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The Brief
Published: 16 Nov 2018

Google Hardware Pop-Ups School Consumers in New Tech

Google's Hardware Store

Google has launched two ‘Hardware Stores’ in Chicago and New York. These lifestyle-centric pop-up spaces frame its latest smart tech as tools equipping consumers to tackle modern life. Central to the concept are interactive vignettes, devised to acclimatise shoppers to its AI-powered voice-command devices.

The pop-ups aim to lure shoppers with the chance to explore Google’s laptops, smart assistants and phones. There’s an emphasis on breadth of use, with products divided into work, life and home sections. 

For context, customisable home-style vignettes showcase Google’s computing prowess. Inside a miniature treehouse, visitors talk to its smart speaker Google Home to open blinds, play music and control lights. They can also have their photo taken on a swing, which demonstrates how Google’s Pixel phone uses artificial intelligence to select the sharpest imagefrom a series of shots. Similarly, they can also populate digital frames with images from their phone’s photo library (the tech seamlessly syncs devices), or scan album covers with their phone to play music. 

Witty design elements further humanise the technology, which can potentially seem alien. Product blueprints are tucked beneath displays, while tongue-in-cheek takeaway cards offer step-by-step solutions for using the devices to solve problems like post-vacation blues (“how to come home from Hawaii in style”) or finding the perfect shoes (“how to bite your friend’s style”). This spotlights how deeply Google is gunning to embed itself into people’s daily routines – see also Marketing Mundanity.

Each of the three sections is accompanied by self-steered digital product tutorials dubbed ‘toolboxes’. This affirms the role of the store as a seductive, try-before-you-buy experience, which consumers indulge in largely unaided – a tactic detailed in Soft Sell: The New Retail. All items are stocked in-store, ready to take home.

Both stores will be open until December 31. See also Selling Technology

Published: 16 Nov 2018

VR Experience Gives Viewers Realistic Experience of News

Jim Brady

Consumers’ trust in media, governments and corporations is in decline, while in the US, civil division is increasing between the two political parties (Edelman, 2018; Pew, 2017). A new project from Eindhoven-based designer Jim Brady proposes virtual reality (VR) as a tool to heal these fractured relationships, exploring how its application in the news could foster understanding and empathy.

As explored in our S/S 20 Design Direction Rise, consumers are demanding transparency from the service providers they engage with. This is spurring the development of products that offer a behind-the-scenes look into how they technically operate and utilise information, giving users an unfiltered appreciation of goods and events.

This approach is at the heart of Brady’s Mobile Journalism, a VR experience presenting a political protest as told from the perspectives of various characters. Users click on a hand-held controller to change between scenes – from the first-hand perspective of a protester surrounded by others holding flaming cannisters, to a gas mask-wearing police officer, or a birds-eye view of the event unfolding below.

Although the project uses digitally created footage, it predicts that capturing real-world events could be a future application for VR technology. In this scenario, people and places can be captured from multiple angles, enabling viewers to gain a realistic appreciation of events, as well as the perspectives of different parties involved.

The project was presented as part of this year’s Dutch Design Week – see our full coverage of the event here. For more on how consumers and brands are responding to this ‘post-truth’ era, see Positive Realists.  

Jim Brady
Published: 15 Nov 2018

New Korean ‘Skip-Care’ Trend Inspires Brands


Asia’s lengthy skincare routines are being rejected by Korean millennials as a new ritual called Skip-Care – which involves skipping products – emerges. On this skincare diet, consumers use fewer items, but with higher concentrations of effective ingredients. This streamlined approach is inspiring new product development – such as Laneige’s new Cream Skin Refiner.

Launched in October 2018, the Korean beauty brand’s hybrid product aims to shorten multi-step skincare routines. It claims to tone and hydrate the skin with hero ingredients green tea and vitamin E. The product has a watery, milky consistency and applies like a toner. It also works as a moisturiser replacement due to Laneige’s trademarked Cream Blending Technology, which can deliver heavier moisturising ingredients to the skin effectively in lighter formulas.

