November 11, 2019

Complex gets more complex with foray into product development

Digiday’s Tim Peterson explores media company Complex’s foray into product development that includes helping companies to reach its audience. We look at how this move fits into the bigger picture of connecting media, product and paying customers.

Complex gets more complex

In 2002, Complex started as a menswear magazine founded by Marc Ecko, founder of streetwear brand Eckō Unltd, known for its silhouetted red rhino logo. Over the years, it’s grown beyond its print origins to become a multifaceted media company that’s helped to popularize street culture and fashion. As can be expected of most media companies, there’s a lot of branches to it, all which are named after and tie back into the master brand.

  • Complex Networks: The video-centric network of creators and brands that includes other publications and shows.
  • ComplexCon: The multi-day event that is normally hosted in Long Beach, but recently hosted its first edition in Chicago.
  • Complex Collective: A research product that gives companies access to a panel of individuals signed on to provide feedback on any number of things including products and media.

What is Climate?

As Peterson writes, ComplexCon saw the company launch its first NextFront event, which helped the company to pitch its content and commerce business to over a hundred companies. It was here that Complex announced both Complex Collective and Climate.

Climate is a new division of Complex that will help use its expertise with working with both advertisers and audiences to develop products for other companies — and targeted at Complex’s discerning audience. Under Climate, this type of consulting work would become more formalized, where they’d already done so on an ad-hoc basis. For example, earlier this year, they connected Anwar Carrots and PepsiCo.’s Brisk to produce a line of special-edition beverages).

Hot Sauce, anyone?

This isn’t quite the first time Complex has worked with developing successful products. First We Feast is itself an online food-culture magazine and YouTube channel owned by Complex Media. Its channel produces several video series including The Burger Show, The Curry Shop and most notably, Hot Ones.

Hot Ones has host Sean Evans grill his celebrity guests as they dine on increasingly spicier chicken wings. What seems like a simple if entertaining concept has helped Complex to produce its own line of hot sauces, including Last Dab XXX, which generated $500,000 in sales within 48-hours of its October 17 launch.

As further proof of the company’s ability to leverage its properties to create opportunities elsewhere, that series is also being adapted into a 20-episode game show hosted by WarnerMedia Entertainment-owned TV network truTV (and shot in Atlanta in case you were wondering).

The Takeaway

Complex Networks isn’t the only media company to head in this direction and joins BuzzFeed and Clique Brands (formerly Clique Media Group). The basic idea is to use all of that experience gained from engaging a given audience and creating media products for them to form a profile other brands can use to then produce physical products that speak to that same audience. Done properly, this ensures a win-win-win situation for the original brand, the brand crafting the product, and the end buyer.

In the same vein, we recognize the benefit — and for a primarily digital media company, the importance — of having tangible connections between people and a brand. It’s not always about trying to sell merch (though our upcoming web store will certainly do that). Rather, it’s sharing with our supporters and audience the same experience we’d like to physically hold in our own hands. This means working with brands we either already respect and whose products we’d eagerly integrate into our lives anyways or those we know would be a good fit for our audience.

October 31, 2019

Smart Brevity & "Dumbing Down"

We look at how Dr. Ian Bogost views the misplaced academic fear of needing to dumb down ideas for wider audiences and how to reframe that perspective. We also break down how to approach gaps in knowledge in situations where we assume the role of educator or expert.

Smart Brevity vs. Dumbing Down

Speaking about academics lamenting the need to dumb down their work to reach broader audiences, editor for The Atlantic Ian Bogost (and scholar himself), argues that if you write from a place of contempt, your information might not be so valuable and you might not be so smart after all: “Doing that work—showing someone why a topic you know a lot about is interesting and important—is not “dumb”; it’s smart,” he says. “If information is vital to human flourishing but withheld by experts, then those experts are either overestimating its importance or hoarding it.”

We can’t ignore the fact that we have unprecedented access to information and people have a need to know — whether out of genuine curiosity or anxiety out of not knowing. As such it’s become equally important for audiences to be able to absorb large amounts of complex information and media to process that for them, especially on relevant if specialized topics.

We previously wrote about the importance of slow journalism, the long-form content it tends to produce and the need for audiences to make time to actually process information again. Axios, for one, was launched with both the intention of sharing important (and accurate) information efficiently. In fact, this very Analysis series was inspired by Axios’ approach to “smart brevity” with the aim of helping readers make sense of the world around them.

In short, if you’re frequently in a position where people turn to you for knowledge, it’s less that you have to deign to “dumb down” your ideas — not too far off from the fear of “watering down” the craft for exposure that many creatives have — but rather, you have to get creative with how you package them if you deem them important enough to share.

