Ambient Computing: Invisible & Omnipresent

Steve Vassallo: “Slack and Airbnb—like Pinterest, Instagram and Kickstarter—are recent successes founded by designers, people who are devoted to the practice of building impeccably considerate technology. Design is the key to building the next great wave of companies.”

“I think we’re entering the age of ‘ambient computing,’ when personal technology will become invisible and omnipresent. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, the Internet of Things, and other nascent tech will fade into the background of our lives. Technology will no longer come in the form of gadgets.”

“In this new era, design will be ever more critical to how we build and use our technology. The 21st century will be the century of the designer founder, when core value for businesses is created by entrepreneurs who have a deeper, more intuitive sense for the human condition.”

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Amazon’s Buzz: A Drone Beehive?

Business Insider: “Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries. Right now, it’s all still early stages — but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech. For example, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they’re not helping you make any money — so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible?”

“Amazon is exploring the idea of building special facilities that can store, repair, and deploy drones, and pre-emptively moving products and drones to areas of anticipated demand (based on seasonal trends, say, or a special event in the area) before launching them … the patent — and others like it — offers us a window into the kind of problems Amazon’s employees are grappling with, and how they might ultimately hope to solve them.”

“For example, Amazon has previously filed for a patent for a beehive-like tower for storing its fleets of drones — or as it calls it, a ‘multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned aerial vehicles’ … Amazon is also thinking about using its drones to scan your house while carrying out deliveries in order to try and sell you more stuff. If it spots one of your trees is dying, it might recommend some fertiliser to you with an advert on its website, for example.”

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Retrocycles: How Indian Throttles Harley

The New York Times: Harley-Davidson “now faces perhaps its most trying challenge in decades. Polaris, an established American company with manufacturing know-how and a revered motorcycle brand in Indian, is quickly making big strides … Indian’s sales grew 17 percent in the second quarter of this year, while Harley’s sales shrank nearly 7 percent. Overall sales for large-displacement bikes, the kind that Harley specializes in, shrank 9 percent in the second quarter of this year.”

“The rebirth started well, with attractive bikes earning positive reviews from enthusiast publications … All Indian motorcycles are built in Spirit Lake, Iowa. While its bikes like the Scout and the just-released Scout Bobber are aimed at younger buyers, most models revel in heritage, with styling and names that hark back to the company’s prewar glory days. They represent, as Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book, an auto research firm, put it, ‘a cool theme married to a modern chassis’ and particularly appeal to buyers with a ‘what have you done for me lately’ outlook on brand loyalty.”

“Inevitably, Indian’s retro approach makes the brand a head-to-head competitor for Harley-Davidson, offering bikes in the touring, cruiser and midsize classes as well as the popular bagger category, or bikes carrying saddlebags but not the full windscreen and gear of a long-distance touring machine … To be sure, there is little chance that Indian will run Harley-Davidson out of business anytime soon. Harley’s sales last year, some 260,000 motorcycles worldwide, generated revenue of $6 billion.”

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$1,400 iPhone & The Veblen Effect

Christopher Mims: “The launch of a pricey new iPhone has big implications for Apple’s financials, and it also bodes well for Apple’s continued dominance in mobile phones. Here are five reasons for Apple to go big, price-wise:” 1 Halo Effect: “An ultraexpensive edition of the iPhone makes sense as a shot in the arm for the whole brand … 2 Crazy New Tech: A big reason companies have halo products is that they give them a way to test new technologies.” 3 Supply & Demand: “If Apple’s high-end iPhone is aimed at a new segment—people willing to pay more than $1,000 for a phone—Apple can charge whatever it likes to balance supply and demand for the device, rather than worrying about whether increasing the price will hurt its overall market share.”

4 Average Selling Price: “With a phone priced upward of $1,400, Apple would have the opportunity to move the single most important metric on its balance sheet: the average selling price of a new iPhone.” 5 The Veblen Effect: “The final reason a pricey iPhone makes sense is that, paradoxically, the more expensive Apple makes the device, the more people will lust after it. Conspicuous consumption was first described in ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who singled out products that, contrary to logic, sold better when their prices went up.”

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The Remakery: Fix-It-Yourself Retail

Fast Company: “The British social entrepreneur Sophie Unwin thinks there’s room for a new kind of repair shop with an entirely new business model. The Edinburgh Remakery, her shop in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, is part thrift shop, part maker space, part repair shop, and part learning center. It doesn’t just repair broken electronics, furniture, or textiles–it teaches customers to fix things themselves. Because the Remakery’s policy is that they always fix your stuff in front of you, the focus shifts from a transactional service to a learning experience.”

“For Unwin, the goal of Remakery is twofold. First, the company helps prevent waste from going to the landfill–a valuable proposition for local governments, since she says they typically spend about $160 per ton of waste … Second, Remade is showing how investing in repair and repair education creates jobs. Unwin believes that given the number of cities and towns in the U.K. and the success of the Edinburgh Remakery so far, there’s the potential to create 8,000 jobs in computer and electronics, furniture, and textile repair education.”

“In 2018, Remade will start a bona fide franchise, where anyone who wants to start up a Remakery will receive branding, templates, consulting time, and training to help with funding, location, recruitment, and business planning. After a launch period of 18 months, new Remakeries will pay 5% of their income back to the larger organization in return for continued support and to remain a part of the network. Unwin hopes to also use Remade to advocate for designing products that are built to last.”

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Surprise #1: Google+ Is Most-Loved Network

The Washington Post: “Google+ has topped the American Consumer Satisfaction Index’s 2017 list evaluating how users feel about Internet social media companies … For those who don’t remember the social network or didn’t think it was still around, Google+ was Google’s largely failed attempt to answer the rise of Facebook and Twitter … It didn’t take off for many reasons, including: its complexity, the fact that people were pretty set in their social media ways and Google’s somewhat ham-handed attempts to require people to use it to comment on YouTube.”

