The Hub Cool News

The Worm Returns

nasa-wormAn outdated 1976 NASA standards manual is defying gravity, reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (9/1/15). “It is a wonderful example of modernist design thinking that was prevalent in the ’70s and ’60s,” says Hamish Smyth of Pentagram, who is engineering the manual’s re-publication via a Kickstarter campaign. “To me, it’s pretty perfect.” The manual was published after NASA replaced its classic “meatball” (image) with the so-called “worm” logo (image) in 1975. The manual “prescribed how the space agency should deploy the logo.”

The “worm” resulted from a National Endowment for the Arts program “to encourage federal agencies to clean up and update their appearances and communications.” NASA issued a request for proposals and Danne & Blackburn, a small, young design firm got the job. “Even though the money in it was minuscule, we had to go for it,” says Richard Danne. He and design partner Bruce Blackburn worked from NASA acronym, rendering the two As without crossbars, “suggestive of a rocket nose cone or engine nozzle.”

James C. Fletcher, NASA’s administrator at the time, wasn’t sure about the lack of crossbars. “I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth,” he said. He relented but many at NASA and elsewhere never warmed to the worm and in the early ’90s, the meatball returned. “The meatball was something that was contrived by jet pilots and it went all the way back to Buck Rogers in terms of its sophistication,” says Bruce. “It didn’t look like a modern space agency.” Ironically, it made its return to help excite NASA employees about the future.

Alphabet Soup

first-google-logoThe very first Google logo was a scan of the back of Larry Page’s hand, according to Wikipedia. At the time, the company was known as BackRub, and Sergey Brin was the graphic artist. Sergey also created Google’s first two logos, “using the free graphics program GIMP,” in 1998. At the time it included an exclamation point (image), aping Yahoo! Ruth Kedar, a graphic designer, brought a professional touch to the logo in 1999, and it hadn’t changed much since then — until this past Tuesday when the search giant unveiled its first major overhaul in 16 years.

Ruth’s design “was based on the Catull typeface, an old-style serif.” She recalls: “We ended up with the primary colors, but instead of having the pattern go in order, we put a secondary color on the L, which brought back the idea that Google doesn’t follow the rules.” The new logo (image) continues to feature the brand’s famous colors, albeit tweaked. The big change is going sans serif, rendered in a Google-designed typeface called Product Sans. Reviews have been mixed, to say the least, but of course Google says it has its reasons for the change.

The official rationale is functionality. Google says the old logo was fine for use on desktops but the new one is designed to work well on any kind of device or platform, no matter how tiny, and represents the “Google of the future.”(link). Others note the timing of the new logo, following the announcement of Alphabet, Google’s new parent company. Allen Adamson of Landor sees a logical link within. “They’ve almost taken a step toward Sesame Street with this change,” he told Bloomberg News, adding that the new logo “feels less corporate and far more friendly,” which makes it feel “easier to use.”

Superiority Burger

superiority-burgerAt Superiority Burger, the specials can come and go at any moment, reports Pete Wells in The New York Times (9/2/15). “We’ve come up with a lot of our specials during little lulls in services,” chef and owner Brooks Headley told Lucky Peach. “Everybody runs down to the basement and picks up a project.” This on-the-fly approach “is what elevates Superiority Burger above what it appears to be at first glance, a Shake Shack for vegetarians.”

The Superiority Burger is made of “beans, nuts and grains,” and it is always on the menu. So is the Sloppy Dave, “a sesame-seed roll filled with tofu in a spicy tomato sauce, with fried onions on top.” Other creations, like a meatless and cheese-free Philly Cheesesteak, in which the steak is replaced by yuba and the cheese by a cashew spread, are fleeting. “The aesthetics of Superiority Burger are half-White Castle, half punk. The menu board and signs borrow the stencils and ransom-note lettering from rock’s safety-pin era.”

