Vinnie’s: Vegan Pizza Fit for a Prince

The New York Times: “Vinnie’s, about 200 steps from the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, thrives by selling colorful pizzas designed for customers who post pictures of their food on social media before they take a bite. For such a small pizzeria, Vinnie’s has an outsize online footprint. It is home to the photogenic Mini Vinnie, a slice covered in tiny pizza slices that caught the Internet’s attention last year … When Prince died, a Purple Rain slice with violet-hued cheese was on the menu.”

Vinnie’s latest: “a pizza box fashioned out of pizza crust. The creation features a small pepperoni pie nestled between a base of Sicilian-crust pizza and a lid of garlicky, naan-like bread. It sounds like the kind of creation dreamed up in a stoner haze.” Vinnie’s co-owner Sean Berthiaume “said his goal was to reduce the number of pizza boxes piled up around the neighborhood. As for the inspiration, he added that he may be the ‘only person in Williamsburg’ who doesn’t smoke marijuana. ‘My dad says I’m getting residuals,’ he said.

Berthiaume and two friends bought Vinnie’s for $150,000 in 2007. “The new owners … focused on maintaining the existing clientele by selling New York classics, like meatball-ricotta, as well as attracting a new type of regular customer by introducing gluten-free options and dozens of nondairy, meat-free recipes. Vegan fare accounts for about a quarter of all sales … ‘It doesn’t look like a quote-unquote vegan spot, which I like,” said Juliane Casey,” who ordered a “vegan version of a macaroni-and-cheese slice and a vegan barbecue chicken slice. ‘The things I miss the most are pizza and mac and cheese,’ she said of eating a vegan diet. ‘When I see it on the menu, it feels like they care about you’.”


Picking Up the ‘Slack’ in Communications

The Economist: “It is rare for business software to arouse emotion besides annoyance. But some positively gush about how Slack has simplified office communication. Instead of individual e-mails arriving in a central inbox and requiring attention, Slack structures textual conversations within threads (called ‘channels’) where groups within firms can update each other in real time. It is casual and reflects how people actually communicate, eschewing e-mail’s outdated formalities, says Chris Becherer of Pandora, an online-music firm that uses Slack.”

“Slack’s rise points to three important changes in the workplace. First, people are completing work across different devices from wherever they are, so they need software that can work seamlessly on mobile devices … Second, communication is becoming more open. Just as offices went from closed, hived-off rooms to open-plan, Slack is the virtual equivalent, fostering a collaborative work environment … Slack’s default setting is to make conversations public within a firm.”

“Third, software firms are trying to automate functions that used to be done by people in order to make employees more productive. Slack has made a big push into ‘bots,’ algorithms that can automate menial tasks which used to be done by humans. Slack offers bots that compile lunch orders and projects’ progress reports, or generate analytics on demand. In the future employees will be able to chat with software agents to get more done, working alongside bots as well as their peers.”


New Apple Store: ‘Hanging Out’ vs. Shopping

USA Today: “Apple opened the 42-by-40-foot sliding glass doors to its new flagship store … throwing the curtain back on a design that puts a premium on hanging out over shopping. Roughly 20% of the new store’s space is dedicated to an open Forum area where visitors can learn about the company’s various software and hardware offerings.”

“Among the other big changes in evidence is morphing Apple’s Genius Bar to Genius Grove; the addition of a new Boardroom area dedicated to small business customers; and the advent of a new staff position, Apple Creative Pro, tasked with helping consumers with specific questions on music, photography, videos and the like. In addition, some of Apple’s most significant store locations … will feature a public Plaza that will be open 24/7 and feature free WiFi as well as occasional concerts and other performances.”

“Some analysts suggest that Apple could once again revolutionize the retail space with an approach that encourages consumers to hang out as they might in a coffee shop, where interacting is perhaps more valued than buying.”


Polaroid Story: The Camera Does The Rest

The Wall Street Journal: As described in The Camera Does The Rest, by Peter Buse: “There aren’t many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world … it was engineer Edwin Land’s daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation … Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.”

The first Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948: “People loved watching the image emerge on paper—even in bright sunlight. Users of the early cameras waved the picture in the air believing that it would develop faster (it didn’t). Taking a photograph was suddenly fun in itself. You could view the good times while the good times were still going on … ‘One minute’ pictures owed nothing to the past; they celebrated the present.”

“The party might have gone on forever had it not been for … the digital revolution … The corpse of Edwin Land’s company was not yet cold when a wave of nostalgia for the Polaroid look swept over the digital-photo community. Today there are several apps that will duplicate the 70-year-old Polaroid appearance—white borders and all—including one app called ShakeIt Photo. The shooter snaps a photo with a smartphone, then shakes the phone to hasten development of the ‘film.’ And in an instant, like magic, the picture appears.”


Dead Writers Perfume: Oh, That ‘Old Book’ Smell!

Quartz: “Book smell is now a thing in the perfume world, like vanilla or sandalwood. In the last few years, dozens of products have appeared on the market to give your home or person the earthy scent of a rare book collection. Sweet Tea Apothecaries sells Dead Writers Perfume, which promises to evoke the aroma of books old enough for their authors to have passed to the great writers’ retreat in the sky. Perfumer Christopher Brosius’s ‘In the Library’ product line makes your home and body smell just like that. The high-end fragrance Paper Passion claims to capture the ‘unique olfactory pleasures of the freshly printed book,’ though for roughly $200 per bottle it’s a lot cheaper to just buy a freshly printed book.”

