Hearing without listening

I\’m not a fan of the ubiquitous listening devices. Not that having a virtual assistant always on the standby to serve my every (ok, some) need wouldn\’t be handy; it would be fun to be talk to my house. Seriously, I work from home. It gets lonely. But I digress.

It\’s because of the growing interconnectedness of it all, combined with lax privacy laws and inadequate digital security. They *say* they\’re only listening for your action word, but the Ts&Cs prove otherwise; as do recent legal events when it\’s been shown that not only are they always listening, but always recording.

And the Amazons and Googles of the world will eventually be more than happy to sell your conversations to advertisers and others (yes, government – I\’m looking at you. Who knows if  my recent (theoretical) conversations about microdosing LSD won\’t some day be of interest to you, or the health insurance companies.)

So I recently revisited a favorite device, launched in 2005 (the ice age for digital devices). I  was rather obsessed with it at the time, but didn\’t take the plunge  and have been sorry ever since.

\"karotz\"It\’s called a Nabaztag (rabbit in Armenian!). It was a listening device that wasn\’t tied to any multinational conglomerate; it was an open source device that read your emails to you, the weather, stock market report, news, RSS-Feeds, MP3-Streams, acted as a walkie-talkie with another Nabaztag, and a few other things.

Point is: it did much of what Alexa and Siri do (other than order you things, although someone could probably program an app for it that would) without reporting back to anyone.

A device way before its time. And completely open source.

Why aren\’t there any of these types of listening devices on the market now? Surely some independent company out there could come up with a current day equivalent? I bet it would sell like hotcakes – what an opportunity. I know I\’d get one.

\"nabaztag

And then kit it out like people used to do with the Nabaztags 😊 The viral potential for getting the word out about something like this is incredible.

Unfortunately I\’m reduced to scouring Ebay for the occasional one that comes up for sale, and since the server\’s been decommissioned, turning into a programmer to make it work (although there\’s a very lively worldwide community of hackers/enthusiasts with a fair number of boards sharing code and \”how to\’s\”). And that takes a LOT of time.

Someone get on this. Please.

Our poor planet

\"\"Invited to the Coburn Ventures\’ annual gathering as a \”thought leader\” this week, for the fourth year in a row! – always a fun gathering of the best and most interesting thinkers (thought leaders + investment professionals) from around the globe, pondering the future direction of various technologies on business and humanity.

What to wear…always the question.

So to the intertoobz I go. And it struck me: why am I internet shopping in exactly the same way I have been since, well, pretty much the beginning of ecommerce? Searching based on some key words, ending up on a store\’s website with a bunch of thumbnails, mostly on young gazelles who I think I could probably stick two of into one of my dresses…maybe there\’s a filter, sometimes even with filtering categories I care about. Ordering 2, 3, 4 alternatives – which will be returned if not right.

Such a waste. Of time, of delivery gasoline…of raw materials. I am imagining the mountains of clothing, made in amounts forecast to be roughly correct – but then it\’s 60 degrees in November in New York, and they all waste away in some warehouse, somewhere. Or in stores….some end up in outlet stores…some go back to the manufacturers, only for some to be sent to online clearance sites…or some far away country, dumped on a market that cares less about trend.

Sigh. Our poor planet.

Where\’s my 3d printed clothing, made to my (scanned) body size, to my specs? What if I am not a 20 year old gazelle, and I want the skirt to be a few inches longer? Shorter?

Why has there been so little disintermediation in the way we shop and dress ourselves?

I ponder this as I push the \”buy\” button, and pay and extra $20 for fast delivery, contemplating all the bells, widgets, gizmos and wheels which immediately starting turning in response. And think back to this blog entry, which was based on a lot of thinking I did in 2006. 10 years!!

Our poor planet.

Temporary interactive tattoos

\"tattoo\"

The ultimate \”wearable\”; smart temporary tattoos that have functionality. Seriously I think all the gadgets we currently carry – phones, trackers, health monitoring devices will very soon just be stickers that we attach to ourselves (or be woven into our clothing) – wrote about both of those before (http://lindaricci.com/body-stickers and http://lindaricci.com/quantifying-apparel).

