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Published: 28 Mar 2017

Dior’s New Feminism: #TheWomenBehindTheLens

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Dior #TheWomenBehindTheLens project

Hot on the heels of a diverse and politically charged fashion season, French fashion house Dior is celebrating the unique perspectives of women for its latest video campaign.

#TheWomenBehindTheLens project sees the brand invite nine female photographers to interpret Dior pieces with their own personal vision, with each using their work to explore what it means to be a woman. Among the group are documentary photographer Janette Beckman and influential art director Maripol, who are also interviewed about the designs and the challenges of working in a male-dominated field.

The campaign represents one of the many ways the brand is trying to carve its identity as a feminist house led by a female artistic director. Its Spring/Summer 2017 collection attracted some negative attention after its Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-inspired We Should All Be Feminists T-shirts were set to retail at £490 ($710). The brand later announced that proceeds would be donated to singer Rihanna’s non-profit organisation.

Dior’s latest project goes some way to silence the criticism levelled at its so-called hollow feminism, with its latest project using feminist motives to increase the visibility of women in the creative industries – not just to sell T-shirts. Fashion brands would do well to consider their political sentiments beyond their products, with the most successful reflecting these statements across their entire brand.

For more on fashion’s empowering mood, see Feminism-Fuelled Retail, Puma’s Female Empowerment Hub and our A/W 17/18 Editor’s Overview. For more on how brands are navigating the cultural conversation, see Brands Take a Stand.

Published: 28 Mar 2017

Hugging Face App Aims to Be Your ‘AI Friend’

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Hugging Face app

New York-based start-up Hugging Face has launched a personalised AI-powered chatbot app of the same name to be your ‘friend’. The tech engages users in casual text conversations, exchanges GIFs and selfies, and analyses tone and words to decide what current affairs to chat about.

The app, available on the iOS App Store, was created solely to entertain and build a relationship with its user. “Hugging Face doesn’t want to sell products or connect you to services,” co-founder Clément Delangue told US-based tech website VentureBeat. “We really have this vision where we think everyone will have an AI friend and everyone will discuss things every day with Hugging Face, so that’s really what we’re focused on right now and for the next few years.”

While messaging initially seemed like a challenging environment for brands, consumers appear open to using messaging in new ways and communicating with chatbots. Some brands have more fans on messaging apps than social media forums: Brooklyn stadium Barclays Center has 54,000 followers on its Viber public chats, more than its Twitter or Instagram accounts.

To explore how messaging will become an indispensable means of mobile connection, why the channel is unique, what early-entry brands are doing and what the future holds, read The Messaging Opportunity.

Published: 27 Mar 2017

Retail-Relevant Pinterest Updates

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Pinterest Shop the Look

Speaking at retail tech event DX3 in Canada, Pinterest’s head of marketing communications and industry relations, Eric Edge, detailed the platform’s three new visual discovery tools.

  • Offline-to-Digital Discovery: Beta feature Lens integrates users’ real-world inspiration with their Pinterest collections. Pinterest app users point their smartphone camera at an item, and the image-recognition tech surfaces relevant Pins. It’s currently best suited for home décor and apparel (to find styling ideas) and food (to see recipes using the pictured ingredient). While the Pins aren’t necessarily shoppable and brands can’t as yet determine how close to the surface their content rises, it does make the imagery feel more meaningful and relevant to consumers – making Pinterest a key space for brands.

    “The retailer challenge is not only to get their brand discovered but how to surface the right products at the right time,” said Edge. 
  • Adding Relevancy to Feeds: Further personalising the Pinterest experience, the Instant Ideas feature lets users tap a circle on a Pin to summon images from related themes – instantly reshaping the feed around these topics.
  • Path to Purchase – from Inspiration to Action: “When people discover you, how do you move them from inspiration to action in the shortest time possible?” Edge asked, spotlighting Pinterest’s keenest assault on immediate buying, Shop the Look. A blue dot signals which items in Pinned images can be purchased within Pinterest. Early adopters include US housewares brand CB2, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Target.

See also Monetising Social Media, 2016, Burberry’s Customised Pinterest Beauty Boards and Harness the Hunt: New Search Strategies.

Published: 27 Mar 2017

Meal Kits for Babies

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Thistle Baby Meal Kits

Californian food delivery start-up Thistle has launched an organic baby food ingredient delivery and recipe service designed for time-starved parents.

