This is the web version of Business x Design, a newsletter on the power of design. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
This space is usually reserved for discussion on how businesses use design. But this time Fortune has some design news of its own.
This week we will launch a new website, mobile app, and video hub. We’ll also debut a bold redesign of Fortune’s print magazine, starting with the February issue.
The new website is the culmination of months of effort by Fortune’s digital team. We think you’ll find it quicker, cleaner, and easier to read and navigate.
The app, available for iOS and Android, will offer real-time feeds of Fortune articles, analysis, and videos—from print and digital alike—in a far more dynamic format than the magazine-only app that we’ve offered to date.
The video hub will bring you hundreds of hours of footage, including exclusive interviews with business leaders as well as access to thought-provoking sessions from our extensive conference portfolio (including, it must be said, Fortune Brainstorm Design).
As for the magazine, we’ll feature more stories in each issue and sport a completely new look, all published on premium paper stock.
In this newsletter, we often discuss user experience. Fortune’s aim with these changes is to deliver a dramatic improvement across the board. What won’t change: Our commitment to thorough reporting, sharp writing, thoughtful commentary, and exclusive access to the world’s leading executives, investors, and experts.
We hope you’ll like the new Fortune. But we also know good design combines smart prototyping with empathetic responses to user feedback. So send us yours. What do you like? What do you hate? What else can we do to make Fortune more valuable to you?
Before I go: In last week’s newsletter, I misstated the dates for our Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore. The correct dates are March 25 and 26. Check out the updated speaker list and register here.
More design news below.
VISION, EMPATHY, SCALE
This edition of Business x Design was curated by Margaret Rhodes.
"Sleep Economy." Casper, the mattress startup synonymous with the VC-fueled bed-in-a-box phenomenon, has filed paperwork to go public. The company leads its pitch by declaring itself a “pioneer of the Sleep Economy,” and teases new wares, from tracking devices to sleep supplements to “products that promote the ideal ambience for sleep.” It’s a grandiose claim for a company that sells mattresses and pillows. Of course, Casper didn’t invent this kind of rhetoric. WeWork tried very hard to sell itself as a tech company, rather than a coworking space; Away positions itself as a travel brand, not just a line of suitcases. The question now is whether investors will keep buying it. [New York]
Seeing in 3-D. A new development in machine learning enables neural networks to better detect three-dimensional shapes. Previously, this was a weak point in computer vision: Machine-learning models that could understand two-dimensional patterns would fumble over irregular geometries. Given that the physical world is made of irregular and asymmetrical geometries, this new algorithm—rooted in physics, and coming out of the University of Amsterdam and Qualcomm AI Research—signals promise for many real-world applications of AI, from autonomous vehicles to drones to geographic climate data simulations. [Quanta]
Best in show. This week, the design industry received notable recognition from the science and tech community: The Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education will go to David Kelley, founder of design consultancy IDEO and Stanford University’s d.school. Kelley coined the phrase “design thinking,” or the idea that design goes beyond the physical, and that it has the power to change both business and daily life. And then he showed the world how to practice it. As he told Fast Company, back in 2009: “I really do believe I was put on the planet to help people have creative confidence.” [National Academy of Engineering]
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
High-Tech Fitness Offerings Are the Newest Luxury Hotel Must-Have by Chadner Navarro
Forget Policymakers. Greta Thunberg and Her Allies are Targeting CEOs Now by Christiaan Hetzner
Every Company is a Digital Company by Alan Murray and Katherine Dunn
When it Comes to Streaming Media, Quibi Made the Most of CES by Chris Morris
‘They Must Scale Up:’ Greenpeace Ranks China’s Tech Giants on Renewable Energy by Naomi Xu Elegant
Netflix, once an unlikely contender at awards shows, just swept up 24 Oscar nominations—more than any other studio. That Netflix should have a strong presence during awards season is no surprise; the streaming platform has invested heavily in original movies, attracting high-profile directors like Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach.
Netflix also has a unique ability to promote those directors. Any studio can do this; marketing departments have always given select movies a push. But Netflix doesn’t just pay for billboards—its recommendation model means that its platform is both the ad campaign and the movie theater. And now that Netflix is gaining critical mass, that design influences not only what gets made, but who sees it. In a recent roundtable hosted by The Hollywood Reporter, Lulu Wang, the up-and-coming director behind The Farewell, describes the implications of the recommendation model from the point of a creator:
“One thing we sometimes don’t talk about with these bigger streaming platforms is that it’s a different business model. They’re building their brand, and when you are an established filmmaker, you are a brand that they want to partner with to help build their own brand. But with newer filmmakers, newer voices, you don’t have a brand.”
And then there’s the user experience. In an AIGA Eye on Design article aptly titled, “Netflix’s UX Design is Keeping Us Up at Night,” journalist Madeleine Morley unpacks the various design mechanisms Netflix uses to keep you locked into watching whatever it plays next. Besides playing host to a ton of content, the site skips opening credits, quickly gliding from one episode to the next, and from one show to another algorithmically recommended movie. As Morley puts it:
“In this new era of television...technology has given way to an artful new way of storytelling, but also the inability to look away from it. Automatic play has stripped away the moment of cognitive pause that we all need to make a reasonable decision. Now, nothing breaks us from total immersion.”
If you consider both points—that Netflix is putting its weight behind certain shows, and then leveraging design and basic psychology to make it harder to stop watching said shows—it casts a different light on the current boom in content. We think we can watch whatever we want, but there's still a studio—and now an algorithm—playing into those choices.