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.

April 19, 2019

adidas' FUTURECRAFT.LOOP is a big step in sustainable footwear

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adidas’ FUTURECRAFT.LOOP is a further commitment to innovation and environmental sustainability in the footwear space. The efforts build off of an initial project with Parley for the Oceans which used reclaimed and recycled plastic taken from the ocean.

 

What is the FUTURECRAFT.LOOP?

  • It’s a 100% recyclable performance running shoe
  • At the end of its life cycle, it can be sent back to adidas and fully recycled
  • The release is adidas’ largest global beta program with a full launch set for Spring/Summer 2021

Digging deep into the technology

Unlike traditional footwear, the FUTURECRAFT.LOOP uses a singular material without the use of glue. Each component is made with 100% reusable TPU. After the shoe is returned to adidas, it is washed and grounded into pellets. These pellets can be melted and reused into a new pair of shoes, thus closing the loop.

Plastic in our lives is a big problem

Plastic has a massive if not at times invisible problem. It’s contributed to the deaths of marine animals, found its way into our water supply, and to now infiltrating the air. On the flipside, we’ve seen an increase in initiatives that aim to tackle the problem. Technology combined with changes on a societal level with bag bans could effectively mitigate and control the problem of plastic in the developed world.

Why this is important to the overall sneaker and fashion landscape

adidas has many key distribution points in its arsenal to help push and promote the idea of circular products. As the second largest sportswear company with a strong hand in street culture and entertainment projects like Parleys and FUTURECRAFT.LOOP can latch onto these messaging opportunities. Interestingly enough, you could say that adidas has overlooked huge opportunities to apply this technology selectively into some of its lifestyle offerings such as the Yeezy Boost. In our eyes, adidas would continue to apply the recycled plastic/circular concept to hero releases that can justify higher price points.

April 18, 2019

Acer ConceptD is a new line of laptops, desktops, and monitors dedicated to creators

Acer launches a new line of creator-focused products ranging from laptops and desktop towers to monitors and VR headsets. However, the brand enters a crowded marketplace.

Can Windows-based brands steal market share from Apple?

On the phone front, Apple has continued to hit growth challenges as many brands have emerged touting more affordable pricing and advancements in camera technology.

High-level creative work still requires a laptop with ample amounts of screen space and power. The phone can only get creators so far. Acer ConceptD’s creator-focused line is well-suited for an increasingly important industry.

Marketing uncertainty and product differentiation

It’s still very early to understand and see the actual capabilities of the whole ConceptD line. There’s a lack of overall product differentiation. Rather than simplify the process with product customization, there are two models per each category over laptops, desktop towers, and monitors without a clear and definitive use case.

What will define ConceptD’s success?

There hasn’t been a clearcut “Windows-equivalent” for creators. It’s instead been an all-out battle amongst the Dell XPS series, Huawei’s new MateBook Pro X, Microsoft’s Surface, HP’s Spectre line and more. Acer’s ConceptD will have a challenge up against these established players, but most importantly, a clear value proposition would go a long way, something that’s currently unclear.

April 16, 2019

PUMA highlights a new bacteria-infused shoe that breathes

PUMA opens up around its ongoing “Bioevolution” project and namely a dynamic, bacteria-infused shoe. The German sportswear brand teased the “A Breathing Shoe” concept back in 2018 as part of a collaboration with the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Design Lab.

This time around, PUMA partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology to make their “A Breathing Shoe” a reality. The brand presented its latest work at Milan Design Week 2019.

What is Bioevolution?

It’s PUMA Innovation’s philosophy around Adaptive Dynamics. The goal is to create products that adapt to the needs of modern athletes in real time.

What is “A Breathing Shoe?”

The concept uses what it calls “biologically active materials” that feature heat-sensing microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and micro algae) that react to the heat and sweat of the wearer. The shoe’s upper will align itself based on the sweat and heat of the wearer to create unique ventilation patterns. The shoe arrives as a blank slate and changes with the wearer.

Why we’re excited

We’ve discussed the challenges around customization and debated whether consumers actually want to design their own pieces. But concepts like A Breathing Shoe are fundamentally different where regular wear creates the customization. It offers an interesting a unique bond with the wearer, not unlike raw denim or the patina of leather.