Dumbing down is not as big a threat as imagined

To debunk the myth of dumbing down as being necessary to impart knowledge (especially if coming from a more formal context of expertise like academia), Bogost says scholars need to keep two key things in mind:

  • Context is Key: Where scholars need to write and publish a means of gaining the reputational currency to fund their careers, writing outside of the academic context is for different purposes. Similarly, what you do as an artist (title or not) will differ what you do if and when you do client work or collaborations.
  • We’re All in the Same Boat: Bogost notes that unlike other experts, academics are often teachers and as such, are involved in careers that emphasize helping people anyways. He also points out that writers and journalists write with the same core intention as well, even if yes, their work does also serve double-duty for career advancement.

We personally recall some professors in junior courses that would instruct us to write as if we were talking to non-experts and others in later courses emphasizing the need to speak directly to the expert grading them. It’s less about which approach is correct, but that the audience — the very people listening to our message — should be at the center. So in the context of creatives, we’d add another special point:

  • Don’t Throw Them Into the Deep End: As creatives, you need to communicate ideas of varying complexity to all types of people. Thinking of how to move the narrative (or production) along begins with something shallow but progressively, you’re bringing them deeper into the story, opportunity, or workflow. This isn’t a hard-fast rule because naturally, some things are common knowledge and others can be inferred, especially if you work with someone closely and regularly.

The Takeaway

When it comes to different contexts where knowledge is exchanged, whether it be in a public talk, in a private meeting or on set, there will always be scenarios where someone doesn’t get it or wants to know more. It simply comes with the diverse territory we work in.

Yet in all cases, sharing of knowledge — assuming it’s that it’s true to the name and not flaunting how much you know — has to come from a place of sincerity that takes effort to:

  • Get to the point intelligently: to render the most helpful amount of knowledge and in the most helpful terms necessary for a person to understand its importance if not do something with that information.
  • Reserve judgment: not everyone is a serial Googler (or reader of decks and briefs, sadly). You will always encounter situations where there will be a gap in up-to-date knowledge, expertise or understanding, and you will be on either side at some point. There’s no certificate or badge of honor for you to rattle off what you casually absorb on Reddit, in your news feed or anecdotally and yet be unable to actually explain that information to the uninitiated.
  • Reach understanding: means actively and dare we say, creatively, searching for new angles or means of communicating ideas, intents, and emotions so that we reach understanding — even if we don’t reach consensus.
  • Direct frustration: We aim to keep anger and frustration to a minimum projects in a way that’s distinct from pointing out gross errors or maintaining a sense of urgency on tight deadlines. Try as we may, we still might not reach understanding, however. But if you’re redirecting frustration at the situation rather than people, you’re more likely to focus your limited energies on immediate problem-solving as opposed to “hunting for the screw-up.” Save that for the debrief.

The final caveat is, of course, if you’re creating as an act of expression and less of communication or if you’re doing so for a niche audience. If you as an expert in your style or your work isn’t intended to be understood or engaged with by a broad range of people, then by all means, stay true to your vision and don’t let the need for greater exposure cloud that.

October 21, 2019

On Compromise: The Difference Between Renting Out and Selling Out

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The fourth edition of Career Myths, a WeTransfer series, asks the question: is it possible to sell out on your own terms? We take a look at what selling out means in today’s creative landscape and how that differs from renting out.

Examples from the Past

The article points to the success of painter Salvador Dalí, whose estate ended up being worth $87 million by the time he died. His name is synonymous with surrealist painting, yet many considered him a complete sell-out for his work on projects ranging from designing the Chupa Chups lollipop brand logo to appearing in commercials for all sorts of household products.

Other examples include hard rock bands like Metallica who changed their sound for mainstream consumption and any number of celebrities that were once popular but took on any number of projects to bring in more money as their fame dried up.

Things Have Changed

Today, the distance between brands and creatives (and the public) has never been smaller such that more and more people are working together. Companies are looking to broaden their image and creatives are trying to expand the portfolio, meaning the chances of these two sides interacting are higher than ever. And in the process, the ability to create our own future has become as easy as the idea of “staying true to the cause” has become murky.

Refinery 29 calls it “Generation Sell-Out” because of how we’re encouraged to monetize our hobbies and turn side hustles into businesses. Whether it’s out of genuine desire to “do what we love” as a career or an obligation borne out of economic hardship,

If we were to frame the above examples today, we’d actually see some parallels between rockstar artists and us influencers-in-waiting: we need money at different points in our lives and assuming we’ve committed to non-traditional career paths, how else do we make bank? The only real difference is the amounts needed to support our respective lifestyles and how much we can get.