Available on a weekly subscription basis, each Thistle Baby box includes three pre-portioned and prepared packets of flash-frozen fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices and superfoods such as chia seeds. Each of the three bags comes with a suitable puree recipe and can be steamed, blended and served within 15 minutes.

Recipes include Heart Beet (beets, watermelon, radish and chia seeds), Keep Calm & Curry On (butternut squash, rainbow carrots, gala apples and curry) and Little Green Machine (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, Bartlett pears and tarragon). Each recipe is designed to develop the baby's palate and introduce high levels of nutrients to their diet.

Boxes come packed with enough ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days and each box costs $45, working out at $2 per meal.

For more on how time-crunched and desk-bound consumers are looking for convenient and time-saving meal solutions, read our Post Kitchen Lifestyle report, part of our Kitchen of the Future Industry Trend.

See also Dinner Party Delivery App and the Hershey Meal Kit and Forage concepts.

Published: 24 Mar 2017

AI-Driven Network to Help Prevent Heart Disease

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The Kardia

California-based med-tech start-up AliveCor has launched an artificially intelligent network for doctors that could detect heart disease and stroke earlier.

A few years ago, AliveCor released The Kardia – a portable, matchbox-sized EKG monitor priced at $100. By placing a few fingers on the device for 30 seconds, users can get a medical-grade EKG reading on their phone. Now the company is using the data it collects from the EKGs, pairing it with neural networks and algorithms to identify signs of heart disease.

“Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. To manage heart disease and stroke risk, leading cardiologists want to see more than just ECGs from their patients,” chief executive Vic Gundotra said in prepared remarks.

“Kardia Pro tracks important measures of physiology like weight, activity and blood pressure, and, for the first time, AI technology is used to create a personal heart profile for each user, enabling user identification. The new platform enables doctors to be better doctors and patients to be more active participants in their own heart health, driving healthcare forward into the 21st century.”

Consumers are increasingly expecting devices to learn from their behaviour and anticipate their needs, as explored in Predictive Tech. For more on the innovative healthcare products equipping people with at-home tools for diagnosis and care, see CES 2017: DIY Doctor.

Published: 22 Mar 2017

Formen: Professional Male Cosmetics

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Formen make-up and skincare

Hailing from Toronto in Canada, Formen calls itself “the globe’s first professional male cosmetic house”, offering targeted make-up and skincare products for specific grooming concerns.

Make-up for men is a growing category, but it’s not just about the feminine glamour of #beautyboys (see Gender-Fluid Generation: Beauty Attitudes). Wearable eyeliner, blusher and streetwise facial make-up was seen on the A/W 17/18 men’s catwalks, providing inspiration for consumer uptake at mass level.

Formen’s make-up is designed to enhance the face, not transform it. The Under Eye Concealer + Pro Palette features yellow, purple and green creams to neutralise purple/blue, yellow and red areas, respectively. Meanwhile, the “6 Benefits. One Bottle” Brightening CC Cream promises to protect, moisturise, prime, even skin tone, brighten and mattify. Both products tap into a new multipurpose category that promotes convenience and efficacy – see Top Beauty Trend: Multifunctional Products for more.

Additionally, the brand’s out-of-stock legacy clinical skincare line – which includes a Brightening Hyaluronic Acid Serum and High Potency Vitamin C Cleanser – is in the process of being relaunched with a Kickstarter campaign. It promises a new Awesome Anti-Ageing Moisturiser and a revamped CC Cream (its bestselling product), available in two shades.

Sold solely online, step-by-step instructions, gifs and video tutorials by founder Andrew Grella accompany each product, while the Formen Club concierge service offers private product consultations and same-day delivery.

Formen was one of Stylus’ standout brands at Cosmoprof Worldwide 2017. Look out for our upcoming comprehensive trade show report.

Published: 22 Mar 2017

Lowe’s Haptic-VR DIY Skills Clinic

Lowe's Innovation Labs - the internal tech hub of US home improvement retailer Lowe's - has surpassed its in-store augmented reality simulator for home-improvement projects (initiated in 2014) with a new concept that guides shoppers through DIY projects using both virtual reality (VR) and haptic technologies.

Dubbed Holoroom How To, the highly immersive (still store-based) concept has evolved from a pre-purchase visualisation tool, showing consumers how a product would look in their home, into a programme grounded in learning key skills.