This modern integration with hopeful performance benefits can usher in a new era of biotechnology-based fashion and performance products. While the environmental footprint is yet to be determined, there’s been a lot of interest around a post cotton, post-synthetic world. These materials have shown to be detrimental to our world ranging from water and toxic pollution to overall waste. Material innovations like this are interesting from a performance perspective. But our real hope is to arrive at truly sustainable outcomes through biomaterials.

April 15, 2019

Nike ACG in a post-Errolon Hugh world returns to the great outdoors

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Nike ACG and Acronym Co-Founder Errolson Hugh played an influential role over the past few seasons in creating a mainstream movement and aesthetic.

For those unfamiliar with Acronym, the brand played a pivotal role in combining innovative and thought-provoking design and the latest in fabric developments.

The involvement of Hugh together with a more accessible platform such as Nike ACG allowed greater access to technical pieces through lower price points.

Following the announcement of his departure, the label returns back to its original roots. This means the outdoors in a less regimented approach. According to designer Rebecca Aleman, the perspective for this upcoming season of ACG pales in contrast to past collections: “We want you to go hiking. We want you to go camping.”

Those deeply entrenched in the world of #techwear have lost access to the works of Hugh at cheaper price points in favor of softer palettes, handmade prints, and a less serious take on technical fashion. It’s not all bad.

The collection releases April 20 at select retailers globally.

April 15, 2019

Spalding pay homage to Kobe Bryant with the Black Mamba Basketball

Spalding pays homage to Kobe Bryant with a sleek limited-edition “Black Mamba” snake ball. The highly-detailed ball combines Bryant’s iconic Mamba persona with a unique snakeskin texture and gold foil detail.

The ball is available now via Spalding, and comes with a custom display box.

April 11, 2019

GREATS releases its new Court Classic collection with some subtle and versatile offerings

GREATS release their new Court Classic collection. GREATS, led by co-founder and MAEKAN community’s Ryan Babenzien take inspirations from arguably the most important moment in sneaker culture, the Air Jordan 1.

For the unfamiliar, GREATS has been a trailblazer in the footwear industry for being among the first to take a direct-to-consumer strategy. It’s enabled them to simultaneously work with high-quality factories and materials while passing on savings to consumers.

And for those who have experience with the brand, the Court takes fit cues from the Royale. But it goes further with updated breathable leather lining, Italian suede, and a Margom sole.

The Court is available in several colors at greats.com as well as their flagship in SoHo, NYC. If you’re interested in hearing more about Ryan Babenzien, check out the story, A Brave New World.

April 10, 2019

Iceland's At10 creates bioplastics from animal byproducts

At10 Iceland bioplastics packaging
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At10, an Icelandic design studio, wants to change your relationship with packaging. Instead of relying on traditional single use plastics, the company makes gelatin-based packaging which incorporates the whole animal as part of the process. This means that all facets become edible, including the packaging itself.

At10 creates Bioplastic Skin

At10’s innovation solves two core problems:

  • It utilizes all facets of the animal and reduces waste
  • It limits the usage of single-use plastics

We could definitely use a whole lot less packaging. As global warming and environmental destruction continue, more companies are turning to alternatives to limit our carbon footprint. We’ve also highlighted firms like Exo and Tiny Farms who leverage new protein sources like insects which reduces environmental impact significantly. Initiatives like Bioplastic Skin and others alike rekindle our relationship with both consumption and the animal itself. As the At10 points out, “This material should not come across as unsavory or repellent in any way, on the contrary, the hope is that people can appreciate the poetic gesture of putting an animal back into its skin and serving it that way to people.”

Though the thought of eating an animal served in an animal maybe be unappealing to you, perhaps these new systems will focus our attention back towards making more sustainable decisions.

April 1, 2019

Food for thought — why customization and mass markets don't mesh

customisation mass market

In a world of mass production, brands look to innovate with new and exciting products designed for specific audiences. However, in a perfect world, all brands would love to fully personalise their offering to each customer. We know that personalised attention reaps great rewards for firms, but does customisation truly make sense for companies as they scale?

