Pixels to Pronouncements

Quick Read: Pixels – the building blocks of our digital edifices – could be assuming an influence of mammoth proportions across verticals. For e.g., an interesting wave of ‘virtual dressers’ is catching the fashion world by storm.

30 Rock..

..or 30 Rockefeller Plaza is a skyscraper that forms the centrepiece of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. When walking by its Sixth Avenue entrance one might find something curious. It has four sculptures – bas reliefs, carved in stone by Gaston Lachaise, an American sculptor  – placed all the way up on the third floor.

One might ask, “What are they doing all the way up there?”

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Sixth Avenue Entrance of 30 RCA Building. Source

The answer is that when Rockefeller Center was built, the elevated train still ran up Sixth Avenue. The Lachaise reliefs were placed so these ‘El riders’ passing through the station could see them.

This happens all around us. 

When real estate is at a premium – from facades of iconic buildings to the shelf space in our neighbourhood grocery stores – one can make an entire career out of optimising the design/layout of the underlying physical space for our attention, so it delivers on its intended ‘return on placement’.

These days it could almost be trite to state that it is actually the ‘digital real estate space’ that arguably commands a greater premium vs that of any physical space. And the job of the UX/UI designer thereby becomes one of the most influential (and in my opinion – one of most fulfilling) roles in Product Dev/ Management. In fact, the ‘pixels that they design’ essentially become the gateways to digital products/services shaping the user experience for millions of us around the world. No wonder great UX/UI designers are in great demand.

ux-design-book-combined

And never is the product designer’s* significance more evident than in the current Covid times when the design/layout of an app could be a true window into its product’s soul. (*’product designer’ as a catch all phrase for all design functions in the service of a product) 

For e.g,. given these unprecedented times, how does a product balance its rational (product/services) promise with that of its emotional (empathy/sensitivity) narrative? What are its core values and beliefs and how does the product reconcile it with its commercial underpinnings – its core reason for existence?

Check out a highly recommended read here on this very topic. Post reading it, one could even be tempted to take a walk down one’s playground of pixels (a.k.a one’s apps on their phone) to try and infer those subtle truths that govern their design.

These days, pixels don’t just make for subtle commentary, but also influential pronouncements impacting the zeitgeist of the times.

When pixels become fashion pronouncements

In what now feels like a different meta verse, human beings used to gawk at outfits on the streets or ogle at chic strangers’ coats to see what new brands/designs/designers people are into while designers used to organise their new expositions through coveted fashion shows and had hordes of fans waiting in lines for their exclusive pop up sales. Well now (or rather here in this current meta verse of social distancing) some designers have still been able to do this and more.

For e.g., on a recent weekend, the fashion designer Sandy Liang held an extremely exclusive pop-up sale. Only six people were allowed in at a time, with attendees (the list that swelled to almost 100 people at one point) waiting in line for over two hours.

Before you panic about the potential social distancing violations involved, know that this sale took place on a completely virtual plane: an island in the video game Animal Crossing.

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Enter a captionScene from Sandy Liang’s Animal Crossing pop-up. Source

For the uninitiated, a quick crash course on Animal Crossing below:

With the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can customize their looks to show off outfits that reflect their personal style, something that piqued the interests of fashion enthusiasts playing the game, who quickly began designing custom looks that riffed on the trendy designers of the moment. Coupled with social distancing and less opportunities to show off fits in-person, it’s created an unorthodox, but amazing opportunity for Animal Crossing users to show off their outfits — so much so that many real-life fashion designers are creating official clothing codes so users can cop designs from their latest collections.

–Time

Today there are entire Instagram communities centered around Animal Crossing fashion. Marc Jacobs even created his virtual fashion line available for gamers through codes.

And if I’ve run out of style codes or ideas, there are even virtual stores like nookazon (a fan built enterprise) where I can buy clothing for in-game characters. And we have not even scratched the surface of this trend of fashion-conscious people using the game as a platform for style expression by dressing their avatars in pixelated versions of clothes by Gucci, Celine, Supreme and more.

For many, it could even look like Animal Crossing is the only place where people seem to get dressed up for now. Clearly ‘pixels’ seem to have become our canvas for self expression like never before.

Could this change the way fashion works forever?

[Featured Image: Animal Crossing illustration on The Washington Post]

Expressions and Insights

Quick Read: No matter what we do, we tend to express ourselves. And these expressions can lend themselves to interesting insights. 