These are fascinating. Coming out of the MIT Media Lab, these temporary tattoos have different configurations: one iteration has an NFC chip embedded in it (allowing for interaction with nearby gadgets), another lets you use your finger to interact with your computer screen…made out of real gold or silver leaf, anyone can make their own design / circuits, and \”tattoo\” them on their skin.

While it\’s early days on how powerful the interaction is, the battery / power needs are limited – and of course, the programming that drives the interaction is a big question mark for me! – it\’s a harbinger of the future and has fascinating potential applications.

We are already moving towards being a disposably minded society. From apparel to jewelry, electronics to furniture, we are in the midst of a revolution in attitude about how we acquire and consume goods. Clothing isn\’t bought to wear for years, but is increasingly cheaply made and sold, intended to be worn and discarded a few months later…people aren\’t buying a \”serious\” piece of jewelry once every few years, intended to be eventually be handed to children and posterity, instead cheap \”fun\” mass produced jewelry that scratches a trendy itch prevails. Once, our grandparents bought a sofa when they got married and meant for it to last decades; electronics are traded in for upgrades every six months.

Even music has gone from owning physical albums to streaming, meaning we don\’t have to \”own\” anything, but can stream whatever we want on demand.

So is it any surprise that when the need for a piece of equipment is eliminated because we can have one to do whatever we want at the moment, the desire or need to own an object dedicated to one function will disappear?

 

 

Summoning the Digital Genie

I\’ve always wanted to be able to freely summon the internet by voice, and have it respond (in natural language no less) as I go about my daily tasks. Honestly, what would be easier than to just speak up from wherever you are? Which is why I was really interested to hear about Amazon\’s new Echo.

For those of you not familiar, it\’s a a hybrid speaker with voice recognition to answer certain questions and do certain tasks. It\’s an inexpensive speaker and answer genie that responds to you throughout your home. \”Echo – read me a recipe for pumpkin pie!\” \”Echo – add milk to my shopping list!\” Things like that. Things that make life easier – no messy hands or actual moving involved.  Here\’s the video that explains what it can do and how it works.

 

http://youtu.be/KkOCeAtKHIc

It\’s no coincidence, though, that it\’s AMAZON\’s new product (a shopping retailer). The truth it that it\’s an amazing way to learn about your needs, wants, and preferences – all of which can be tied back to recommending products.

Is this necessarily bad? I\’m not sure. Ideally of course this just enhances your life: instead of being barraged with irrelevant things, you\’re targeted with much more personalized suggestions. Many find this creepy though; that\’s up to the user to decide. Forbes magazine did a nice roundup of all the type of information Echo *could* eventually glean from responding to your requests and surroundings here.

What\’s less obvious is the impact of \”always on\” listening, as Sean and I have wrangled over in the last few days. The potential for future misuse is indeed, huge. Although Echo isn\’t reporting on your conversations (pinging the internet), as it currently is only listening for the \”wake\” word, Amazon has been very noncommittal in their privacy statement about future use of the data gathered. and indeed – whether future versions of Echo won\’t be recording *everything* that\’s being said as a default.

But always on listening – whether it\’s Echo or another future version (and there will be others) – is going to happen, and eventually become so \”normal\” (as cell phones have) that most people will dive in head first, without always stopping to think of the implications. After all, it\’s so *intuitive* and easy to use, and makes life so much easier, why wouldn\’t you? It does have some serious \”Big Brother\” potential though.

We scream about privacy, yet hand it over so easily when enticed by a bright shiny new toy. To whom are we selling our souls? Digital genie, or digital Pandora\’s Box?

I have no answers. My guess is that privacy concerns will disappear as the \”always on\” generation swims like fish in the water they\’ve always lived in, and dinosaurs (like me) die out.

Pandora\’s box: Facebook, Google+, and the future of social networking

\"\"I\’ve been watching the discussions around the launch of Google+ with interest. In the press there\’s a definite \”Coke vs Pepsi\”, \”Microsoft vs Apple\” flavor to the discussion…I don\’t think this is relevant, as much as the press seems to like to hype, speculate and crow over every blow-by-blow \”win\” or \”lose\” as if it were a football game.

