An Evening With Dr. David Parisi – Virtual Hands & Digital Brands

Packaging Meets Touch Technologies

A Cog’s-eye-view of Dr. Parisi’s talk:

  • Online products can’t offer the packaging decoration that enhances a brand’s shelf presence.

  • Touch strengthens the consumer’s bond with brands and products.

  • Including haptics in packaging design should be part of a holistic approach, which includes structure, graphics, tactile effects, and augmented reality to produce a best-in-class effect.

Dr. David Parisi is Professor of Emerging Media at The College of Charleston.  He’s very much a man of the “now,” but with his long, red-gold hair and arcane mustache, he could easily have been a figure from “The Lord of the Rings,” perhaps on Elrond’s Council offering peeks into the future to mortals. We Cogs saw him speak at BXP Live!  last year and knew immediately others should hear what he had to say.

We invited Dr. Parisi to address a gathering at the Cincinnati Club on April 11—and what do you know, the digital touch guru turned out to be an altogether pleasant, normal, fully-corporeal being. Nearly one hundred attended his presentation, “Virtual Hands and Digital Brands,” its content tailored especially for players in the consumer packaging design-to-print supply chain.

Dr. Parisi’s specialty is haptics, a study like optics or acoustics, only it regards the sense of touch. In his book “The Archaeologies of Touch,” he contends that, more than the other four senses, touching is truth, at an irreducible and instinctual level. Consider marketing and the vital part touch plays in the First Moment of Truth, a customer’s initial encounter with a brand. That’s the moment every consumer packaging person wants to hear the customer say, “It just feels good.” When the product looks appealing and feels good, the customer feels good, and the bottom line looks good. Take away that sense of touch, say by shifting an increasing percentage of sales to the digital shelf, and a brand risks losing literal touch with its customer. It becomes more abstract, less real.

Cue the ominous music and fog machine. Physically bound books have become a rarity. CDs and DVDs will soon be only memories. As malls close and supermarket home-delivery becomes widespread, away goes the sampling of fabric, the testing of fruit, and for those who remember Mr. Whipple, the “squeezing of Charmin.”

1. Take a Shock and Feel Pleasant. Dr. Parisi began his talk about the future with a discussion of the past. Forward-thinkers from yesteryear tried all kinds of crazy touch-related things, like the exploration of  “medical electricity.” They noted non-lethal amounts of current running through a person produced such a profound feeling, it was sure to have benefits. Maybe it could cure vision problems, restore hair, remove wrinkles or cure tonsillitis. Thinking like this gave rise to such products as “The New Style Electric Rectal Probe,” and a sinister reputation to medical electricity. It all ended up complete quackery, but still, such attempts underscored the importance of touch. 

2. The Power of Touch.Parisi points to the smart phone as an example. Users experience the product physically, its contours, textures, and weight develop a relationship between hand and brand. Paradoxically, while average users tap their devices 2,200 times a day, they can’t touch what they are viewing. The opening of a package to reveal the hitherto unseen product has a quasi-magical aura about it. YouTube tries to recreate the sensation when it “unboxes” a video, often with commentaries on the quality of the packaging materials and the emotional experience the haptic act of removing the object creates. It wasn’t until fifteen years ago that the role of touch to consumers received the academic attention it deserved when Sensory Marketing became a field of study.

3. The Age of Dematerialization. With so many physical products being replaced with digital alternatives, our culture is experiencing an absence of touch. As a specialist in emerging media, Dr. Parisi notes the loss of tangible media, such as discs, and the rise of music, books, games, videos, art, and other things that live in the digisphere without a physical presence in the lives of users. The CD and DVD libraries, bookcases of literature, and shelves of games that once took up real space and proclaimed, “I am real,” are dwindling. Many now praise the infinite potential of digital ware but mourn the loss of their tangible possessions. Where’s the balance?