Brooks is himself “a hard-core-band drummer” who runs the restaurant ensemble-style. “He’ll tell anybody who asks that the cucumber salad isn’t his, but the work of a sous-chef, Julia Goldberg, and his menu is loaded with shout-outs to other chefs and restaurants.” If you become a regular, expect to be recognized as an old friend. The woman running the cashier keeps a “stack of Post-it notes with the names of repeat customers.” “I’m trying to learn them all,” she says.

The Food Sermon

food-sermonA former theology student is finding his salvation in the restaurant business, reports Ligaya Mishan in The New York Times (9/2/15). Rawlston Williams opened The Food Sermon, in Brooklyn, last February. The eatery, “standing on a corner with its windows shining and its name in letters as yellow as the noon sun, may be mistaken for a sleeker, more modern place of worship.” You might believe it to be so “if you consider food a matter urgent for the soul.” Even its hours keep the faith, closing sundown Friday through Sunday afternoons.

Rawlston grew up in the Caribbean, as a Seventh-Day Adventist vegetarian, and learned to cook as a child. He has since expanded his repertoire to include ox tail and goat. After arriving in the US, he wanted to follow his culinary calling but lacked tuition money. “I used to park my car outside the French Culinary Institute and watch the students come out in their whites,” he says. So, he bought himself “cookbooks and listened to interviews with chefs on NPR. Eventually he received a partial scholarship, which was hard not to see as an answered prayer.”

Ralston “never intended the Food Sermon to be a restaurant, just a catering kitchen … Then the neighbors came crowding in. He scrounged up a few stools and brought in a chest of drawers, which he stacked with cookbooks … Old electric meter boards separate the kitchen from the dining area with exhortation, ‘We believe in you!’ painted across them.” And, of course, his customers “show their faith in his cooking.” “As soon as you open a place in a community, it’s not yours anymore,” says Ralston. “It’s theirs.”

Mass Craft

old-blowhardThe big distillers believe they can be just as “crafty” as the little guys, reports Saabira Chaudhuri in The Wall Street Journal (8/29/15). Pressure to respond to the rise of craft-spirits distilleries is evident in that their numbers “have mushroomed in the US to 588 from 51 over the past decade.” The American Distilling Institute also projects that “craft-spirits makers’ share of the US spirits market could rise to as much as eight percent by 2020 from the current one percent.”

“The brand equity of the word ‘craft’ is spectacular,” says Tom Mooney of the American Craft Spirits Association. “It implies more care, greater quality, that you’re supporting something from within your community.” Bill Owens of American Distilling Institute says that this is “a story that the big boys can’t tell.” Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes disagrees. “Craft is just a label,” he says. “The real question is, how do you engage with consumers around authenticity, craftsmanship and stories that resonate?” There’s also a technical definition of craft production as “less than 100,000 proof gallons.”

Diageo is addressing all of the above with Barterhouse Whiskey, “which it describes as having notes of roasted grain and charred oak with a brown-sugar finish,” and Old Blowhard Whiskey, which is “hand bottled.” Larry Schwartz of Diageo says the goal is to become the largest craft-distillery in North America. Colin Spoelman of Kings County, a craft distillery, says the big guys have an advantage in their “inventories of well-aged whiskeys. It’ll be interesting to see in five or 10 years where things stand,” he says.

Corsair Distillery

corsairQuinoa whiskey and “unabashed youthfulness” are separating Corsair Distillery from the pack, reports Adam Brown in Forbes (9/7/15). “Our ethos is, ‘If it’s been done before, we don’t want to do it’,” says Darek Bell, the distillery’s co-founder, along with Andrew Webber. The pair has “made peculiarity the defining characteristic of Corsair’s spirits.” Among their biggest hits is “Triple Smoke (made with Scottish peat and American cherry and German beech woods”). They also make “a barrel-aged gin,” and in a departure from convention have appointed “a woman as their head distiller.” Unlike traditional distillers, which make a virtue of “products with a sense of advanced age,” its products are “always a year old or less.”

