Monday, 30 December 2013

Photography: the never-ending possibilities

'Camera 003' by Shutupyourface
under a CC license
Camera technology has been rapidly evolving through the years. Yes, I 've written before about that. But change is constant and multilevel. I believe that, to some extent, it is driven by the need to diversify in order to satisfy niche needs, rather than to achieve market domination.

True, some emerging products integrate improved technologies that ensure that the usual camera functions are carried out in a faster, more efficient or more user-friendly way. Better focusing speed, higher low light sensitivity with less image noise, larger sensors, smaller or lighter bodies, environmentally sealed cameras, stabilised lenses or sensors, are examples or improvements that aim the conventional photography experience.

But there, within the sea of consumer products, there are some few that aim at the curious child within us. Take a look at the Panono camera, for instance. It employs mostly conventional hardware, cleverly stitched together to produce 360 deg panoramas in fun way.

And then there are those small "wearable" cameras, such as Autographer, mecam, Narrative, etc. Also action cameras, such as GoPro, which are usually mounted on bikes, helmets, shoulders, etc.. And, of course, there is Google Glass which has put on the spot yet another camera niche.

Further to these examples, above, some have chosen to use conventional technology in an uncoventional way. For the shake of the argument, here are some vivid examples (in no particular order):
  1. A camera mounted on the back of the head of an arts professor, so as to take snapshots of whatever lies behind him at regular intervals. 
  2. A single fast action camera (a GoPro in this case) used to mimic the bullet time effect, which was made widely know in The Matrix movie (clip).
  3. X-ray snapshots of nature-like compositions.  Well, that's not exactly conventional for most people but it uses technology that has been available for quite a few decades.
I'm sure one can go on for longer on the topic of photography niches (HDR photography, IR photography, pinhole camera photography, light field cameras, even Kirlian photography) but my point is that, in photography, technology - while multiplying possibilities - have never seriously hindered creativity.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Consumer perception: A tool without instructions?

'Pick yours' by esti
under a CC license
My belated, yet warmest, wishes for a Happy New Year to us all!!!

Holidays is a good thing. It gives you time to relax, spend more time with the people you like and love (OK, sometimes it also forces you to spend time with people you don't like so much :-) and change your focus altogether for a little bit.

Lately, there is the story in the news about researchers from Valencia (Spain) and Oxford (UK) on "The Influence of the color of the cup on consumers' perception of a hot beverage". The paper has published back in August 2012 in the Journal of Sensory Studies and during the last few days has been featured in major blogs and news sites such as POPSCI, Discovery News, etc.

In the study, the researchers offered a panel of 57 volunteers cups of a hot chocolate beverage and asked them to rate them against - amongst others - flavour and sweetness. Cups were plastic and coloured red, orange, white and dark cream on the outside (white inside). The results indicated that the testers rated the beverage of higher chocolate flavour when they drank from the orange or dark cream cups. Sweetness and chocolate aroma were less influenced by the colour of the cup, but still the dark cream ones got a better score than the others. As the authors pointed out, that can help catering professionals tune the aesthetics of the plateware or packaging (or possibly dining environment, altogether) in order to enhance consumer experience.

That is not the first time it is shown that factors beyond the sensory aspects of a foodstuff affect consumer perception. A strawberry mousse, for instance, tastes better when server on a white dish. And, as Betina Piqueras-Fiszman from the Polytechnic University of València has demonstrated, the weight of a dish, where a meal is served on, has an impact on the expected food density and expected satiety from the consumer.

Clearly, appearance is a tool for achieving or boosting consumer acceptance. But is it also a tool to be used in achieving a better diet, that is, eating less and/or eating healthier? Possibly, yes. Hot chocolate served in an orange cup, for instance, may require less added sugar to become acceptable. Make that an orange coloured clay mug, which is much heavier than a plastic cup, and it may give the consumer the feeling of a denser drink. In that way one may achieve better consumer satisfaction while keeping the impact on the total daily calorific intake under better control. Still though, a cup of chocolate will always be a cup of chocolate, will always have more calories than a cup of unsweetened tea, etc.

Such an approach may be worth considering, especially in cases where a good and balanced nutrition is a target, e.g., in school meals. There, plateware of the right weight and colour could have a diet-support function, on top of making the life of pupils more colourful. After all, kids have demonstrated that they do have an opinion on what they eat! (I'm referring to Martha Payne, a 10-year-old girl from Scotland, who had a blog with comments on her school meals). The same goes to canteens, often found in or around busy workplaces (and they are not always cool). If you think about it, the associated cost should not be out of reach and the impact on the environment should be lower. Adding colour to plastic dishes/ cups/ etc. adds a few cents more in a recurring way, while switching to normal ones adds an initial purchasing cost plus the cost of washing them to be re-used.

One thing that bothers me, however, is whether the effect of the eating environment, plateware included, is absolute or relative. In other words, does the feeling of enhanced sweetness appears only to consumers that make the switch to cups of different colour or does it fade over the time one uses the same cup? There is certainly something there but there may be also, a lot more to learn.

That certainly reminds me that the safest and most time-proof way to a balanced diet is to train oneself to the "right tastes" so that the appealing food would need to have an excess of sugar or salt and it would include fruits, vegetables and wholemeal products.