Marchesa says “Yes!” to the Cognitive Dress

Emotion is the future of customer experience – the old saying they won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel is as true today in the world of business as it has been in our personal lives.  So what would it mean to a company to be able to influence and wear the emotions of their customers on their sleeve….literally?

It means designing a product that tugs the emotional heart strings and endears them to your brand.

It means taking them on a journey of discovery, where their hopes and desires are reflected in your design and strategy.

It means nurturing a sense of co-ownership, where they are personally invested in the success of your product or service.

At least that’s what it meant to British design studio Marchesa when they paired up with an expert in reading and analysing human emotions – IBM’s friendly cognitive computer called Watson.

The Met Gala is a lavish fashion event hosted by Vogue in May each year to raise funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City.  It marks the grand opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, which this year was themed “Manus x Machina:  Fashion in an Age of Technology“.  So it was fitting that Marchesa and IBM would team up to test the theory that cognitive computing and artificial intelligence could be used to support the creative process of designing the perfect dress for the red carpet event.

It all started with a simple question common to many businesses today:  How do we want to make our audience feel?

It’s widely known that colour and images can indicate moods and send messages to an audience.  With that in mind, Marchesa selected five key human emotions that they wanted the dress to convey – joy, passion, excitement, encouragement and curiosity.  Watson was fed hundreds of images associated with the Marchesa dresses in order to understand and learn the brand’s colour palette, and with the ability to understand the psychological effects of colour, the interrelationships between emotions, and image aesthetics, Watson was able to suggest colour palettes that were in line with Marchesa’s brand and the identified emotions.

It’s important to note that Watson wasn’t there to dictate what Marchesa should do, but to serve up a range of colour palettes that the designers should choose from and the evidence supporting the recommendations.  This is a key consideration for the role of cognitive computing in any business.

The next step was to identify the best materials in which to design the dress based on a variety of criteria important to Marchesa such as weight, luminosity, and flexibility.  To do this, Watson tapped into the Inno360 platform to search and analyse more than 40,000 sources for fabric information, recommending 35 unique printed and woven textiles from which Marchesa selected the final fabric that remained true to their brand.

In designing the stunning white tulle gown, Marchesa and IBM wanted to find a way to engage the audience and make them part of the journey.  Over 150 LED-connected flowers were incorporated into the design to allow the dress to change colour in real-time as the public conversations around the Met Gala unfolded online – the dress was designed to literally wear the emotions of the audience.

Watson captured tweets tagged #MetGala and #CognitiveDress and analysed the emotion and sentiment of the tweets in real time, changing the hue of the dress as the conversation changed tone. Joyful tweets turned the dress Rose;  passion led to a beautiful shade of Coral; increasing levels of excitement turned the dress Aqua; curiosity to Lavender; and tweets of encouragement turned the dress a delightful shade of Butter.

As Karoline Kurkova emerged from her limousine and glided down the red carpet, I can only imagine when they asked “Who are you wearing?“, she replied with “Marchesa, IBM Watson, and a world of emotions!

The Marchesa and IBM story gives but a glimpse of how humans and machines can work together to create something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  It’s not about telling designers what they should be doing, but rather tapping into the vast amount of information we have available to us today and expanding the spectrum of what they might consider.  The Marchesa dress was not designed by Watson, but with Watson’s help.

The future of artificial intelligence in the world of business is a cognitive system that reasons and learns much like a human, capable of turning the world’s vast oceans of data into usable, actionable information.  And it’s not just limited to Retail.  Locally, ANZ Global Wealth, Deakin University and Woodside are already using Watson to provide a better service to customers, students and employees alike.

Cognitive Business represents the next frontier in which we can scale our ability to think, solve and serve.  What will it mean for your business?


Photo credit:  Larry Busacca/Getty Images