Archive for September, 2009

As many of you may know, the image below is a famous demonstration of a visual trick. What appears to be a photograph of Albert Einstein becomes a photo of Marilyn Monroe if you view it from further away. This is done by playing around with detailed edges and blurred areas. The person who put this image together utilized an understanding of how most humans pick up images and interpret them. This plays on our ability and preference for focus. Apparently, our tendency to take in and process lines and areas was honed by evolution (“Is that a tiger over there? Who cares, I see stripes, I’m outa here.” We are selected to see obvious details first). It seems many of the art world’s masters knew of this trait and how to exploit it.

      I tried to demonstrate this using Flash. Although I’m using scale and compression as opposed to distance and actual focusing of our eyes, I think the effect is the same. That is, accentuating the sharp details (by being close to the image, which is analagous to having a large/high-res image ) or accentuating the blurry parts (far away, which is analagous to small or low-res). Try playing around with the Flash dealy below:

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      Artists such as Paul Klee made this a feature of their work, which is why a Klee painting can have very different effects depending on the viewing distance.

Paul Klee's Zaubergarten. Try moving away from the screen.

Paul Klee's Zaubergarten. Try moving away from the screen.

      Whereas Klee made visual focus a feature of his work, Mark Rothko made it his subject of interest:

Mark Rothko's Yellow and Orange. No lines at all, but there are definite shapes, ie. the rectangles.

Mark Rothko's Yellow and Orange. No lines at all, but there are definite shapes, ie. the rectangles.

      I think I finally get Rothko (somewhat). I think the weirdness of his paintings is that he gives you nothing to focus on. We know there are basically two rectangles, yellow, and orange. This is easy. But everything is soft and undefined. No lines, and the colours aren’t solid. Not exactly my favourite painting or my idea of a good time, but it’s an interesting idea and it really makes you think.

      So how crazy can this get? Da Vinci crazy. He took it to another level by building it into the Mona Lisa’s face. Some details of the face are soft, some are more well defined. He is playing around with and controlling how we focus on his painting. To me, this is more evident when you move towards and away from the painting. The key areas I think are the shadows on the outside corners of the eyes (which affect the shape of the eyes and therefore her expression), and the shadow on the corner of the left side of her smile. By playing around with our perceptions, Leonardo changes the degree of the smile. So I think, there is no real answer to what kind of smile it is, because it depends on where we are standing when we look at the painting. Try it out for yourself:

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This is not a post about coffee or marketing or branding. This is about business.

      During travels in Europe, I saw many Nespresso outlets.

More boutique than coffee machine and bean shop.

More boutique than coffee machine and bean shop.

      While out-and-about Vancouver town back in North America searching for a George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine George Foreman and his grill (you know, for a healthier, more convenient life. Turns out they suck), I noticed a Nespresso outlet nestled within a department store. Until then, I wasn’t sure if North America, at least sleepy little Vancouver, would be a market for these things. But I think Nestle is on that.

      What’s that you say, “what’s a Nespresso?” It’s basically a system to make espresso at home. You take a Nespresso capsule, drop it into a Nespresso specific machine, push one button, and within a couple of minutes or so you have a perfectly brewed cup of espresso. They didn’t invent this concept, but they made it work.

      Contrast this to the Saeco machine. They make a machine that, also with a push of a button, grinds the beans, and squirts out the coffee for you all within the machine. All you do is fill it with whole beans and water. There are salient differences between the two systems (or “ecologies” is becoming a popular term). One is price of the machines. The do-it-all Saeco machine cost several times that of the Nespresso. The second point is that while Saeco is done with you after purchase of the machine (besides the usual servicing and what not), Nespresso only works with these Nespresso capsules which are only available through, you guessed it, Nespresso. Put the two points together and you have Saeco=one time cost, Nespresso=perpetual costs.

      From what I can gather from news sources and the high-end appearance and popularity of the stores, it seems Nespresso is a huge success. I’m sure this is in no small part due to Nespresso following a business model that should be 101 in all business schools: the crack dealers got it right. Make it cheap and easy the start, then you jack up the price. A Nespresso serving costs about $0.60 cdn compared to about $0.09 for an equivalent amount of bean. While Saeco takes the money and runs, Nestle Corp. Ltd. knows the real money is in the comeback. With a few exceptions, the only way to get these capsules is at one of their stores or through the internet. So no third party producers or retailers, because you may only get your medicine from daddy. Saeco solved a problem. They found a way to make getting good coffee at home as easy as it is to go out. Nestle saw that the money isn’t in the solution, it’s in the fix.

      At its core, Saeco is a manufacturing business. Nestle’s is food distribution, they don’t even make the machines . So it seems natural that the two strategies worked out that way for the respective companies. But there was nothing stopping Saeco from finding a way to generate returns. There are so many things at work here. Sometimes we get to thinking we are what we are and nothing else. So we take the natural routes. Because of this, some people have an inherent advantage. Of course, some don’t. So the real lesson here and perhaps why this topic has me thinking a bit is: sometimes, the best inspiration comes from those outside of what you are trying to accomplish. Of course I’m not the first person to say this, but I think we (at least I) forget this too often.

So to round-up Nespresso v. Saeco:





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