People before Product

In an ever-more connected world we are losing our sense of humanity. The digital overload is prompting a desire to reconnect with what makes us human as brands and designers tune into sensory experiences and emotive responses.

The new emphasis is not on how something makes you look, but how it makes you feel. Forward-thinking brands are drawing on intuition and emotion to connect with consumers. Brands that acknowledge the influence they have over the way their customers feel are drawing on this to create positive, empowering experiences.

Stop focusing on selling product, start focussing on selling ideas and states of mind.

Speculative designers are exploring ways of making our online worlds more tangible. Whilst haptic technologies promise to bring tactility to the digital sphere, experimental designers play with more inventive ways of bridging the gap between URL & IRL.

In a retail space where brand ‘authenticity’ is under increasing scrutiny, placing people before product offers an opportunity to connect with consumers on a genuine, human level. Brand heritage no longer offers a sense of authenticity – for today’s consumer, authenticity comes from the real-time and relatable.

Context becomes increasingly important in any transactional decision as modern consumers with access to everything need to know why they want something, not just what they want.

Aspiration to amateur – the biggest trend in social media marketing is the shift towards unfiltered information and imagery. The backlash against inauthentic, glossy, staged brand communication has prompted a raw, straight-talking approach amongst forward thinking brands.

Consumers want to feel that brands are talking directly to them – immediacy and ease of access are valued more highly than quality of content.

As brands embrace Facebook live, Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories, transient, real-time story telling becomes a key way to connect directly with consumers.

“The emotional quality of the relationships a brand has with its customers is every bit as important as the number of relationships it holds.” – 2015 study by GfK

As we enter an age of ultra-connected consumers, a brand’s relationship with it’s customers must become more personal. It’s essential to connect with customers on an emotive, human level:

“Now we need to be obsessing about the creation of end-to-end experiences that wrap around products and brands… Because in a world of data, personalisation and real-time analytics, the experiences we create between brands and people will become the point of differentiation.” – Hattie Whiting



The feel not the look:

Department store for the mind

With the tagline “beautiful things for mindful living”, Department Store for the Mind launched last year and is the brainchild of designer Sophie Howarth. Solely selling goods designed for emotional health and well-being, customers are encouraged to ‘shop by mood’ rather than product category. Here the focus is on psychological needs rather than physical ones.

Product examples include crockery designed to inspire more honest conversations, a tin of “Gut instincts,” and a “Box of blessings” and customers can navigate the store by states of mind including curious, anxious, fragile and playful.

Department Store for the Mind is a great example of the shift away from how you look to how you feel.

“I’m fascinated by the way we imbue everyday objects with significance. When I look around my home, the things that are most precious to me are those that remind me of particular people or places. Shopping is often seen as a bit mindless. It doesn’t have to be that way. We design all our goods to offer delight, nourishment and support for the soul.” – Sophie Howarth

Turning retail into a solution for ‘stuffocation’ rather than a cause – “All around me, people are saying they feel anxious, overwhelmed or misunderstood. Retail has typically been part of the problem – we have too much stuff but too little sense of our real psychological needs. I’ve created the Store because I think retail can be part of the solution.”


Finery – In the Mood For

For their AW15 collection, online-only retailer Finery created ‘in the mood for’ in a bid to close the gap between e-commerce and physical retail. Customers are encouraged to follow their instincts through a series of inspirational images, resulting in a product selected according to their current mood. The game introduces intrigue, intuition and emotion to an online space.

“Play and discover what AW15 piece is made for you. Just follow your instincts”


Badger and Winters – #womennotobjects film series

Badger and Winters’ powerful video series can be seen as part of a wider trend calling for brands to focus on and acknowledge how the consumer feels. It calls for brands to accept responsibility for the emotional impact they have on consumers, and to use this influence for empowerment and positive emotional connection.



New Deal Design Studio’s ‘Scrip’ payment system

Developed in response to the emotional disconnection associated with spending in the age of contactless cards and online banking, San Francisco studio New Deal Design have developed a conceptual device that allows consumers to see and feel their spending, bringing tactility to digital transactions.

“As we increasingly spend through contactless and automatic methods, we are left with little time to think about what we are spending or whether we derive any sense of pleasure or pain from the transaction” – New Deal Design Studio


Watermelon Sugar / the work of Pamm Hong

 Digital designer and visual artist Pamm Hong believes that the only way consumers are going to truly engage with their newly digital lives is through powerful visual interfaces.

