Intuition, Math & The Supermarket Checkout

The Wall Street Journal: “We are used to the standard system of one line for each cashier. But what if there is just one big lane feeding multiple cashiers? … The single queue often snakes around, as lines do at airport security checkpoints. Mathematical queuing theory says that the serpentine system should be faster than separate lines leading to separate cash registers, but only with a condition called ‘no jockeying’—the assumption that people in multiple lines won’t hop over to a different line that has become free.”

“But that isn’t realistic, as we can all attest. If you allow jockeying in multiple lines, the serpentine system is no faster on average. It might intuitively seem faster because you won’t get stuck behind a single person taking a long time, but that same delay is just portioned out among more people, leaving the average wait time the same … In a curious twist, one recent study showed that cashiers work faster when they are serving a dedicated line. Perhaps it instills a sense of pride or connection with the customers waiting for one hardworking cashier.”

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Hit Factories: Making Songs Like Sausages

BBC: “A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single … Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52 … Even solo singer-songwriters like Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, whose identities are deeply ingrained into their music, lean on co-writers …. So why is this happening? Are songwriters increasingly lazy or lacking in talent? Or are they second-guessing themselves in the search for a hit?”

“According to Mike Smith, managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK, it is simply that the business of making music has changed.” He comments: “Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter. There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels will] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”

“Writing camps are where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and ‘top-liners’ (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist … British songwriter MNEK, who is one of 13 people credited on Beyonce’s hit single Hold Up, says the song is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster, stitched together from dozens of demos.” He explains: “She played me the chorus. Then I came back here [to my studio] and recorded all the ideas I had for the song. Beyonce snipped out the pieces she really liked and the end result was this really great, complete song.”

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Keurig Designs Eco-Friendly K-Cup

The Washington Post: “Keurig Green Mountain said it plans by 2020 to change the plastic composition in the billions of K-cup single-serving coffee containers it sells annually, making them more lucrative to recyclers while removing one of the nagging complaints that mountains of the little pods are piling up in landfills … The recycling breakthrough comes as the Keurig’s single-serve coffee machines, which helped revolutionize coffee consumption, are becoming less of a habit after years of growth.”

“The recycling breakthrough comes as the Keurig’s single-serve coffee machines, which helped revolutionize coffee consumption, are becoming less of a habit after years of growth … The problem with K-cups has been twofold. First, they have been too small for the sorting machines to ‘see’ and move to the recycling line instead of the garbage heap. Second, the material composition of the K-cup plastic did not lend itself to being broken down and reused as another material.”

“Many of the 600 or so recycling plants across the United States and Canada have reinvested in technology that can spot the K-cup pods and divert them toward reuse.”
In addition: “Keurig is in the process of changing the makeup of its K-cups from polystyrene to polypropylene.”

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Nanometer 555: The World’s Most Visible Color

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Fast Company: “Vollebak, the same company that brought us a pink hoodie designed for maximum relaxation, is launching something new: The Nano Meter 555 Midlayer, which features two details that hack human perception to make you, theoretically, as noticeable as possible … The jacket is green, but not just any green. It’s a green that reflects with a 555-nanometer wavelength, which, according to the U.K. National Physics Laboratory, is the point at which the greatest number of cones of your eye are stimulated the most.”

“The second perceptual optimization? Reflective dots that, when applied to the jacket, work much the same way a motion capture system digitizes human movement … The reflective dots allow a human figure to be spotted, in otherwise total darkness, in a quarter of a second.”

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IKEA Asks: Do You Speak Human?

The Verge: ‘If you put an AI in charge of your house — letting it control the lights, the alarms, the temperature, and so on — how would you want it to act? Should it be ‘autonomous and challenging’ or ‘obedient and assisting’? Would you prefer if it sounded male, female, or if it was gender neutral? Should it be religious? These are just some of the questions Ikea is asking its customers in a new survey titled: Do you speak human?”

“With this new survey, Ikea is focused on computer personality, looking to find out what sort of AI people would be happiest to interact with. This is a question that preoccupies the big tech companies, too — that’s why they’re hiring novelists and comedians to finesse the personality of their digital assistants.”

