated reference to his job of managing creative people and how it involves, in a sense, “setting them free” – giving them tools, resources and a launch pad to put their talents and creative energy to full use.

Among other things archer’s people are using the lab for, Grant said they’ll also be relying on it as part of work the firm is doing with Start Co. on a project for Start Co.’s new Downtown space. Without revealing details now, Grant says it will be something archer helps make to install there.

Gary Backaus, archer’s chief creative officer, told The Daily News shortly after the lab was set up that it’s a place where elements of several different archer teams can come together.

“It might seem a little unusual for an ad agency to get into this, but we want to be open to all possibilities for what a company like ours can do – and that means making things,” Backaus said.

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