Main & Vine: New Kroger Format Emphasizes ‘Community’

Seattle Times: A new, small-format Kroger store in Gig Harbor, WA, combines quality produce (like Whole Foods) and lower prices (like Trader Joe’s) but most of all is positioned as “not just as a grocery store but as a community hub, where local products are prominently displayed, community involvement is highlighted and people can hang out in the store’s two-level cafe area.”

“In the ‘brew and blend’ cafe area, beers including those from Gig Harbor’s 7 Seas Brewing are on tap, and coffee from Gig Harbor’s Cutters Point Coffee is served. Customers can eat sitting at tables and chairs or can people watch from lounge chairs on the upper level.”

“Local and regional wines and beers are arrayed prominently in the adult-beverage section, Gig Harbor’s Artondale Farm has its own stand for soaps and lotions, local artists painted the murals on the walls, and a product display features a small wooden boat built by Gig Harbor BoatShop … The name came from what the company wanted the brand to represent, with ‘Main’ evoking the Main Street of a community and ‘Vine’ conveying green and fresh.”

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Inclusive Design: Microsoft Thinks Outside the XBox

Fast Company: “Dubbed inclusive design, (Microsoft) begins with studying overlooked communities, ranging from dyslexics to the deaf. By learning about how they adapt to their world, the hope is that you can actually build better new products for everyone else.”

“What’s more, by finding more analogues between tribes of people outside the mainstream and situations that we’ve all found ourselves in, you can come up with all kinds of new products. The big idea is that in order to build machines that adapt to humans better, there needs to be a more robust process for watching how humans adapt to each other, and to their world … They are finding the expertise and ingenuity that arises naturally, when people are forced to live a life differently from most … the promise of this new design process isn’t in just a better Microsoft.”

August de los Reyes of Xbox: ”If we’re successful, we’re going to change the way products are designed across the industry. Period. That’s my vision.”

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Stories Can Teach Machines How To Behave

“Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison from the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology have just unveiled Quixote, a prototype system that is able to learn social conventions from simple stories,” reports The Guardian.

“A simple version of a story could be about going to get prescription medicine from a chemist … An AI (artificial intelligence) given the task of picking up a prescription for a human could, variously, rob the chemist and run, or be polite and wait in line. Robbing would be the fastest way to accomplish its goal, but Quixote learns that it will be rewarded if it acts like the protagonist in the story.”

“Quixote has not learned the lesson of ‘do not steal,’ Riedl says, but ‘simply prefers to not steal after reading and emulating the stories it was provided … the stories are surrogate memories for an AI that cannot ‘grow up’ immersed in a society the way people are and must quickly immerse itself in a society by reading about [it].’”

“The system was named Quixote, said Riedl, after Cervantes’ would-be knight-errant, who ‘reads stories about chivalrous knights and decides to emulate the behaviour of those knights.'”

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The Design Science of Conversational Agents

“The challenge of creating a computer “personality” is now one that a growing number of software designers are grappling with,” reports The New York Times. “A new design science is emerging in the pursuit of building what are called “conversational agents,” software programs that understand natural language and speech and can respond to human voice commands. However, the creation of such systems, led by researchers in a field known as human-computer interaction design, is still as much an art as it is a science.”

“Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the ‘uncanny valley,’ in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring … Beyond correct pronunciation, there is the even larger challenge of correctly placing human qualities like inflection and emotion into speech. Linguists call this ‘prosody,’ the ability to add correct stress, intonation or sentiment to spoken language.”

“The highest-quality techniques for natural-sounding speech begin with a human voice that is used to generate a database of parts and even subparts of speech spoken in many different ways. A human voice actor may spend from 10 hours to hundreds of hours, if not more, recording for each database.”

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The Future of Shopping May Be Underground

Tech Insider: Garden Santa Fe, a 7-story-deep underground shopping mall in Mexico City, is a peculiar hybrid of basic infrastructure needs and a re-envisioning of contemporary retail. At a time when urban real estate is a precious commodity, going underground might just be the future of shopping … The Garden Santa Fe Mall has … circular courtyards, complete with live trees at the bottom and second level of the mall, providing a release from what would otherwise be a claustrophobic environment.”

“The presence of three full story glass atriums essentially brings the outdoors to the underground … The entire building is buried 7 stories deep, making heating and cooling much more energy efficient. Overall, the mall uses 60% of the energy of a comparable retail space. An extensive rain collection system and onsite grey water treatment and water reuse system make a similar impact in water consumption.”

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Wild Turkey Inks an Older, Prouder Bird

Bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon and rye whiskey now feature an older, prouder bird, reports The Wall Street Journal. The newly redesigned labels cap a $100 million expansion and modernization of the Wild Turkey distillery, following its acquisition by Gruppo Campari.

Campari marketing vice president Melanie Batchelor says the previous turkey looked “a little sad … not proud.” Consumer research also found that the turkey looked too young, which “conflicted with the idea that the bourbon is aged.” The new illustration is “more of a close-up image, with prominent eyes and fluffy feathers.”

“Wild Turkey also wanted to better highlight its master distillers, Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie,” whose “signatures are now larger and on the fronts of the bottles, rather than the necks … Bottles also include the words ‘Crafted With Conviction’ … They wanted to avoid using ‘handcrafted,’ a phrase Ms. Batchelor feels has become so common in the spirits industry that it sounds generic.

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Tsumiki: The Japanese Lego

Wired: “Unlike Lego bricks, which are plastic, Tsumiki pieces are made of Japanese cedar (and manufactured using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship). And unlike the brick-shaped Lego blocks, each Tsumiki block is shaped like an inverted “V.” Triangular notches in the legs let the Tsumiki blocks wedge together, making them versatile like Lego bricks, albeit not as sturdy; some of the assembly models shown in Kuma’s Tsumiki brochure look about as solid as a house of cards.”

“Kuma’s Tsumiki are triangular, for the strength that this shape provides. All told, these popsicle stick-like blocks are much more in line with the principles of contemporary Japanese architecture than their predecessors: They’re natural in material, spatially economical, and relentlessly simple. Perfect for inspiring Japan’s next generation of architects.”

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Memoire: A Typeface That Changes Like a Memory

Wired: “A new typeface called Memoire is designed to reflect the ever-shifting shapes memories take as we replay them in our minds. Designers Ryan Bugden and Michelle Wainer created the custom typeface for La Petite Mort, a biannual magazine produced by New York creative agency Sub Rosa. The font, used as the headline typeface for each of the magazine’s 16 stories, evolves from page to page. ‘The core idea was that it would change over time—similar to how every time you revisit a memory, it in fact changes based on the current context you’re in,’ Wainer says.

“It’s hard to see the changes at first. The sharpness of the serifs softens almost imperceptibly with every use. On the first page, edges are knife-like; by the last, they are almost friendly in their roundness.”

“Memoire was designed for print, though it lives beautifully as a digital file, where you can see the transformation in hyper speed. Reading it in print is more of an exercise in perception, and in many ways, the typeface is a metaphor for memory layered upon yet another metaphor: By its very nature, the print page blurs and fades, each time it’s touched.”

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“Brave” Browser Offers Users Ad Revenues

Christian Science Monitor: “Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla Corporation and creator of JavaScript, is launching a new startup – Brave, a browser with a less-than-intuitive solution: block ads by default. The browser will automatically block disruptive ads on the Web and replace them with safer, less intrusive ones. The browser will also reward users with a cut of the advertising profits and a choice to support their favorite websites … the main goal of the browser is to give users control over their advertising experience and more control over how they support their favorite websites.”

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