4. The age of re-materialization: making bits feel like atoms. New forms of haptics technology could, if supported by the marketplace, re-materialize things eluding our touch. It seems people want that. Even though Best Buy is no longer selling CDs, the sales of vinyl records were the highest they’ve been since 1989. Even the misbegotten cassette is enjoying resurgence. Ironically, the technology that removed us from touch is the same to bring it back. Vibrations from smartphones, game controllers and motion trackers are already supplying tactile feedback from the screens we watch. Not long ago, Robyn Schwartz, a retail industry expert at IBM, proposed that advances in haptic tech will allow us to feel textures by sliding a finger across the flat glass of oursmartphones. Micro-scale actuators within the glass will stimulate the network of receptors in ourfingertips with such precision as to fool our minds into believing we’ve touched leather, hard or soft plastic, steel or even human flesh (uh oh, scandal’s a-brewin’!)

5. The Recent Past: Rediscovering Touch. Here Parisi presents examples of how marketing campaigns for digital tech are focusing on tactile materiality. Aided by a slide show, he first discussed Nintendo’s 2005 “Touching is Good” campaign, ads showcasing thetouchscreen of their new game console. More than touch, they were selling the interaction with and manipulation of virtual worlds. In 2007, Apple’s “Touching is Believing” campaign presented their first-generation iPhone that dared to eschew keys for a glass touch screen. HP followed with “Love at First Touch,” a promise that users would swoon at the first swipe of their new tablets. Funny how, just a few years later, these heresies have become doctrine.

6. Touched by the Machine.  Also in 2007, the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network (AEBN), basically what the online porn industry looks like in the light of day, seized on touch as a way to fight piracy. Both giggle-worthy and creepy was the technology developed by an ex-NASA guy to provide tactile sensations along with the videos. That was added value criminal enterprises couldn’t offer. AEBN CEO Scott Coffman explained, “you can pirate the movie but you can’t pirate the experience.” The RealTouch feature provided users sensations of pressure, temperature and lubrication. Ewww!

7. Dad’s Pregnant Too. Ogilvy and Mather Argentina came out with this eyebrow-raiser for Huggies: a way fathers could experience some of what their wives felt while pregnant. By wearing a touch-feedback-enabled belt, men could feel the joy of baby bumping about without the swollen ankles and morning sickness. While not exactly authentic, Huggies’ return-on-investment was a bundle of joy from their customers.

8. The Face of Gillette: Gilad Katt (P&G Israel) with TanvasTouch. An award-winning project from MediaCom Israel employed haptic tech to win customer approval without all the from-the-ground-up costs Huggies incurred developing their preggers belt. Elegantly simple, their campaign for Gillette allowed new fathers to experience, via a high-fidelity haptic touchscreen, the feel of facial skin before and after a shave as their newborn would. While the sensation could hardly replicate the nuances of beard or skin textures, it positioned Gillette as a brand in touch with the lives of its customers.

9. Harnessing the Power of Touch. Parisi then referred to a present-day example from the Immersion Corporation. Their touch-feedback tech is licensed for use in products byApple, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, HTC, and even BMW.These are the folks who let gamers feel the bumps on the road through the controller of a video driving game. Their most recent innovation is “Touch Sense: Ads You Can Feel.” Parisi invited any in the audience with Android phones to watch and feel along with him as he presented a video from Arby’s “We have the meats” campaign. While over 1,100 participants from a study by Immersion thought the haptic feedback enhanced their experience, Parisi found the sensations were not as fun as they were off-putting.

10.Into the Future. He went on to cite three examples of tech that, in his words, “hold the potential to obliterate the distinction between the virtual and the real, by providing detailed simulations of material interactions with virtual objects.” The most exciting of these is the HaptX glove, which recently made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. The glove uses a principle known as microfluidics to simulate the textures of objects on the screen. This is the kind of tech that is promising the return of touching during the buying process. See the fabric. Feel how deliciously satiny it is. Then there’s the Teslasuit, a full-body virtual reality suit that would allow a customer to physically inhabit the space in which a product lives—wind-in-the-hair on a Harley, maybe? The third is less virtual reality and more augmented reality and called, ironically, Ultrahaptics, as it gives the impression of physical weight to an image without the sensation of touch.