“If you want an aged whiskey, I’ll tell you my favorite,” says Darek. Releasing young whiskey may not optimize its strength, but it “enables Corsair to release a lot of whiskeys quickly.” Other than Triple Smoke “it has debuted such unusual recipes as Oatrage (which tastes like a mouthful of Honey Nut Cheerios).” Its quinoa whiskey is “nutty with a peppery finish.” Corsair also produces a beer, Hopmonster, which is “reminiscent of Belgian Tripels and American IPAs … a well-received red absinthe (ruby-hued and floral-tasting after adding red hibiscus) and a gin made with classic botanicals such as juniper and coriander suspended in a basket above the still rather than directly steeping them.”

“We don’t have a board,” says Darek. “We don’t have outside investors. There’s no power struggle. If we want to make a crazy whiskey, we can just do it.” In yet another departure, the Corsair label features a photo of “three black suited dudes,” as opposed to the usual old-timey artwork and reference to an “ancient family recipe.” All of this is working for Corsair, which was founded seven years ago and today sells its spirits “in 39 states and seven countries for about $50 a bottle.” This translates into about “14,000 cases a year, up , from, well, nothing a few years ago.” The duo’s next big more is to grow its own grain on 300 acres of Tennessee farmland, where it “has already built a malting facility.”

Ice Cream Social

ben-jerryFifteen years after its Unilever acquisition, Ben & Jerry’s is “as mission-driven as ever,” reports David Gelles in The New York Times (8/24/15). When Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s, its fans worried that the mission “to make the world’s best ice cream, to run a financially successful company and to ‘make the world a better place'” would take a licking. The company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, were worried about this, too, but felt they had “a fiduciary duty to shareholders” to sell to Unilever for $326 million. Unilever wasted little time laying off factory workers and firing sales representatives — anathema to a culture that was against firing people.

Furthering the culture shock, Unilever also “reportedly prevented employees from emblazoning the Ben & Jerry’s logo on a bus driving them to a protest.” Today, Rob Michalak, the brand’s director of social mission, believes Ben & Jerry’s is having more impact now than ever before because of its increased size, and is influencing Unilever toward more progressive values. The key to this ostensibly unlikely outcome is partly because Unilever “chose to operate Ben & Jerry’s with more autonomy than any of its other subsidiaries.” It also “established an ‘external board’ charged with overseeing Ben & Jerry’s culture and social mission,” per the acquisition agreement.

This external board “does not report to any authority other than itself, nominates its own members, has the right to sue Unilever and will exist in perpetuity.” Rob has “worked with the external board to redouble commitments to local farmers” as well as “ambitious goals for reducing energy consumption and waste.” Unilever, meanwhile, has considered following Ben & Jerry’s certification as a B Corporation, awarded to “companies that uphold high social and environmental standards,” but determined “that it’s unfeasible right now.” Nonetheless, Kevin Havelock, Unilever’s president of refreshment, says the company is “doing more now on the social mission” than ever before.

Social Street

via-fondazzoA simple flier turned a big-city street in Italy into a small-town community, reports Gaia Pianigiani in The New York Times (8/24/15). It all started when Laurell Boyers moved to Bologna three years ago. She was from South Africa and didn’t know anyone except her husband, Federico Bastiani. So, Frederico “posted a flier along his street, Via Fondazza, explaining that he had created a closed group on Facebook just for the people who lived there.” Signups happened quickly, and two years later, the group has 1,100 members and “walking along Via Fondazza does not feel like strolling in a big-city neighborhood anymore.”

“We greet each other, we speak, we ask about our lives, we feel we belong here now,” says Francesca D’Alonzo, one of the neighbors. Beyond the conversations, “residents of Via Fondazza help one another fix broken appliances, run chores or recharge car batteries. They exchange train tickets and organize parties.” A Facebook post by Caterina Salvadori about a clogged sink immediately brought three offers of help, stunning her. “Can you imagine, in a big city?” she says. “It’s not about the sink, it’s the feeling of protection and support that is so hard to find in cities nowadays.”

