Design Practice #1: How does a digital production house work?
What do Panowie Programiści do?
Adrian Holota, CEO of Panowie Programiści: We started our business ten years ago, although we have been operating under the brand name Panowie Programiści (eng.: Gentlemen Programmers) since 2016. The name is corny. Today, it is no longer just gentlemen, as more than half of the team are ladies, and not just programmers, as there are also UX specialists, testers and a project management department. As Panowie Programiści, we are a digital production house. We do not only program what advertising agencies come up with and deliver to us, but also help them create the most effective and technologically advanced advertising campaigns.
When do you get into action?
We often collaborate at the tender stage, when agencies receive briefs from the client and are looking for a solution. This is when we consult the ideas of the creative departments, assess the possibilities of the technology and price the projects. However, we often get to know each other much earlier. We have a whole system of benefits for our partner agencies. For their strategists and creatives, for example, we conduct inspiration training. We show what the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI), web AR or deep fake are and how they are used in practice. We suggest how to approach the individual technologies, their possibilities and limitations. We quote projects for partner agencies in 48 hours. We work agilely because we know that account managers measure themselves against time.
Your clients include network agencies such as 180heartbeats + Jang v Matt, K2 or BBDO....
But there's no shortage of small agencies either, because they often don't have digital departments and we help them fill that gap. However, the agencies are always our clients. So we are not in competition with them in the direct service of brands. Just as agencies outsource the production of TV spots to film production houses, which offer them the best directors and writers and global know-how, they can outsource digital production to us. And we, too, will provide them with the best deadline-setting strategists and pixel-perfect programmers, as well as knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of the latest technologies.
The Panowie Programiści have won plenty of prestigious awards for their productions. Would you have predicted this ten years ago?
A decade ago, I was in charge of everything personally. I was a designer, a UX specialist and a programmer. I implemented projects from start to finish, in the meantime taking care of sales and ongoing customer relations. However, new assignments required more and more professionalisation, and so new team members began to join me. I recruited them and personally introduced them to each process. This is how I built a unique team. On the one hand, professional and seasoned in increasingly demanding battles. On the other, an extremely close-knit team, bonded by their experiences and the joint creation of a new company from scratch. I know that without their efforts and creativity, we would not be where we are today. It was therefore natural to recognise their merits. So the leaders became business partners and today they are members of the board of directors of our company.
What also sets you apart is that you are not afraid to experiment.
Yes, we joke that we do the impossible. Sometimes agencies come to us with projects that on the surface may seem unfeasible. However, we never assume so. We start researching, experimenting, building prototypes. Such situations stimulate our team. This is because we like to do something that others have not done before us. We also carry out internal experimental projects to learn something and get to know the new field. This is how we created Poland's first digital fashion house, NUENO Digital Fashion. It's also how we built the world's first augmented reality engine for browsers, called web AR, which allows you to add various digital effects to the world observed by your phone's camera.
You also used artificial intelligence....
And that was before Chat GPT became famous. We used AI in the Tymbark campaign. The brief from the agency was clear: four artists sing a song and an internet user can join them on a virtual stage to record their individual clip. We first reviewed the available deep fake tools, which allow an actor's face to be replaced by a face from an uploaded photo. The test results were not satisfactory, as the system took several hours to generate a short video. As an experiment, we built our own tool and reduced this time to 15 seconds. I told the agency that it would be impossible to go below this limit, but they demanded a shorter time. They wanted the process to take no more than 2.5 seconds. They even put us in touch with an American company that specialises in deep fakes and in the conversation it came out that they, too, were unable to break the 15-second barrier.
Did you finish the project at 15 seconds?
Of course not, we achieved 2.5 seconds. That's the power of experimentation and finding out-of-the-box solutions. We knew the technological possibilities, but we discovered the potential in the way the user was presented on stage. That's why we took an active part in planning the shots for the video, recording and editing it. We joined efforts with the directors and filmmakers to make far-reaching optimisations. And so we achieved the magic 2.5 seconds.
You also work pro publico bono.
Recently, together with 180heartbeats + Jang v Matt and Gazeta.pl, we have been involved in de-glamourising the content for full of manipulation textbook to history lessons in high schools. We created a website with an augmented reality mechanism, called webAR, through which teenagers can scan the pages of the book with their phone's camera. When the system detects manipulation or propaganda content, it circles it on the screen and presents the real information. We are trying to use new technologies for socially just causes.
Do advertising agencies need to be persuaded to use such innovations in campaigns?
We are lucky that the agencies that come to us say: do something crazy with us. They know we like it. We also try to actively present to strategists and creatives what the opportunities are today and where the limitations are. So we do training for agencies, but we also publish Martech Pills – reports in which we thoroughly analyse specific technologies (e.g. web AR) and show interesting case studies as inspiration.