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1 Fragrance Lab, and the individualization of shopping
Online retailers are dramatically changing how we shop, as are apps that make impulse buying a mere screen tap away. What will these service-free conveniences mean to bricks-and-mortar stores that rely on customers to visit them? Phil Handford, creative director of the London design agency Campaign, works with such big labels as Burberry and Nike, exploring alternative ways for brands to stand out in a saturated retail environment. He believes stores have an advantage over mobile shopping: they can give consumers informed recommendations through what he calls “highly curated, customized, immersive, theatrical events.”

In May, Handford, along with trend forecaster Chris Sanderson of Future Laboratory, tested out the theory with a perfumery that crafts individualized scents. Called Fragrance Lab, the immersive space, installed at Selfridges’ Oxford Street location in London, re-imagined the perfume counter. Rather than having clients navigate the usual lineup of ladies spritzing familiar brands, the lab invited clients to embark on a self-guided tour within a series of ethereal zones.

No merchandise or advertising was visible. Instead, lab-coated assistants presented shoppers with a selection of images to choose from, questions to answer, and objects to hold and sniff. Depending on each person’s response, a team of perfumers generated a personalized scent and a unique bottle. At $120 a visit, Selfridges managed to give each shopper a 50-millilitre customized fragrance, and an experience that could never be replicated by an online-dependent shop like Amazon. – Matthew Hague

2 Merel Bekking’s MRI-tested aesthetics
The ideal design, immune to shifting trends, is like a maddeningly elusive dream, although most designers – and manufacturers – would kill to crack the code for what makes us desire one object over another. Dutch designer Merel Bekking, whose work playfully combines neuro­science with product concepts, has developed an alternative approach that could reach that goal, based on responsive data gleaned from MRI scans. While multinationals such as Google and Pepsi do use biometrics, they tend to apply the research to existing products. Bekking, on the other hand, is using neuroscience as the jumping-off point for creation.

To carry out her research, she has teamed up with Steven Scholte, a scientist with Neurensics, Europe’s first neuro-marketing research and consulting firm; and with the Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging in Amsterdam. Their test group consisted of 10 men and 10 women between the ages of 20 and 30, all Dutch. Each was asked what colours, shapes and materials they most admired, and the consensus was: blue, round and wood. Then, using MRIs, the same subjects were shown a mix of gruesome and appealing images. Surprisingly, the visual stimuli that caused the brain’s pleasure centre to peak – red, organic shapes and plastic – were the opposite of what the subjects thought they liked.

In April, Bekking took the project a step further, creating furniture pieces that exploited the three most desirable attributes. However, the reaction to the work was split. She says, “I am looking for a way to exclude emotion from design, so the interesting thing was to see if people really were attracted to the red plastic organic shapes.” She hopes to repeat the experiment with different ages and cultural backgrounds to see if variances occur. M.H.

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