“The principle is that we do anything we can do together, and not what divides us,” says Luigi Nardacchione. “That kills loneliness and fear.” Luigi responded to a young neighbor’s proposal to start a neighborhood watch out of “concern for her safety” by offering to meet her if she was walking home late at night. “I am retired, I have time, why shouldn’t I help?” he says. Piero Formica of the Innovation Value Institute thinks social streets are an “exportable phenomenon.” Indeed, the idea has proved so powerful that “it has caught on beyond Bologna … There are 393 social streets in Europe, Brazil and New Zealand.”

Fargo Values

wells-fargo When Henry Wells and William Fargo established Wells Fargo in 1852, omnichannel meant the efficient delivery of messages and financial services by ship, horseback, railroad and stagecoach. It wasn’t long before the telegraph enabled electronic transactions, later followed by radio, the telephone and, of course, the World Wide Web. Yet while the technology that animates the Wells Fargo brand experience has changed dramatically over the past 160 years or more, the essence of that experience has remained remarkably unchanged. Then, as now, the mission is to help customers — whenever, wherever and however needed. To this day, the Wells Fargo culture is grounded in the philosophy that providing financial services is more about building relationships than enabling transactions.

In other words, omnichannel is not about the channels, or the means through which Wells Fargo communicates or delivers services to its customers; it is about the many interactions that color its customers’ daily lives. As Chief Marketing Officer Jamie Moldafsky explains: “We think of the brand experience as the totality of how people feel about our brand and engage with it … There is that very practical, rational level of just getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible, but connecting with the brand emotionally goes to a different place. It means we’re committed to the relationship and are always there to help our customers.” That might sound kind of warm-and-fuzzy, especially for a bank. Then again, money certainly packs an emotional punch, and a focus on how customers feel arguably is more important than anything else.

This presents challenges not only for Wells Fargo, but also every brand striving to balance the efficiencies of technology with the vagaries of humanity. The bottom line is that Wells Fargo today is the most valuable bank on earth, with a market capitalization of $300 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported that this is “thanks largely to its relatively simple business, which doesn’t rely on many complex derivatives or risky trades using borrowed money.” It simply accepts deposits and lends that money, not unlike the way Henry Wells and William Fargo (also founders of American Express) did it back in the day. This speaks to the values that guide the Wells Fargo brand experience every bit as much as the way its associates treat customers at local branches across America. “It’s not just about providing the right solutions,” says Jamie. “It’s understanding who our customers are and why we have the right solution.” Read The Hub Interview with Jamie Moldafsky

Rushmore Retailers

rushmore-retailersOur latest Hub reader survey was inspired by a The New York Times article about Mickey Drexler, famous for his success with both the Gap and then J. Crew, where he is currently the CEO. Both retailers are now struggling, and the article pegged J. Crew’s issues on Mr. Drexler himself, terming it a ‘great man’ problem. At issue was the belief that only Mr. Drexler — and Mr. Drexler alone — could run the company. This is not unlike what many used to say about Steve Jobs and Apple, until Tim Cook proved otherwise.

The Times reference is to the classic ‘great man theory of history,’ which holds that ‘great men’ shape events, rather than the other way around. Examples range from George Washington to Nelson Mandela to … Mother Theresa. While it is too much to compare retailers to such lofty historical figures, we thought it would be interesting to look into which retailers might rise to meet even a relatively modest pedestal.

We put forth a total of 24 names of retailers who had achieved some measure of success — and in some cases failure, as well. All but one (Angela Ahrendts) were men. Respondents were asked to rate each as either ‘great,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair,’ or ‘poor.’ We also invited participants to provide an explanation for their choices, as well as pick the one retailer they thought was the greatest of all time. Seeking a metaphor to help bring the concept to life, we went with a certain sculpture in the Black Hills of South Dakota: Mount Rushmore. The essential question was: If there were a Mount Rushmore of retailers, who should be on it? Continue Reading

Sloth

bob-o-pedicSloth may be a deadly sin, but it is also a key to innovation, reports Susan Hodara in The New York Times (8/23/15). An art exhibit on sloth as a sin is one of seven at different art museums, with the others looking into lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy and pride. “I thought it was a funny sin,” says Richard Klein of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “What kind of sin is sloth?” The answer, in part, takes the form of “six plush Bob-O-Pedic recliners” in which visitors “can stretch their legs out, lean their heads back and armchair travel to the other museums by watching videos documenting each show.”

