People innovate with greater purpose when they understand real human needs. These needs are often buried. At Slanted Light, we discover and articulate these unseen needs in ways that enable companies to connect with people in enduring ways. By rallying your team around a new understanding of the problem and its solution, we find the story you need to tell, the product you need to make, and the market you need to be in. We develop brands, produce films, discover new markets and redefine old ones. This is our collective craft.
Uncovering the athlete experience. Mapping the future of sport.
New Product Development
Our history with Nike runs deep. Throughout eight years of fieldwork, and across five continents, we’ve been involved in so many facets of Nike’s business that we have actually shaped Nike’s vision for the future of sport as a whole.
From dusty soccer pitches to Japanese community sport clubs to Olympians in training, we’ve worked with Nike globally on projects for Fuelband, Free, Athletic Training, and the Innovation Kitchen. With a focus on the athlete experience, we’ve conducted literally thousands of interviews. The resulting insights have directly informed Nike’s research, innovation, design, and positioning—including our work with Apple to rethink Nike’s retail experience.
We occupy the rare position of having been involved in projects for both apparel and footwear, which few agencies have done, and this has given us a unique vantage point with which to consider the body and life of the athlete as a whole.
The impact of our Nike work hinges on a core belief that understanding an individual’s relationship to products and prototypes can expose deeper truths about their hopes, fears, and general experiences. And we believe that truly understanding those experiences will reveal the future of the culture itself before that vision is actually vocalized or cohered by anyone. This belief has allowed us to leverage the sum total of time spent with athletes infield into a broad strategic opportunity to bring Nike a company-wide vision for the future.
Our work with Nike represents just how deep our relationships with clients, culture, products, and ideas can go: the culmination of years of individual projects, leading to a broad scale investigation of an entire facet of the human experience.
- Worked across all sport categories and business at Nike.
- Conducted several global ethnographies on running and basketball culture.
- Discovered all category muses, an outstanding high school athlete, and documented the young athlete’s day to day life, which we used as a tool that allowed the entire category to learn about the insights through the life of one athlete.
- Positioned all of Nike’s key footwear and apparel innovations ranging from Nike Free, Lunar, Nike Air, and Flyknit.
- Positioned all of Nike’s technology beginning with the Sportband, Nike +, and Fuelband.
- Worked with Apple to rethink Nike’s retail strategy.
- Drew from our collective experience of technology, culture, and human performance to build a 50-year strategic vision for Nike’s next phase as a sport performance company.
- Worked on a year-long acquisition and built the case directly for the CFO.
The beginning of the electric revolution.
Back when electric cars were considered fringe and Tesla was still thought of as a startup (they had just moved into their new offices and were figuring out how to position their Model-S), Slanted Light had the incredible opportunity to work with Elon Musk in positioning Tesla’s messaging, internal culture, and strategy.
In a time when nobody was looking beyond the established prejudices and assumptions being made about electric automobiles, we knew that, more than any abstract value proposition, Tesla’s success hinged on tapping into the sensory experience it offered. So we went beyond the typical environmental or economic conversations surrounding EVs, and instead investigated the one thing nobody was talking about: the driving experience itself.
Extensive interviews with car aficionados allowed us to uncover the emotions that lay beneath the concerns people had vocalized about EVs. People were concerned, for instance, about the perceived lack of electric infrastructure. They also feared losing connection with the road—both literally and metaphorically. But our research revealed at the same time that people longed for a more meaningful experience in the feeling of driving.
This research and insight helped us reposition the Tesla Model-S as a way to actually deepen the driving experience by enabling a renewed sensory connection to the road.
Our work with Tesla represents a core belief: if innovations are to stick, they must be accompanied by exploration of emotional territory upon which they’re built.
Preserving the magic of Virgin’s culture.
Virgin America had just turned five and the company was growing. With an expanding team, there was a mounting pressure to unionize. Sir Richard Branson contacted us in 2012. Slanted Light recognized and supported Virgin’s already great company culture, and helped the company figure out how they could sustain their non-union structure. We produced a series of events, films, and strategies that focused and vitalized Virgin’s unique and sophisticated internal culture.
Subject Matter Experts
Our ongoing collaborative relationship with Microsoft has involved many projects, and our work has informed high-level MSFT strategy, design, and original IP. Together we’ve traversed vast intellectual terrain, and conducted extensive, in-depth research into critical areas at the intersection of technology and the human experience.
