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The Brief
Published: 5 Oct 2018

Creatives Move Out of the City for Fresh Inspiration

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City Quitters

Can creative inspiration be found outside of the melting pot of urban centres? And can innovation thrive in a rural setting? New book City Quitters by UK trend forecaster (and out-of-house Stylus expert) Karen Rosenkranz explores how young designers are moving further afield in search of a fresh perspective for their work.

As explored in New Metropolitans, cities are undergoing a demographic shift. Millennials (aged 24 to 37) are increasingly relocating out of urban areas, while boomers (aged 54 to 72) are stepping in to their place.

According to Rosenkranz, the rising cost of urban living and fierce competition are making it harder for creatives to thrive in a city environment. The dulling effect of financial anxiety and long work hours, plus a global homogeneous aesthetic fuelled by identikit social media feeds, led her to question whether “fresh, original thinking is no longer the preserve of a thriving megacity?”

For Italian artist Ivano Atzori and American set designer Kyre Chenven – two of Rosenkranz’s ‘city quitter’ subjects – the move to a small valley in Sardinia, Italy, steered the formation of their interdisciplinary studio Pretziada. The duo looks to the region’s design vernacular to inform their work, evolving traditional making techniques to peddle Sardinian crafts to the world.

This migration of creatives to the countryside will help rid rural life of simplistic utopian clichés, and instead, foster a fresh visual language that directs heritage crafts into the future.

For more on how crafts are being revived to offer consumers a sense of belonging, while fulfilling the innate human desire to create, see our S/S 20 Design Direction Journey.

City Quitters: Creative Pioneers Pursuing Post-Urban Life is published by Frame.

Published: 23 Apr 2018

Thrifty Millennials Turn to Refund Apps

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Ibotta

A new generation of apps is helping price-conscious American millennials claim refunds and earn cashback payments.

Millennials love a good bargain. Almost 80% of US millennials are influenced by price (Forbes, 2017) – and they also expect ethical production, transparency, convenience and high-quality products. Adept at thrifting and coupon clipping, young shoppers are turning to third-party apps to help them to save money effortlessly.

  • Automated Savings: Two American apps are helping users to claim refunds. Earny, a start-up based in Santa Monica, California, launched in 2015. Meanwhile, Paribus was founded by financial giant Capital One in 2014. The free apps scan a shopper’s email and card receipts to detect whether the prices of recent purchases drop shortly afterwards. They automatically claim the difference as a refund on the shopper’s behalf, taking a 25% commission. Paribus, which claims to have 2.5 million users, works with 30 major retailers including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Walmart. Unlike Paribus, Earny scans Amazon. Earny CEO Oded Vakrat claims the business model works to the advantage of retailers by “reducing item return rates because customers are more satisfied from their purchase”.
  • Tailored Cashback Deals: US cashback app Ibotta, a Denver-based business founded in 2011, enables shoppers to earn cashback on purchases, either in store or in app. Consumers check Ibotta before they shop and select certain offers (an algorithm provides guidance). Post-purchase, consumers take an image of the receipt and receive cashback within 48 hours in the form of real cash via PayPal. The app partners with more than 280 retailers including Walmart, Target and eBay.

For more on bargain shoppers’ consumer behaviour, see our report Budget Retail’s Quality Drive.

Published: 2 Mar 2018

One Shared House: Co-Living in 2030

Danish design think-tank Space10Ikea’s exploratory concept lab – has co-ordinated an online survey that investigates the public’s perception of communal living spaces.

One Shared House 2030 supposes a future of augmented urban developments and housing shortages in 2030, to which co-living arrangements could be an effective response. The survey asks participants what type of people they would like to live with, what spaces and amenities they would be willing to share, and what they believe would be the positives of living in a communal settlement.

The findings show that overall, people would prefer to live in the city with individuals from all walks of life. Four to 10 is the ideal number of people in the community and ideally, all members would enjoy equal ownership of the house.

Participants are open to sharing, particularly regarding use of the internet, garden and workspaces. However, the boundaries between public and private spaces are important, with the majority wanting their private space to be unfurnished and off limits when they are not present. 