He wound up his peek into the future with a technology, already in the works, that could make all this happen. If you’ve heard of 5G internet, you know the exponentially greater bandwidth needed to conduct the massive amounts of digital information haptic technologies will require is on the horizon. Parisi made a point of not over-promising. The development of touch technology has burned its fingertips more than a few times in the past forty years without reaching its goals. Still…still…partnerships between tech developers and brands are actually happening. If there’s money to be made from virtual touch, someone’s going to get their hands on it sooner rather than later.

Reporting from LUXE PACK New York

LuxePack New York City, May 15 and 16, 2019

Attended By Lindsey Frimming & Hanna Morand

We Cogs attended again this year and, man, are we happy we did. The premier show for creative packaging and cutting-edge solutions for all beauty, fragrance, wine & spirits, wellness, and fine food brands did not fail to wow us and the other 3,700 attendees. The show even upgraded its own packaging by moving to the Big Apple’s swanky Javits Center. 

We went in with questions (including some from our customers), and here is a summary of the answers we got:

  • What’s new and exciting with sustainability?

    A real stand-out among the 200 exhibitors was Solutia, an Italian brand who blew us away with their array of eco-savvy materials. They showcased their breakthrough biodegradable Apple Paper made from apple processing waste by-products (holy sustainability!). Billerudkorsnas, a new brand to us, gets a big green thumbs-up for their environmentally responsible foresting. Go Sweden!

  • What are the new and exciting coatings and finishes the industry has to offer?

    Kurz widened more than a few eyes with their Lumafin technology, a translucent stamping foil that adds sharp color and dimension to both opaque and transparent materials. In the premium paperboard category, Iggesund flexed the nearly infinite fold-strength of their boards (as in x 1,500!) 

  • What caught our eyes/or got us excited about the future of packaging?

    We attended a panel discussing the Cannabis/CBD industry and our creative souls got a contact buzz seeing boutique, premium packaging has officially penetrated the market. Golden Arrow pierced our hearts with their stunning 3D structural capabilities, specifically their fully renewable, molded-fiber packaging technology.

To learn more, request the full report at

Love us some LuxePack!

Design Jam Cincinnati – Cog supports local product development

Design Jam Cincinnati Asked for the Impossible and Got it.

A Cog’s-eye-view of Design Jam Cincinnati:

  • Bringing design and manufacturing together in the early stages of a product’s development opens opportunities otherwise unavailable.

  • The right combination of talent can achieve remarkable creative solutions, even in highly compressed periods of time.

  • The Design Jam approach is an effective innovation tool for brand owners, vendors, and creatives. Highly recommended.

Design jams are increasing in popularity around the country, probably because, guided by the right hands, they produce little marketing miracles—and everyone involved earns the right to strut for a while. Typically a jam gathers close to fifty makers, designers, and entrepreneurs along with manufacturing partners in a particular community. The mission is to help them discover the benefits of working together, instead of separately during early product development stages.

If you know Cog, you know we’re energetic cheerleaders for early collaboration leading to feasible design.Make it faster! Make it smart! Work together not apart!  (We totally chant that all the time.)

How Design Jam Cincinnati came to be and ended up including us is an “ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone” kind of thing. Urban Manufacturing Alliance, a national coalition of organizations and individual makers who are committed to building manufacturing economies fit for the 21stcentury, had been hip to design jams for some time. In a discussion with our local maker community led by CoMADE, they identified Cincinnati as fertile ground for an event. Other supporters and funders came on board, including Main Street Ventures, the Minority Business Accelerator, the Haile / US Bank Foundation, and PNC Bank. All were excited to see what would happen when a select group of juicy brains from the manufacturing, service provider, and design communities got in a room together to solve real-world packaging problems under a real short deadline. 

