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Architects of Next: What a social world looks like / Cat O’Brien, OneFifty

Our #ArchitectsofNext series focuses on people in other organisations creating what comes next, but also introduces our very own architects…

Design and data. Beyond the alliteration, they can often be seen as worlds apart. Not for Cat O’Brien, who is taking her design background into exploring the world of digital engagement.

Her experience reads like many people’s dream: Manchester United, London 2012, Saracens rugby, and most recently the Baku European Games. From dressing football stadiums for the world’s cameras, to working on matchday experiences for the most passionate rugby fans, approaching everything with a keen sense of what the visual experience is has made her focus on the user.

So, when it comes to applying that to the world of digital engagement, she sees exciting possibilities, but acknowledges that not everyone regards social media, in particular, the same way: “Instagram has the ability to make anyone a photographer. Some people complain that means a lot of poor quality shots of food. But Instagram can make you a photographer – how exciting is that? The democratising power of the level playing field giving everyone with talent access is incredible. I see it instead as an exciting way to move the world to become a visual, inspiring place. Anything which encourages and enables more people to utilise a creative outlet is a good thing, in my opinion.

“It’s that ability to create new ways of working, creating what comes next, with a fairer playing field for brand and influencer collaborations which I’m excited to be exploring. The creativity that gives rise to can be infectious – because social media is relatively new as a creative medium means there’s more opportunity to be destructive and transformational.”

Taking a career which has focussed on the creative and visual, to approaching things from a strategic, data-led perspective is the challenge which she’s embracing. “The power and possibility of the accessible information and data behind the social media apps that I have become so familiar with, and how this accessible data can shape my approach to understanding different approaches to creative challenges in future. Applying that to human behaviour, and developing a strategic understanding of things like how we can make the ‘everyday beautiful’ through Instagram, or encourage people to seek trusted recommendations from a peer is really motivating.”

Looking at the sports sector, which she knows well, surprisingly she sees it as ripe for disruption. “The technology on the pitch is ahead of the pace of adoption in many (not all) marketing and comms teams. Beyond the obvious names (Nike, RedBull etc), as a category sport has not yet explored the full potential of digital technology as far as one might have expected”.

Fusing design thinking with effective use of behavioural data points to the sort of human-focussed thinking which will create what comes next.

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