Despite a common concern about the potential lack of privacy, interviewees acknowledged the benefits of co-living environments, citing socialising and reduced living costs as the two greatest benefits. 

For more on how co-living environments are influencing interior and urban design, read Smarter Spaces: Optimising the Home and The Communal City in LDF 2017: Lifestyle Trends.

Published: 20 Feb 2018

2018 Olympics: Payment-Embedded Merchandise

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Visa

Multinational corporation Visa has created a range of gloves, stickers and commemorative pins embedded with payment technology to enable fast, contactless transactions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

At the event, Visa is showcasing the future trajectory of monetary exchange, whereby users pay for goods and services via embedded tech, leaving their credit or debit card at home. This is made possible through the continued development of near-field communication (NFC) chips, which enable any object to process payments when within a four-inch radius of a receiver.

Visa has released three different payment-embedded items suited to the conditions and culture of the Olympic Games. The commemorative pins are inspired by the custom of both spectators and athletes collecting pins as souvenirs of the event, while the stickers serve as flexible micro tags that can be attached to any surface for easy use. The gloves allow users to pay for transactions while keeping their hands warm in Pyeongchang’s cold climate.

Each device purchased is pre-loaded with a monetary value that the user wishes to spend, avoiding the need for the merchandise to be connected to their bank account. During the event, Visa’s merchandise is available to purchase from on-site stores as well as from vending machines located across the Olympic grounds.

Read NRF 2018: Tech-Driven Retail for examples of how emerging tech is shaking up the retail environment and creating seamless check-out experiences. For more on how digital innovations in packaging are transforming products into services, see Digital Packaging Futures.

Published: 8 Dec 2017

Baidu Launches AI Accessories for Chinese Home

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Raven

China’s largest search engine Baidu has released its own voice-activated smart speaker – the first in an upcoming range of artificially intelligent (AI) home tech – called the Raven H. The device is better able to decipher and communicate in the region’s languages than its competitors.

A bright, multicoloured stack of square segments, the Raven H looks quite unlike other connected home products on offer, which are decidedly minimal in design.

The speaker will be welcomed by the Chinese market, which has not yet been firmly claimed by Western leaders in smart home tech such as Amazon and Google – partly due to Google services being restricted in the country. It also has access to Baidu’s extensive data bank of online resources to play music, report on the news and weather, and connect to local services – such as Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing

The Raven H marks Baidu’s entrance into AI home technology following its acquisition of Chinese appliance company Raven earlier this year. The device will be followed by the Raven R – a smart robot with six moveable joints to better express human-like emotion; and the Raven Q (still in development) – expected to be a home assistant robot with security-monitoring capabilities that responds to visuals and audio.

Read Internet of Home Comforts for more on tech integrating home environments to offer consumers unprecedented security and control. For more on emerging visual trends and digital enhancements in home entertainment technology, see CES 2017: Colour, Material & Finish.

Published: 30 Nov 2017

Smartphone Deletes Content After 24 Hours

Swiss manufacturer Zenum Technologies has created Breve, a mobile phone that erases its content within 24 hours to help online communications become more ephemeral.

The phone was created in response to increasing anxiety around the permanence of information shared on the internet. Reframing mobile content as fleeting and temporary enables users to be more impulsive in what and how they communicate online, and to embrace content that is imperfect and candid.

Users can choose whether images, messages or call histories self-destruct, and can customise the number of seconds, minutes or hours (within a 24-hour period) that they wish their content to exist. The user can be ‘full ephemeral’ – opting for all content to be deleted, or ‘half ephemeral’ – allowing some to remain, including contacts, agendas, alarms and maps. Breve can also access their social media accounts and is able to automatically delete images or posts shared online.

Further, the user is able to configure their Breve mobile device to create multiple ‘personas’, with different settings saved according to the user’s specific schedule and geographic location.

Breve is also aimed at commercial clients. Zenum Technologies suggests that by embracing ephemerality, brands can create a sense of exclusivity and timeliness – such as by sharing temporary coupons or discounts that inspire a feverish call to action among consumers.

Read Mindful Automation and Digital Disruption: Wired Live 2017 for more on brands using digital innovation to respond to shifting social and experiential landscapes. For more on integrated technologies that increase user focus and encourage wellbeing, see Circuit.