A very popular class of Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania is called “Uncreative Writing”.  As part of this course, students are forced to plagiarize, appropriate, and steal texts. In fact, they are said to be penalized for originality, sincerity, and creativity.

What does the course do?

As Kenneth elaborates ..

What they’ve been surreptitiously doing throughout their academic career—patchwriting, cutting-and-pasting, lifting—must now be done in the open, where they are accountable for their decisions.

Suddenly, new questions arise: What is it that I’m lifting? And why? What do my choices about what to appropriate tell me about myself? My emotions? My history? My biases and passions? The critiques turn toward formal improvement: Could I have swiped better material? Could my methods in constructing these texts have been better?

Not surprisingly, they thrive. What I’ve learned from these years in the classroom is that no matter what we do, we can’t help but express ourselves.

No matter what we do, he says (and I repeat), we cannot help but express ourselves. And this forms of expression if interpreted and analyzed could lend themselves for some valuable insights.

Let us take a few examples from the most unlikeliest of the sources of expression.

The link between crime and ink

People choose to draw stuff on their bodies because of what that specific tattoo means to them. With one of the hotbeds of tattooing being the American prisons, The Economist set about to investigate what inferences it could possibly draw about a life of crime from different types of tattoos.

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Source:  Robert Gumpert 

 

Their question: If people’s ethnicity and sex determines their tattoos, can the same be said of their types of crime?

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) – a downloadable database featuring records for all the 100,000 inmates currently incarcerated in the Florida state prison system –  The Economist built a series of statistical models to predict the likelihood  of criminals committing specific crimes based on their demographic traits and choices of tattoos. (see table below)

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Source: The Economist

For example, their  analysis had found that inmates convicted of property crimes and weapons-possession offences have the most tattoos, while sex offenders, particularly those convicted of paedophilia, tend to have the fewest. For a full commentary on this revealing analysis read the full article here.

One big insight based on this analysis is that tattoos tend to be supremely effective in predicting recidivism – the tendency of an ex convict to relapse into criminal behavior. (Of the inmates who have been re-incarcerated, 75% percent had tattoos!)

So non profits like Homeboy Industries – one of America’s largest gang rehabs – have free tattoo removal services. For, the act of removing tattoos reflects a genuine investment in ones change and thereby almost guarantees a step change in how you see yourself.

Bespoke fashion: an investment in self expression

Getting a pair of bespoke shoes is considered an epitome in luxury grooming for men.

One, because of its obscene cost. And two because it requires a considerable investment of time—typically, you fly off to Europe to get your feet measured and place the order (or the shoemaker flies in to your city), there may be two-three more visits for fittings, and then you wait anything from 9-12 months for the final shoe.

These connotations of luxury don’t still capture the essence of the bespoke fashion movement, until one begins to see it as an investment in self expression.

Bespoke, thereby, is a journey where you typically start with shirts, move to suits, and then some men take the logical next step to shoes as a final expression of their overall style and look. So next time you see someone with a bespoke suit you know where they are in their journey of self expression.

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Source: Berluti, Mastery of Form

Now, given that there’s greater variety in women’s body shapes than men’s, one would expect a greater choice for women’s bespoke fashion. Interestingly it’s the other way round.

Cost is one challenge – more curves mean more measurements, more places a garment might need to be adjusted and more time getting the fit just right, making the whole process more expensive.

But the key challenge could be in being able to support for the underlying vocabulary of self expression dormant in women’s custom clothing. After all, bespoke fashion for women is an ocean of choice for personal expression that goes beyond just body fit, spanning attributes like apparel, color, fabric, style, occasion and perhaps even mood.

Now that’s one heavily under served segment in the super lucrative world of bespoke fashion –  if only one could demystify the method to the madness of the infinite variations of expressions that constitute women’s custom clothing.

Anyone that’s sartorially linguistic?

(Featured Image: Bespoke Shoes by Gieves and Hawkes)

Selfies And The Art Of Sky Diving

Quick Read: Selfies as a mode of expression via pictures, videos or 3D shapes is gaining main stream traction. GoPro is a fascinating company that took an unmet ‘selfie need’ and expanded it to encompass newer grounds with great success, while gaining a cult like status.   

It is believed that Robert Cornelius took the first ever selfie in the year 1839. 