For me the relevant paradigm shift is that Facebook\’s monopoly has been broken; Google has opened Pandora\’s box, and I think social networking will be revolutionized by it.

Because it won\’t be about choosing which one you use, and then convincing all your friends to migrate. Everyone will just sign up for both – as it\’s free (more on that later) there\’s no need to choose.

\”But my friends are all on ABC.com!\” you say. (Ok, Facebook).

A hurdle, initially, as you need two apps, browsers, or however you interact with your social networking site. A royal pain indeed (and really very Web 1.0, if I do say so myself).

And let\’s not forget, Facebook and Google+ are only one flavor of current social networking sites. Everything from Linkedin to YouTube, Tumblr to Delicious, Twitter to StumbleUpon etc is a form of social networking – and we currently use each of these alone, with nary an integration in sight. Which is contributing to why it seems – well, overwhelming. Even to those of us who live and breathe this industry.

Until there\’s an app developed that eliminates the need to interact on those sites / apps only. It will pull the relevant data you specify in the manner you want it delivered, when you want it delivered, and in the format you want to interact with it. In other words, someone will develop an uber app which will let you personalize how you interact with other people digitally.

Because (imposed) walled gardens and dictated formats ultimately don\’t work in the digital world.

\"\"

Concurrently, I predict that as people find faults with Google+ (the lack of anonymity being one that annoys me personally, and how insidiously it is integrated with the rest of the data Google has on you) just as they did with Facebook\’s privacy issues, personalized modular type social networking \”networks\” will emerge, where you can tailor your own features and functionality and roll it out to your own network. A more drastic version of Google+\’s circles – where you pull various desired modules together into a customized interface, and network with people across not just computer/phone based interaction points, but across all channels.

Because increasingly communication will not be typing based, there is also voice, video, and a plethora of other ways to communicate your thoughts, verbally, aurally, visually.

Which leads to the subject of another blog post, about how human/computer interface is changing – but I leave that for another day.

I also think people will start paying a subscription-based fee to engage in social networking that gives them the opportunity to control how they interact; the current \”free because of advertising\” model is only one option, but I believe as people will increasingly demand control over their privacy, actually paying for the privilege of keeping their information personal will outweigh the cost.

So – like Pandora\’s box, which also included Hope (and which Pandora left inside the box after snapping the lid shut and letting all the evils escape), there is a potential upside to all this. Currently the giants of the industry are controlling how we use social networking – and we have little to say. But ultimately increased fragmentation will lead to more consumer control. The box hasn\’t been snapped shut yet.

Pandora\’s box: Facebook, Google+, and the future of social networking

\"\"I\’ve been watching the discussions around the launch of Google+ with interest. In the press there\’s a definite \”Coke vs Pepsi\”, \”Microsoft vs Apple\” flavor to the discussion…I don\’t think this is relevant, as much as the press seems to like to hype, speculate and crow over every blow-by-blow \”win\” or \”lose\” as if it were a football game.

For me the relevant paradigm shift is that Facebook\’s monopoly has been broken; Google has opened Pandora\’s box, and I think social networking will be revolutionized by it.

Because it won\’t be about choosing which one you use, and then convincing all your friends to migrate. Everyone will just sign up for both – as it\’s free (more on that later) there\’s no need to choose.

\”But my friends are all on ABC.com!\” you say. (Ok, Facebook).

A hurdle, initially, as you need two apps, browsers, or however you interact with your social networking site. A royal pain indeed (and really very Web 1.0, if I do say so myself).

And let\’s not forget, Facebook and Google+ are only one flavor of current social networking sites. Everything from Linkedin to YouTube, Tumblr to Delicious, Twitter to StumbleUpon etc is a form of social networking – and we currently use each of these alone, with nary an integration in sight. Which is contributing to why it seems – well, overwhelming. Even to those of us who live and breathe this industry.

Until there\’s an app developed that eliminates the need to interact on those sites / apps only. It will pull the relevant data you specify in the manner you want it delivered, when you want it delivered, and in the format you want to interact with it. In other words, someone will develop an uber app which will let you personalize how you interact with other people digitally.

Because (imposed) walled gardens and dictated formats ultimately don\’t work in the digital world.