Visitors wear a VR headset to watch a DIY tutorial chosen from a menu of options, subsequently following instructions displayed in front of them by using a hand controller to mimic gestures such as painting a fence or tiling a wall. Adding realism to each task, the in-built haptic tech issues life-like vibrations such as drill movements.

Lowe's was inspired to create the concept based on its own research revealing many consumers lack the confidence and skills to embark on DIY projects despite wanting to get involved. According to the retailer, those using the tool have a 36% better recall of the task than those watching a regular video tutorial online.

For more on the skills economy and the value of brands becoming enablers, see Active Flagships and the section Service Commerce in Retail Week Live, 2017.

See also New-Gen Home Improvement Parts 1 and 2, Virtual Added Value (part of our New Era Luxury Macro Trend), Interiors Retailing Online and Here Come the Homebodies.

See also Lowe's Unveils AI Robot Concierge.

Published: 22 Mar 2017

Lampix: Turn Any Surface into an Interactive Display

New York and San Francisco-based augmented reality start-up Lampix has developed a ‘smart lamp’ capable of transforming flat surfaces into interactive displays.

Using a wi-fi connection, users can send anything from their smartphone or computer to Lampix. It looks like a regular lamp, but uses a built-in Raspberry Pi computer, an 8-megapixel camera and a 400-lumen projector to create an interactive, touch-sensitive display.

Bringing augmented reality to any surface, Lampix allows users to work with paper documents as if they were electronic. The tech can copy, paste and upload the contents of a physical sheet of paper, and even search for terms in the hard copy. Users can also collaborate with someone else on the same project, as Lampix tracks changes in real time.

Lampix can also display smartphone notifications, show a smartphone’s contents on a flat surface for a larger display, or be put in ‘focus mode’, which withholds notifications from displaying in the workspace.

The start-up is currently seeking pilot clients to trial and improve the product before it goes on general sale. According to its founders, Lampix could have widespread applications across gaming, retail and the workplace, and will come with an open application programming interface for users to create and upload innovative applications. It is expected to begin shipping in autumn 2017 for around $300.

For more on the next-generation interfaces transforming the user experience and moving tech into the 3D arena, see Wearable Technology Show 2017 and DLD 2017: Tech for a Divided Society. 

Published: 21 Mar 2017

Living Colour: Dyeing with Bacteria

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Living Colour

Living Colour is a biodesign research project exploring the possibilities of natural textile dyeing using pigment-producing bacteria. Rotterdam-based textile designers Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar learned that subjecting the live bacteria to sound frequencies accelerates pigment production. The discovery could lead to a more sustainable way of colouring textiles.

The designers sought the help of sound engineer Eduard van Dommelen to produce a sound installation in a biomedical lab. They set out to explore whether exposure to sound waves would make the bacteria grow in patterns, producing patterned textiles. The method draws inspiration from Cymatics phenomena like Chladni figures and Faraday waves, which cause matter to form geometric patterns when exposed to sound. 

To carry out the experiment, they put textile samples covered with bacteria into petri dishes, and positioned them directly over the speakers. They discovered that the bacteria subjected to sound dyed the textiles in an even, plain and more saturated colour than the bacteria without sound. Janthinobacterium Lividum – a purple, soil-dwelling bacterium – proved to be excellent for textile dyeing under optimal conditions of 25°C. 

The finding could lead to ways of upscaling the bacterial dyeing process, potentially revolutionising industrial textile dyeing. Organic bacterial dyes also provide clinical characteristics such as anti-oxidants and agents with possible anti-cancer properties, which are beneficial to our skin and wellbeing. Read more in the Living Colour ibook.

Stylus explores more innovative strategies for reducing the use of artificial pigments and highlights new natural dyes in Considered Colour. See also Home Ground: Colour.

Published: 21 Mar 2017

Cobalt: Co-operative Security Robot

Californian start-up Cobalt Robotics has unveiled an indoor security robot called Cobalt, designed with Yves Béhar’s US-based studio Fuseproject. The low-profile robot improves security procedures in office environments and can also fulfil a concierge role.

Equipped with autonomous-car technology such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms, Cobalt patrols spaces using computer vision and path planning, just as a self-driving car would on a highway. Sensor technology can detect anomalies such as open windows or trespassers, and ranges from 360-degree day and night cameras and laser scanners to carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

Bearing more of a resemblance to office furniture than a robot, Cobalt’s semi-cylindrical shape has a fabric skin that prevents overheating. An aluminium display area with a camera eye curves along the front and functions as a badge scanner and control panel.  

