There are 285 million blind people worldwide, many of whom rely on braille to enjoy a tactile reading experience. However braille printers are not only expensive, in Thailand they have to be imported – meaning there's only a limited number of braille books available. So J. Walter Thompson Bangkok, which has worked with eye care brands for over a decade, decided to tackle the problem. The agency drew on its existing connections with the blind community in Thailand, and then expanded its research to people with sight impairment around the world.
“Ideas were raised in our JWT team, and we discussed from various points of view until we asked ourselves, “Why do we have to change anything about the printer? Why don't we make normal home printers print for the blind on normal paper?”,” says JWT's Hansa Wonsiripitack. “These questions were the eureka moment. Everyone shifted their attention to the printing ink, embossing pen and other materials that already existed in the marketplace.”
The agency approached Samsung as a partner for the project, and worked with the Thailand Association of the Blind to to set up interviews with some of the country's visually impaired people – which makes up 1% of the country's population. Although they use touch to see, the high cost of braille embossing means reading materials are in serious short supply.
“The emotion that we had after talking with blind and visually impaired people made us committed to do something that is truly meaningful to them,” adds Wonsiripitack. “Not just for awards submission or pure initiatives for testing. If we can make it, it can make a real change to people's lives.
Developing ink that would work in normal printers took the agency a year and a half of tests, which included collaborating with chemistry and polymer specialists, printing specialists and mechanical engineers to develop a product that worked and was safe to touch. There were plenty of setbacks before the agency developed a stable prototype made of a mix of embossing powder and ink that creates a raised surface when printed. JWT Bangkok and Samsung are still perfect the ink before it can be released to the market.
Although JWT Bangkok's business model typically revolves around responding to briefs, Touchable Ink is part of a wider change that's seeing agencies begin to focus more on products or services.
“With the rapid change of consumer behaviours and the direction of clients' work with agencies, thanks to the massive effect of digital and technology, this is a huge impact on the way the advertising industry works,” says Wonsiripitack.
“There will be more and more products and services created by agencies, but the degree to which it's varied will depend on each company's direction and revenue model. We hope to see products and services that are initiated by agencies and centred around the creative idea, and how to make people's lives better.”