Today most retail store aisles, with their quiet passive rows of products neatly lined up to the horizon, are like dusty rows of library bookshelves. There is little life, less information, and no interactivity with the products on the shelf. They just sit there, some more politely than others, waiting to be taken home.
With devices like SixthSense, designed by Pranav Mistry from the Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab, this is about to change. He calls SixthSense “a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.” I call it groundbreaking and could see cell phones having this functionality in a few years..
Watch this TED video!
If you feel, as I do, that the next important change in the retail environment will make it interactive, and that product packages will become an integral part of the brand experience, not just designed for the shelf but for the whole lifecycle of the product, then you will be amazed. In it Pattie Maes demonstrates the device for the first time. Its just 8 minutes or so, and make sure you stay for the last few minutes where specific retail applications are demonstrated.
I have heard a lot of hyperbole about the interactive retail environment, and discussions of how holographic packaging, or talking retail displays, or battery operated shelf inserts were going to change the world of retailing. But all of these are one-dimensional push technology spewing out information that the manufacturer or retailer think you want to hear. And certainly not tailored to your specific interests or needs.
Devices like SixthSense will be a much richer interface for the consumer at the store. You will select a package from the shelf and have the device pull all the relevant information you feel is important for an informed purchase decision from its internet browser, live, right there in the aisle.
Do you have a nut allergy, is the product organic, less expensive than a competing brand, made in the USA, any criteria you choose can be searched right then and there. SixthSense can even be preprogrammed to help you select only products that meet your criteria.
This will change the conversation completely. Every brand medium, from traditional advertising, to internet blogs, to user youtube videos will be available to you at the retail shelf.
So for package designers the task will remain how do we present brand equity when the package becomes a more integral part of the brand experience. And this task will not get easier, just because we won’t need as much stuff on the box.
The fundamental question will become, how do we communicate the essence of the brand, and perhaps nothing more, when other forms of media can communicate everything else?
In an age when consumer access to product information at the store is instantaneous, the question will not be, what do we need the box to say on shelf, and how loudly do we need to say it, but what role do we want the box to play in the entire lifecycle of the brand.
That sounds like fun!