Shoe customisation & hard lessons

You might have heard of Shoes of Prey, the now defunct Australian company which allowed women to build their own custom shoes. It wasn’t just about adding colours to pre-made models: the company wanted you to tap into your imagination. The firm, through its research, believed mass customisation would make sense if it could achieve four goals:

  • Keep lead times to below two weeks
  • Simplify the design experience
  • No premium pricing for customizing
  • Effective distribution

Unfortunately, the company quickly realised that most people don’t want to take the time to customise their products in the first place. Shoes of Prey tried to change hardwired consumer behaviour without properly understanding the thought process behind their mentality. This ultimately led to the company’s demise, but sparked a larger conversation altogether about mass customisation.

Why mass markets are a miss

Many firms have personalization options for customers to play around with. For example, you can build your own Nike shoe, engrave your Apple gadgets and even monogram that luxurious Goyard wallet you’ve been eyeing for a while. However, personalization is not nearly as complex as full-on customization because the latter are often one-offs and unique (personalization relies on pre-existing goods). This hurts a company’s ability to scale, but also creates additional distractions away from core product focus. There’s a reason why firms like Apple sell a small amount of goods to begin with. In the end, most brands opt to limit customization options altogether, instead relying on great products that appeal to a consumer’s core beliefs and that can easily be accessorized (like a phone).

Drop Culture – Customisation With A Twist

Brands use exclusive drops to fill the void between full customization and standard products. Drops have a triple effect as they:

  • Galvanize enthusiasts and community members around a given widget
  • Leverage top influencers and celebrities
  • Help diffuse other products and introduce new lines for the parent brand

Smart companies know that consumers don’t want to think about what works for them. In fact, most people prefer being told what to like, avoiding the paradox of choice altogether. This is why celebrity endorsements coupled with limited releases of goods helps people feel part of a select club. The exclusivity facet creates a sense of uniqueness, just as it would with a custom product. However, this setup is better for manufacturers because it leverages an endorsement and does not require any effort from a consumer. You don’t need to dream-up Virgil Abloh’s Nikes and make them on Nike ID. Instead, you can let Virgil do the work for you (which also saves Nike the trouble). It turns out there’s a lot of money in industries that properly master these realities.

What Solutions Exist?

Knowing this, how can brands reconcile their need to better individualize their offering? Companies are already leveraging AI/Machine Learning systems to provide better recommendations to consumers (Alibaba is a prime example). Apps are also changing, with interfaces that adapt based on a user’s preferences and usage patterns. However, these are digital solutions that are easily scalable as data-flows and technologies improve.

What about tangible goods? The likely answer is that customization will always make sense for a select few enthusiasts that enjoy the process of creation, but will never be scalable enough to warrant more effort from manufacturers. However, that small but important batch of creators should become central to any brand’s growth strategy. By leveraging on open-source technologies along with community groups, brands can acquire this knowledge to better drive product initiatives. Instead of relying on in-house talent, firms can tap into an ever-changing and improving creator pool. Perhaps 3D printing will also solve the scale problem down the road, though it won’t stop people’s inherent need for convenience (being told what is popular).

Lastly, collaborating with creator pools enables network effects that span across industries. For example, a creator’s take and experience for a piece of tech can open up doors for a home appliance, building greater opportunities that branch out over space and time.

Creativity: a gift for the few

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these trends is that true creators will become difference makers. Indeed, creators are best placed to take advantage of new designs and turn them on their head. Because masses rely on innovators for new creations, one person essentially becomes the customizer for a whole population. This should empower more creatives willing take on the extra lift and be rewarded accordingly. Even in an environment of loose patent enforcement (depending on the industry), innovators will always push the boundaries where they need to go. Those hybrid Nikes you’ve seen on the streets might just be a result of small customizers playing around with sole-swaps to begin with. Ultimately, true creativity is innate to all of us, but very few of us take the time to tap deep enough to create something meaningful. As such, we reward and often idolize those who do push the masses forward.

Until then, we look forward to the world brightest minds building exciting goods and services.

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