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December 9, 2009

Awesome things Google Creative Director Ji Lee had to show, in Kortrijk

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Brice Le Blévennec

Ji Lee, a Creative Director at Google, and the brain behind Google Creative Lab, was the highly anticipated keynote speaker on the opening day of Design At Work’s 3-day trade show in Kortrijk (www.designatwork.be).

He started his hour-long talk with some neat examples of personal work (he has worked on some major ad campaigns in his hometown of New York), like creating smart business cards or launching a new museum using the building’s silhouette.

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After this light intro, he moved on to more Google-related work. But it wasn’t a coincidence he mixed some of his personal projects in between, as his keynote was titled “Personal + Professional = Awesome”, which was also one of his main messages: that personal and professional projects can, and should, complement each other.

Again no coincidence that Google itself is known for its “20% rule”, but others do similar things, he noted, like 3M, or designer Stefan Sagmeister, who takes a sabbatical every 7 years.

Indeed, some of Google’s greatest products started as personal projects of Google-employees (most famously probably Gmail), but Mr. Lee stressed that Google’s corporate culture allows creative ideas to come from anywhere and are given an equal chance, like “Google Search Stories”, which was an idea of an intern at Google.

For Google, however, the problem is not so much coming up with new ideas for awesome products, but getting them known. Like Chrome; the browser. In fact, in the “What is a browser?” video, Ji Lee is behind the camera.

What’s interesting about the video (next to the conclusion that less than 8% know what a browser is), is that it went viral, and others started to make their own, local interviews.

This is the key: let people talk for you (instead of yelling at them, via traditional mass media).

One of Lee’s jobs is to make this happen, by inspiring and stimulating people to take the initiative and be creative with Google’s brand and freely available APIs. Goollery, again one of Lee’s independent projects, archives an impressive list of “creative, fun and innovative Google-related projects from people around the world.”

Some awesome examples are Favorite placesBrowser ball and Layar, but there are many more worth mentioning. Unfortunately Ji Lee’s time also ran out after an hour.

The end was pretty lame, however, when Vincent Van Quickenborne (Minister of “economy and simplification”, as moderator Nina de Man put it) and none other than Imke Dielen (so called “blog phenomenon”) were invited on stage and allowed to ask Mr. Lee a few questions.

To see more highly creative work from Ji Lee himself, check his personal portfolio at Pleaseenjoy.com.

Koen Claes for Emakina/Think

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