Category Archives: innovation

Kyoto artisans grant old clothes new life with traditional black dye

Kurozome Rewear is an offshoot of Kyoto Montsuki, which has been working with textiles since 1915. The shop’s specialty is black montsuki, a traditional piece of Japanese formalwear. Using old techniques that include multiple rounds of dyeing cloth and letting it dry in the sun, Kyoto Montsuki’s artisans are able to create a deep black color that reflects as little light as possible.

Belgian organic supermarket chain sells mushrooms grown on its unsold bread

Brussels-based ECLO picks up bread from Bio-Planet stores and mixes it with sawdust to create a growing medium. That substrate is packed into bags and pasteurized, after which mycelium is added and mushrooms start growing. After four to twelve weeks, ECLO harvests organic eryngii and nameko mushrooms, which are then sold at all of Bio-Planet’s stores.

‘Reverse mentorship’: How young workers are teaching bosses

Think about reverse mentorship as flipping traditional mentoring on its head: instead of senior staff supporting lower-level employees in their careers, younger generations help teach their managers about everything from consumer desires and TikTok to changing attitudes around social issues and equality.

There are many upsides: reverse mentoring can spark conversations that help address organisational challenges and changes, for example. But experts caveat that it’s not a solution to all corporate ills. In Jordan’s study of the technique, she found the programmes could help both parties learn new skills and boost the careers of younger participants on an individual level. However, it was less effective to initiate company-wide cultural change.

Sound Is Becoming An Increasingly Important Component Of AR/VR

As we spend more of our lives in digital spaces, it follows that users want to have more natural experiences in those spaces. For those who are building these digital spaces, it’s essential to deliver realistic sound. VR- and AR-enabled sound has been a challenge for the industry. However, AI is pushing the evolution of virtual audio, and stakeholders need to take time to look (and listen) closely at how far the most advanced tech providers have come.

Culture Mapping and Archetypal Strategies

Culture is a story system. The challenges facing brands today require a social science approach to analyzing culture and applying actions in sync with the natural cycle of power and dissent.

We can see the results of shortsighted and top-surface approaches to cultural insight imploding around us. From greenwashing in the midst of a climate “permacrisis”, to the commercial laziness of relying on celebrity influencers for relevance that quickly devolves into toxic hate speech.

Culture matters. But our strategies do not reflect that. They reflect more of an idea of what we can copy from culture to help our strategy in the near term. Our strategies must understand the responsibility we have to the culture we are all part of to stop the nihilistic path we are currently on.

My students at Parsons School of Design – The New School are in the midst of learning how to apply a story-system approach to innovation over the next few weeks. I share the concept of Culture Mapping that builds on Raymond William’s RDE (Residual, Dominant, Emergent) framework. The objective is to develop actions rooted in existing cultural intelligence, from the strongest signals to those weaker signals that have important future relevance. 

The cost of water risks to business could be more than five times greater than the cost of acting now to address those risks.

Warning bells have increased in just the last few months, with the world’s leading scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change laying out how dramatically the climate crisis is compounding and accelerating the water crisis. A new global assessment identifies the critical sectors and industries – as well as the business activities – most significantly affecting freshwater availability and quality, while another recent analysis underscores the persistent gap in financing to achieve a water secure future. These messages make it clear that key financial players such as institutional investors, banks and development finance institutions urgently need to step up to address the water crisis.

Tuning the Prompt

Perugina. Airport. Sepia. Soldier. Rome. Yet, another precious family photo lost in Google Photos among mundane recipe screenshots. And, yet, another reminder that it’s all about the prompt. The prompt I never set up and lazily relegated to the wisdom of a Google algorithm.

When we’re using prompts in search, we use them like fishing lures slowly trolling cyberspace. The more technically proficient we are, the less we are bothered by combing through junk to reach what we need. But the emerging GPT-2 and GPT-3 language models has turned that expectation upside down, revolutionizing what we can do via prompt engineering. 

Now, we can not only retrieve, we can create.

And the breadth is relatively wide from NLP to AI synthesis, emails can be generated and images can be rendered through iterations of text prompts. The trick to getting it right is through effective prompt engineering. And that is a cultural issue. (No different than ethnographies are only as good as their recruitment.)

Lisa Li Xiang and Percy Liang write about prefix tuning, “a lightweight alternative to fine-tuning for natural language generation tasks” (Li, 2021). They propose that “Fine-tuning is the de facto way of leveraging large pretrained language models for downstream tasks. However, fine-tuning modifies all the language model parameters and therefore necessitates storing a full copy for each task…good generation performance can also be attained by updating a very small prefix.”

It’s within these small spaces that cultural context can be applied. We began this discussion in March 2020 at the Intelligent Human Systems Integration Conference in Modena, Italy. The challenge is to have the design remain open to human potential, rather than structural control.

“It’s no surprise that most people engaged in ‘tech-mediated intimacy’ prefer sexting with ‘adult’ chatbots over sex robots. They can imagine a human at the other end. As designers, we need to understand human traits and be ahead of that moment” (Stock, 2020).

Let’s not forget that according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “the words engine and ingenious are derived from the same Latin root, ingenerare, which means “to create.” This is one thing when we are haphazardly throwing prompts at Midjourney. There, it’s okay to have others run with your prompt and see where it goes.

Jason M. Allen, a maker of tabletop games, won the 2022 Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition for his AI-generated work using Midjourney. “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” took first place in the digital category. “Some artists defended Mr. Allen, saying that using A.I. to create a piece was no different from using Photoshop or other digital image-manipulation tools, and that human creativity is still required to come up with the right prompts to generate an award-winning piece” (Roos, 2022).

But, what about when we need to land effectively and quickly get to that promising work? That’s when we need to start tuning upfront.

Already, virtual prototyping is becoming essential for automotive research and design (Girling, 2022). Think about how far we could go without heavy investments in building upfront.

Imagine if we could simply focus on the thinking? Implications reach far beyond the tangible.

Consider occupational identities. Julia Yates & Sharon Cahill state “Evidence suggests that occupational prototypes have an impact on career decisions. Psychology undergrads were asked to evoke a typical member of each of four occupational groups and describe their prototype in detail. A classic grounded theory analysis identified the characteristics which were symbolised by the features of the prototypes and resulted in eight dimensions: warm, energetic, fun, intelligent, conventional, highbrow, successful and cool” (Yates, 2019). What if we could leverage prompt engineering to bring better context to education and career design too? But, then again, what if I could simply find that missing Google photo?

– by Tim Stock and Marie Lena Tupot

Works cited

Girling, W. (2022, July 29). Virtual prototyping is becoming essential for automotive R&D. Automotive World. Retrieved September 2, 2022, from 

Li, X. L., & Liang, P. (2021, January 1). Prefix-tuning: Optimizing continuous prompts for generation. Retrieved September 2, 2022, from

Roose, K. (2022, September 2). An a.i.-generated picture won an art prize. artists aren’t happy. The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2022, from 

Stock, T. J., & Tupot, M. L. (2020, January 22). Pre-emptive culture mapping: Exploring a system of language to better understand the abstract traits of human interaction.  Intelligent Human Systems Integration 2020. IHSI 2020. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 1131. Springer, Cham.

Yates, J., & Cahill, S. (2019). The characteristics of prototypical occupational identities: A grounded theory of four occupations. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling49(1), 115–131. 

Discord: The Server as Community

Discord users create their own ‘servers,’ which are chat rooms enabling collaborations over mutually interesting topics of any kind: teachers setting up classrooms, politicians organizing campaign meetings or artists discussing their work. Today, many fashion and luxury brands invest in Discord as a space where culture, entertainment and gaming collide. It’s a place where brands can give communities incentives to co-create and sometimes own a piece of the brand, product or service.

From the wrist into the ear – the potential of hearables

A subset of wearables are the so-called hearables – in-ear devices that are well suited for long-term monitoring as they are non-invasive, inconspicuous and easy to fasten. Hearables offer two major benefits: their proximity to the torso and vascular system of the brain and ear is a physiological advantage and motion artefacts often seen with wrist wearables are no longer an issue for in-ear devices.