\"\"

Concurrently, I predict that as people find faults with Google+ (the lack of anonymity being one that annoys me personally, and how insidiously it is integrated with the rest of the data Google has on you) just as they did with Facebook\’s privacy issues, personalized modular type social networking \”networks\” will emerge, where you can tailor your own features and functionality and roll it out to your own network. A more drastic version of Google+\’s circles – where you pull various desired modules together into a customized interface, and network with people across not just computer/phone based interaction points, but across all channels.

Because increasingly communication will not be typing based, there is also voice, video, and a plethora of other ways to communicate your thoughts, verbally, aurally, visually.

Which leads to the subject of another blog post, about how human/computer interface is changing – but I leave that for another day.

I also think people will start paying a subscription-based fee to engage in social networking that gives them the opportunity to control how they interact; the current \”free because of advertising\” model is only one option, but I believe as people will increasingly demand control over their privacy, actually paying for the privilege of keeping their information personal will outweigh the cost.

So – like Pandora\’s box, which also included Hope (and which Pandora left inside the box after snapping the lid shut and letting all the evils escape), there is a potential upside to all this. Currently the giants of the industry are controlling how we use social networking – and we have little to say. But ultimately increased fragmentation will lead to more consumer control. The box hasn\’t been snapped shut yet.

The Borogoves are a\’ Mimsying: Marketing in a hyper-connected world

I’ve been thinking a lot about the long term impact an ”instantaneous, on demand” life. Imagine that from birth, you never had to wait for anything, and had everything you wanted delivered immediately. News, entertainment, connecting with your \”group\” – everything.  Never getting lost. The collective knowledge of the human race there for you at all times. How would this shape your assumptions and expectations?

\"\"

Because this is what\’s happening to the generation being born. My nephew is almost 2. What struck me is how – without any real language skills yet (my sister would disagree) he tells her what he wants to watch, and when.  He \”requests\” Blue Clues over, and over (and over) again. The concept of watching something on schedule – and waiting for it, and not choosing which episode, is completely unfamiliar to him. If it\’s not on when he wants it, he gets very, very angry.

So clearly, his brain is being trained to work differently than yours or mine. It reminds me of the 1943 short story \”Mimsy Were the Borogoves\” by Lewis Padgett, where an alien toy from the future is found by children and in the course of playing with them, they become \”re-educated\” to think differently.

Reality for him is a world where he will be completely connected to everyone he\’s ever known, and (personalized) information, interaction, engagement, and entertainment will be fed to him how he likes it, and never more than a few seconds away.

What assumptions will he develop – as inherent to his interaction with the world as breathing? How will this quintessentially change the relationship he has with products and brands? And from a business point of view, how do you make sure your products and services are the \”right\” ones so that your company can successfully deliver what he will not just demand, but expect without thinking?

Well, for one: immediate gratification is a given. Patience will no longer be a virtue, when waiting is never necessary. So everything must be available immediately, and immediately relevant. This means devices that are never off, always connected to a information delivery infrastructure (10G?) with enough bandwidth (no doubt, an antiquated term by then) to deliver immediately.

It also means that accessing masses of data and instantaneously extrapolating what he likes, then projecting what he should like. Ultimately, continuing to learn who he is, then fine tuning that knowledge at an algorithmic rate will be a requirement, not an option.

Brands / companies will need to mine/model all the data they have about your preferences and past interactions to instantaneously tailor on-the-fly experiences for you. And woe betide the brand that guesses wrong – it will feel as inauthentic to him as a \”real\” inauthentic interaction does to you today.

And my guess is, he\’ll have short patience for a brand interaction that doesn\’t feel right. So branding in the future will be about creating entire experiences – including real time interactions (suggestions, whimsy, connections) just like a real friend would. A virtual concierge, as it were.

