By: Tom Ewing, Senior Director, System1 Group
“First I look at the purse” sang Motown’s The Countours. Kelley Styring, principal of InsightFarm, would sympathise. In 2006, then again in 2016, she asked hundreds of women to empty out their purses in the name of science. Her project, “an archaeology of the American handbag”, explores the meaning both personal and practical of purses – and, er, ‘murses’, since men are carrying them too: one of the big shifts between waves of the study. (The men themselves might prefer the term ‘satchels’.)
Between them, the purse-carrying women and men of America are toting an astonishing 271 million bags: “homes away from home” which are a remarkable commercial opportunity for any company making things that might find their way into them. But this opportunity is poorly understood, and manufacturers of both purses and purse contents are failing their customers, according to Styring. The interior of a purse is an extremely hostile environment, halfway between a tumble-dryer and a lucky dip, and the lipsticks, coupons, receipts, and headphone cords which find their way in are prone to gradually degrade into either trash or “digital hairballs”. The purse is both beautifully practical – a little bag you can carry your life’s essentials in – and desperately unwieldy during the precious seconds when you’re trying to get something out of it.
Styring’s entertaining presentation married survey research and ethnography to explore not just what’s in America’s purses (1 in 10 contains a weapon, though the main categories are money, cards, phones, personal care, and keys) but what they mean. She explored the Circle of Preparedness – the way the contents of a purse enable its carrier to be ready to help herself, her family, her friends and often complete strangers who need a band-aid, a pen, or a light. The purse is an entry point into adulthood for women in their early teens for whom it becomes a mobile resource for their newfound independence, carrying money, phones and sanitary items. Gain entry to a purse in these formative years and categories and brands can make a customer for life.
But the purse is also a kind of limbo, into which items are placed and forgotten: one woman Styring surveyed turned out to be carrying 17 different pens, mostly promotional ones liberated from stores and banks. Unwanted receipts, degraded tissues, and forgotten gewgaws fight for space with genuine essentials. And into this behavioural melting pot, an unexpected interloper has found its way between 2006 and now: the smartphone.
Behaviours around smartphones both complement and duplicate behaviours around purses. Both are connectors – bridges between home (where needs are made) and the store (where needs are satisfied). Both are also ways of organising and making portable one’s everyday life – the purse content categories which dropped off between ways are things like coupons, which are increasingly being replaced by e-commerce and m-commerce offers. Despite this, the weight and the number of items in purses remained constant over the last decade – for every obsolete category, some new item comes to take their place.
Smartphones and purses may overlap in function, but purses are also where you put your phone. This integration between digital order and physical mess is where Strying sees some of the billions of dollars of innovation potential in the world of the purse. What will smart purses look like – ones that respond to being opened with useful information, or which establish a cone of RFID silence to protect their bearer? There are also plenty of purely physical problems still to solve – there must be a way of designing purse contents for the dangerous environments they are placed in.
Styring’s presentation was a delight –rich in insights and stories: her firm InsightFarm has published a book detailing the results of the second wave. You came away feeling that her study was rather like a purse itself: elegantly designed, compact, and full of both useful stuff and unexpected surprises.
Article reposted by permission of KNect365. View original article here.
KNect365, the Knowledge & Networking Division of Informa, organizes high-quality, content-driven events and programs that enable specialist communities to meet, connect, network and share knowledge. KNect365 provides digital content, memorable face to face experiences, networking and professional development and learning for customers in key industry verticals, including Finance, Life Sciences and Technology.
Is it true? Do the most creative people generate ideas straight out of their heads without any outside help? That's what most people would tell you. But the reality is that the best innovators boost their creative output with the help of structured tools like patterns and even technology.
David Pogue wrote a brilliant article in Scientific American titled, "Should Artists Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?" He cites numerous examples of how artists and entertainers use various types of aides to create their masterpieces. From the article:
Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.
Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?
Everyone knows that technology assists almost every creative endeavor these days, from the moment a four-year-old drips paint onto a turntable to make spin art. We also are aware that Hollywood uses computers for its special effects and that most pop songs are Auto-Tuned and pitch-corrected. But in those cases, the audience is in on the fact that machinery has helped out.
It's not the same thing when technology's assistance is concealed from us and is credited to the human. That's why lip-synching at live concerts is still controversial and why athletes are disqualified for secretly using drugs or other performance enhancements. Disclosing when our creative works have come from canned parts isn't just important for intellectual honesty; it would also make a better barometer for the rising tide of robots entering creative fields. (If you hadn't heard, robots are now capable of composing chorales and painting portraits.)
These days even professional musicians, artists and performers can substitute an on/off switch for human talent. Shouldn't the public know which is which?”
David's point about whether the public should know is well-taken. But in the grand scheme things, what matters most is how humans can elevate their creative output. Extensive research has shown structured approaches do more to boost creative output than to limit it. For thousands of years, inventors have embedded five simple patterns into their inventions, usually without knowing it. These patterns are the "DNA" of products that can be extracted and applied to any product or service to create new-to-the-world innovations. Using these patterns is no different than using a human-engineered technology. The technology has within it the wisdom of its creator that is then transferred to others to boost their creativity.
Humans have evolved to create. Stepping on the shoulders of others, be it through a technology or a pattern, is our next evolutionary path.