Renting Versus Selling Out

When we traditionally think of “selling out” in the negative sense, we see it as compromising on some sort of moral high ground, maybe the one embodied by the themes of our work, for a chunk of cash. Before, we viewed it as giving up on some sort of greater cause, succumbing to the demands of something lesser or even directly opposed to us. What we once thought of as “sticking it to The Man” only to be working for him later.

Yet today, we might be quicker to judge each other for the products we buy or the type of media we consume over the big company we just landed a contract with. Why is that? There seems to be a tacit agreement that comes with the “hustle culture” that acknowledges everyone’s need to make money, and that renting out their services allows them to pay rent or debt or prepare for the next move.

So what are your terms?

The WePresent article cites the practical example of French illustrator Matthieu Bessudo, better known as Mcbess (aka Matthieu Bessudo). For him, commercial work is simply a fact of his career and his calendar, but he does this work within a few parameters:

  • Maintains personal style: He does not compromise on his trademark monochrome style.
  • Chooses clients: he only works for brands he likes or for products he actually uses.
  • Exposure optional: He doesn’t post commercial work on social media unless contractually bound to do so.

Despite being established in his career, McBess treats commercial work as a reality he doesn’t necessarily plan to escape from or eliminate because it allows him the room to create work he’s truly passionate about: “I’m not that interested in working for clients, but I have to do it because I have rent to pay. I have to support myself.”

If you’re in this game for the long term, it does help to be pragmatic and readjust your parameters depending on what phase you’re in or plan to be in.

The Takeaway

We know that no two creatives or careers are the same. That said, we think it’s important to identify our parameters and our red zone, lest they pop-up when we least expect. The trick is knowing when you’re just renting out and when you might be really selling out.

On Renting out: We view renting out as offering services, skills, and talents for hire for a specific time frame. That said, we might run into conflicts that relate to the valuation of those things (for more on this, check out our Money Moves series).

  • Identify the work you’re fine with: Unless you’re able to get paid for one skill (say, just shooting photos without having to edit or retouch), you might consider picking up other skills you’re okay to learn and develop to stay hired and competitive.
  • Do the calculus: Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or not, ask yourself if this job or relationship will provide meaningful compensation in terms of money, satisfaction, practical experience, “exposure,” portfolio or network?
  • Plan Ahead: If you need to rent your services either more often than you’d like or doing work you’d prefer not to, then you will have to plan ahead so you can use the money you gain to build towards the next phase instead of getting stuck on the hustle treadmill.

On Selling Out: We treat selling out as a compromise, whether it uses our talents or not, that conflicts with our core being or dignity (think being paid to act like your most despised person for the day).

  • Where do you stand: What are your strong preferences and what are your deep-seated beliefs? Do you actually equate working for Client A with selling your soul, or is that client just currently taking a lot of flak from the media or your peers?
  • Consider Two Styles: Sometimes, the nature of client work can mean you end up working in a style that’s distinct from your own personal style as an artist. Make sure you don’t neglect the latter and be extra protective of it.
  • “Sell out now, go clean later”: If you really need to sell out to pay the bills, will it be worth it? How often are you going to need to do this? Again, plan to get out of this phase as soon as you’re able and especially before you have a strong following.

To conclude things, there’s one particular thing to be aware of, and it certainly doesn’t make the idea of monetizing hobbies any easier: Realize that when money is on the line, the rules of engagement change. Taken from experiences around us, playing a sport or taking photos for money can fundamentally alter your relationship with what was once a source of joy. Once we start to think transactionally, the dynamic changes and there’s almost always unwanted pressure that gets added on. So consider it perfectly fine to do something you’re decent at purely for your own therapy and enjoyment — not another skill to add to the “package.”

Whether you have to rent out or sell out to survive and make it to a better place, this is not an invitation to do anything morally wrong, no question there. But by recognizing that the “high ground” of the starving artist is romantic but outdated and unhealthy, you can start finding ways to build toward a healthy and sustainable creative career.

September 26, 2019

How Luxury Fashion Was Reduced to Mediocre Logos

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Luxury brands used to be held in high regard as much for their craftsmanship as their lofty price points. But now we’re awash in comparatively average products with questionable price tags. How did luxury brands get to this point where their extensive history has been reduced to a big logo on a pool slide and will they take a step back?

The Timeline in Decades

Throughout the past 40 years, luxury brands have experienced cycles where they dilute and re-strengthen their brands under different models.

’80s: Luxury brands went crazy on licensing under the notion that every time they licensed their brand to a different company, they’d create a different product category. This meant they could collect royalties on the licenses without having to deal with the manufacturing and distribution processes.

