The bright orange sign in the shape of a triangle that hangs in the lobby at archer-malmo has a feature that’s not immediately obvious to visitors.
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. That feature was added thanks to a few employees of the marketing and communications agency who got together and decided to “hack” the sign – no particular reason, really, just to flex their technical skills.
Playing around with the sign didn’t serve an immediate purpose for archer-malmo – but the reason the employees chose to do it in the first place might. That experiment was the first undertaken by a small contingent of archer’s digerati who are carving out some time each week to tinker in archer’s new digital lab, a kind of high-tech sandbox the agency is referring to as the “lab @ archer-malmo.”
It involves, for now, a handful of employees spending a few hours on Friday afternoons cooking up ideas and working to bring them to fruition with the equipment in the lab like circuit boards and a newly purchased 3D printer. In the short term, the time they spend in that space on the fourth floor of the Cotton Exchange Building serves as a creative outlet, one more employee-friendly feature at a firm that has a place for employees to store bikes and lets employees bring their kids and pets to work. Longer-term, archer-malmo sees the digital lab as a possible tech-centric workshop where a problem might get solved or a dose of inspiration might lead to the creation of something that eventually gets presented to a client.
Gary Backaus, archer-malmo’s chief creative officer, said the lab is a place where elements of several 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.
It will be a place, he added, that’s filled with a core of employees who know their way around the equipment. Eventually, anybody in the firm with an idea will be able to head to the lab to see if their big “What If,” in Backaus’ words, can become something more. Like many features of the agency, the lab serves multiple purposes.
“Hacking the sign in the lobby was the first thing, and even though it didn’t serve an immediate purpose, it’s something that gets our chops up,” said John Markham, archer-malmo’s director of broadcast production. “The nature of my job is problem solving. I’m in the video department, and whenever I make a video there’s some problem to solve – you’ve got to find a way to tell this certain message. If I can flex my muscle on problem solving on different things like (the sign), that helps in the day-to-day problem solving I do.
A new project archer-malmo will work on through the lab is rigging the company’s conference rooms with sensors. After integrating them into a website, the idea is for employees who might need space for a meeting to turn to the site to see if a particular space is in use.
Referring to the new lab, archer-malmo copywriter Dan Price summed it up: “This is in our nature. It’s just really cool. And it fits into the culture.”