Marketing is about values - how we create a vision for the futuristic tech we are building at Shunya

Ekta Grover
Founder, Shunya
Rachana Sravanthi
Intern, Graphic Designing
November 30, 2020
5 minutes
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To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world; it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is.  - Steve Jobs 


I have read many accounts of the turnaround of Apple and tried to understand what it takes to build great products.  The first step is to visualise a reality that not many people are seeing. In that you create a category to build a great business, and you build that not on the basis of threat, fear, or greed, but for the sake of aspiration - because it’s a higher order need which subsumes all low energy fields. The second step is to relentlessly communicate this purpose/mission to your customers.

Communication needs a vision, which is often this esoteric force, that you can imagine, but can’t put into words. This is where the power of thinking comes in.  So, in this post, we decided to take you through the creative process at Shunya - what goes on behind the scenes to execute our vision as a gift for the world. Come join our journey to see how we expect Education and the Offline schooling to evolve. 


Background 


If you have been reading our posts, you may have noticed how we take pride in the fact that we interviewed 60+ Educators over 2+ months, before writing even a single line of code. Most folks feel pressured to rush into building the product. COVID had already broken out, and the heat was on to build the product. Who doesn't like to strike the iron while it’s hot ? But we are not a traditional company. We took time to analyse the problem and develop ideas with a lot of conviction and clarity so that our product will be the most befitting solution to the problem. Put differently, we think “fast & slow” at the same time. 



Specifics 

The first of the Machine learning features that we were working on was Auto grading. This came off of a lot of feedback from customers and their real problems. Based on those deep conversations our principles developed that were centred around

  • Simplicity
  • Relief and mental well being 
  • If machines can do the mundane tasks, why should you 
  • Communicating futuristic technology in a human centric intuitive way
  • Empathy 


Now comes the time for executing our ideas keeping these values in mind to take users along for a joyride. It is not the time for screens/frames yet. First you decide on a sequence of emotions that you want your users to experience and only after that the screens gradually come together with specifics on  suggested visuals that will carry that message forward.  



Learn to appreciate the initial sketches 

Most people stop at the initial sketch, thinking it's too bad, or not worth it. They think that offloading it to a professional agency, who would do the thinking for them would suffice. The hard part is working with a good agency often lets you re-articulate the problem which helps to redefine your vision. I know this, because I have worked on an  emotional script about my personal journey that touched the hearts of people. In this script, all expressions and words were mine, but it took incessant questioning by the person who was coaching me to develop the same. He kept asking me “and how do you define presence”, which forced me to think beyond the english articulation of the same. 


Magic happens when you move from the language articulation frame to feeling/expression frame and that is when you can hope for people to truly understand what you mean.  As someone who has studied Savitri paintings by Huta, that was guided by mother Divine, it was clear to me that to perfect expressions of communication, one needs to find clarity of thought.  And keep pushing yourself to express how you want the customer to see, touch, feel and communicate with your product. 


Rachna’s process after debrief 

The end product, first :)


Sharing one of the story boards for what became the auto grading video. Credits: Rachana .

The very first step to designing is to take a step back, pause and relax- at least for me. When I am given a concept to develop and design , I do not jump right into it.


I start all the way from scratch: from understanding what Ekta needs, how Ekta is looking at the outcome, what it is going to convey , who it has to reach and how best can I deliver it. Then with a fresh mind , I start my research- in this particular case, for a 'demo video'. I look at instances of how other designers have done it. Since we are dealing with AI and machine learning in classroom management it is hard to find inspiration as this subject is futuristic and innovative and not many have dealt with this concept previously on an extensive range.


What I have learnt in my many interactions and feedback from Ekta is 2 principles - simplicity of communication(She is quick to admit - “I am learning along with you, Rachna!”) and a principle of “just the right amount of familiarity“ - not too much to feel overused and not too little. 


After visualising a concept, I try to sketch different versions of it. I create a storyboard, which is a sequence of drawings showing how the video is going to progress with a breakdown of its exact content. This helps us align and even improve the original articulation. I then start creating the graphics that can be animated - whether these are mobile phones with layers of elements in its screens, or a teacher persona ,or a robot , etc. I focus on the transition and the emotion. The journey of that character and how it blends to the persona of the product. 



Once the animation is done, we move to effects - both sound and visual. Visual effects such as zoom-ins , focusing, defocusing ,3D particle systems, etc and many other layers of post process are added to achieve the desired look and emotion.


Sound is often underrated and viewed as a secondary element. But, the music and SFX are actually responsible for elevating the visuals on screen. So I pay a lot of attention to the music and SFX that I use in the video . Recently we have also levelled up our marketing communications and added voice-over to our latest video that talks about our most ambitious feature yet -the autograding of assignments. Doing the same video again, separated out by 2 months - told me how much more can be done. 


A lot of leaders do not pay attention to the visual communication of the brand and little details. In that sense, Ekta is on another extreme. Every part is through, thoughtful. Eg - we were creating ads for all platforms and Ekta remarked “ Rachna, these visuals will be seen on mobile devices. Keep the focal point of the narrative at heart of all communication” . Her per peeve - “Our users & prospective customers are doing us a favour by giving us 5 seconds of their attention. Lets entertain , educate and add value to their lives” 


This experience has been a highly rewarding one and I look forward to creating more and more for this venture where my contributions matter & make a difference. I am a better thinker than I first was and I can see the impact I am directly making on the Shunya as a young brand - crafting its own soulful journey of existence.