The launch feeds into consumer demand for time-saving solutions in Asia, where 10 or more beauty products are routinely used to achieve dewy, hydrated and flawless skin. In China, for example, consumers would be interested in multifunctional colour cosmetics. About 67% of urban Chinese women want to minimise the number of steps in their make-up regime (Mintel, 2017). 

As explored in our Spotlight Trend, hybrid products are a fast-growing beauty category in Asia. As Asian beauty trends greatly impact product adoption in the West, it will be interesting to see how this streamlining approach will drive new product development for consumers with busy lifestyles in other regions.

If you’d like to know more about the latest beauty trends in Asia, see Instagangs: Asia’s Genderless Beauty Idols, Asia’s Digitally Enhanced Beauty Boutiques and Revamped & Reclassified: Shiseido’s Bold New Make-Up Range. For further minimised beauty solutions, see Streamlined & Minimal: Fresh Beauty Directions.

Published: 15 Nov 2018

Collectable Whisky is Given Away for Free


In a bid to make the world of high-end whisky more accessible for all consumers, Bacardi-owned Scottish brand Craigellachie has announced that it is launching its oldest and most collectable whisky to date – and giving it away for free.

Distilled 56 years ago and matured for 51 years in a Bourbon oak cast, the whisky has been divided into 51 bottles. These will be toured around the world and given away as tasters at free balloted events in the UK, South Africa, Australia and the US.

"We wanted to do the unthinkable," said Georgie Bell, Bacardi global malts ambassador. "We wanted to make a typically collectable Scotch more accessible. We want to give as many people as we can the chance to try this incredible whisky – because how often does a whisky of this age and calibre actually get tasted?"

This move to make the whisky experience more accessible is a great example of how food and beverage companies can democratise flavour, and help remove the snobbery around high-end food and drink. See our predictions on how this will manifest next year in our Look Ahead 2019: Food & Beverage.

See also Women & Alcohol: Redefining the Gender Balance for more on how women like Bell are disrupting the traditionally male-dominated whisky industry.

Published: 15 Nov 2018

Mattel’s Barbie Launches Initiative to Support Young Girls

A recent study found that by the age of six, girls start to limit their self-belief. Toy manufacturer Mattel has announced a global initiative to help close the so-called "Dream Gap", leveraging its Barbie brand to provide young girls with the help and support they need to believe in themselves.

The Barbie Dream Gap Project aims to address the belief deficit that girls experience as a result of the gender stereotypes they're exposed to from birth. Barbie positions itself as "the original girl empowerment brand", with the new initiative aligning with Mattel's recent campaigns promoting inclusive doll design, female representation, and deconstructing parenting stereotypes.

The initiative includes investment in further research to help identify the issues which create the dream gap; Mattel is collaborating with New York University and localised researchers to understand more about girls around the globe. Mattel is also using the popular Barbie YouTube channel, which has more than five million subscribers. In an imitation of the popular vlogging format, the channel is publishing practical advice and real-life story videos to help boost girls' self-confidence.

The manufacturer is also providing young girls with positive role models by committing to adding 10 new Barbies a year modelled on real-world empowering women – such as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and American ballerina Misty Copeland. Barbie's range of 'career dolls' also illustrate a range of options for their future occupations. Stylus previously highlighted the importance of representation in children's toys in a recent post – see The Brief.

Gen Alpha (aged nought to eight) will become an increasingly important consumer group for businesses to engage with. Mattel and Barbie are a great example of how products and platforms can unite to support this demographic as its characteristics emerge. To understand more about Gen Alpha, see our report Raising the Superkids.

Published: 14 Nov 2018

Salvaged Materials Lend Narratives to New Products


Creative conglomerates and terrazzo-inspired materials are providing a tangible medium for storytelling. Found items, debris and waste materials are being reappropriated – suspended and embedded in resin or cement – to create materials and products with interesting visual narratives. Here are three inspiring projects.