Ever since then, over the span of  175 years, the humble selfie has evidently made spectacular inroads into our popular culture. Today we see world leaders, hollywood celebrities, protesters in police vans and even the Pope having all smiles for the selfie. No wonder then, today we have:

In fact – given our recent advancements in 3D printing – it is inevitable that we even have the 3D printed selfie today!

twinkind_window_5126(3D Selfies. Source, TWINKIND)

According to this paper, while selfies have been called different names like  a symptom of social media-driven narcissisma way to control others’ images of usa new way not only of representing ourselves to others, but of communicating with one another through images, or even as the masturbation of self-image, the one that stands out the most for me is the concept of selfie as a device to control others’ images of us. 

This primal urge to control others’ image of us seemed to have proven to be a gold mine for a company that is now on its way to a hotly anticipated IPO. Think Video Selfies. And think about all the exciting activities like surfing, skiing, snowboarding, auto racing, river rafting, sky diving etc. And you get the picture.

Hang on. Did we just say ‘Video Selfie’?

GoPro

2002. On a surfing trip to Australia, Nick Woodman wanted to take a selfie. Albeit with a twist. He wanted to capture quality action photos of his surfing. Having met with limited success, his desire for a camera that could capture him surfing in ‘professional angles’ started to take shape. And thus the name ‘GoPro’ was born for his company that would subsequently go on to sell small, waterproof, wearable cameras that you can use while doing exciting stuff.

GoPro-surfing-longboard-600x400(How to take kickass selfies with GoPro. Source)

Today GoPro makes what it calls ‘smaller, lighter, mightier still’ HD video cameras with a 170-degree angle view under their line up of HERO series to capture and produce high quality content along with an entire ecosystem of mounts, accessories, software and applications.

But what makes GoPro an extremely fascinating brand is the street cred that it earned for itself as an unconventional media company. Sample these..

The GoPro Ad: Instead of advertising, the company aggressively hands out GoPro cameras to extreme athletes asking them to simply shoot and bring back their footage. A small in house team then edits the footage, slaps a hip sound track, throws in the GoPro logo and boom – A stunning free GoPro Ad! (Interestingly – given the versatility of the GoPro camera – a lot of footage that they get from users is so astounding that people are known to insist it had to be fake.)

GoPro on YouTube: GoPro’s YouTube channel ranks among the top 100 with nearly 2 million subscribers and 455 million views of its 1600+ videos posted till date. In fact as per this article, the number of videos with “GoPro” in the title has grown so much—60 percent from 2012 to 2013—that watching 2013’s crop alone would take you 2.8 years. Reportedly GoPro is expected to make about $1.7 million per year from its YouTube channel alone.

The GoPro Channel: In CES 2014, GoPro announced plans to unleash its unique brand of action sport videos on Xbox Live for both the Xbox One and 360. In fact, Virgin America inflight entertainment system already lists this channel that features curated GoPro content where users will also be able to purchase GoPro products directly online.

Expanding cultural footprint of GoPro’s media content: GoPro has strategically carved an outsized cultural footprint for itself by being part of several high points in recent history. Take the recent opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, where many athletes were seen filming themselves with GoPros or Felix Baumgartner‘s record-breaking jump from 128,100 feet for the Red Bull Stratos mission. Chances are that you must have seen the footage filmed by one or more of the seven HD GoPro cameras used in the mission.

(GoPro Super Bowl Ad 2014 featuring the Red Bull Stratos mission)

GoPro, Apple and Red Bull: While some observers see GoPro as a company that clearly wants to create a kind of ecosystem, similar to that of Apple, with a devoted fan base addicted to its hardware and software and a thriving core of creators and consumers, there are also those that think, GoPro could make for a new sort of hybrid company, the way Red Bull is both a drink maker and powerful media brand.

Jason Stein, founder of Laundry Service, a digital media agency in New York even says:

“Red Bull has become this media entity, created around the lifestyle of people who drink Red Bull, GoPro is doing the same, but the reason I think they have more potential is that their product is an actual media device.”

Hence analysts expect that GoPro could create revolutionary possibilities in content creation and consumption in the days to come. This article even speaks about a future possibility where the company could sign agreements with sports leagues to place GoPros within the games. So when you tune into your NBA or NFL or IPL, imagine getting a live feed from whichever player you want!

Beyond Hardware

Evidently the GoPro story is no longer about a hardware maker that had captured two-thirds of U.S. sales and 45 percent of the global pie of the pocket digital camcorder segment (source).

It’s about software and experiences. It’s about enabling awesome creative expression and adrenaline packed content production – the non traditional way. It’s about brilliant marketing that is inspired by this unique culture. All borne out of one key human need – to be able to influence other’s image of us by showcasing those fleeting experiences and moments that (we think) could define us.

Like perhaps a selfie.