Published: 20 Jan 2017

Edelman Trust Barometer 2017: The Era of Distrust

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Edelman Trust Barometer 2017

Global PR firm Edelman Communications has released its 2017 Trust Barometer survey, revealing that among 33,000 individuals across 28 nations, trust in government, media, business and NGOs is at a universal all-time low.

Less than half said they trusted the media (43%) or government (41%), while NGOs (53%) have fallen to trust levels on a par with business (52%). In the GDP five (US, China, Japan, Germany and UK), trust in NGOs has even dipped below the 50% mark.

Crucially, among global respondents stating they are "uncertain" whether these institutions are working for them, business holds the highest trust score (58%). Brands have a lot of leverage with dissatisfied consumers, with three out of four survey participants also believing that businesses can improve both profits and economic and social conditions in the communities they interact with. Consumers expect responsible business from brands looking for continued support.

The public is also increasingly withdrawing into peer communication. For the first time ever, 'a person like yourself' is now considered as credible a source of information as an academic expert, and 55% say an individual is more believable than an institution. To stay in touch with this hyper-individual audience, marketers will have to build and maintain brands through community engagement from the ground up.

For more on engaging with consumers in the era of distrust, see Brands Take a Stand and Renegade Retail from our Currency of Dissent Macro Trend. For more on how to connect with anxious consumers, see our report on Playful Escapists.

Published: 13 Dec 2016

Handheld Biosensor Measures Antioxidants

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One X

Californian tech start-up One X has launched a device that checks antioxidant levels in the body by 'reading' the skin on the palm of the hand. It works by analysing carotenoids – critical skin molecules that change from positive to negative according to external factors like sun exposure, alcohol, smoking, exercise, stress and diet.

The device syncs to an app, which provides users with advice on how to improve day-to-day habits such as eating and exercise based on the reading's results. The One X can be used by multiple individuals as it's activated via fingerprint technology. Funded on Indiegogo and retailing at $149, the device follows on from a surge in the development of wearable intelligent trackers. For more, see Wearable Technology Show 2016.

As explored in Intelligent Eating, part of our New Food Frontiers Industry Trend report, consumers are enthusiastically embracing products and services that enable self-care and preventative health. See Culinary Consciousness for more. 

Published: 25 Jul 2016

Restaurants ‘Moonlight’ as Office Space

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DBGB Kitchen & Bar

New York start-up Spacious is turning upmarket restaurants into office spaces during the hours when these settings would normally be closed, usually from early morning until 5pm.

Members, who are offered a free trial, can make use of the company’s expanding portfolio of properties for $96 per month or $29 per day. So far, NY-based eateries such as L’Apicio, DBGB Kitchen & Bar and Public (opening soon) have signed up to the scheme.

The service typically includes tea, coffee and light snacks, as well as a text-based concierge on-hand to solve any problems that may arise, such as wi-fi connectivity.

The initiative, which will soon expand to San Francisco, London and Los Angeles, chimes well with the fluid and nomadic work lives of modern individuals, as explored in New Luxury Travel and Hospitality With Heart – both part of The Future Guest Industry Trend. Here, we see how work is undertaken in bite-sized chunks – even while on vacation – and how smart brands are creating ways to make time in-transit more productive.

See also The Empowered Customer Journey for more on pick-and-mix loyalty and membership programmes set within the travel and hospitality realms.

Published: 22 Mar 2016

Baselworld 2016: New-Era Smartwatches

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L-R: Bulgari, Michael Kors, Samsung x de Grisogono

The popularity of smartwatches is putting pressure on the traditional market, with tech-led sales outstripping Swiss watches for the first time ever last year (Strategy Analytics, 2016). Keen to avoid being left behind, savvy brands are teaming up to create wearables that both reflect consumers’ style and meet their technological needs. 

Key launches from this year's Baselworld (March 17-24) – the premier trade show for the watch and jewellery industry – showcase how the fashion and smart-tech markets are colliding.