Evagrius Ponticus, “a fourth century theologian” was the first “to codify the seven deadly sins in writing.” He defined “sloth” as “acedia,” or “lack of care.” “In his view, apathy is at the heart of sloth,” says Sina Najafi of Cabinet magazine, co-curator of the show along with Mats Bigert, also of Cabinet. According to Sina, Evagrius defined sloth on “two types of monks” — one who “shirked prayer and studies” and the other who was “hyperactive” and “flitted back and forth between activities.” “Sloth,” says Sina, “is not just lying around doing nothing. It’s also always checking your cell phone and running from one thing to another.”

So, the idea to make it easy for visitors to get video highlights of the other six shows from a recliner made perfect sense. “Who’s going to have the time, energy or attention to go to seven shows?” says Sina, who calls the show an “interpassive” experience. “It contradicts this era’s focus on interactivity,” he says. “We want viewers to be perfectly poised between two modes of looking.” The show also features a tabloid-sized newspaper “filled with sloth-related quotes,” including this one from Agatha Christie, who wrote: “I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.”

Sarcasm

sheldonSarcasm may be a leading indicator of a creative mind, reports Elizabeth Bernstein in The Wall Street Journal (8/25/15). This insight is based on “a series of studies” suggesting that “people who are able to understand sarcasm are … better able to solve problems.” One of the studies “asked participants to simulate a conversation and either express something sarcastic or sincere, receive a sarcastic or sincere reply, or have a neutral exchange.” They were then given “a cognitive task” where “they were given a box of tacks, a book of matches and a candle.” The problem is to install the candle on the wall so it doesn’t drip wax on the wall or floor.

The solution “is to dump the tacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall and put the candle in it.” Those involved in the sarcastic exchanges “solved the task more often than those in the sincere or neutral groups.” Other researchers have identified sarcasm as a sign of intelligence because it requires “discerning meaning beneath the surface … a hallmark of intelligence … It is a form of irony in which apparent praise conceals another, derisive meaning. The word comes from the Greek and Latin for ‘to tear flesh’.” Exactly how it cuts tends to be a function of the relationship between those involved in the exchange.

Sarcasm is best used among friends.”You can only say the opposite of what you really mean if you know the person is going to understand you,” says Roger Kreuz of the University of Memphis. In that context, says Roger, “you are saying, ‘I trust you. I am bringing you into the club’.” Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School says he uses sarcasm as a humorous, affectionate way to defuse potential disagreements with his girlfriend, which she says she appreciates. However, sarcasm tends to backfire when used with strangers, particularly those from other cultures. A 2008 study found that while Upstate New Yorkers see humor as the essence of sarcasm, those in Tennessee hear only negativity.

Turtles vs. Ducks

marylandUnder Armour and University of Maryland are emulating Nike and University of Oregon, reports Marc Tracy in The New York Times (8/26/15). Just as Nike founder and Oregon alum Phil Knight “donated hundreds of millions of dollars” to his alma mater, Under Armour founder and Maryland alum Kevin Plank is bankrolling his former school. In Nike’s case, the largesse helped “propel the Ducks from relative obscurity to the upper echelon of college sports.” Under Armour hopes to do the same for Maryland’s Terrapins. The brand and the school last year “signed a 10-year contract extension … that will pay the university nearly $33 million in cash and gear.” Under Armour has now written an additional $25 million check for an extensive building renovation.