  • London-based eyewear brand Cubitts has crafted a pair of glasses made from historic detritus found at the bottom of the River Thames. The salvaged items – which include World War II bullets, a Victorian marble, Tudor hairpins and a boar’s tusk – are embedded in acetate to create the detailed frames, encapsulating the city’s rich history over the centuries.

    The project forms part of an exhibition hosted by the brand called Retrospective: London, Spectacles, and Half a Millennia, which explores the history of optics in London. It runs for three months from November 15 at St James's Market Pavilion.
  • Dutch artist Paul Koenen uses rubble from the demolition sites of buildings and bridges to create new materials for public benches. The ongoing project, entitled Minestone, aims to preserve otherwise lost heritage in cities by capturing memories in material. Crushed building rubble is compressed into conglomerate slab materials that feature varied mixtures of aggregates. See Human Made: Materials for more on man-made and industrial debris conglomerates. 
  • British designer Toni Packham addresses the growing environmental problem of plastic waste with explorations into the potential uses of plastiglomerate – a stone-like material formed when sand, wood and shells meld with molten ocean plastic. Through a process of slow melting and pressing waste materials found on beaches, such as plastic fishing nets and driftwood, the designer creates vibrant sheet materials that are then used for home and kitchenware products.

Our A/W 20/21 Colour & Materials direction Solace explores the idea of storytelling through surfaces. See also Recycled Aggregates in LDF 2018, and Experimental Aggregates in Surface Design Show 2018.

Toni Packham
Paul Koenen
Published: 14 Nov 2018

Surge in Sex Ed Platforms Offers Role for Brand Advisors

The Sex Ed

A number of sex education platforms have recently emerged to fill a knowledge gap left by taboos and underperforming youth education. We believe there's an opportunity for brands to act as trusted advisors in this space.

US film-maker Liz Goldwyn just launched The Sex Ed, a platform to discuss sexual health, including sensitive issues like period sex and erectile dysfunction. The launch includes the Sex Ed Podcast, which aims to offer "a range of voices sharing their experiences with sex, health and consciousness", according to Goldwyn's Instagram.

In May, digital art lab Motherlode released Pillow Talk, a virtual reality series that immerses users in the full spectrum of sexual exploration. The first episodes, entitled Lube River, "educate users on the world of pleasure and sex toys through a playful, game-like environment", according to Motherlode. Meanwhile, in February 2017, Pornhub launched its own Sexual Wellness Center (suitable for work).

These platforms are arriving at a time when sex education in schools is in crisis: in the US, only 55% of boys and 60% of girls aged 15-19 have received formal instruction about methods of birth control (Gutmacher Institute, 2018). There is an urgent need for serious and safe conversations about sex among Gen Z particularly. Netflix picked up on this education gap with its brash cartoon comedy and sex-ed show Big Mouth, which stars a number of big US comedians and released its second season in October 2018.

As we saw in 2017 with Axe's 'Is it okay for guys...' campaign and Bodyform's award-winning campaign Blood Normal, this is an area where brands can play an active role. While businesses like British condoms brand Durex can obviously pursue this strategy – seen again in its current partnership with US non-profit RED to raise awareness about Aids among Gen Z – we see this as an opportunity for brands in every industry. For more, see Tackling Taboos and New Attitudes to Love & Sex.

Published: 14 Nov 2018

Clas Ohlson’s New Store Tech Picks Up the Interactive Pace

Ramping up its omni-channel capacity, Swedish hardware/homeware retailer Clas Ohlson is gunning for shoppers' attention with a new motion-sensor-activated digital window. Dubbed Customer Remote, the 24/7 display was designed with Microsoft and Swedish user experience agency Ombori.

A screen positioned just behind the glass displays static images and videos; it only becomes interactive when someone stands directly in front of it. Scanning a QR code with a phone gives people control of the screen; flicking the phone left and right (a common gesture in mobile-centric life) allows them to browse the brand's e-catalogue. Notably, only one person can do this at a time.

Purchases can be made on the spot using the phone, just like buying from an e-commerce site, or wish-listed for later. As a further incentive, they can also download exclusive deals for online or in-store use.