  • Designer Edition: Playing on the popularity of its existing watch collection, American fashion brand Michael Kors announced the launch of two smartwatches on Google's Android Wear platform. The styling follows the conventional look of Kors watches – the digital display mimics a traditional chronograph. Aimed at a fashion-led customer, the devices will be sold in department and brand stores rather than technology outlets.
  • Ultra-Luxe: The appeal of luxury smartwatches continues with the launch of South Korean brand Samsung's diamond-encrusted Gear S2 – the result of a collaboration between the tech giant and Swiss jeweller De Grisogono. The design features rose-gold detailing, plus more than 100 black and white diamonds around the watch face. The launch follows a similar partnership between LG and Reeds Jewellers, seen at IFA Berlin last year.
  • Updating Tradition: In its new release, Italian luxury brand Bulgari has integrated smart technology into a mechanical watch for a device that bridges the gap between the two sectors. The Diagono Magn@sium timepiece features MasterCard contactless payment capabilities, and WiseKey cyber security technology. The latter gives wearers access to the Bulgari Vault app – the software encrypts their private data for a hyper-secure cloud service.

Watch out for our upcoming reporting from the Wearable Technology Show for more on this evolving market. In the meantime, look back to our personal electronics coverage from International CES 2016 and IFA Berlin 2015 for more recent smartwatch launches.

Published: 14 Jan 2016

Iris Apfel's Fashion-Led Wearables

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Iris Apfel is the new face of wearable tech brand WiseWear

Fashion icon Iris Apfel has been announced as the face of US tech brand WiseWear's new wearables range, demonstrating a fresh, fashion-led approach for the company. Its Socialite collection of smart jewellery is aimed at women seeking a stylish way to stay connected and track their wellbeing.

Moving away from conventional wearable aesthetics, the technology is concealed within a gold- or platinum-plated bracelet, in tune with the recent trend for luxury metals within the technology market – see New Tech Aesthetics for more. The jewellery connects with the user's smartphone to send custom haptic alerts for text, email or calendar notifications, and can also be used as a wellness and activity tracker – counting steps and monitoring calories, for instance.

In addition, a safety mode enables them to send a distress signal to a list of pre-designated contacts. A tapping sequence sends a text message along with the wearer's location, and also triggers sound and video recordings.

Priced at $300, the band is currently available in three designs. As the technology is only housed in the bottom half of the jewellery, the top half can be swapped for different styles. Apfel has also stated an interest in designing future ranges for WiseWear, suggesting possibilities for tech-enabled belt buckles, necklaces and brooches.

Fashion collaborations offer technology brands a quick-fire route to validation within this space – as demonstrated by Intel's partnerships with Opening Ceremony and Luxottica. For more on new-look wearables, see our reports from last year's International CES and IFA Berlin. Watch out for our upcoming coverage of CES 2016 for the latest developments in personal, domestic and automotive technology.

Published: 8 Dec 2015

CleanSpace: Air-Monitoring App

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CleanSpace

CleanSpace is a sensor and accompanying app that monitors air quality in the UK, providing users with data on the pollution in their area, and promoting action to improve environmental wellbeing.

The slim, phone-sized sensor measures carbon monoxide – a pollutant that serves as a good indicator of poor air quality. It can be read via the mobile app, which also shares data with other users across the community. As the sensors become more widespread across the UK, a more detailed map will be created that can be updated in real-time for accurate tracking.

Tech entrepreneur and former science minister Paul Drayson, creator of CleanSpace, believes that if the public is better informed on the issue of pollution, they'll be more likely to alter their behaviours and push for regulation change – in a similar way to the recent movement around passive smoking.

To encourage behavioural change among app users (the app is available independently of the sensor), rewards will be given for green travel choices. These include discounts or entry into competitions from partnering companies, such as Abel & Cole or Halfords. The user's activities are identified through a complex algorithm that combines speed with consistency of movement to differentiate between walking, running or cycling. We previously highlighted the future potential for reward systems that encourage positive behaviour in our Sustainable Futures Update: The Consumer of 2030.

As identified in Urban Defence, the rise in pollution, particularly in rapidly growing towns and cities, is an issue of increasing concern for urban dwellers. Already, 40% of Chinese consumers buy products designed to protect them from pollution, demonstrating the potential for new consumer-friendly environmental trackers to help tackle this growing issue. See our blog posts on the Awair, Scarab and Lapka monitors for further examples.