“But Google+ did find footing with groups looking to make community pages, and now has an estimated 111 million users, according to Forbes — about one-third of Twitter, or 1/6 of Facebook. It’s continued to work on the product for those customers. And that, at least in terms of customer satisfaction, seems to have paid off.”

This “could indicate that, the smaller or more specialized an audience, the more you can do to focus your network to fit. The survey credits Pinterest’s high ranking, for example, to ‘increasing site efficiency and search technology’ as well as moves to make it easier to shop directly from the site … For Facebook, the right path may not be as clear when looking for direction from 2 billion users. The upshot of the report seems to be that if you want people to be happy on the Internet, you should go niche and really listen to your community.”

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Surprise #2: Microsoft is Leading PC Innovation

Farhad Manjoo: Microsoft “is making the most visionary computers in the industry, if not the best machines, period. In the last two years, while Apple has focused mainly on mobile devices, Microsoft has put out a series of computers that reimagine the future of PCs in thrilling ways … perhaps because it’s way behind Apple, Microsoft’s hardware division is creating products more daring than much of what has been coming out of its rival lately.”

“Under Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Surface chief, the company has given its designers and engineers license to rethink the future of PCs in grand ways — to sit in an empty room, dream big things, and turn those visions into reality … The mind-set has resulted in several shining ideas. For Surface Studio, Microsoft built a brilliant companion device called Surface Dial — a palm-size knob that sits on your drafting-table screen, creating a tactile interface with which to control your computer.”

You can use Dial for basic things like turning up the volume. But in the hands of a designer, it becomes a lovely tool; you can scrub through edits in a video or change your pen color in Photoshop with a turn of the wheel … Dial is one of those interface breakthroughs that we might have once looked to Apple for. Now, it’s Microsoft that’s pushing new modes of computing … it’s unlikely that Microsoft’s PC hardware business will beat Apple’s anytime soon. But anyone who cares about the future of the PC should be thrilled that Apple now faces a serious and creative competitor.”

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Food Halls Fight ‘Decision Fatigue’

The Wall Street Journal: “As ambitious food halls open in more urban buildings, developers are trying to make it easier for visitors to navigate pricey stalls and vendors without feeling paralyzed by all the choices. They’re tweaking food hall layouts to incorporate bar seating overlooking open-concept kitchens, nixing larger food-court-era tables and simplifying hip menus … Some are opting for a calmer look—and sound—to help battle what the trade calls ‘decision fatigue’.”

“When opening St. Roch Market, a New Orleans food hall, in 2015, Will Donaldson insisted the same signage be used for each vendor. Instead of music coming from individual stalls, he keeps a central music playlist to cut down on extra noise. An employee appears at each table to bring water and offer a clipboard with all of the offerings. Then visitors get up to find their food. Without a clear, streamlined guide, ‘people can get confused and subconsciously shut down,’ says Mr. Donaldson.”

“Developers are implementing plans that make turnover simpler, too. At Legacy Hall, vendors aren’t asked to sign a commercial lease. Each side can break off the deal at any time … Operators of Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market realized they needed more ability to switch out underperforming vendors by creating only ‘bare-bones’ design.”

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Consumer Culture & The Ikea Catalog

Quartz: “Beginning July 31, IKEA’s highly-anticipated catalogue will appear in millions of mailboxes around the world … This year, it took the Swedish company 18 months and a hundreds-strong army of photographers, art directors, copywriters, proofreaders, prop masters, carpenters, photo retouchers, programmers and CGI specialists to produce the catalog’s 1,400 pieces of art and 24,000 texts. While the text remain basically the same worldwide, IKEA’s team does go the extra mile to swap out subtle, tell-tale details in 72 different region-specific editions.”

“Knowing that kitchens in China are much smaller than the US for example, catalogue designers crop into a photograph and reposition elements in post-production, to illustrate a cozier cooking space … Last February, members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community received a 67-page, all-male product catalogue with challah boards, Shabbat candlesticks, tables set for the Sabbath meal, and Billy bookcases propped with volumes of the Talmud and Bible, the Jerusalem Post reports.”

“The annual catalogue is also a way for IKEA to set prices for their different markets, factoring in the cost of goods, transport, and tariffs and the foreign exchange rate … IKEA works with five paper suppliers and 31 printers around the world to produce the catalogue each year. In choosing the paper … they even consider how different markets perceive quality vis-a-vis the paper’s brightness and sheen. An Ikea exec comments: “People have a ‘magazine moment’ with a cup of tea, at home, touching the paper.”

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Sephora Studio: Where Small is Beautiful

Fast Company: Sephora “is tinkering with a new kind of store: an intimate boutique embedded in a neighborhood. The very first of these stores, which will be called the Sephora Studio, is launching on Newbury Street, the charming upmarket shopping street in downtown Boston, full of historic brick and stone buildings … While most Sephora stores make a big statement with their large storefronts, this small store attempts to blend into its locale.”

“At the center of the store, there are eight makeup stations where customers can book personal consultations. The product assortment is much smaller, focused on makeup, although there is a small selection of perfumes and skin care. Staff members will be well-versed in Sephora’s broader product range and may direct customers to products that can be shipped to them for free.”

“There are no cash registers, since staff members can process payments digitally, on their phones. At makeup stations, beauty advisers can take pictures of the client, then note all the products they test together, which is then emailed to the client and added to their online profile.”

“The brand is about to launch other small-format stores in similar shopping streets in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Hoboken in New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. These stores will not replace the bigger store format, but rather complement them.”

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