’90s: With that stint of brand dilution (and the loss of luxury brands’ wealthy customer base), licensing was dialed down and brands shifted to diffusion brands such as Versus by Versace, D&G by Dolce & Gabbana, and Moschino Cheap & Chic. The idea here was brands could retain the prestige of and minimize the risk to their main high-end label but differentiate just enough to attract middle-class wealth.

’00s: As expected, brands started to fear brand dilution after more people started to access their products, so they cut down on licenses yet again. Building on their experiences in the past two decades, many luxury brands followed a similar strategy of maintaining just a few very tightly-controlled licenses across different regions (most notably, Japan) and product categories such Burberry and Armani’s partnerships with Fossil for watches. Some newer brands at the time like Tom Ford, were also able to leverage strong licenses to grow quickly, showing they were still a highly relevant part of the strategy.

’10s: By this point, brands are risking it all with their main labels: Dolce & Gabbana re-absorbed D&G in 2011, while Marc Jacobs followed suit with Marc by Marc Jacobs in 2015. Their strategy since has been to tap into new millennial and Gen-Z markets by offering luxury goods at lower, more accessible price points: Gucci pool slides, anyone? Either that or they’ve fully embraced collaborations with sports or streetwear brands they wouldn’t have designed to be in the same room with last generation.

Brand Dilution

Compared with the previous decades, luxury brands have gone through a fundamental shift in direction: No one seems to care about how watered down brand image is now — especially where there’s profit to be had. There are many possible factors that intersect to produce the current trend in increased “premium mediocrity”:

  • Loss of traditional market: luxury brands lost the traditional wealthy customer they used to cater to, both in the literal sense and in terms of support as brands shift direction.
  • Real wealth goes “stealth”: This generation hasn’t necessarily filled the loss of the previous market. Millennials, even the wealthy ones, are emphasizing other signifiers of affluence and they don’t include logos, experience and travel being the big ones.
  • But some are eager to flex: Millennials and Gen Z represent a profitable market that now has the spending power to access the lower limits of the brand — and wants to show that off.
  • Money needs to be made: Main luxury players like LVMH and Kering are now publicly listed conglomerates, which means they have to keep driving profits up in order to lift the price of their stock. Diluting some of the brand to achieve this is straightforward.
  • Money needs to be protected: Especially to prepare for the sudden loss of other lucrative if fickle markets (such as in China).
  • The “drop” model plays nicely: Drops, as in non-seasonal and limited-edition releases that were popularized by streetwear brands like Supreme, help generate attention and shuttle customers into stores. It goes without saying the rarity factor works very well for both streetwear and luxury brands when they collaborate.

Friction and Meaning

From the very beginning of MAEKAN we’ve always maintained that there has to be a need for even a small degree of friction to access a brand (and continue to do so). This is because we saw first-hand what happens culturally to a brand and the meaning behind what we do if it becomes as simple as “paying to play.”

We’re certainly not a luxury brand, but we recognize the reason why such brands gained the respect they did in the past was because of the high level of friction people needed to overcome to access them.

The friction is still there for luxury brands, albeit a bit less of it thanks to lower price points, but what has changed fundamentally is the meaning behind the labels. For one, priorities have done a 180 from exclusivity to inclusivity, but the verbiage needs to be nuanced. The introduction of new modern luxury brands that operate first has opened up the field to new options that are giving luxury a run for its money. Quality (in its nuanced definition) need not be expensive anymore.

Eugene Rabkin, in his op-ed for Highsnob, summarizes it best: “The conundrum that luxury brands face today is that democratization is automatically considered ‘good,’ and elitism is automatically considered ‘bad.’ For luxury this is a paradox, but for streetwear it’s not, and that’s one of the reasons why streetwear has been so successful. Arguably, Supreme is the most elitist brand out there, because its releases are so limited, but who would ever even consider calling it elitist? Meanwhile, in some circles, luxury is still a dirty word because of its connotations with exclusivity and classism.”

As we saw in the past, luxury brands are very robust and adaptable to keep themselves afloat and are masters of controlling both accessibility and scarcity: their latest moves are just part of those necessary adaptations to changing times. But now that they’ve snagged some new customers (whose long-term loyalty remains to be seen) it remains to be seen what they’ll do this time, if anything, once their brand names become even more widespread.

September 5, 2019

Companies are not investing in creativity — even when it translates into business value

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Companies agree that creativity is the most important factor for sustained commercial success. In spite of that, companies are putting their money into other drivers and unsurprisingly feel the latter aren’t delivering the creativity they need to move forward.