It will require a conflux of inputs, working together (and seamlessly) to create the experience he expects, and demands. So to hijack the traditional \”Who, What, Where, When, Why, How\” model, this is what the brave new world of branding and marketing will have to master:

\"\"

Becoming interactive with him will require that your brand becomes a \”friend\”, someone who knows what you and your friends like, what you\’re talking about, and how to be there in the right manner. You\’ll need to deliver the information you want him to see and engage with in a manner that he wants:

  • Does he prefer text? Voice? Articles? RSS feeds? Audio? Something else? A mix of these? What are his preferences? When does he interact the most?
  • Snippets of info throughout the day? Is he an information snacker, grabbing bits in between other activities, or does he prefer to set aside a stretch of time to catch up on everything?
  • Does this behavior change depending on whether it\’s a week day or weekend? Is he more receptive in the morning, or night? Can you ensure that you\’re there at the right time?
  • Where is he? Close by? Is the message immediately relevant (is he nearby)? How close? Half an hour? Half a week?
  • Has he done something relevant in the past? Can you discern a pattern and overlay it on the present?
  • Who are his friends? Influencers? Who does he rely on for information? Opinion? Does he listen to different groups of friends depending on the situation, or product (fashion friends, tech friends, etc)?
  • What communities is he a part of? Active? Passive? Are these relevant to your brand? Who is he connected to there? This is the social networking part of the equation, where you mine his activity and network for insights an influence.

The friends/connection influencer role will increasingly be critical, as the only way for a brand to reach a consumer in the future will be through engagement with them AND the people they listen to. I personally believe the \”push\” model of advertising that we\’ve all grown up with (billboards, print ads, television) will continue to atrophy in influence as people who\’ve only ever, in the face of overwhelming messaging / branding, listen to \”trusted advisors\” – their own connections.

The list can go on, but obviously things are increasingly difficult as a marketer. It\’s no longer about your brand, your market, your positioning, your message, and placing your message – it\’s all about creating *true* context, meaning, authenticity. On your customer\’s terms. I\’m calling it Six Dimension Marketing. Marshall McLuhen said the medium is the message – in this case, the time, place, and context are too.

The brand challenge is/will be to facilitate meaningful engagements, and keep it going. Because by continuous listening and learning, the opportunity exists for a long and fruitful relationship. The barriers to creating a meaningful relationship with customers will be higher, but so will the barriers to exit.

So once again, technology will have the opposite effect many expected; instead of being a a great equalizer of opportunity, it will take more money/savvy / strategic creativity than ever to stay competitive….although I welcome seeing some of the \”In Culture Marketing\” (grassroots) that will emerge, that smaller brands can take advantage of (as well as some of the savvier larger brands). We\’re just at the beginning of truly disruptive times for how business is \”done\” – all the things we \”know\” and grew up with are changing, and while it scares some, I personally find it exhilarating. Strap in for the ride!

The Borogoves are a\’ Mimsying: Marketing in a hyper-connected world

I’ve been thinking a lot about the long term impact an ”instantaneous, on demand” life. Imagine that from birth, you never had to wait for anything, and had everything you wanted delivered immediately. News, entertainment, connecting with your \”group\” – everything.  Never getting lost. The collective knowledge of the human race there for you at all times. How would this shape your assumptions and expectations?

\"\"

Because this is what\’s happening to the generation being born. My nephew is almost 2. What struck me is how – without any real language skills yet (my sister would disagree) he tells her what he wants to watch, and when.  He \”requests\” Blue Clues over, and over (and over) again. The concept of watching something on schedule – and waiting for it, and not choosing which episode, is completely unfamiliar to him. If it\’s not on when he wants it, he gets very, very angry.

So clearly, his brain is being trained to work differently than yours or mine. It reminds me of the 1943 short story \”Mimsy Were the Borogoves\” by Lewis Padgett, where an alien toy from the future is found by children and in the course of playing with them, they become \”re-educated\” to think differently.

Reality for him is a world where he will be completely connected to everyone he\’s ever known, and (personalized) information, interaction, engagement, and entertainment will be fed to him how he likes it, and never more than a few seconds away.

What assumptions will he develop – as inherent to his interaction with the world as breathing? How will this quintessentially change the relationship he has with products and brands? And from a business point of view, how do you make sure your products and services are the \”right\” ones so that your company can successfully deliver what he will not just demand, but expect without thinking?

Well, for one: immediate gratification is a given. Patience will no longer be a virtue, when waiting is never necessary. So everything must be available immediately, and immediately relevant. This means devices that are never off, always connected to a information delivery infrastructure (10G?) with enough bandwidth (no doubt, an antiquated term by then) to deliver immediately.