The appeal of old books’ smell has been studied in depth. Wood-based paper contains lignin, a chemical closely related to vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its fragrance. As the pages age and the compounds break down, they release that signature scent … Furthermore, scent is strongly tied to memory … for the bookish among us the scent of old manuscripts recalls pleasures like reading an old classic … There’s also the nostalgia element. The paper used for books today contains much less lignin than that of old volumes. That reissue of Hemingway is never going to smell as nice as a first edition, no matter how long it stays on your shelf.”


TJ Maxx Defies E-Commerce Trends

The Washington Post: The success of TJ Maxx “offers some insight about what is — and isn’t — proving enticing to customers in the current shopping environment. For starters, TJX’s strength is evidence that the recent woes of traditional retailers can not simply be chalked up to the rise of online shopping. Marshalls has no e-commerce offering at all, nor does HomeGoods, another fast-growing TJX-owned chain … T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods offer hard-to-ignore evidence that customers are still plenty eager to shop in physical stores if the merchandise, price and service are on point.”

“The booming sales at TJX also underscore the extent to which shoppers generally are embracing off-price shopping, with its promise of name brands at low prices and a treasure hunt-like shopping experience … So far, TJX’s strategy is proving quite productive, with research firm eMarketer estimating that its stores generate about $309 in sales per square foot.”


Half of Americans Fear Shopping Online

Boing Boing: “A study by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that half of American Internet users are ‘deterred’ from engaging in online transactions because of fears over privacy and security breaches … The survey’s respondents cited the risk of identity theft as their main source of anxiety, followed by privacy concerns over data collection by online services and the US government.”



Dark Patterns: Websites Designed to Deceive

The New York Times: “Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant … has a professional bone to pick with sites that seem to maneuver people into signing up for services they might not actually want. He even has a name for the exploitative techniques: ‘dark patterns.’ To him, these are debased versions of the typical sign-up, sharing, shopping, checkout and download processes that are standard practice online.”

“A few years ago, Mr. Brignull started a site called to call attention to the practices. There’s the ‘sneak into basket’ technique, where a retailer automatically adds products — like a magazine subscription or travel insurance — to consumers’ shopping carts and makes it hard for them to remove the unwanted items. There’s the ‘roach motel’ or ‘walled-garden’ technique, in which sites offer fast-and-easy sign-up processes but make it much more cumbersome for consumers to close accounts.”

“There’s also ‘misdirection,’ in which prominent marketing come-ons may distract users from seeing check boxes that by default, say, sign them up for a newsletter or membership, spam their contacts or alter their home pages. And then there’s scarcity inflation: ‘Only two hotel rooms left at this price!’

“If the company benefits more than the consumer, I would call it ‘evil design,’” said (Chris) Nodder, who wrote a book on the topic called Evil by Design. If an approach benefits the company and the customer equally, he added, ‘you are probably in the realm of commercial design’.”


Reinheitsgebot: ‘Purity’ Is an Impure Concept

The New York Times: “A pair of Bavarian dukes came to this pretty town on the Danube River 500 years ago and laid down what Germans claim as their source of beer-brewing prowess: the purity law. Only hops, water and barley should go into beer, decreed the dukes. Wheat, above all, should be spared for real bread for the hungry people … Half a millennium later … Germans, nothing if not careful conservers, still revere their purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, and insist it is the way to make beer.”

“Alexander Grau, a columnist for the political and cultural monthly Cicero, argues for scrapping it. Far from protecting consumers, it is a marketing ploy …More than that, others argue, it has stifled invention and imagination.”

“Even with the purity law, purity is a relative thing. A research group, the Environmental Institute of Munich, caused a stir in February when it tested 14 of Germany’s best-selling beers and found traces of glysophat, a pesticide suspected of causing cancer, in all of them.”

Nevertheless, the purity law “‘is a valuable brand for Germany, which we must keep,’ said Josef Pfaller, 50, the production chief at Herrnbräu, part of which dates back to 1471 … ‘There are few things that enjoy more consumer confidence than beer’.”


Cadillac House: The Car as a Retail Experience

Bloomberg: “Cadillac House is a coffee shop/retail boutique with an art gallery twist and even a bespoke scent … The 12,000-square-foot space is located on the ground floor of the company’s New York office and will open to the public on June 2 … the point of this new space is not to sell cars … No, this time Caddy has convinced some well-respected fashion-y names to make it more of a destination: Visionaire, the creative firm and magazine, will curate an exhibit at Cadillac House each quarter; the fashion brand Timo Weiland will sell clothing in a pop-up shop; 12.29, which scented shows for Rodarte and Lady Gaga, is concocting a signature ‘Cadillac’ fragrance for the room. New York’s Joe Coffee is providing the beans.”

“We have tried to tell people what you’re supposed to feel from the Cadillac brand,” said Melody Lee, who is Cadillac’s brand director. “But what we hadn’t quite fully established was an environment that you could walk into.”