Strategy design meets digital placemaking
Hi, I'm Romy Nehme. My mission is to help shape and amplify the work of transformative civic and creative organizations that are designing spaces where vibrant public life can flourish.
My approach, broadly speaking, is to apply the most innovative and efficient techniques from the worlds of digital advertising and immersive experience design to the most worthy civic missions and ideas. I work with organizations and collaborators who seek to reveal, rather than to conceal, and that demand we bring forth our curiosity, courage, compassion and creativity.
I believe that the boundaries between the built environments and the digital platforms where we live are fluid. Each space has a set of conversational affordances that allows us to present and relate to each other differently, and those are the qualities I use as a starting point when designing creative systems with partner organizations. The spaces we traverse on a daily basis are evolving so quickly, and the only way to know how best to put them to use is through practice and prototype; by embracing a bold and rigorous spirit of experimentation and by putting in place processes that allow organizations to surface and internalize new learnings along the way.
Strategy on its own, no matter how smart, can remain trapped in words and intentions. Strategy design is a generative process that I use with organizations to naturally extend and express missions, ambitions, intentions and strategies across a canvas of media touchpoints -- rather than separating brand (that encodes meaning) from media (growth and efficacy). Media doesn’t tend or optimize naturally towards meaningful experiences, but it’s possible to subvert its logics, bend digital platforms to make them beautiful or use their potential for scale to spread important ideas and programs to millions of people.
How I got here
Sport is the only language my father and I share. Consequently, the rituals of fandom have shaped who I am, and the beginnings of my career. After my masters in sport management, from 2007-2013, I worked in sports & entertainment.
Fluencies developed: building CRM systems to nurture fan and donor relationships, developing tracking and measurement methods for sponsorship programs, and creating programs and rituals that deepen relationships between a community, fans and its sports teams.
From 2013 to 2018, I had the great fortune of starting the discipline of research & strategy at VaynerMedia, one of the fastest growing digital and emergent technology agencies. There, I learned the importance of creating campaigns grounded in communicating with different audiences based on each digital platform’s cultural dynamics. I also built a team of 25 wonderful cultural researchers and strategists and a prototyping studio.
Fluencies developed: creating spaces where diverse groups can experiment and grow; putting together the agency’s stack of research and analytics tools; designing dynamic research projects with a wide range of communities using various digital interfaces; planning campaigns and growing digital properties for Fortune 50 companies using the combined power of creative and media.
Since 2018, I’ve consciously searched for collaborators whose practices were more immersive, embodied and participative. I’ve become a core member of the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab, a group that creates platforms for exploring complex societal issues through reimagining literary works with emergent technologies; a frequent collaborator with Technology, Humans and Taste, where I curated “research” dinner conversations and prompts to explore issues in more dynamic ways; and a student of IX’s thick ethnography methods and collaborator on various projects.
Fluencies developed: methods of speculative design to explore uncertain futures; deeper modes of conversation design and research, from ethnographies to appreciative inquiry, world cafes and becoming more comfortable with ambiguity; prototyping human dynamics and mechanics of immersive productions; developing virtual workshops and toolkits for global participants.
2019-present: I found myself thinking often about how our media mostly connects a lot of strangers to a personality, or idea, and how poorly it does a job of making it easier for people to connect with each other. And I marveled at the city’s ability, at its best, to be a serendipitous collision machine. I designed an independent study and read a lot about the city and public spaces, and ended up creating a little podcast series called The Third Person, where I interviewed people who design for bodies in space across a wide range of disciplines. I wrote a reflection that led me to Eli Pariser, and New_ Public, an incubator for reimagining the internet as a public space.
Fluencies developed: translating complex ideas, research and principles into a delightful brand and digital ecosystem for a public-spirited community, curating and designing a virtual festival, and re-thinking digital spaces through spatiality rather than through temporality.
Ideas that guide me
Everything is interesting, and eventually, useful in some unpredictable way (which only reveals itself at the time of doing it). I spent years inhabiting a humanistic corner of the art+tech community when it could have been deemed “useless” to my work before incorporating it into my own practice and projects.
Certainty is destructive, and getting people to sit with ambiguity is trying (for me, and others!), but rewarding.
The right metaphors and visual language aid in making the unfamiliar feel more tangible, in transporting us away, at least temporarily, from the high stakes of our present conditions and entanglements.
Similarly, imagination is real. Fiction is a form of experiencing. Speculation can be a powerful way of organizing.
Ethnographies work when you let people know you’re interested in them, not in their answers. Aim for the intersubjective, not the interactive. (Thanks, Ben)
We breathe merely to survive. What if we instead breathed to the rhythm of life? (Thanks, Tynan.)
We will not have succeeded at creating a just society until we have difference without domination.
What others are saying
Romy has one of the most innovative and thoughtful creative minds I've worked with. She's strategic and visionary, a deep thinker and a smart creator — and she's great to work with, too.
Eli Pariser - Co-director, New_ Public and previously Co-founder, Upworthy
The hardest part about collaborating with a genius is that they know everything. In Romy’s case her massive intellect and wealth of knowledge is infused with a deep curiosity. This wild concoction creates a lethally strategic tincture that applied in liberal doses can soothe any business problem, heal any consumer need and allow real creatives to grow in crazy directions.
Nathan Phillips - Co-founder and CCO, Technology, Humans and Taste
Romy is the rare kind of creative strategist and collaborator who combines intuitive understanding, innate and sophisticated insight and an ability to bring teams along with her while shifting the lens of thinking to get to more expansive powerful ideas.
Katie Hankinson - SVP, The Sasha Group
Romy is *whiplash* smart, a gifted polymath who curates the most interesting-est things in the universe, and a robust thinker guaranteed to uplevel your strategy and imagination.
Sharon Panelo - VP, The Martin Agency
Romy creates a vortex of intellect and emotional power that condenses possibilities into the clearest steps toward the brightest point on the horizon. A true cultivator and champion of the unimaginably right idea.
Ben Doepke - Principal, Brand Mythologist and Ethnographer, IX
Romy is a wonderful collaborator. The way that she can process and synthesize information in real-time is incredible; her reservoir of knowledge and ability to actively listen and embrace ambiguity make her a unique and important part of our lab. And most importantly -- she is an amazing human being!
Lance Weiler - Founder, Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab