Prints Charming: A New App Combines Music With 3D Printing

"Totem", Image by Brooke Novak

“Totem”, Image by Brooke Novak

What does a song actually look like in 3D? Everyone knows that music has always been evocative of all kinds of people, memories, emotions and sensations. In a Subway Fold post back on November 30, 2014, we first looked at Music Visualizations and Visualizations About Music. But can a representation of a tune now be taken further and transformed into a tangible object?

Yes, and it looks pretty darn cool. A fascinating article was posted on Wired.com on July 15, 2015, entitled What Songs Look Like as 3-D Printed Sculptures by Liz Stinson, about a new Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for the NYC startup called Reify working on this. I will sum up, annotate and try to sculpt a few questions of my own.

Reify’s technology uses sound waves in conjunction with 3D printing¹ to shape a physical “totem” or object of it. (The Wired article and the Reify website contain pictures of samples.) Then an augmented reality² app in a mobile device will provide an on-screen visual experience accompanying the song when the camera is pointed towards it. This page on their website contains a video of a demo of their system.

The firm is led by Allison Wood and Kei Gowda. Ms. Wood founded it in order to study “digital synesthesia”. (Synthesia is a rare condition where people can use multiple senses in unusual combinations to, for example, “hear” colors, and was previously covered in the Subway Fold post about music visualization linked to above.) She began to explore how to “translate music’s ephemeral nature” into a genuine object and came up with the concept of using a totem.

Designing each totem is an individualized process. It starts with analyzing a song’s “structure, rhythm, amplitude, and more” by playing it through the Echo Nest API.³ In turn, the results generated correspond to measurements including “height, weight and mass”. The tempo and genre of a song also have a direct influence on the shaping of the totem. As well, the musical artists themselves have significant input into the final form.

The mobile app comes into play when it is used to “read” the totem and interpret its form “like a stylus on a record player or a laser on a CD”. The result is, while the music playing, the augmented reality component of the app captures and then generates an animated visualization incorporating the totem on-screen.  The process is vividly shown in the demo video linked above.

Reify’s work can also be likened to a form of information design in the form of data visualization4. According to Ms. Wood, the process involves “translating data from one form into another”.

My questions are as follows:

  • Is Reify working with, or considering working with, Microsoft on its pending HoloLens augmented reality system and/or companies such as Oculus, Samsung and Google on their virtual reality platforms as covered in the posts linked to in Footnote 2 below?
  • How might Reify’s system be integrated into the marketing strategies of musicians? For example, perhaps printing up a number of totems for a band and then distributing them at concerts.
  • Would long-established musicians and performers possibly use Reify to create totems of some their classics? For instance, what might a totem and augmented reality visualization for Springsteen’s anthem, Born to Run, look like?

1.  See these two Subway Fold posts mentioning 3D printing.

2.  See these eight Subway Fold posts covering some of the latest developments in virtual and augmented reality.

3API’s in a medical and scientific context were covered in a July 2, 2015 Subway Fold Post entitled The Need for Specialized Application Programming Interfaces for Human Genomics R&D Initiatives.

4.  This topic is covered extensively in dozens of Subway Fold posts in the Big Data and Analytics and Visualization categories.

What’s Succeeding Now in Multi-Level Digital Strategies for Companies

Image by mconnors

Image by mconnors

[This post was originally uploaded on January 16, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on March 22, 2015.]

It almost seems simple at first: What works and what doesn’t when companies implement their digital strategies in today’s highly competitive world of retailing? Answers such as “great social apps” or “full mobile implementation” are belied by their complexities in carefully making the right choices in the right markets, for the right products and service offerings, for right consumer demographic groups. As the global digital economy spins faster every day, businesses need keep pace and be able to rapidly adapt to a multitude of volatile market variables and evolving technologies.

In a deeply insightful and informative article posted on January 14, 2015, on the Harvard Business Review website entitled Why Nordstrom’s Digital Strategy Works (and Yours Probably Doesn’t) by Jeanne W. Ross, Cynthia M. Beath and Ina Sebastian, the retailer Nordstrom is presented as a paradigm for what does work and how the company made it so. I highly recommend reading it in its entirely. I will sum up, cross-reference some related Subway Fold posts, and add some questions to it.