“Ikea is updating the results of the survey as it goes; so far it’s saying that 41 percent of people want their AI to be ‘obedient and assisting,’ 42 percent want it to be ‘gender neutral’ (as opposed to 35 percent for male, 24 percent for female), and 87 percent say they want their AI to ‘detect and react to emotions.’ There’s bound to be some self-selecting bias at work here, as the people who answer this survey are more likely to be interested in technology in general, but it’s still a very intriguing project.”

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Must to Avoid: Loser Experience Design

Matt LeMay: “Yes, in the short-term, people may engage with a product for an abstract reward such as ‘points’ or ‘coins.’ But watch what happens as your users see themselves fall to the bottom of that ‘leaderboard’ or fail to get any real value out of the time they’ve invested in earning those shiny trinkets. Competing for something only to realize that it’s worthless is embarrassing, frustrating, and makes you feel like a huge loser. Gratuitous ‘gamification’ is one of the most odious and lazy patterns of bad loser experience design — and in the long term, it doesn’t work.”

“While bad loser experience design can significantly harm a product, good loser experience design can help foster a broad, engaged, and self-sustaining user base … When platforms focus on shared interests and social bonds over ‘likes’ and ‘favorites,’ they help everybody find a place where they belong. Instagram has done a great job doing this with their discovery features, consistently surfacing people who are adjacent to your people, not people with the most likes or followers.”

“Finally … break out of the design and testing patterns that lead to equating ‘power users’ with ‘good users.’ Over-reliance on internal ‘dogfooding,’ where new products and features are tested primarily with a company’s own employees, is a one-way ticket to bad loser experience design. Dismissing user testing candidates who are not over the moon for your product is another surefire road to bad loser experience design. Think through the needs and behaviors of casual users as extensively as you think through those of power users — and ask yourself, ‘if I only use this product a few times a week, will it make me feel like a loser?'”

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Facebook Chatbots Test ‘Conversational Commerce’

The Washington Post: Mastercard “has partnered with Subway and two other major merchants to launch ‘chatbots,’ which are robots that simulate human conversation. The Subway iteration allows you to order a custom sandwich for pickup, something of a digital version of walking down the chain’s sandwich assembly line.” Cheesecake Factory “allows shoppers to purchase and send out gift cards.” FreshDirect lets shoppers “place orders for groceries and meal kits. The bots will be found within Facebook’s popular Messenger app, and will be powered by Masterpass, the credit card giant’s digital wallet.”

“The debut of the bots will provide a fresh test of shoppers’ appetite for what the industry has dubbed ‘conversational commerce,’ the idea of making a purchase or other customer service transaction through A.I.-powered messaging … Consumers are spending more time online, and yet they are concentrating those minutes in a very limited number of apps. Retailers … are realizing that the best way to snare your interest online might not be with a killer app of their own, but by creating bots that live in the apps that you already use.”

“Facebook has said that more than 33,000 bots have been created for its Messenger app so far. This latest batch demonstrates how differently businesses are approaching the technology at this early stage of the game.”

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Disconnect: What Do Shoppers Want From Digital?

Quartz: “To determine if brands have a handle on what shoppers want from digital interaction, IBM’s Institute for Business Value surveyed upwards of 600 executives from a range of global businesses currently introducing new digital customer-experience (CX) tools. It also surveyed more than 6,000 consumers about their attitudes and experiences with digital interactions. It then compared the responses of the two groups to see how well they aligned. The result: They didn’t match up well at all.”

“Executives, for instance, believed the top two factors driving people to use digital customer-experience technologies were a desire for more control over the interaction and a general increase in digital savvy. The top two driving factors consumers identified, however, were speed and convenience. At least according to IBM’s survey, consumers want their online experience to make things easier for them, and aren’t much interested in technology for its own sake.”

“Many also just aren’t impressing shoppers. For instance, about 70% of consumers surveyed who had used virtual reality to explore products, mobile apps that work in a company’s physical store, or voice commands through a computer or phone to engage with a business felt disappointed with the experience and decided not to use these technologies regularly. Many found them inconvenient, confusing, or hard to use.”

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