We began on early stage innovations for Microsoft, which included projects for Xbox, mobile gaming, and search technology. We were also instrumental in the development and marketing of Cortana. Using innovative research strategies, including interviewing personal assistants of Hollywood A-Listers, we were able to uncover the key insights that successfully reoriented Cortana’s marketing strategy. Out of this work, MSFT developed the Cortana “notebook bible”: http://www.windowsphone.com/
Our most basic concern through all of this was to create more effective interactions with technology, and what we discovered with these earlier projects laid the groundwork for our most significant collaboration: we helped build MSFT’s new human design ethos from the ground up. Over the course of three years, we interviewed over 75 experts and scholars in a wide range of subjects and explored core topics such as motivation, relationship building, education, and group realization. We were searching for a unified understanding of how design, technology, and culture merge. We believe we found it.
Our work on human design ultimately led to Inclusiveness, which has become the new strategic marketing and design vision of MSFT. As a part of the Inclusive strategic marketing initiative, our films were shown publicly at SXSW Eco 2016 in Austin, Texas.
The future of storytelling and journalism.
Subject Matter Expertise
In collaboration with a group of Stanford professors, we created a conference to explore the future of storytelling. Slanted Light interviewed a range of heavy hitters in the worlds of journalism, media, and technology, including national news anchors in England, France, and Greece, several European politicians, and the CTO of Ericsson. Ultimately we created a cultural event that helped guide how people at Stanford and beyond understand the role of storytelling in a digitized and rapidly evolving world.
Seeing the earth anew.
Planet Labs built a small, inexpensive satellite to capture images of the planet. While they already had a for-profit platform for users of their satellite data, they needed help laying the groundwork for their non-profit model. Concerned in particular with understanding the ethical implications surrounding use of earth observation data, they reached out to Slanted Light. Through ethnographic research and analysis, we defined ethical UX principles that Planet Labs then used to guide the construction of their non-profit platform. Together with Slanted Light, Planet Labs was able to build a positive and responsible community around data-use.
Money with meaning.
New Product Development
After its first eighteen months in business, Nerdwallet’s profits began to plateau. They realized they needed to revamp their business model and strategic plan if they were going to retain current customers and continue to acquire new ones. Specifically, they knew they needed to focus on strategic innovation and the creation of an enhanced user experience. Nerdwallet’s CEO, Tim Chen, brought in Slanted Light to help develop a new strategic vision and deeper understanding of their customers, both current and future. Through intense collaboration and research insight, we were able to accomplish both of these goals, setting Nerdwallet up for even greater future success.
Investor led design.
Charles Schwab wanted to build a new trading software package that would make trading intuitive and simple, and they asked Slanted Light to develop a user model. We analyzed the practices of top investors and developed a model for a straightforward and intuitive software package that allowed everyday investors access to advanced investing tools. Our model ultimately became Street Smart Edge.
Already a force in the design world, Incase contacted Slanted Light to help them build on the success of their phone cases and backpacks. We ended up working on a number of projects together, including rethinking their already very successful backpacks, exploring new opportunities for their headphones, and re-envisioning new wearable tech products. We began by exploring the lifestyles of cultural makers—fine artists, street artists, designers, skaters, and entrepreneurs. Extracting the ethos from our research findings, we guided the Incase designers to new sources of inspiration.
And through our unique way of investigating customer segmentation, we discovered insights that allowed us to develop a profitable new brand strategy. Our work directly influenced product design, specifically of their new backpacks.
Elderly care meets design thinking.
Mobile App Development
Aetna wanted to build a supportive infrastructure for families dealing with senior care. Not only did they want to provide the best care possible, but also to create a positive emotional experience for the families involved. They knew that in order to do this, they needed to go beyond the quantitative and focus on the complex human experience.
Aetna’s innovation team requested our help in designing a prototype app that took into account both the practical and emotional aspects of senior care. Our prototype solution gave Aetna a clear strategic and technological direction, and they developed this prototype into their first senior care app, InvolveCare, which was launched in Fall 2013. The following Spring, Aetna folded InvolveCare into a broader service offering that is still in development, and which promises an even greater experience for its customers.
Pioneering a new kind of brand.
Michael Copeland, a16z partner and former editor of Wired, asked Slanted Light to help answer this question: How do you brand one of the world’s preeminent venture capital firms? We gave him the answer.
We positioned Andreessen Horowitz as not just an investment firm, but as a maker of culture. We helped give them a brand face that does justice to their importance in our developing technological culture. It hinged on the idea that investment funds need to contribute more than capital to succeed in today’s economic climate. They need to supply the service of housing the best minds in each department of startup success. By interviewing a range of their portfolio clients, we helped Andreessen lay the bedrock for its new website: a content platform delivering powerful podcasts to help expand and deepen the culture of innovation.
Capital One’s Innovation Labs opens with Slanted Light.