The robot can either respond autonomously, or initiate a video connection to a remote Cobalt employee for real-time human assistance. In the future, Cobalt Robotics anticipates its robots will be able to assist with checking-in guests and supporting different workplace departments, such as IT or facility management.

See our A/W 18/19 Design Direction Amplify, which explores robotics taking on friendly and unobtrusive characteristics. For more ‘soft’ tech aesthetics, see CMF Industry View: Personal Electronics.

Published: 21 Mar 2017

Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs

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Nissan X-Trail 4Dogs

Nissan Europe has unveiled the X-Trail 4Dogs, a concept vehicle specially designed for dog lovers and their animal companions.

The seven-seater, 4x4-styled sport utility vehicle was designed with the help of a survey of 1,300 dog owners in the UK. Pet-friendly features include a two-way “dog cam”, a water shower, a doggie blow dryer and an access ramp for four-legged boarding. The camera, which doubles as the vehicle’s reverse-view camera, is installed in the dashboard’s infotainment display, and controlled with a toggle near the steering wheel.

The boot includes a kibble dispenser, or “Smart Dog Treat Bowl” – which can be adjusted to reward pooches with treats if they solve a puzzle – and a non-spill water dispenser. It also has two storage areas, a clip-in harness hook to keep the animals secure in transit, and is upholstered with a leather liner that can be wiped down and coated with a mild detergent. The boot ceiling is also wrapped in heavy-duty leather to avoid stains. 

While the company has not yet announced plans for commercial release, the concept taps into the rise of animal-loving consumers driving demand for premium food, luxury services and innovative activities. See Pet Parents for more on this growing demographic.

Published: 20 Mar 2017

JFK’s Terminal for Pets

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JFK's Pet Terminal

New York's John F Kennedy International Airport is set to open a $65m, 20,000 sq ft 'terminal for animals' later this year.

The Ark at JFK, which will be the world's first privately owned 24/7 animal airport terminal, will cater to a variety of species – from household cats and dogs to horses, livestock and zoo animals. Split into three sections, the facility will boast an Equine & Livestock Centre, an Aviary In-Transit Quarantine and a Pet Oasis.

The terminal will include a luxury pet spa, bone-shaped splash pools, walking tracks for horses and a cat adventure playground. Pets that need to stay overnight can be booked into a $100-per-night 'top dog suite', which will include a human-sized bed, a flat screen TV, webcam access for their owner and photographs provided by their owner to make them feel more at home.

For more on airport and in-flight innovation, see In-Transit Innovation and Transport Hubs – part of our Future Service Industry Trend.

In addition, Pet Parents delves into the need for premium pet services that cater to animal-loving individuals who wish to pamper and nurture these valued family members.

Published: 20 Mar 2017

Next-Gen Convenience: WeChat-Powered Store, China

Chinese tech start-up BingoBox has launched a staff-free, 24/7 store in Zhongshan City (Southern China) that's entirely facilitated by the country's biggest messaging platform, WeChat. The move confirms the power of social media (and the smartphone) as the axis around which many consumers now run their lives.

To enter the fully automated space, shoppers must scan a digitally displayed QR code on the door using WeChat's scanner feature. Inside, they can browse more than 800 products including daily necessities such as drinks, groceries and over-the-counter medicine. Items are paid for via WeChat at an automated self-checkout; scanning another QR code with their smartphone connects shoppers to their mobile wallets held within the WeChat system.

To exit, shoppers have to scan yet another QR code to reopen the door. This is connected to a 'virtual tagging' security system that verifies that all items have been paid for. If in need of assistance, visitors can press a button on the wall by the checkout desk to activate a real-time video chat with a BingoBox staff member, who helps remotely.

The compact unit measures approximately 15 sq m and is designed for easy relocation (see also Flexible Store Formats). It can be digitally programmed to lift itself and be pushed in any direction, thanks to foldout wheels in its base.

See also Amazon Go's Checkout-Free Grocery Stores, Staffless Smartphone-Powered Shop, Rapid Retail, Future Supermarket Strategies, Mobile World Congress 2016 and Mobile Payments Round-Up, 2017. See also Social to Store: Spurring Key Crossover, publishing on April 13.

