We are working with a lot of companies that are entering the connected space for the first time. These are Fortune 500, non-technology-focused companies who are leaders in their categories and sectors, but they want to integrate the “Internet of Things” into their products. What do I mean by the Internet of Things (or IoT)? Embedding products with sensors and enabling connectivity that enhances the way products are bought, used, improved and recycled.
These companies know their products better than anyone; they also know the data they want to capture. It could be, for instance, a kitchen appliance company, a materials specialist or a power tools manufacturer that wants to measure the performance of a device or how it interacts in the world. Having captured this data, the manufacturer will use this information to improve the product. So what does this mean for design? It depends on a company’s objectives; the data gathered may guide a brand’s look and feel or the manufacturing process of the final product.
We have seen large, non-tech companies come to us and initially we didn’t know why until they explained their objectives and research. It could be a sports team that wants to integrate sensors into their stadium — you can therefore track each person who gets up to buy at the concessions stand by tracking movement and sales. All this information helps to improve the experience. Of course, there are so many applications that haven’t been thought of — yet.
Companies want to integrate technology into their products to keep close to the consumer
At PCH, we take products from concept to consumer in the leanest and most efficient way possible. We like to say: “If it can be imagined, it can be made.” Working with customers, we help to conceptualise the product, as well as the product design, engineering, manufacturing, fulfilment and delivery. We’ll run a workshop with different teams in an organisation to understand its requirements and vision, from design to marketing to product departments. Companies want to integrate technology into their products to keep them ahead of the competition and close to the consumer. We operate in the experience economy. People want experiences and will pay for great experiences. Choosing, buying and owning a product should be a great experience. Look at the automotive industry — cars can now drive and park themselves. Products are becoming incredibly smart and complex, but people still want simplicity around the intelligence.
We’re based in San Francisco, but I spend a lot of time in China, working with manufacturers. If you look at manufacturing in the past and compare it with today, you can see that there are huge savings to be made in terms of materials and the impact on the environment by simply making products that the market wants. Not over-producing and then warehousing products that may never be sold saves energy in the manufacturing cycle, as well as shipping, storage and even recycling.
Mass customisation is a big trend. It has been talked about for many years, but the implementation is now a real possibility, whether it’s in clothing, accessories or even technology. We have systems in place today that allow you to have a fully customised, individually made product that’s unique to you and delivered in a matter of days, regardless of where you are in the world. I believe in the future that luxury is going to be in units of one — products that are made for you, whatever the scale.
Luxury is going to be in units of one - products that are made for you, whatever the scale
Despite this, I also believe that traditional retail will always have a place. A good retail experience is about curation and assembling products in a unique environment. Retail is about having an editorial approach, about how you can activate a story about a product through the way you display and present it. But things are changing. If you look to the past, manufacturers tended to sell their products through a distribution channel that was measured purely by sales. Today, we engage directly with the consumer, one on one, with the measurement becoming the activation of the device itself. People expect more of personalisation, curation and retail. And they will still want their products in the shortest time possible.
On top of all of this is the data component, which will become much more accurate and more valuable over time. In the future, we will have the opportunity to continually refine and improve the experience. All brands must have a relationship with their customers.
For example, automobiles are full of sensors. If you buy a quality car, the brand must be able to communicate with you, as well as monitor the car itself, and check that everything is working well. PCH helps to build these experiential relationships through technology, which requires knowledge and insight into all these different channels.
Last year, we bought Fab.com, a marketplace and community dedicated to showcasing the work of new designers, artists and personalities and talent, who are passionate about products. It gives us a vital insight into the approaches of both designers and consumers — it’s a shop window for what we do and what is possible, a place for start-ups, designers and tastemakers to connect with our community and make special products for them.
Everything is moving, whether it’s a product or a person. Bringing them together is part of the experience. Three years ago, you would hail a cab by hand. Now you do it via an app and only go out to the street when you know the cab is there. There’s an efficiency there when you do this hundreds of times a year. It’s the same with shipping packages — you can track an item across the world to your door. Technology promises to radically reshape not only our relationship with each other, but our relationships with the objects themselves.