Mobile App Development
In Summer 2012, Capital One approached Slanted Light to help them redesign their online banking system. They wanted us to kick-start the innovation process of their Innovation Lab. In particular, Capital One needed to understand what their customers required to feel comfortable engaging with their finances via a digital platform. But in order to do this, they first needed to understand something much more basic: how people think about money. We needed to understand how to navigate and explore the untouched taboos of money before we could begin the UX process.
We worked with Capitol One to design a highly personalized app experience that was simple and intuitive, with manageable goals and tangible benefits. Not only did this more tactile and immersive digital platform dramatically change the way customers understood and engaged with their finances, but our filmed interviews were shown to the CEO and heads of each department, galvanizing the Capital One team. Through this work we helped Capital One’s online banking become a model for the banking industry.
Sydney founded Slanted Light in 2008, when Elon Musk asked him to help out at a critical phase in Tesla’s history and growth. Since then he has gone on to work with Sir Richard Branson, Pierre Omidyar, Stephen Hawking and a host of other strategic and business visionaries.
Sydney’s drive is to understand the key human elements that allow for growth, innovation, and strategic transformation. In that pursuit, he has interviewed thousands of people around the world covering all walks of life. He has presented his ideas and insights to the top performing companies. He also serves as Slanted Light’s Director of Film, a craft he has fine tuned over the last ten years working on a range of documentaries.
Sydney has lived around the world—Lyon, France; Johannesburg, South Africa; Singapore; Hong Kong; Miami; New York; and Chicago; and now resides in San Francisco with his girlfriend, Christina. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and delivered its 2015 Convocation Speech. He is an avid athlete (runner, tennis player, surfer), Plato scholar and musician.
When Nike needed their new strategy visualized, a strategy developed with Slanted Light, they asked Alex to design the walls of the NXT space in the famed Innovation Kitchen at the Nike campus in Oregon. This room embodied Alex’s vision of design as a visualization of both thought and possibility.
Alex attended both California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University, for Industrial Design (BFA) & Graphic Design (MFA).
In his career at Slanted Light and other San Francisco agencies, Alex has worked with some of the best companies in the world, including Microsoft, Nike, Union 76, LG, Logitech, NVIDIA, Bacardi, Scion & Lexus.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Alex remains unconditionally devoted to the sadly missed Oakland Oaks, and other more famous Oakland sports teams.
Adam’s interest in ethnography is embedded in his search for personal identity. The son of a history professor from Tunisia and administrator in Penn’s international student office from the American Midwest, Adam grew up in the heart of West Philadelphia while surrounded by some of the brightest minds from around the world. The biggest turning point in his life came at the age of 11 when he moved from his beloved, rugged Philadelphia to the rural suburbs of Connecticut, exposing him to an entirely different way of life. He stayed in Connecticut for college and attended Yale University. Though gifted in math and science as a child, Adam decided to spend his four college years delving into the human experience in America, and ultimately earned his B.A. in History. His studies culminated with his senior thesis on the effect of urban renewal on New Haven’s civil rights efforts in the 1960s, for which he interviewed numerous community activists.
Adam is an integral member to realizing Slanted Light’s mission to uncover truths and explore curiosities in order to solve complex human problems. He helps to locate the true essence of clients’ needs, finds the right people to interview in order to shed light on the underlying issues with which clients are faced, and uses his unique ability to connect with people on a deep level to ensure the quality of our insights.
Before Slanted Light, Adam was Director of Strategy for ESM Prep, where he created custom SAT and ACT curricula with the goal of breathing a modicum life and fun into daunting, stressful task of test preparation.
Adam is an avid Philadelphia sports fan, which conveniently allows him to focus his positivity and optimism on his work for Slanted Light. He can often be seen screaming at televisions and lamenting Sixers and Eagles losses in various Mission bars. He loves live music, hiking, cooking, and spending time with his fiance Allison.
Slanted Light interviews people from all over the world for Nike, Microsoft, and others. Caroline is the person who finds the right people at the right time. A graduate of the architecture school at the University of Virginia, Caroline is a designer, film editor, and office manager. She is also a new mother.
Joining Slanted Light as a consultant in 2015, Brett has been involved in projects for Microsoft, Nike and a host of start-ups. He is an expert in strategic and technological issues, including strategic marketing and innovation.
He received his B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. A professor at Stanford University for ten years, he is now an English professor at the University of Dallas, where he is also co-director of the Master’s in Leadership program. He is also Visiting Associate Professor in The Program of Literary Theory at the University of Lisbon.
He has received many awards, including a Fulbright, a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship, the Harvard English Scholar award, and the top teaching awards at both the University of Dallas and at Stanford.
Brett is the author of numerous essays on philosophy, art, and culture, as well as the author of Finding a Replacement for the Soul: Meaning and Mind in Literature and Philosophy (Harvard UP, 2004).