Ron Faris got his start developing brand experiences working for Virgin Media to produce the well-known Virgin Mobile music festival. Inspired by the energy of people waiting in line at the festivals he produced, Faris developed Virgin Mega, a mobile platform to engage communities while they wait in line to participate in experiences they love.
Nike took note of Virgin Media's new approach to in-line engagement and decided to acquire the startup in 2016 to help further develop the Nike SNKRS app. We spoke with Faris about some of the considerations he and his team at Nike's digital innovation studio, s23NYC, need to keep in mind while designing for the longstanding and habitual sneaker community. Here, he shares with us a few of those considerations and gives advice to young designers hoping to one day change the way a pre-existing community interacts:
How would you describe your current occupation?
I'm the general manager of Nike's SNKRS App as well as the general manager of our digital innovation studio, s23NYC. My occupation is essentially obsessing over new experiences that fuel visual communities.
What projects are you currently working on at s23NYC?
Right now we're obsessing over building new experiences that connect mobile millennials and create emotion and energy around sneaker culture.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is looking at an existing type of behavior from a community and looking for ways to change it or make it better.
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What challenges do you face when trying to bring people together through digital experiences?
Whenever you're trying to build a new digital experience, especially with the sneaker community, it has to resonate authentically with that community and honor them for all the effort they put in and for all their fanaticism around sneakers. The challenges we face most are that we invent something new—a new type of experience or a new way to get active with sneakers—there's always a bit of a learning curve because of the change in traditional behavior. Anytime you have a change in traditional behavior, you're going to have to figure out ways to train your community to engage in that new behavior. So we test focus groups with members of that community thoroughly so that when they engage with the experience it's done in a truly authentic and seamless fashion.
The s23NYC studio
What is the most important quality of someone that is successful in your line of work?
I think especially for the folks we hire in our studio, the number one value we regard the highest is hustle or drive—the ability to go fanatically beyond the call of duty and obsess over the ideation and execution of a new experience.
How do you keep your team at s23NYC motivated?
Our studio is broken up into different pods of people who work feverishly on the features they put to market, and as one of them breaks through and gets recognized, whether it's by the community or by the press, it actually motivates everyone to work harder to support their features that they're working on. It's kind of like a healthy competitive environment in the studio where everyone tries to one-up experiences that we build. I think that starts to really get people to come together in a really unique way to launch next level experiences.
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What is the most widespread misunderstanding about creating brand experiences?
I think the biggest misunderstanding about building new experiences is that they will automatically go viral or that they will connect and really resonate instantly with a community. The best features of brand experiences really take time to iterate and perfect to get them to a point where they earn the right to go viral. Just by putting something out and watching it—that's just the beginning process, it's not the end.
Do you have any advice for young designers who are hoping to succeed within the brand experience realm?
My advice to any young designers is to always stay bold and be fearless. Never let anyone dilute your original inspiration or idea or water it down. Many people will try to water down your ideas to make them more accessible—to make them easier to do. New things are very, very hard to build and they're very much worth the effort.