Luxury in the Age of Digital Connectivity – Digital Products are Precious
The fact that you are reading this article is a luxury. Maybe you’re reading it from a rideshare you requested from your phone, on your way to a restaurant where you reserved a table for 2 from that very same phone. Maybe you’re reading it on your watch (bold choice) at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet (even bolder). Regardless of where you are and how you’re reading it, this article is available to you—and that’s a luxury that shouldn’t go unmentioned.
Yet the luxury of digital connectivity and information technology gets regularly dismissed as necessity. Digital is no longer for the select few who can afford it. Sending an email, paying your bills from a banking app, smiling at a loved one’s face while you speak with them over the phone, taking pictures, liking pictures, sharing pictures—none of this is necessary for human life but we’ve engineered occupations and lifestyles dependent on them. Because of this socially and self-imposed dependency, digital is regularly overlooked when the topic of luxury arises—but it shouldn’t be.
The shape of luxury in 2018
Luxury has been traditionally defined by Merriam-Webster as “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.” However, in 2018 what is or isn’t necessary is difficult to define. Because this definition hasn’t been updated to reflect changes in industry, commerce, and society, we need to reshape the old idea of luxury around our modern interconnectedness.
One industry that not only keeps up with the times but helps define them is fashion. American fashion and lifestyle magazine Vogue describes luxury specifically rather than swaddling it in a blanket definition—identifying value in the entire creation process, not just the final dollar sign:
“Luxury is research, the chance to experience new routes, to find new and not predictable or already seen solutions.
Experimentations are luxury. And it’s a fortune finding them and being able to have them.
Craftsmanship is luxury. A product is luxe when it is handmade, tailored for few.”
Let’s unpack these observations to explore how they apply to our digitally connected world.
Research: the knowns, unknowns & unknown unknowns
When leading Thai furniture retailer Chanintr challenged their agency partner to reimagine their brand identity, the team spent time in Bangkok conducting research and speaking with customers, brand partners, and press to identify what the brand was lacking.
Chanintr’s thorough research directly lead to:
- A thoughtfully re-designed corporate identity with a clear voice and a design language to articulate the breadth of their story
- A beautiful new website designed and built around the concept of ‘Living Well’
- An aspirational series of short films that feature the beautifully designed homes of prominent Thai entrepreneurs and cultural figures
But it’s not always the brand or the audience that requires research; frequently the technology itself requires investigation. Often an organization’s needs change, or they outgrow certain platform(s) on which their business operates. An upgrade is required. However, it’s rare that all platforms need to be upgraded simultaneously. This means research is required into which platforms are available that can satisfy the growing or changing needs of the business and integrate with the platforms that aren’t changing.
No matter where it’s applied, research gives us the power to evolve. There was research involved in writing this article. Someone researched the best day and time to publish it. Someone will soon research how well this article performs. And if the later research shows the initial research was flawed, those findings will be used to make corrections and form a new publishing strategy. Research, rinse, and repeat—all with the time for learning and validation that digital affords us.
Experimentations: What else can I do with this and how far can I push it?
Experimentation is fundamental to the proliferation and future applications of digital in our rapidly changing world. One such example is The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and their annual Conference on Digital Experimentation (CODE). With CODE, the Institute intends to bring top researchers from various scientific disciplines together to lay the foundation for ongoing relationships and to build a lasting multidisciplinary research community.
But it’s not just major companies and institutions that conduct impactful research. Lesser known organizations, such as the Future Interfaces Group (which operates within the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University), research and create futuristic new sensing and interface technologies with the goal of fostering powerful and pleasant interactions between humans and computers. From passionate groups of future-focused thinkers to the experiments they conduct and the results they yield—this is the life-blood of progress in the digital age.
Craftsmanship: The age of digital artisans
The digital experiences we take part in each day are the result of scores of talented digital artisans all working together to create and deliver content, products, news, stories, videos, photos, likes, comments, and more directly to you. Much like the artisans of previous eras, digital artisans are true masters of their craft. And while the artisanal product has changed over time, the quality and impact of the artisan is as valuable and important today as it’s ever been.
The digital artisans behind products you use every day include:
- Marketers and analysts who research product viability and user trends
- Designers who explore the perfect combination of typeface, color palette, information architecture, and graphics
- Developers who author code for specific and intentional functionalities into each new digital product
- Product owners and content creators who tirelessly endeavor to deliver the content users want and need as well as working with marketers, analysts, designers, and developers to constantly maintain, improve, and evolve the product
Deeper than just the news feed
This article was written by a person, edited and designed by other people, and then published here on the Local Wisdom blog, where our developers tweaked the interface to fit the screen size of the device—also designed by hundreds of people—on which you’re reading. Today’s digital products are similarly built upon layers and layers of complex, interwoven, and mostly unseen beauty. They’ve been brought to us by talented people who care deeply about the products they create, own, and maintain. And I encourage you to see them as designed and built to elevate our lives—containing far more depth than the few millimeters of screen on which they’re consumed.