It also means that accessing masses of data and instantaneously extrapolating what he likes, then projecting what he should like. Ultimately, continuing to learn who he is, then fine tuning that knowledge at an algorithmic rate will be a requirement, not an option.

Brands / companies will need to mine/model all the data they have about your preferences and past interactions to instantaneously tailor on-the-fly experiences for you. And woe betide the brand that guesses wrong – it will feel as inauthentic to him as a \”real\” inauthentic interaction does to you today.

And my guess is, he\’ll have short patience for a brand interaction that doesn\’t feel right. So branding in the future will be about creating entire experiences – including real time interactions (suggestions, whimsy, connections) just like a real friend would. A virtual concierge, as it were.

It will require a conflux of inputs, working together (and seamlessly) to create the experience he expects, and demands. So to hijack the traditional \”Who, What, Where, When, Why, How\” model, this is what the brave new world of branding and marketing will have to master:

\"\"

Becoming interactive with him will require that your brand becomes a \”friend\”, someone who knows what you and your friends like, what you\’re talking about, and how to be there in the right manner. You\’ll need to deliver the information you want him to see and engage with in a manner that he wants:

  • Does he prefer text? Voice? Articles? RSS feeds? Audio? Something else? A mix of these? What are his preferences? When does he interact the most?
  • Snippets of info throughout the day? Is he an information snacker, grabbing bits in between other activities, or does he prefer to set aside a stretch of time to catch up on everything?
  • Does this behavior change depending on whether it\’s a week day or weekend? Is he more receptive in the morning, or night? Can you ensure that you\’re there at the right time?
  • Where is he? Close by? Is the message immediately relevant (is he nearby)? How close? Half an hour? Half a week?
  • Has he done something relevant in the past? Can you discern a pattern and overlay it on the present?
  • Who are his friends? Influencers? Who does he rely on for information? Opinion? Does he listen to different groups of friends depending on the situation, or product (fashion friends, tech friends, etc)?
  • What communities is he a part of? Active? Passive? Are these relevant to your brand? Who is he connected to there? This is the social networking part of the equation, where you mine his activity and network for insights an influence.

The friends/connection influencer role will increasingly be critical, as the only way for a brand to reach a consumer in the future will be through engagement with them AND the people they listen to. I personally believe the \”push\” model of advertising that we\’ve all grown up with (billboards, print ads, television) will continue to atrophy in influence as people who\’ve only ever, in the face of overwhelming messaging / branding, listen to \”trusted advisors\” – their own connections.

The list can go on, but obviously things are increasingly difficult as a marketer. It\’s no longer about your brand, your market, your positioning, your message, and placing your message – it\’s all about creating *true* context, meaning, authenticity. On your customer\’s terms. I\’m calling it Six Dimension Marketing. Marshall McLuhen said the medium is the message – in this case, the time, place, and context are too.

The brand challenge is/will be to facilitate meaningful engagements, and keep it going. Because by continuous listening and learning, the opportunity exists for a long and fruitful relationship. The barriers to creating a meaningful relationship with customers will be higher, but so will the barriers to exit.

So once again, technology will have the opposite effect many expected; instead of being a a great equalizer of opportunity, it will take more money/savvy / strategic creativity than ever to stay competitive….although I welcome seeing some of the \”In Culture Marketing\” (grassroots) that will emerge, that smaller brands can take advantage of (as well as some of the savvier larger brands). We\’re just at the beginning of truly disruptive times for how business is \”done\” – all the things we \”know\” and grew up with are changing, and while it scares some, I personally find it exhilarating. Strap in for the ride!

Democratizing design: 3D printing and on demand design

Regina Connell at Handful of Salt writes a blog about gorgeous high end craft and design…as a fan of both craft and technology, she asked me to muse around the intersection between them.

Good design is expensive – whether it\’s an antique, a handmade statement piece by a modern craftsperson or a luxury post modern statement.

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Producing a piece of craft takes a long time to learn, a long time to make, and customers who appreciate the cost associated with all of this. The 20th century has seen the slow demise in the desire for \”something handmade\”; mass production and standardization have for the most part replaced the time and skill it takes to make things.