Published: 17 Mar 2017

Guardian Changing Media Summit 2017

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The Guardian Changing Media Summit 2017

Joining the Conversation

This year's Guardian Changing Media Summit (London, March 15-16) was dominated by the discussion of "fake news". While this subject is most obviously affecting journalism, speakers offered strategies that equally applied to brands looking to engage distrustful, divided consumers.

"We have to listen to communities, understand their goals and needs, and only then bring them journalism," said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. "Give up the notion that we are always the destination. We need to take journalism to the conversation when and where it occurs – be it Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, in the appropriate context for the platform." See our Macro Trend The Currency of Dissent for more on this subject.

Arguably, brands have been ahead of the media when it comes to understanding this need for joining and shaping the cultural conversation. Regarding the opportunities of chatbots and messaging apps, for example, brand marketers have led the way (see AI-First Engagement and The Messaging Opportunity for more).

At the summit, CNN's head of social and emerging media, Samantha Barry, described the benefits CNN has seen after launching on Line, Kik and Facebook Messenger in 2016. "We are reaching customers we haven't reached before," she commented. Kik, particularly, "has been a revelation in how we talk to young people in the US".

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CNN's Facebook chatbot

The Promise of AI

The other key topic of conversation was the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform media and marketing. In May 2016, Sarah O'Connor, employment correspondent at UK publication the Financial Times, competed with AI platform Emma to produce a piece of financial reporting – could a robot be a better writer than a real journalist?

While the story Emma produced was competent, according to O'Connor: "[Emma] didn't have news judgement. She did not know which were the most important facts – which is one of the human things that journalists need."

Marketing expert Sarah Speake nonetheless worried that, for marketers, AI could lead to homogenisation. "There's a huge danger if we over-algorithm ourselves that brands lack differentiation," she commented. David Harris, executive creative director at UK ad agency Gyro, agreed: "Tech only works if there's an ecosystem around it, and that ecosystem is not there yet."

For those concerned that AI will take over human jobs, Parry Malm, chief executive of AI email marketing platform Phrasee, had reassuring words: "If you're a lawyer or accountant, you're probably [in trouble]. But [AI] is creating new jobs. Phrasee just hired a dozen linguistics graduates – we're creating a new career path for people with specialist skillsets."

Invisible Technology

Tom Goodwin, executive vice-president of innovation at marketing measurement firm Zenith USA, offered 10 media trends that pointed to a future of increasingly omnipresent technology. "We've only ever known an internet that we went to," he commented. "The internet is now more a pervasive, assistive interface. I don't need to know everything, just the things specific to a need." Goodwin pointed to the Dark Sky app as an example: the hyper-local weather tool simply tells you when it's about to rain where you are.

He also discussed Sony's concept prototype N, a neckband wearable previewed at CES 2017 as an example of how we might interact with the internet in the next few years (check out our reporting from CES for more). Brands should "embrace the way that these products are and the philosophy they represent", Goodwin said. "Digital is oxygen."

For more on pervasive technology, see our latest Industry Trend, Invisible Marketing.

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Dark Sky
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Sony's N
Published: 16 Mar 2017

New Material: Absorbs 90 Times its Weight in Oil

A new material created by Argonne National Laboratories in the US could revolutionise oil spill clean-ups, averting untold environmental damage. Called Oleo Sponge, the material is made of adapted polyurethane foam.

Oil-attracting molecules already existed, but scientists needed to figure out how to collect oil in a sustainable way – not just from the surface, but also when it becomes dispersed in a column throughout the sea. Co-inventor Seth Darling and his colleagues took everyday polyurethane foam, ordinarily used for upholstery and bedding, and transformed it using silane molecules to create a durable sponge that can be wrung out and reused.

Altering the surface chemistry of the sponge was made possible by sequential infiltration synthesis – a process previously developed by Darling and fellow Argonne chemist Jeff Elam. This process was developed to infuse hard metal oxide atoms within complicated nanostructures – but by adapting it, they were able to grow an ultra-thin layer of metal oxide inside the foam, which the oil molecules grab onto.

"In an ideal world, you would have warehoused collections of this foam sitting near offshore operations... or where there's a lot of shipping traffic, or right on rigs... ready to go when the spill happens," Darling told British publication New Scientist. With our oceans continuously at threat from such disasters, this innovation could be a game changer for the environment. For more innovations extracting pollutants from our surroundings, see our coverage of Dutch Design Week 2016 and our Materials Focus 2018/19 theme Sci-Bio.

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