Sid Lee Labs goes live

The secret's out: how the experience design arm of the agency plans to create and deliver innovation solutions for clients.

The sign on the door of Sid Lee Labs says “Department of Createstratnology” — a tongue-in-cheek representation of the intersection of creativity, strategy and technology the agency’s user experience and innovation arm looks to help clients and the agency itself understand.

Launching publicly last week, Sid Lee Labs will focus on providing experience design and creative technology solutions to clients — ranging from custom apps and augmented reality to beacons and wearables — and deploying them strategically. The division will also advise other departments of the agency how these experiences can be weaved into other assets.

“One of our chief roles is that we help the other groups understand how these technologies affect people in general and what the implications are in traditional media,” says Michael Turri, director of experience design at Sid Lee and one of the heads of Sid Lee Labs. “Then our job as a team is to figure out how to make some of those things actionable and deploy them in a highly relevant way.”

Sid Lee Labs has been operating semi-secretly for the last 18 months (when Turri and Kevin Sutherland, director of creative technology, joined) and under the Sid Lee Labs banner internally for the last year.

“Before we went to market with it, we wanted to make sure it was a successful way of doing what we wanted,” Sutherland says. “Labs was an experiment in itself, with the idea of bringing innovation to a larger agency. We needed to create this shiny, very visible hub of innovation the rest of the agency could get behind and see was progressive and more technically innovative.”

Turri joined Sid Lee in the fall of 2013 from the experience design world, having worked both as a freelancer and at different companies. Sutherland joined around the same time, having previously worked on the digital side at U.K. agencies including Y&R, AnalogFolk and R/GA.

Labs is operating as a separate division of the agency, similar to how content development division Jimmy Lee operates, working with Sid Lee clients but also having its own direct clients who don’t require full creative marketing services. The division is currently operating as a six-person team out of Sid Lee’s Montreal office, but will work across all of the agency’s locations as needed.

Sutherland says a big part of what Labs does, and what differentiates it, is its focus on prototyping and building solutions that cover the full gamut of tech and innovation, and turning around those projects very quickly.

“When you’re working with global clients, a slower turnaround works a lot of the time because we are matching their pace. When we’re dealing with experiential clients and start-ups, they need a much faster turnaround,” he says. “We have a very intentionally small, multi-skilled team and, as a result, our cycles are very fast. A big part of what we do is R&D-based because we have the freedom and time to invest in innovation and that’s not necessarily something that can happen when you’re always working on long-term campaigns.”

One of Labs’ first projects was an augmented museum project done for Stanford University’s Anderson Collection, where visitors could access videos, articles and more information about points of interest or hidden elements of art when they placed their mobile device in front of the artwork. The project is still being used at the museum, and Turri says it is a platform they can implement at other museums, art galleries and educational institutions.

Other projects have included cashless payment solutions for the agency’s in-house bistro and an OOH board for paint brand Sico that matches a shade of paint to whatever colour the sky behind the board was at that time.

Featured image of the Sid Lee Labs six-person team, with heads Michael Turri on the far left and Kevin Sutherland on the far right.