By the numbers

  • Correlation between creativity and financial performance: Top companies in terms of creative score were 67% more likely to have better Organic Revenue Growth, 70% more likely to have better TRS (total return swap) and 74% more likely to have higher EBITDA. (Creativity’s Bottom Line, McKinsey)
  • Creativity as predictor of success: 85% of surveyed CMOs believe creativity and big ideas that build the brand and create emotional connections are the single most important factor for future success. Yet, only 54% of CMOs believe they’re actually delivering on that creativity. (Network CMO survey 2019, Dentsu Aegis)
  • Tech and data trumping creativity: According to Forrester, spending on Data and Analytics, Advertising Technology and Marketing Automation grew 33% between 2017-2019 —twice as fast as overall budgets and five times the rate of spending on creativity.
  • AI to feature heavily: Marketing leaders surveyed reported a 27% increase in incorporating AI and machine learning over 2018 levels. This will increase another 60% within three years, and will be even higher for bigger companies and those that conduct more of their sales via the internet. (The CMO Survey, Duke University Fuqua School of Business)
  • ROI on Creativity: Under one model, shifting tech investments back into creativity would create an 18% ROI over six years. (The Cost of Losing Creativity, Forrester)

Why priorities need to shift

There’s a lot more at stake down the line if companies don’t start re-investing in creativity—that is, allocating more spending towards projects, tools and people that generate fresh ideas, which in turn make them stand out, emotionally connect with their market and get ahead. For one, brands aren’t wowing people anymore: despite the recent emphasis on customer experiences, those have plateaued, especially when it comes to improving brand loyalty and stickiness.

Another issue is “digital sameness.” Whether it’s being able to conveniently book flights or pay in advance for services, functional experiences are now the same. Brand apps and websites both perform and look similar and all serve the exact same customer needs or use cases in the same way. In short, brands are losing their edges and corners, their “intangible” elements in our parlance.

Solutions

We should note that investing in creativity doesn’t mean putting more money into our accounts, nor does it just apply to large companies. It means valuing creativity as a concept and resource that produces a foundation for future results. This applies to whether you run a small company, run a team within one, or work for yourself.

  • Freedom and head space: At the company level, this could translate into putting time, effort and yes, money, into the infrastructure and culture that spawns new ideas while attracting and retaining talent. This includes supporting amenities and policies that give employees freedom, which result in that much needed head space to both come up with and execute new ideas. We might have the occasional grievance with their buggy updates, but word has it that  the people working for Adobe are living in line with the brand’s vision of promoting creativity through their company culture.
  • A better relationship with technology: Today, creatives and companies have access to a litany of powerful technologies. However, if we can take some learnings from companies splurging on expensive tech to solve all their problems, it’s that we need to consider how these new technologies actually help to support creativity and the brand vision. For instance, does that new app you want to subscribe to save time and energy in the long run, even after an extensive first set up? Is it effective as is out of the box, or can it be adapted to better suit your creative needs? Even more importantly: is there future value for you in the experience of learning to do something rather than leaving it up to tech?
  • Shifting the culture: Arguably, we stumble upon a fork in the road with regards to which side makes the first big moves: do companies realize that they need to keep feeding the Golden Goose and start allocating more money, or does the market (i.e. paying customers) start looking for things they want or haven’t seen yet? Either way, if we want to see changes, we can always be proactive by making our voices heard and taking a firmer stance in regulating the value we offer, thereby increasing it and our leverage.
July 22, 2019

Dark Patterns Get You To Buy Things You Don't Want

Dark patterns on the web are bad for consumers

Dark patterns, a practice that uses sketchy UX to trick users into making unintended decisions, are nothing new and pollute many e-commerce sites across the net. If you’ve ever booked a flight online, you’ve probably seen callouts informing you that only a few seats were left, a great way to increase your purchasing urgency. Chances are though, the flight is not anywhere near fully booked, and you’ve been suckered into making quick decisions. These UX techniques are becoming even more prevalent, often to the detriment of consumers.

Dark patterns deceive consumers

Dark patterns are a byproduct of proactive and often nefarious human designs. Companies seek to maximize profits by nature and employ many techniques that can legally achieve this end. Web designers leverage their understanding of online habits with behavioral patterns to optimize certain responses. Major tech companies have enlisted the help of behaviorists and gambling experts to redesign apps in the past as a means of increasing engagement. Casinos are regulated entities—apps and online shopping stores are not. However, consumers are none the wiser, often acting upon false stimuli to make brash decisions out of fear of missing out on deals. Many concerned parties are now paying attention.