Under Armour’s money will help transform the university’s “historic Cole Field House,” a basketball arena, into “a glassy, sunlit home of medical facilities and classrooms, as well as an athletic conditioning center, a locker room and three football fields — two outdoors and one inside.” Called the Terrapin Performance Center, the $105 million facility echoes “Oregon’s $95 million Football Performance Center” that came “courtesy of a gift from Phil and Penny Knight.” Adam Peake, Under Armour’s evp of global marketing, notes that the brand and its business “has really grown up in Maryland, and with the university around the corner,” adding: “We’ve helped each other grow.”

Indeed, the Under Armour story began at the university, where Kevin played football and got the idea for “sweatproofed exercise clothes” because he hated the way sweat-soaked cotton Ts felt under his uniform. In that spirit, the new facility is also “expected to house a new headquarters for the campus’s Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which encourages students to develop products and start their own businesses.” The initiative is not without controversy, however. Three former students wrote an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun complaining that the $50 million contributed to the project by the State of Maryland “should instead be spent on academic buildings and need-based financial aid.”

Big Little Brands

kensingtonsBig food-brands have “lost market share in 42 to 54 categories … over the last five years,” reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (8/24/15). They are losing ground to the long tail of small-batch brands started by entrepreneurs “against the backdrop of a growing food obsession and concerns that time-honored food brands can be high in sugar, salt and fat.” The upstarts are also gaining steam because “sales are no longer tied to grocery stores” and can instead be had on Amazon, backed by social media and “slicker websites and more clever brand identities than their much bigger competitors.” Investors are eager “to finance new food businesses,” too.

“This is a phenomenal time to be a food entrepreneur,” says Ryan Caldbeck of CircleUp, a so-called “accelerator” that raises “early-stage financing” and provides “management and and administrative consulting to small food businesses.” However, some investors, such as Republic of Tea founder Will Rosenzweig, cautions that “too many small companies are spending too much time raising money and not enough time improving their businesses.” To address this, he founded the Food Business School at the Culinary Institute of America. “There is a deep, rigorous and usually unappreciated need in the food business to determine whether something is a hobby or really a business.”

Neal McTighe, founder of Nello’s Sauce, “a line of pasta sauces,” is among those bridging that divide. He started by making “a red sauce similar to the one his Italian great-grandmother had made” and “sold $750 worth online the first month.” That was four years ago, and today Nello’s is sold “in some 350 stores.” Neal says smallness is his edge against big companies that might produce a million jars. His run is more like 20,000 jars, which he says “consumers will be excited about because it’s something special.” Scott Norton, co-founder of Sir Kensington, a condiments brand, says limited retail distribution is also key. “We decided it was better to be No. 1 in some stores than No. 10 in 100 stores,” he says.

Zoo Zajac

slothThe world’s largest pet store actually sells relatively few pets, reports Ben Crair in Bloomberg Business (8/19/15). Zoo Zajac “fills a 130,000-square-foot warehouse” in Duisburg, Germany. “It houses about 250,000 individual animals of 3,000 different species.” Its offerings include “armadillos, meerkats, coatis, and monkeys,” as well as “50 species of tarantula.” Its reptile department is one of the best “in Western Europe — better, even, than many zoos.” On a typical Saturday, the store attracts some 12,000 visitors, but many of them buy nothing and those who do “purchase only the tens of thousands of pet-care products that line the shelves.”

The reality of the pet-store business today is that it makes money on everything but the pets themselves. Norbert Zajac, founder of Zoo Zajac, says he would lose upwards of 250,000 euros a year if he sold only animals. This is evident in big-box chains like Petco and PetSmart, which center on selling pet accessories, not pets. To compete, Zoo Zajac takes the opposite approach, surviving “not through specialization, but through spectacle — by building a pet shop so large that it has gravitational pull.” In another twist, Zoo Zajac is mostly about animals other than dogs and cats. This is because of a tax on dogs in Germany, and that most Germans live in apartments.