Part of the problem is that – frankly – many who make \”crafts\’ approach it in a slightly egocentric way; they are the artist, they make what they like, and they then try to sell it. Often through stores that sell on commission, meaning they need to put a LOT of time, effort, and sometimes money (for the raw materials) into inventory that might sit at a retailers for months before they see any cash from the sale.

Some are lucky enough to sell by prototype, where a customer can custom order elements (I was the spine blue, and the legs red) – but this requires a lot of patience (and money) on the part of the customer. But the majority are not famous enough to demand the prices necessary to justify a well known distributor agreeing to represent them.

The high end luxury brands aren\’t really all that different; although they create multiple of the same thing, only a percentage produce on demand – most come up with that season\’s designs, manufacture them, and then sell at wholesale through a retail distribution system. This creates the same inventory problem for the design company, or for the customer (price + lead time to delivery).

To (eventually!) get to my point….most things that are high \”design\” items, whether handmade by one person, or designed and made by a high end company, are out of reach of the average consumer. And are expensive to make for the people and companies that make them.

The solution that is (slowly) emerging is 3d printing.

\"\"For those of you not familiar with what it is, it\’s basically exactly what it sounds like; a graphic designed with a program that generates actual 3D information is \”printed\” using a machine that takes the virtual information and slowly, a micron thick layer at a time, builds a \”real\” version of what was in the computer before – currently in a hard plastic resin. But rapidly expanding in terms of color,  (eventually, faux) finishes, and (I believe) textures – so printing \”leather\” etc. might become a reality (with a nod to Corbusier, I\’m not sure pony hair is an option, but then again, who knows?)

The technology has been around for quite a while, actually, predominantly to create prototypes for maufacturing, but has recently started getting good enough (and fast enough) to be used for making the actual objects. And although the size of what can be printed is currently limited, and it\’s still fairly time consuming, but it\’s improving rapidly.

The genius to this is that in the future, companies (or craftspeople) won\’t have to hold inventory. Customers can order customized (personalized) furniture for much less money (no hand labor!) and much quicker than if they waited for the \”real\” thing (if they were able to own the \”original\” at all).

And the most interesting part: it will completely disintermediate the retail channel.

No longer will retailers wield the power they now do since a person can go online, look at a virtual version of the cad file (using virtual world technology? Undoubtedly!), place it in a virtual mock up of their house, pick the col0r/dimensions they want, order it directly – and get exactly what they want. Without having to pay the (huge!!) retail markup. Little waste (much more environmentally friendly!) as there\’s no more guessing each season how many to make then dump, or in fact lose out on missed sales since the inventory wasn\’t available. With a license fee going to the artist who created the original design.

It\’s already happening! For small scale objects…give it time.

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\”But it\’s not the same as handmade\” you say. Indeed – it\’s not. But for the huge swathe of people who never would have been able to own anything so high end, it will open a whole new world of access to high end design that they would have never had….plus the option to personalize, which is, as the dear readers of my blog know, one of my biggest soapboxes for how consumers will demand all things in the future (what, you thought I meant only in how they get content delivered??).

And for the craftspeople, they can still create a prototype by hand, 3D scan it, and offer it to potential customers without having to make lots of product that just sit in the retail channel. While some will reject the notion because it\’s not handmade, many will see the benefit to creating access to a wider market and a positive cash flow without extra investment – and then focus on creating new pieces without worrying about paying the rent in the meantime.

It\’s a great way to grow and in many ways, frees an artist up to spend more time creating.

And it opens up a whole new world for crowdsourcing, social opinionating and sharing sites to sprout – which can become the new transaction facilitators between customers and artists. Getting rid of the traditional retail channel in the meantime.

The only hesitation I have to this bright new world of design democracy is that – as with digital printing, video \"\"creation, and music composition (and, erm, Photoshop) – what was once the privilege and realm of the (trained) designer will be democraticized to the point where bad design will become commonplace. Currently the barrier to the truly heinous and ugly is quite high…will Uncle Bob think he\’s a designer, mixing purple legs and brown fringe? Undoubtedly.

Is the trade off worth it? Absolutely. And we will all think we\’re design geniuses.

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