Published: 16 Nov 2015

Mobile Video Enthrals Gen Alpha

Increasing numbers of Gen Alpha children are regular mobile device users, and kids' TV broadcasters are following them into digital with interactive video.

US broadcaster Nickelodeon's Rabbids cartoon returns to its game roots with interactive 'appisodes' from French game developer Ubisoft released to Android tablets, while Disney offers similarly enhanced content in tandem with its broadcast properties. Meanwhile, American entertainment company AG is closing the gap between first and second screen by going straight to smart TV with its first interactive Care Bears appisode for Apple TV.

Children's digital video is huge. Video analytics company Tubular reports that four of the top 10 YouTube creators in September were providing children's content, amassing more than 1.4 billion views between them that month. This volume is enabled by changing attitudes towards children's mobile screen time. Findings from UK research firm Childwise's Monitor Preschool Report 2015 show that 73% of under-fives in the UK regularly use tablets and smartphones – a 46% increase compared to 2012 that is boosted by content that goes beyond passive consumption.

These developments make it clear that mobile video is a key space for anyone addressing children. For more on how to engage the youngest demographics, see Toy Worlds: Targeting Gen 'Me' and Marketing to Kids. For more cross-platform content, see our Pop-Culture Round-Up: November 2015.

Published: 5 Nov 2015

BeeLine: Smart Navigation for Cyclists

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BeeLine is a navigational device for city cyclists that strips back instructions to the bare essentials, encouraging riders to select their own routes while still guaranteeing they will reach their destination. In the UK, 45% of cyclists are based in London alone – making smart solutions for urban riders a market with large potential (Mintel, 2014).

The small, round device has a reduced interface featuring an arrow that points in the direction of travel, plus the distance to go – the route itself is up to the cyclist. The user simply follows the direction of the arrow, making their own choices as to which turns and roads to take. BeeLine puts the adventure back into urban cycling, empowering riders to choose a more interesting or safer route, depending on their own experience as they ride.

Along with negating the need to stop and check directions, the simplified device also reduces distractions while cycling – avoiding reading complex instructions or street names. Users set their final destination in the accompanying app, with the option to designate specific locations via which they'd like to travel, such as bridges.

The neat design has been created in collaboration with British industrial design consultancy Map. It straps onto the handlebars or frame with the round screen fitting precisely into the cradle – this fitting doubles as a screen protector when the device is not in use. Measuring one inch across, the e-ink screen features a backlight and is also rainproof – making the device suitable for all weather conditions. The low-power screen enables an average battery life of four weeks.

BeeLine fits into a new wave of products that are freeing functionality from everyday restraints to create a more flexible and intuitive consumer experience – see Liberating Innovation: Proactive Products for further insight. This approach feeds into our S/S 17 Design Direction Rational, in which technology is reduced to minimise distractions and create liberation through simplification.

Published: 3 Nov 2015

Millennial Women Embrace Email Newsletters

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Lena Dunham launched weekly email newsletter Lenny Letter

The most interesting innovation in digital publishing over the past few months hasn't been the launch of some cutting-edge new app, but the surprising rebirth of the email newsletter.

American writer-actress Lena Dunham has gathered the most column inches recently with her Lenny Letter, a weekly email featuring essays and fiction, alongside interviews with Dunham’s coterie of celeb friends (most recently US star Jennifer Lawrence, who used the forum to speak out about equal pay for actresses in Hollywood).

The Lenny Letter takes its lead from American actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-mocked Goop, but its real antecedent is the hugely successful newsletter The Skimm. This was launched in 2013 with the aim of becoming a one-stop destination for millennial women to get their news fix every morning. From humble beginnings it now boasts 1.5 million subscribers and a $6m investment from San Francisco-based venture capitalists Homebrew.

Alongside UK female-focused newsletter The Pool, what all these platforms share is an understanding of their millennial audience: they reach for their smartphones as soon as they wake up; they’re on-the-go, so prefer content in bite-sized chunks; and they’re also looking for something a little more personal than the barrage of news and gifs churned out by the likes of BuzzFeed.

For more on millennial media habits, see Key Trends From Social Media Week London 2015 and Wooing Millennials With News.

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