The authors begin by citing a recent poll conducted by MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research that found 42% of those responding anticipated a competitive edge from engaging the tech elements of social¹, mobile², analytics³, cloud and Internet of Things (SMACIT). Because each of these elements’ has a common denominator – – being their accessibility to “customers, employees, partners and competitors” – – they do not, per se, provide any commercial advantage. Rather, it is companies like Nordstrom that persistently focus on unifying all of these factors into a well-defined strategic purpose who will prosper.

For almost a century, Nordstrom has maintained their focus on producing an optimal experience for both customers and employees. Starting in the late 1990’s, they began searching for new technologies to “empower” their employees’ operations including the company’s website and inventory control that presented “a consistent multi-channel experience by 2002”. Thereafter, through 2014, they have continued to add more key innovations including:

  • Point-of-sale system that permits sales staff members to gather data on customers’ online requests
  • An internal lab for innovation
  • Apps for shopping (tightly linked to inventory control)
  • Mobile checkout that, among its other features, enables an employee to accompanying a customer through the payment process
  • Texting support for sales reps
  • A personalized men’s clothing service residing in the cloud

These systems are highly integrated with each other, firmly establishing and embedding a digital business model throughout the organization. Among its other achievements, inventory control and delivery have been optimized and, in turn, make the experience of ordering and delivering merchandise a seamless and convenient operation. Elsewhere on the web, Nordstrom’s presence on the social site Pinterest provides its employees with an enhanced understanding of customers’ interests and preferences. Most telling of all is the fact that Nordstrom’s revenues have increased by more than 50% during the last five years.

The authors again emphasize that the company’s financial and strategic successes with their digital operations, in this digital economy, is due far more to their tight woven SMACIT program, rather than just having a collection of superior but otherwise isolated elements of it. Thus, absent all of SMACIT’s pieces working in harmony with comprehensive corporate support, other retailers will not attain similar business benefits. The sum of the whole program is much greater than its individual parts.

My follow-up questions include:

  • How can other companies, including competitors in the retail industry as well as others in unrelated markets, benefit from Nordstrom’s digital business model? For instance, would this also produce demonstrable benefits for an auto manufacturer? What internal and customer-facing metrics and controls would indicate progress for such efforts?
  • Is Nordstrom’s  strategy likewise adaptable and applicable to more service-oriented industries such as law, medicine or accounting? If so, what adjustments to the planning process would be needed?
  • What new forms of jobs might emerge for dedicated executives, project managers and other enablers to make SMACIT-based plans work? Might this also create new entrepreneurial opportunities to provide additional policy, planning and logistical support?

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1.  See the category Social Media for all related Subway Fold posts.

2.  See the category Telecommunications for all related Subway Fold posts.

3.  See the category Big Data and Analytics for all related Subway Fold posts.

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March 22, 2015 Update:

The initial post above identified five key elements of successful contemporary digital strategies as including social, mobile, analytics, cloud and the Internet of Things, forming the anagram SMACIT. On March 18, 2015, a fascinating and highly useful posting recently appeared on AdAge.com entitled More Data Brings More Risk: CMOs Must Embrace ‘Risk Marketing’ by Curtis Hougland on March 18, 2015. I believe that its exploration and 5-point plan for implementing risk management is so important that it should be integrated into SMACIT. I further suggest adding the letter “R” and then rearranging the anagram to be CAR MITS because it’s easier to remember and “car” (as in driving a strategy) and “mits” (for wearing protective gear when handing something important).

Mr. Hougland as produced an expertly written and highly persuasive case for how “risk marketing” in inevitably part of every chief marketing officer’s (CMO) key concerns. Moreover, he presents concise and pragmatic plan for them to evaluate and integrate into their strategic planning. These include the following, which are detailed in his piece:

  • Embedding risk assessment as a core marketing practice
  • Embracing compliance
  • Borrowing the risk management playbook in marketing
  • De-siloing [read: opening] problem solving
  • Approaching data as a creative exercise

Never missing an opportunity to try an anagram, I have come up the following for this: Compliance, Open problem solving, Playbook, Embedding risk assessment, and Data. Thus, when a CMO is asked whether he or she has deploying this strategic plan they can confidently reply “Yes, I have COPED with it”.

I strongly suggest not limiting just this to the consideration of CMOs. Rather, I believe that anyone working in marketing, business development, operations, IT, legal and knowledge management can benefit and help to implement these components.

If the initial January 17, 2015 post above was of interest to you, then I urge you to click-through and read this new piece in its entirety. I believe you will find a strong synergy between both of the marketing strategies being advocated by their respective authors.