So, Germans have tended to adopt “small mammals — everything from chinchillas to ferrets to rabbits” as well as “reptiles and fish.” This is changing, though, and Zoo Zajac actually stirred controversy in 2012 when it began selling puppies, as many people increasingly frown upon “the sale of the most affectionate species.” At the moment, it “is the only pet store in Germany where you can buy a dog.” Purebred cats are also up for sale. The store does have an online business, but Norbert thinks it’s hard to build loyalty there. “People come here because they want to have an experience,” he says. “Obviously you can’t experience things on the Internet.”

Frontier Spirit

frontierThe new Frontier is taking a “kinder, gentler” approach to airline fees, reports Jack Nicas in The Wall Street Journal (8/25/15). After returning the airline to profitability with an “ultradiscount model” that sold “tickets that include little more than a seat on a plane,” Frontier hopes “to attract a broader set of customers who can spend more than the bare minimum.” The idea is to bundle extras “including two bags, extra legroom and no change fees” and selling them at a discount. Frontier President Barry Biffle says it’s like selling a pizza with “the works.” “If you only sell cheese pizzas, you can’t make as much money as if you sell a lot of toppings,” he says.

This marks quite a departure for Frontier, owned since 2013 by the investment firm of Bill Franke, a former owner and chairman of Spirit Airlines. The new owners earned more than $129 million last year via a plan that “outsourced more than a quarter of its workforce, packed more seats onto planes, removed seat-back TVs, and started charging for carry-on bags, seat reservations and soft drinks.” Even a cup of water cost $3.00. Meanwhile, “nearly one-third of Frontier flights were at least 15 minutes late and almost 1% were cancelled” this past year through June. “One of every 10,000 Frontier customers” lodged complaints with the US Transportation Department.

The airline has also “removed elite-flier perks like complimentary checked bags and free alcohol” because, says Barry, “customers were receiving more than they were paying for.” However, Frontier is simultaneously trying to upgrade its experience “with friendly service, free cups of water and slightly wider, more cushioned seats.” Barry is also a former executive of Spirit Airlines, against which he now competes. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza doesn’t think much of Frontier’s plans to upgrade its offering, saying that such investments in passenger happiness are “a slippery slope.” Frontier is said to be “weighing a public offering for the carrier next year.”

Gershwin Shirt

gershwin-shirtA concert violinist is designing performance wear for musicians, reports Michael Cooper in The New York Times (8/18/15). Kevin Yu got the idea that the formal attire that orchestra players must wear should wick moisture like athletic wear after sweating through a concert in Texas. “We were so uncomfortable, wearing what we were wearing,” says Kevin. “We were sweating through our undershirts, through our tuxedo shirts. My bow tie was completely soaked.” Kevin is also a runner, and it occurred to him that he should be just as comfortable onstage in his tuxedo as he was wearing Under Armour on the road.

He first created a prototype shirt called The Gershwin, featuring “a wing collar and pleats” but “made of flexible, moisture-wicking fabric like that used in athletic shirts … Its raglan sleeves extend to the neck without shoulder seams, like some baseball jerseys, to make it less restrictive for musicians who wield a bow, extend trombone slides or beat kettle drums.” The shirts are machine washable and require no ironing. Kevin formed a company, Coregami, and “sold out his first run of 300 shirts in nine days,” priced at $120 each.

The shirts do lack the weave of a traditional shirt, but “it would probably be difficult to detect the difference onstage, especially if the musician is wearing a jacket.” As word of his shirts has spread, Kevin has received requests for black shirts from orchestra-pit players, breathable gowns from choirs, and shirts without pleats from marching bands. He’s already designing “a new tuxedo shirt with a point collar instead of a wing collar” and plans a black shirt for next year, as well as “a women’s line.” He also plans to reinvent the bow-tie so it stretches and gives, as well.