Regulators are on the prowl

In an environment of heightened scrutiny, regulators are keeping tabs on a wide number of tech companies. Facebook comes to mind as it looks to expand its e-commerce capabilities, especially through payment initiatives like Libra. Regulatory bodies exist to protect consumers from abuses, including dark patterns like those you see across e-commerce websites. One problem remains: how can regulators properly address what is a dark pattern, and what is deemed acceptable? In addition, how can consumers better protect themselves to avoid falling into these traps? This will be a long battle, especially given how slow regulators both pick up on abuses and enact laws.

Result chasing lead to dark patterns

Where do we draw the line between crafty salesmanship and shady user manipulation? Perhaps this is subjective, but dark patterns are a systemic result of bad incentives. E-commerce sites track an array of metrics, though some are more salient than others. You’ll often hear about Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) or Average Order Value (AOV), data-points that all platforms seek to improve. How do sites achieve these targets? Either through cutthroat pricing or dubious techniques, tricking consumers into buying items they either don’t want or need. Companies create urgency by creating false discounts, fake purchases, and fake reviews. In addition, achieving such goals lead to unintended and negative consequences. By selling more stuff, especially stuff we don’t need, we deplete resources in the name of growth. These dark patterns supercharge metrics like GMV and AOV, but subsequently, lead to more long-term problems.

A creative solution?

The ultimate goal is to protect and better inform consumers. There is nothing wrong with optimizing e-commerce stores, so long as the techniques are honest and transparent. Since businesses generally have no incentive to do so, how can consumers fight back? One way would be to simply boycott firms that use such techniques. Consumers can and do band together to make their voices heard—we could expect a similar response if companies keep abusing these processes. In addition, some e-commerce platforms can highlight their sales processes and responsible practices to entice shoppers, reaping the benefits through stronger engagement. Until then, consumers will just need to keep their eyes peeled.

July 1, 2019

The impact of Apple in a post-Jony Ive world

Jony Ive

Jony Ive, the man responsible for some of Apple’s most iconic products, has stepped down from his Chief Design Officer role after nearly 30 years at the firm. He will kick-start a new venture and will retain Apple as one of its core clients. If this sounds like a new way of securing the bag, you’re probably right. All I know is, I’m happy to see him go. Long live the King of recycled designs and white background product intros. It was one hell of a ride.

A Legendary Track Record

Jony Ive is a legend, whether you’d like to admit this or not. His partnership with Jobs has fundamentally re-shaped our understanding of what products should look and feel like, but also why they exist. Apple blossomed through Ive’s subtle design changes, elegant product lines and cutting edge technologies, all neatly packaged into an experience that extends from the shop floor to your pocket. From the Airpods in your ears to the OS on your Mac, Ive and his team have played a major role in shifting perspective away from specs, and closer to our hearts. Simon Sinek boils it down beautifully in his now often-cited TED talk (the irony dawns on me). It’s the reason why no one wanted to use a Microsoft Zune: Ive wanted to build and convey emotion through his work.

Who Will Replace Ive?

That’s a good question. For now, Apple is sticking to the two people currently second in command to advance the work. In addition, Jony Ive will continue to closely collaborate with Apple via his new venture LoveForm, and will likely have oversight over ongoing projects. However, just as many ailing fashion houses turn to exciting designers to revive their soon-to-be-defunct companies, so too will Apple to maintain any relevance going forward. As technology progresses, Apple has continually regressed, offering up the same tired designs, almost laughably so. For every release, consumers expect a slightly thinner, more powerful phone. There is much fanfare, but limited innovation at every new launch. Consumers are beginning to shift away, in part due to the price-tag-to-innovation ratio which has become completely unjustifiable.

Diversity Breeds Success

Taking a step back, we must remember that Apple is trying to diversify its revenue streams. We noted how Apple News + will probably kill journalism, and why Apple is shifting towards services altogether. Ive leaving could in part be a reflection of this. Having conquered every mountain, he may seek greener creative pastures elsewhere. Maybe this was a great time for him to cash out and bow out gracefully as Apple continues to steadily sink. I wouldn’t count Apple out though: this is an opportunity for its rising stars to shape the company’s future. With competitors already surpassing Apple on a range of metrics and products, new blood will mean sparks to reinvigorate the brand. One caveat remains: if Ive is still intimately tied to Apple, perhaps he will never pass the baton. How Apple decides to move forward is up to them.

Turning the Ive Page

Ultimately, Ive’s departure should have likely happened a long time ago. Since Tim Cook’s appointment as CEO, the company has massively rewarded shareholder value, but underwhelmed its consumers. The Airpods and Apple Watch are a far cry from tomorrow’s foldable devices (even if they aren’t ready for prime time yet). Apple no longer excites. Its existing products have been perfected, replicated and copied at more affordable prices by competitors. For wealthy people in the West, Apple is still a bastion of identity, but in developing nations, there is no love for overpriced and underperforming products. If China were to ban Apple during the current trade war, it could spell even more trouble for the Cupertino giant. As such, Ive leaves at an opportune time to recharge, re-establish his vision and hopefully bring more magic to our incredibly monotone, stale product world. I’ll toast to that.