In-store, the same tech allows visitors to interact with content on a welcome screen. Users scan a QR code and flick their phones to see info on in-store services, such as tool rental. Attached to another screen is a barcode scanner, allowing people to unlock online reviews and extra product info.

At any time, they can scan the on-screen QR code with their phones to transfer browsing back to their own devices and continue research out-of-store. Adding to the flexible ambience, large-scale wall screens can also be commandeered by staff to demonstrate specific product features via videos.

"We help retailers start online relationships with people they meet in the physical space," says Andreas Hassellöf, chief executive of Ombori. "We believe these kinds of initiatives will soon be a requirement if you wish to stay relevant." For more on such tactics, see Retail Wearables: Engagement Innovations and Tech Flex: Retail's Omni-Era Workforce.

See also Beta Blends and Omni-Interactive.

Published: 13 Nov 2018

Whole-Life Beauty: Four Brands to Know from Decoded Future

Clockwise L-R: Fluide, Public Goods, Captain Blankenship, Apto

Beauty’s wellness focus is supporting customers beyond their skincare conundrums – such as by helping shoppers stock the medicine cabinet, and championing trans consumers. We highlight the US beauty brands to watch from New York’s 2018 Decoded Future Summit (November 2).

  • Inclusive Colour Cosmetics: Cosmetics brand Fluide positions itself as an ally for the LGBTQ community by highlighting trans models in its marketing campaigns.“We champion exploratory make-up and avoid the stigma that usually comes with [beauty],” said Isabella Giancarlo, co-founder and creative director. For more on Fluide, see our Brief post Men Embrace Genderless Beauty.
  • Medicine Cabinet Makeover: Start-up Public Goodsupdates bathroom essentials with a streamlined aesthetic intended to appeal to today’s self-care consumers (see 10 Wellbeing Trends to Watch). All-natural staples like soap, shampoo and toothbrushes come in low-profile black-and-white packages, designed to provide a calming home environment. “We spend a lot of time designing our homes – then fill them with garish products from the drugstore,” said founder Morgan Hirsh. 

  • Seasonal Skincare: Tapping into concepts from our report Selling Cyclical Beauty, natural skincare brand Apto schedules new product releases to align with the seasons. By acknowledging how the weather impacts skincare concerns and ingredient availability, the brand builds ‘act now’ desirability into its limited-edition capsule collections. Founder Marta Cros suggested that this seasonal strategy also educates consumers about the perishable ingredients that differentiate natural skincare.

  • Money-Minded Multitaskers: Looking to overcome clean beauty’s expensive reputation, skincare company Captain Blankenship launched a lower-priced capsule collection for American retailer Target in early 2018. To ensure shoppers could afford an entirely clean skincare routine, the brand developed five double-duty products, such as a dry shampoo that also functions as a salt styling spray. “You should be able to read the ingredient list as if it was a loaf of bread,” commented founder Jana Blankenship.

For more insights from Decoded Future, see our report on the 2018 NYC Summit.

Published: 13 Nov 2018

Designer Paints with Metal for New Furniture Venture

MRM by Marcin Rusak

London-based designer Marcin Rusak explores the potential of metal in his latest furniture series, which takes inspiration from the complexities of colour and texture in abstract art. Liquefied metals are sprayed and painted to create elegant and alluring painterly surfaces.

The new venture, called MRM (Marcin Rusak Manufacturing), aims to amalgamate material exploration with new manufacturing processes, as a way of injecting artistic expression into the furniture landscape.

The designer finishes the furniture pieces using a metal spraying technique, traditionally used in largescale industrial manufacturing. Metals such as bronze, brass, copper, zinc and aluminium are applied to the 3D structures using a hand-controlled application, which allows for a crafted aesthetic.

The collection includes a drinks cabinet, console and coffee tables, which feature sophisticated combinations of deep metallic shades and rich textures. Textured bronze is contrasted with satin-sheen zinc, cool aluminium gradates into warm bronze, and misted zinc and bronze create compositional surfaces, where warm, red-tinted bronze sits alongside glowing gold.