They invited local start-up brands Jumper ThreadsNew Riff Distillery and Ohio Valley Beard Supply to be beneficiaries of the workshop. DesignHouse in Chicago was tapped to facilitate. Matt Anthony, founder of CoMade, approached Cog. “We need a company to offer its design-through-manufacturing know-how, packaging materials, and people to mentor the work groups for a whole evening without a nickel in payment.” The Cogs puffed up indignantly. “We can’t be had so cheaply, Matt.” He countered, “There’ll be free pizza.” That, of course, was a different story.

The evening began with complimentary Donato’s pizza and drinks, and general hub-bubbing. Lee Wellington and Katy Stanton of Urban Manufacturing Alliance took the stage to greet the group and re-affirm their support for local small- and medium-batch manufacturers. Following came Emily Taylor of DesignHouse, to lay out the four stages of the process: Explore, Cluster and Build, Refine, and Present. The jam was on.

Here’s how it came down:

The participants broke into five groups, two working on Ohio Valley Beard Supply and New Riff Distilling, and one on Jumper Threads, all with a representative of the brand and a member from Cog present to offer guidance, not lead. 

During the Explore Stage, the groups were asked to think of packaging problems they had encountered when a product they ordered online was shipped and what might be done to solve them. Everyone had a horror story of crushed or soaked packages, damaged or smelly merchandise, and of being completely nonplussed by the lack of branding. The groups hadn’t even been given their missions, but they were quick to discuss different solutions to their problems by employing smarter construction, alternate materials, etc. We Cogs were delighted with the enthusiasm from, not a few, but from everybody present.

In the Cluster and Build Stage, the representatives from the three manufacturers asked their groups to take what they’d just discussed and consider the particular challenges their brands faced. How could the mix-and-match products of Ohio Valley Beard Supply be shipped one at a time or in sets without wasting materials? Could Jumper Threads deliver a killer brand experience with packaging for designer socks? How could New Riff Distilling present their products onsite in a unique and appealing manner? 

The Refine Stagesaw the ideas take shape. The sponsors and Cog had brought a range of packaging materials, from simple carton board to textured substrates, exotic foils, bubble-wrap and sheet plastics, along with enough glue and tape to attach the Earth to the moon. The innovation here stunned us. With only minutes to come up with packaging ideas, agree on the best, and build a prototype, each group created an ingeniously viable mock-up. 

One working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply put together an elegant, wallet-style package that folded out to present one, two, or all three products. The other group shaped bubble-wrap into a beard, which not only protected the contents but, after opened, could be worn as a novelty beard by the recipient! 

From the New Riff Distilling groups came a protective, cylindrical shipping container with a see-through midriff, and another that formed a carrying case for a bottle with two glasses that employed an actual stave from a whiskey barrel as a handle.

The Jumper Threads group took inspiration from the brand’s parachute logo and suggested a roll-up package of actual parachute silk. Beyond a visually and tactilely pleasant presentation, it could be used as a traveling kit with sleeves for each pair of socks.

The Presentation Stage was the most fun, because the whole room got to see what everyone else had been frantically cutting and taping up. Each group appointed (or possibly coerced) one member to act as its spokesperson. All five rose to the occasion with such brio and clarity, grizzled ad agency vets applauded. 

We have yet to find out if Ohio Valley Beard Supply, Jumper Threads, or New Riff Distilling has implemented any of the ideas, but they were sure ecstatic that night seeing the potential. In fact, everyone in attendance radiated pride and a bit of invincibility from the evening’s achievements. 

 All of us Cogs were thrilled to be a part of it all. We saw in practice our business model of collaboration between design and manufacturing early in the process ending in viable innovation that could make meaningful differences for a company.

 We were so inspired, we’re hard at work even now in the Cog secret underground facility trying to capture the essence of Design Jam Cincinnati 2019 in an aerosol for everyone who wasn't there. We’ll get back to you on that.