April 18, 2019

Maslow's pyramid of needs never originated from Maslow's work

Maslow pyramid of needs management colnsultants
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Maslow’s (in)famous pyramid of needs is often a focal point for many cultures managers as they think about their workforce and their needs. The psychologist did indeed think through the hierarchy of needs, but he was not responsible for organizing it in those colorful triangles you may have seen before. In fact, a management consultant came up with the design. The twist? It was based on a deep misinterpretation of Maslow’s thoughts and work.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a theory in psychology conceived in 1943 that featured a multi-step pyramid. It was part of his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  The pyramid was meant to showcase that for one to “level-up,” they would need to achieve certain goals in their current level to maintain motivation, and ultimately arrive at “self-actualization.”

A brief history of Maslow’s life

Maslow’s life is a bit of an Odyssey in itself. Born to immigrant parents, he grew up in a traditional Jewish household in Brooklyn, NY, and was often bullied. The hatred he encountered led him to psychology as he looked to better understand the source of these feelings. The psychologist had a prodigious mind which helped him attend numerous universities and develop his theories over time. His work primarily focused on human improvement using a new base as opposed to standard Freudian frameworks which were the norm at the time. Prior to his death, he argued that self-actualization (the highest strata of the pyramid) was (wrongly) biological, leaving out certain individuals and communities by design. Ultimately, his work stood the test of time largely because of management’s infatuation with the said framework.

Why it matters

We’ve discussed management techniques in the past, but Maslow’s work truly shaped today’s understanding of work. Charles McDermid, a psychologist at a Wisconsin-based consulting firm, originally created the pyramid based on his misunderstandings. However, this altered the work forever and sent ripple effects we still feel today. Indeed, the pyramid embodies post-war ideologies, especially around individualism, nationalism and capitalism. Purely through its shape, it falsely concludes that we must fulfil each step to move upwards. Likewise, not everyone can reach the apex in this context, creating a highly centralized power structure. This ultimately justifies pay gaps, certain treatment of individuals and mismanagement practices. However, we know from studies (and life itself) that things don’t work that way. People can be self-actualizing at any given point, without having to wait to be at the top of the pyramid. Maslow did little to critique this over time, instead living off-of the misinterpretation.

In the cultural context, Maslow’s hierarchy is also incorrect

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is presented from a “Western perspective.” In Asian and more collectivist societies, they share different motivations that are more community-focused. A redesigned Asian pyramid ultimately ties in with the idea of “face” as a sociological concept. Face entails behaviors and customs that are tied to morality, honor, and authority. To level up to is to increase the amount of “face” you possess.

Tying it back to work and a flat pyramid society

If anything, we are seeing reversing trends across workplaces. Whilst there are still many environments and cultures that are top-heavy, more places are changing, empowering employees at all levels to take more initiatives. As the pyramid flattens out, so too do the ideas associated with the antiquated framework. Younger employees inevitably challenge organizations to improve and offer more than just a paycheck, especially in an environment of constant fear of layoffs. Rather than box people into a simple framework, companies tackle problems holistically instead. This leads to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and dare we say it, self-actualisation.

April 11, 2019

Performance-infused fashion: the next frontier for fashion

techwear fashion merging together

Performance-infused fashion is heating up in a big way, mirroring societal values and evolving cultural norms. What was once a strict divide between sportswear and fashion has morphed into a need to merge form and function. While we’ve seen this evolution for quite some time, more and more brands are paying attention, which should worry both sides of the aisle. Will we see sportswear firms buying luxury conglomerates or vice-versa? Will fashion have the upper-hand, or will sportswear dominate instead?

Performance-infused fashion as a social norm

It’s no secret that social norms and associated dress codes are evolving. Even Goldman Sachs (yes, that Goldman Sachs) is changing to become more attractive to prospective employees sick of the suit and tie. We’ve become comfortable in ditching old norms in favor of performance and comfort. Sneakers at high-end restaurants have become benign, along with armies of yoga pants in sprawling metropolises. This indicates that we expect greater functionality and performance from our daily wear, especially as we do more than just commute and go to the office. Just as Apple successfully merged performance and design for computing, so too will tomorrow’s fashion greatest players through the potential avenue of performance-infused.