Rusak hopes the brand will become a platform for other designers to produce their own unique and creative furniture collections, based on the mantra of materiality, and innovative and disruptive manufacturing techniques.

See Modern Metallics for more innovative and inspiring metal applications.

Published: 13 Nov 2018

NHS to Fund Alternative Therapies to Combat Loneliness


The NHS has been given permission by the UK government to prescribe social activities such as dancing, walks in nature and music events. By 2023, all British GPs will be able to refer patients suffering from loneliness to community activities in the hope that it will encourage social interaction (GOV, 2018).

Since June, the government has pledged almost £22m ($28.6m) to develop community spaces and support local charities in facilitating 'social prescribing' (GOV, 2018). The government's strategy recognises the therapeutic power of community and sensory experiences, and hopes to utilise these to help reduce the NHS' reliance on medication for social illnesses. Walking, dancing and classes are some of the social activities that will be prescribed, chosen for their beneficial effects on the body and mind.

Additionally, new health secretary Matt Hancock has advocated for music to be prescribed, in the form of playlists and trips to live music events, to supplement the medical treatment of conditions such as dementia. Stylus reported on music as an alternative dementia therapy in a recent post on The Brief.

Last month, the UK government published its first loneliness strategy, following the appointment of an inaugural minister for loneliness in January this year. A recent study by the Office of National Statistics revealed that 5% of adults in England feel lonely "often" or "always" (ONS, 2018). The same research showed that those who suffer from poor health were almost five times more likely to suffer from loneliness.

The UK government's new strategy opens up opportunities for both business and patients to explore holistic wellness by tapping into the senses. See our Spotlight Trend The Sensory Opportunity to explore alternative sensory therapies.

Published: 12 Nov 2018

Are Party Islands a Thing of The Past?

Boracay Island

The all-day booze-cruises, foam parties and cheap drinks that once attracted young people to the party island capitals of the world are no longer a draw for youthful consumers, who are seeking a more fulfilling and Instagram-worthy travel experience.

On the Philippines' party island Boracay, unchecked tourism and all-day parties had previously left it overcrowded, with sewage pouring into the sea and damaging coral and marine life.

Having closed its doors to tourists in April 2018, the island has now reopened with a cleaned-up image. Restrictions now apply to water sports and beach vendors, while tourist numbers are controlled, and a new ban prevents drinking and bonfires on the beach. The island has also seen the closure of all of its casinos and many hotels.

Likewise, this year, UK package holiday provider Club 18-30 closed down, having served popular European party island destinations such as Magaluf in Mallorca, Laganas in Zante and San Antonio in Ibiza. Parent company Thomas Cook said that the move signalled the end of a tradition of excess.

Alfonso Rodriguez, mayor of Calvia, the municipality that includes Magaluf, said: "We're seeing real change already. We want to move away from the excess of the past and diversify our business model. It can't just be about getting drunk and partying."

Similarly, in June 2018, the Thai government indefinitely closed the famed Kho Phi Phi Leh beach, globally known as the setting for 2000 film The Beach. The beach received up to 5,000 visitors per day and the resulting litter, sunscreen and boat pollution has resulted in the destruction of 80% of local coral, as well as habitats on the island itself.

See Marketing to New Travel Tribes and Hospitality's Tribal Focus for more on how to attract this new youthful breed of traveller.

Published: 12 Nov 2018

Top Three New Space-Saving Furniture Designs

Juul de Bruijn

Designers are continuing to invent new ways of hacking furniture and spatial configurations to maximise urban living environments. Building on our report Smarter Spaces: Optimising the Home, we reveal three new designs that uncover storage opportunities hidden in, above and below the domestic space.

Dutch Designer Juul de Bruijn prompts consumers to consider the floor area as an overlooked storage space. Her design MoreFloor is a series of shallow timber modules that conceal a bed and stow away compartments. Each piece has a fitted top that pulls open and lays flat, acting as an elevated surface area.