PoloTech

polotechA $295 Ralph Lauren T-Shirt is designed to be the sportscar of apparel, reports Ray A. Smith in The Wall Street Journal (8/20/15). “This is our Porsche 918, our ultimate shirt that is going to halo Polo Sport,” says David Lauren, evp of global advertising, marketing and corporate communications for Ralph Lauren Corp. The PoloTech shirt, says David, is the first smart shirt from a “major luxury fashion brand,” following those introduced by “big sports brands like Adidas or smaller, niche performance brands.” The PoloTech is “embedded with sensors that read vital signs like breathing and heart rates, stress levels and calories burned.”

The PoloTech is a collaboration “with OMsignal, a Montreal-based maker of wearable-technology products. The compression shirt made its debut last year at the US Open tennis tournament worn by several ball boys and during practice by player Marcos Giron but wasn’t available to the public.” The shirt “will go on sale August 27 at the company’s one-year-old Polo flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren’s website and a Ralph Lauren store at the US Open, which runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.” It features “silver fibers that track a range of vital statistics and stream them” to a free app “via a snap-on module.”

Additional sensors are “knitted into a band across the chest” that “read biological and psychological input.” The app “reacts and sets cardio, strength of agility workouts based on those data,” and adjusts the intensity of the workout accordingly. The shirt is machine washable so long as the tracking module is removed first. David Lauren says the PoloTech shirt is just the first of more garments to come. “We are setting up divisions within Ralph Lauren to focus on developing all kinds of products across all of our brands,” he says. The brand may line-extend into “ties, polo shirts and suits.”

Trustiness

happinessA lack of trust may be at the heart of American unhappiness, reports Jo Craven McGinty in The Wall Street Journal (8/22/15). At issue is that even though American incomes are rising, “the country’s sense of social cohesion has declined.” “If you ask can you trust other people, the American answer has been in a significant decline,” says Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University and co-author of the World Happiness Report, which “ranks 158 countries based on how people answer questions about the quality of their lives.” While the United States ranks first in gross domestic product (GDP) it is “15th in happiness.”

The premise of the World Happiness Report is that “traditional metrics” alone are not adequate measures of “economic well-being.” John Helliwell, also a co-author of the report, says measures of GDP do not “account for pollution, expenditures on police and prisons, military expenditures and household services. Even if you had a very good measure of the economy, it still wouldn’t capture all of life.” The World Happiness Report looked at a total of six metrics: “GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption.” Respondents were asked “to rate their life as a whole on a scale of 0 to 10.”

According to the results, Switzerland is the world’s happiest country, “followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada.” “The countries at the very top are not there because they are the richest,” says John. “To be in the top 10, you have to be pretty good at everything.” The trust issue looms large, notes Julie Rusk, a community leader in Santa Monica, California, because trust is essential to forging the social connections that are critical during times of natural disaster, economic turmoil or personal crisis. “Money may talk, the research suggests. But for the best returns, you need a neighbor to listen.”

Neighborliness

nextdoorThe American concept of “neighbors” is in decline, reports Linda Poon in CityLab (8/19/15). According to a data analysis by economist Joe Cortright, “only about 20 percent of Americans spend time regularly with the people living next to them.” One-third say “they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.” Another study, by Pew Research Center, finds that “nearly a third” of Americans do not know any of their neighbors by name.

“There used to be this necessity to reach out and build bonds with people who lived nearby,” says Marc Dunkelman of Brown University, author of The Vanishing Neighbor. That necessity was largely driven by external threats like the Great Depression and the Cuban Missile Crisis. “There was this sort of cohort effect, in which people … were more inclined in many cases to find security that existed in neighborhoods … They depended on each other much more.” These days, Americans “have limited social capital — time and attention — and more ways to spend it,” particularly via online technologies.

The design of cities and neighborhoods are other contributing factors, with more people migrating from city centers to “sprawling communities, where people are living further from one another,” says Joe. Communities are now gated, and spaces that used to bring people together, “like pools and gyms, have gone private.” Perhaps ironically, “a social networking site called Nextdoor” seeks to address this by connecting neighbors to “discuss community issues, ask for local recommendations, or even organize events.” So far, Nextdoor has created online communities “in more than 70,000 neighborhoods across the country.”