The nomenclature

As is the case with streetwear, there can be a bit of confusion around different categories. Athleisure, generally embodies a sense of performance but falls more on the casual and sport side. Likewise, #techwear, pushes itself to the extremes of performance thanks to the likes of Errolson Hugh’s Acronym. Nestled somewhere in between is performance-infused fashion that isn’t aiming to create a new aesthetic. It’s merely trying to incorporate some of the convenience and added value of performance in fashion. It’s best to look at the types of offerings on a spectrum. If innovative, performance-heavy fashion (like Acronym) is on the far left, then good ol’ regular workout gear can be on the far right. The more aesthetics become a consideration, the further left you go.

Street culture drives innovation

There is arguably no greater cultural force than street culture in the 21st century. It permeates music, entertainment, work, and even religion. Culture acts as a conduit for both performance and fashion as it often balances both intricately. Street culture resonates with passion and a thirst for improvement, especially amongst collectors and aficionados. For example, DJing techniques evolved from street culture as hip-hop continued to gain popularity. We continue to see these world collide at their apex, with designers like Virgil Abloh or Yoon from AMBUSH taking leading roles at some of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses. Their designs, informed by their backgrounds, are often a perfect representation of what performance-infused fashion wants to achieve: form and function. As the culturesphere continues to evolve and move society onwards, so too will innovation around this genre.

The future lies ahead

Technology has become all pervasive in our lives. From swiping left and right across our apps to getting better sleep via smart lights, humans see a constant uptick to improve wellbeing and performance. This, however, can also have nefarious effects over time. We are on an endless treadmill to improve things marginally without taking a step back and understanding tech’s larger impact on our lives. As techware continues forward, how will this endless thirst for perfection genuinely improve our lives over time? Does techware enhance us as humans, or does it drive us into a world where objects cannot simply exist for aesthetic purposes? In addition, how will Design change going forward? Perhaps this is a strong reminder that some of the best things in life simply add value by existing.

April 10, 2019

Digital clothing will become your next go to purchase

digital-clothing-Carlings-3D-model-

Digital clothing is fashion’s next, and potentially very lucrative, frontier. We already spend ample time online, to a point where our digital identities have taken a life of their own.

We now have fully digital celebrities that followers can engage and share with, blurring today’s physical and online worlds altogether. However, digital clothing is no longer limited to 3D renderings as Scandinavian retailer Carlings continues to demonstrate. The company sold digital clothing which buyers could “wear” via a picture they submitted, with prices reaching a maximum of EUR 30. A steep price for something that doesn’t exist in the physical world? Perhaps, but experts believe this is simply the beginning, and we’ll soon see others join in.

Digital clothing is here to stay

Even though one may not appreciate its importance, digital clothing helps humans create a fashion portfolio without impacting the environment. In an era where fast fashion has become public enemy #1, thrift stores are increasingly popular, and families are reducing their closet space (thanks Marie), these virtual items can fill a market void. In short, this form of clothing can:

  • Massively reduce environmental impact
  • Create new forms of scarcity for consumers
  • Enable new creators to tell their story without the need of an established brand
  • Create new jobs within the fashion industry

The beauty of virtual goods is that they do not depreciate over time, will be traceable if sold to someone else (tracked through blockchain) and can be almost unique when supply is limited by a developer. You won’t see everyone rocking the same digital clothing online, unlike what you might see in the physical world instead (including fakes). Ultimately, it enables greater creativity and self expression, but also potentially reduces judgement and bullying that people experience when sharing online. As such, the digital nature of the experience creates a potential wall of anonymity and safety that users will benefit from.

Cost and talent challenges

As a nascent field, digital clothing still has a lot of quirks. For starters, there are still very few people with proper 3D experience and credentials to make this more prevalent. It’s also expensive: The Fabricant, a digital fashion house, requires EUR 25,000 and six weeks to produce a small capsule. As things progress, companies will need to improve scalability and speed.

Can the value of fashion offline be replicated online?

Fashion maintains several key traits. In its most successful form, it captures cultural relevancy, tribalism, and identity. In an online environment, the places of interaction change. They’re often locked into platforms. Think Fortnite or NBA 2K. In these worlds, you can easily acquire exclusive items and in term create value for yourself in relation to your peers. But if there’s a lack of interoperability and the opportunity to bring these fashion items into other worlds, they’re fundamentally limited. The counterpoint is that in the future, if a Fortnite item is in a kid’s wallet and somebody is willing to transact some series currency for it, it doesn’t really matter. The on/off-ramps in the form of digital payments will find a way to figure itself out.

Regardless of the exact outcome, this is becoming another fascinating intersection where creativity and tech can combine to create new experiences for humans. Clothing, often bound by physical limits, will be unleashed through these new 3D models and systems. Time for you to build your online persona and get ready to steal the show online.

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