Automatic for the people? In recent weeks Ocado are in the news for developing a robot worker to act as a buddy for engineers in their distribution warehouses. Presumably in prototype form it costs a lot more than the minimum wage, but one can see where this might be going. Meanwhile WH Smith has become a charmless place to pick up ones newspaper and operate the self-service till. The couple of times I have asked for a human to take my cash it’s been met with a frosty reception by the staff, which seems kind of weird – after all, they don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Meanwhile, there is a trend for advertising written in emoji.
All are but glimpses into our increasingly disconnected world. Could the increasingly digital nature of our lives be one of the drivers behind the recent craze for adult colouring books that offer the old fashioned charm of doing something by hand? Who knows. But I would make this observation: the more brands and retailers start operating with remote control, the higher value consumers will place in anything with even a small trace of ‘soul’.
I would suggest that the best brands have some kind of ‘inner spirit’. And design makes this quality manifest and tangible. So as we get less and less soul in our world the effectiveness of adding a heartbeat to brands through design will incrementally rise. Meantime, let’s hope the Ocado droid has something of the Wall-E about it.