Advertising Meets Interactive Design

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I recently interviewed interactive designer Jonathan Harris about his work for the October issue of Print, which is focused on storytelling through design. During the interview, Harris referenced an essay by David Foster Wallace (“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”) in which DFW explains the difference between art and advertising:

This is the reason why even a really beautiful, ingenious, powerful ad (of which there are a lot) can never be any kind of real art: an ad has no status as gift, i.e. it’s never really for the person it’s directed at.

So it was interesting then that Microsoft’s incubation group Yarn, “ad agency from people who hate ads” Rooster and skater-centric shoe brand Vans collaborated on a new way to mix technology, advertising and interactive design for the benefit of the consumer. Using the Skype platform, Yarn and Rooster sought to design something that would be fun for Vans customers and made sense for the brand. What emerged was a program that allowed two people to connect on Skype, build a skate park together, watch a professional skater ride in their park and share the video via social media channels.


“This is part of our overall effort to really chart the future of digital advertising,” says Stephen Kim, general manager of Yarn at Microsoft Advertising. “We want to develop new ways for consumers to interact and figure out how brands and ads go with those experiences.

“When mapping the future of ad in the digital landscape, we have to partner with creative companies and teams in order to be effective. Technology only gets us part of the way, but it can all come together with really great designers. Last year, we started to reach out to creative firms. We wanted to deliver their messages and help them build awesome, awesome experiences. It was a question of: How do we think about social in a completely different way in that platform? We are very excited about this prototype.”


Microsoft reached out to Rooster after having already completed a successful ad campaign for Nissan called “Innovation for Endurance.” The relationship blossomed and the two companies decided to take a completely different approach when building the prototype for Vans.

“It was a completely different process than we have ever done,” says Sebastian Eldridge, Rooster CEO and partner. “We didn’t come at it from a client perspective because no money exchanged hands. And this was an opportunity to work with one of the better brands on the face of the earth. This is an interesting platform that speaks to Skype and its core ideas. One of our thoughts was: How do we create an experience where two people can create together and not just watch something?”


Rooster chose to develop the campaign for Vans because the shoe brand was the advertising agency’s first client. Vans also trusted Rooster to do what they wanted, even allowing the company to shoot the video for the program in the House of Vans, an actual indoor skate park.

“Vans helped us start our brand, and we wanted to give back to them,” Eldridge says.


Rooster creative officer Gavin McInnes also touched on the idea of giving back to the customer through entertainment:

“I created a video for Vans called ‘How to Piss in Public,’ and it blew up. One of the comments was ‘this better not be a shoe ad,’ but it was. We are the ad agency for people who hate ads. If you are on Skype talking about Mother’s Day, and an ad for flowers comes up, it’s invasive. We want to gamify the world. We want to give the customer something in the end.”

And that “something” is an interactive experience built for two. Eldridge describes the process as follows:

“The overall idea is for two people to create a skate park together in the House of Vans. They pick two features and lock them in. They pick a pro skater to skate the line after selecting those elements. It is animated and then goes into a video in which the professional skater rides the line you made. You get to see the nuances of each trick and the overlay of how to do those tricks.”


Because different shoes are required for different kinds of skating, the skaters are wearing different shoes for each trick. Once the skater completes the line, Skypers get to see the shoes that were used and have the option to purchase them. There is also the social aspect of sending the skate park collaboration to another person on Skype or posting the link to Facebook or Twitter, which Eldridge and Kim agree was an important part of the overall project.


“We know that people chat they are often doing other things, such as during a poker game,” Kim says. “There are a lot of offline examples where people converse while they are doing an activity. We wanted to bring that behavior aspect to life, and this was really relevant to Vans. All the elements from the skate park are rated and players get a score. They are able to share it. This is an ad that people actually want to interact with.”

Additional Resource: Build Your Own Brand

This interactive project took what the Vans brand is known for (awesome skater shoes) and created an experience its customers would enjoy. Do you know how to accomplish a similar feat for your personal brand? Robin Landa’s “Build Your Own Brand” from My Design Shop can get you started.