Uniqlo is a Japanese clothing brand. I guess it could be considered similar to the Gap: useful, cheap, ubiquitous.
Over the past few weeks Uniqlo has been asserting a silent presence in the LiFT office in the form of their freely available screen saver. Its mix of strong video clips and minimal branding stylez has been somewhat of an ongoing inspiration. So, when tagging along on on my buddy Ian’s xmas shopping mission the other day I was more than happy to agree to his suggestion that we stop in at the UT shop in Harajuku – one of Tokyo’s busiest shopping centers. I thought there might be a nugget or two of inspiration awaiting me, but I was not at all prepared for what I found.
A digression : I spend a lot of time thinking about technological systems. Whenever I dream about the future of the internet, web 3.0, if you will, I imagine it spilling out from our computer screens into the daily world all around us. For the most part, the internet is currently a place you go to in solitude. Even if you’re in a busy office or cafe, there’s a tunnel between the user and the monitor that occludes all others from sight. I believe this will change, that reality will start modeling itself after the internet, that super markets will guide your consumerism with a “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …” message ala Amazon.com, that there will be a blurring of the lines between on and off line. And this is pretty much what I saw at the UT shop.
All the shelves are marked, not with printed signage, but with LED displays. All the T-shirts are packaged in plastic jars and lined up on shelves – an abstraction of T-shirts, these are T-shirt Units, ready for your immediate consumption. Ian was looking for a specific kind of shirt, so we walked over to an inset touch-screen in a counter top and we used the interactive system to browse through the shirts in the store and then locate the one he decided on. The system indicated an area on the third floor where we found the shirt hanging on a sample rack and marked with a code which referenced the glowing LED displays on the shelves. Moments later the deal was done.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a touch screen information system in a public place : airports, record stores, libraries… many places have such systems available to their users. There were two things that made this one special : one was the excellent design and usability of the interface itself, the other, more importantly, was the 2-way integration between the information space and the physically navigated space. This felt like being in Tron, like being physically inside the database of the online store.