Nutella employed an algorithm to design its packaging

Nutella’s manufacturer Ferrero partnered with its advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia to devise a plan to get people to buy more Nutella. Their idea? Have an algorithm design the packaging. The company provided the software with a database of patterns and colors that Ferrero felt fit with the hazelnut spread brand. It then created 7 million unique jars that were sold throughout Italy.

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How do I tell my daughter that her online ‘truth’ is a conspiracy theory?

This confusion about the truth usually begins to disappear as children grow up and see that there are not only observable facts, but also collectively observable knowledge that is difficult to verify but must nevertheless be taken on trust. The idea that the Earth is (roughly) a sphere and orbits the sun is pretty much universally accepted, but very few know the science that proves it. It is taken as a matter of faith as part of our established store of knowledge. It struck me as I argued with my daughter that the collective store of trusted knowledge is dwindling, despite the so-called information revolution. Adults, like children, tend towards the irrational, and the internet has become an immense tool for facilitating that tendency.

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Planet Earth II’s 360-degree videos are a great escape

Not a lot of people know this but the BBC is one of the leading researchers in areas related to broadcasting and other technology. They invented Nicam stereo, teletext and much more besides. The microphones they developed in the 1930s are still the basis of many of those we use today. One area they’ve been particularly active in is VR, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and how it might be useful.

Here’s one example of research that tests the waters of what’s possible, via The Verge:

360-degree video is still a format without much of a purpose. Consumers and filmmakers alike are trying to figure out how to film in it but also what makes a good 360-degree video in the first place. BBC’s take on it seems pretty close to the ideal — relatively short in length, good quality, and engaging — and they’ll be releasing more as Planet Earth II airs. It’s still not the kind of immersive content promised by virtual reality, but at this point in time, it’s plenty worth escaping into.

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Emoji diversity: how ‘silly little faces’ can make a big difference

When Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge sent his fiancee to the wrong side of London for dinner, he sent an apologetic text message. He received an emoji-less reply: “It’s fine.” “We all know that’s not what it means at all. That means ‘it’s not fine’,” he said, pointing out that emoji have infiltrated language so deeply that their absence from that message carries a meaning that we all understand. Once considered a nerd topic, emoji have now become a mainstream medium, Burge says – and San Francisco’s first Emojicon conference seems to agree.

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After the success of Pokémon Go!, what is the future for augmented reality?


In Baum’s The Master Key, which was subtitled with a phrase that offers a rather delicious description of Silicon Valley – An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of Its Devotees – the protagonist is given the magical spectacles by a demon. After a fortnight’s adventuring, he concludes that neither he nor the world is ready for the specs. On the third week, he returns the invention until, he says, that time when humankind knows how to use them. “There are competing notions of what AR is going to be,” says Fleetwood. “There are the people who think we’re going to be living in some mass consensual Neal Stephenson novel. I’m very against that. I hope we’ll see those companies that put design and empathy at the heart of what they do with AR winning out.”

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Machine logic: our lives are ruled by big tech’s ‘decisions by data’


Crawford says there are very practical reasons why tech companies have become so powerful. “We’re trying to put so much responsibility on to individuals to step away from the ‘evil platforms’, whereas in reality, there are so many reasons why people can’t. The opportunity costs to employment, to their friends, to their families, are so high” she says. But there’s now an additional and deeply pernicious dimension. Even if you did manage to avoid using Facebook, Gmail or an iPhone, we are all part of a “broader tracking universe”, she says.

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Virtual reality for the masses is here. But do the masses want VR?


Both the PSVR and the new lower-minimum Oculus do offer that magic – the moment when the view on-screen and your actions in the real world merge so perfectly that you feel transported into the virtual reality presented to you. That said, they still have their flaws. The dreaded VR nausea is there too often, for too many people, and there’s still somewhat of a content drought, reflecting the chicken-and-egg situation the technology faces. These will be improved in time, but it’s time the platform doesn’t have, lest it be relegated to the same “yesterday’s tomorrow” position of similar techs like 3D TVs and motion-controlled video games. The line between short-lived novelty and transformational new technology is thinner than many give it credit, and VR needs to leap over it soon.

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My Little Pony sued over font usage

 My Little Pony and the Unlicensed Font

Font by the Font Bros

An interesting story here – Hasbro are being sued by Font Bros for the unlicensed use of GenerationB, itself inspired by the 1961 Hayley Mills movie, The Parent Trap.

Fonts are software as well as designs and require licensing for commercial use – something a lot of designers forget and, to be honest, even though I know it, it’s not something I’ve ever knowingly considered. The issue of font licensing isn’t exactly transparent. I’ve got a Typekit account courtesy of Adobe Creative Cloud – but have I ever looked at what this allows me to do with the fonts I download? Erm… no. Think of fonts like stock images – it’s okay to use them for comps and maybe non-profit work but the moment they’re being used commercially, you need to look at the license.

As Fastcodesign say in their article on this story

Generally speaking, there are no conspiracies involved in how respectable companies end up misusing fonts. Oftentimes, the issue is as simple as a lapse in due diligence when a designer uses a font for professional work that he or she only has license to use individually.

Hasbro are a big company, and an obvious target for this type of action – and it is legitimate given the amount of time and skill it takes to create a font (particularly a decent one). Where does responsibility lie? Is it with the designer? Or the client? Or shared? If you’re a designer (or, indeed, employ designers) it’s probably worth your while investigating this and keeping a note of which fonts you’re allowed to use on commercial jobs, and which you need a license for.

There is a completely separate issue here – the crime against typography that is the My Little Pony brand. Let’s leave that to the Design Police.

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15 fun things to type into Google

Barrel Roll

Here’s something to amuse yourself for a while. I knew about some of these already but others were new to me. 

Google’s easter eggs – funny little images, programs or widgets – are legendary, but many of them lie dormant, just waiting for users to type the magic words into the search box. Are they clever? Some are. Are they useful? Most aren’t. But they’re all a welcome distraction from working. They all work in Chrome on desktop, most work on mobile too, and some of them also work in other browsers. Enjoy

Read the full list here. I think ‘Star Wars text’ may be my favourite.

This pot won’t let you kill your houseplants

After criticising the LG fridge that opens for you, I’m going to ignore the contradiction of my delight in this new gadget by suggesting it might have excellent applications in agriculture. Or something.

I’m a plant killer. I need help. Take my money.

On top of watering your plant, the pot does its best to make sure that you don’t kill your plant through other means. It also includes an acidity sensor, a temperature sensor, and a light sensor, and it’ll use those three to tell you whether you need to give the plant different fertilizer, more or less sunlight, or a warmer or cooler environment. Obviously, you’ll have to fix those issues on your own, but the app should make it much easier to keep your houseplants alive.

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