“I explore human-centred design with research + strategy” – Hong

 “I use visual art + technology to create emotionally engaging experiences” – Hong

Through her latest project ‘Watermelon Sugar’ Hong encourages us to engage with the online world in more profound ways by using data held by Google to create an emotive manifestation of our personal browsing history. Inspired by Tamagotchi, creating a creature which evolves depending on how we spend our time online helps form a more tangible connection between our on and offline worlds.

Vimeo trailer –


ASMR and May Waver’s ‘audio selfies’

May Waver’s ‘audio selfies’ draw on the weird world of ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) to create a cosy, sensory environment online. ASMR brings sensory experience to the online world through sound, giving rise to online ‘chill out spaces’ such as Embedded Lullabies.

Brands are beginning to experiment with the idea of using ASMR to bring their product to life online, being most effective for the food industry where sound prompts an emotional response, making food appear more enticing. Early examples include Pepsi’s Instagram short – and KFC’s ASMR series –


Pure Spirit Club
Pure Spirit Club is a web-based visual-audio art installation, conceived by the music producer Mojo Goro while making his most recent EP, White Dove. “An interactive online spiritual experience” Pure Spirit Club is designed to create a meditative environment online and is a great example of digital designers injecting the online sphere with spirituality and humanity.


Ebay x Myer – VR department store 

Ebay teamed up with Australian retailer Myer to create the world’s first VR department store earlier this year. Shoppers are able to look through thousands of Myer products without leaving home, as long as they have access to a VR headset or one of the free cardboard “shoptical” headsets provided by Ebay.

What’s interesting about this use of VR technology is that rather than transport you to a virtual version of a physical store space (as demonstrated by brands previously), it allows customers to ‘step inside’ the website itself, in doing so giving the digital space physical form.

Ebay and Myer hope to expand the experience to integrate social shopping, where you can bring your family or friends with you to share the retail experience.


People before product:


An immersive e-commerce platform that thrusts the role of ‘influencer’ front and centre. The content-led experience allows customers to shop not just ‘the look’ but the entire lifestyle of figures both inspirational and aspirational from around the world. Profiling a new tastemaker each week, Semaine deep-dive into their lives from the clothes they wear to the restaurants they frequent and the art that covers their walls, creating a whole shoppable world for consumers wanting to ‘shop the life’.

“We felt like the customer wanted more, they didn’t only want to see an image on a page, or even in moving content, they wanted to understand who you are in the world”

“For it to be truly ‘lifestyle,’ we had to [take that shop-the-look idea and make it] not only about fashion, but about art, music, the experience…”  – Michelle Lu, co-founder

Stressing the importance of context in any transactional decision and encouraging “transacting at the point of inspiration,” Semaine is a great example of content and commerce coming together successfully online, as well as generating brand authenticity through relatable, human context.

“Because we can have everything, we need to know why we want it. What we’re doing at Semaine is creating the context so that they can understand the reason.” – Georgina Harding, co-founder


Adidas HU

Placing the people that inspire the product front and centre, adidas has joined forces with artist Pharrell Williams to create a collection that celebrates human diversity.



No filter storytelling:

Snapchat Spectacles

When ephemeral messaging app Snapchat turned 5 , they celebrated with a rebrand and expansion of it’s core product beyond messaging. Now ‘Snap Inc’, the company considers itself a camera company rather than a messaging service – “we believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.” – Imran Khan

With it’s focus on communication through visual storytelling, Snap Inc. launched Spectacles to coincide with it’s 5 year rebrand. Designed to record circular footage which more closely resembles human vision, Spectacles “make memories, from your perspective” by capturing the wearers eye-view in 10 second video chunks.

Spectacles are set to succeed in the space where Google glass failed, by making the product fun, affordable and genuinely wearable.



With a focus on community and direct-to-consumer communication, Yeay is a new video-only sales platform encouraging selling through personal story telling.

“Watch the hottest brands tell the stories of their latest designs and find out what the coolest bloggers are selling” – Yeay


Everlane – Transparency Tuesdays

With the company motto “radical transparency” Everlane is a great example of a brand effectively using social media to reach consumers on a human level. Using snapchat, Everlane communicate directly with their customers, who use the messaging app to, for example, ask for fashion advice on a potential purchase, or to send images of themselves unboxing newly received goods.

Transparency Tuesdays are a weekly Q&A session held on Snapchat where followers get to ask the team anything they want about the company. The key to Everlane’s success is that they’re are not trying to sell anything through the app, but instead offering an unfiltered ‘backstage pass’ to their business.