Taking inspiration from the Droogspin or ‘Drying Spider’ – a contraption historically used for drying wet clothes – Dutch designer Jelle Heuver created a ceiling-mounted laundry rack. It features a hanging concrete pendant pieced with timber poles, which have either a light at the end, or notches for hangers. The creation allows clothing to be stored off the ground, as well as offering more efficient drying – as hot air rises – and the functionality of an interior light source. 

Also from the Netherlands, Frea Zwaag has investigated how furniture pieces can be combined into a whole to maximise usable space. Her two-seater’s armrests are in fact the backrests of two separate chairs, which are tucked underneath the sofa and can slide out to double the amount of seating. The cushioning on the sofa can also be removed for use elsewhere.

With increasing urban congestion, brands need to consider how furniture can be adapted to fulfil multiple roles and support different activities throughout the day.

It’s a trend we’re also seeing outside of furniture, with hospitality spaces that change function according to time of day to utilise otherwise vacant architecture. See Role-Play Restaurants in Tomorrow’s Wandering Workers for more.

L-R: Jelle Heuver, Frea Zwaag
Published: 12 Nov 2018

Industry City: New York’s Next Big Retail Destination


Located on Brooklyn’s waterfront, just two subway stops from Manhattan, Industry City is emerging as New York’s most significant new retail, design and hospitality destination. The 35-acre former shipping and manufacturing complex is comprised of 16 buildings involved in a phased 12-year redevelopment, supported by $1bn of investment.

Cementing it as a new interior design hub, recently opened anchor tenants include premium US décor brands ABC Home & Carpet, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Design Within Reach and Restoration Hardware’s outlet store. Merging retail and production (see also Exploiting Insider Access), local wallpaper manufacturer Flavour Paper will also have a factory space and store on-site. Meanwhile, WantedDesign – a US trade event that showcases independent international design brands during the annual NYCxDesign festival – has opened the IC Store by WantedDesign. 

Existing fashion brands include designer vintage boutique A Current Affair and milliner Teressa Foglia – precursors to the city mayor’s Made In NY initiative, which is due to launch a 200,000 sq ft garment manufacturing hub in 2020, able to support up to 35 brands.

Industry City is also establishing itself as a foodie destination, thanks to a 40,000 sq ft Food Hall, New York’s first sake brewery and tap room Brooklyn Kura, and a 20,000 sq ft Japanese market and food hall, slated to launch early 2019.

Coffee and tea businesses are also booming. High-tech Extraction Lab cafe invites guests onto its brewing ‘stage’ to experience America’s most expensive cup of coffee ($18), amongst other blends; while Australian brand Gumption will open a 6,000 sq ft space – its first in the US – in early 2019. 

Affirming the destination’s premise as an all-round leisure/cultural destination, public outdoor spaces include the family entertainment-centric Summer Stage, while immersive Japanese digital arts group TeamLab will open a 55,000 sq ft exhibition space next year.

Published: 9 Nov 2018

Kitchen Toolkit Makes Cooking Accessible for The Blind

The kitchen can be a daunting place for blind people, due to a reduced ability to map out the environment. To open up this space to these consumers, Singaporean product designer Kevin Chiam has designed a kitchenware toolkit to help those with visual impairments navigate cooking with confidence.

The five-piece Folks toolkit includes a retractable knife guard that acts as a barrier to protect fingers when cutting and preparing food. There's also a tray that clips onto the side of the chopping board to assist with transferring food from board to bowl, and a stove ring that sits above the burner – helping users to recognise the boundaries of the hob ring, and prevent topples and spills.

The kit also contains a pot lid that acts as an extra vessel for utensils and ingredients, and a teaspoon with an integrated float that lets the user know when liquid is nearing the top of the glass/bowl.

"For the blind, preparing food naturally becomes challenging as they learn to cope with the uncertainties of spills or injuries like knife cuts or burns," said Chiam. "The objective is thus to imbue individuals with confidence, so that they can overcome physical and mental barriers to appreciate and attempt cooking."

For more cleverly built kitchen kits for specific consumer groups, see New Architecture of Taste and Kitchenware for Kids. See also Access for All for an in-depth dive into how brands are accommodating people with disabilities.