A small but well-connected new British consultancy, innovate7, debuted its first product today: a cleanly designed photo-sharing app which aims to help users express more emotion online using not just text and images, but popular music and color as well.
Tunepics was built for innovate7 by interactive marketing firm AKQA using the Parse platform Facebook acquired last year. Tunepics won't feel entirely unfamiliar to anyone who has ever used Instagram, another star company in Facebook's portfolio. Upon logging into Tunepics, users encounter a scrollable feed of recent photos posted by the people and brands they follow. Like Instagram, Tunepics users can hit a heart symbol or double-tap a photo to "like" another user's picture. Also like Instagram, Tunepics users can add image filters, captions, and hashtags to their pictures. Even the general layout of Tunepics profile pages is similar to Instagram, with a three-photo wide gallery of photos appearing beneath basic user information.
Aside from these similarities, there are a number of compelling and creative details in the Tunepics app geared toward making it an emotionally rich experience for users. The most obvious such feature is Tunepic's integration with the iTunes API. Tunepics users can easily search for and select a 30-second excerpt of any song available in the iTunes library (which features over 35 million clips) and pair that music with photos on their Tunepics account, so that the song plays when the image is viewed. "There's so much that can't be articulated in words that music captures so beautifully," says Justin Cooke, innovate7 founder and CEO. "This is a way of deepening the emotional context around a picture or experience."
If a Tunepics user discovers a song they like while viewing someone else's photo or while searching for songs to add to their own pictures, they can buy the song by clicking on an iTunes icon below the picture. "The discovery of new music part I think is enormous," Cooke says. "I've been finding songs that I've never heard of before based on a moment and how I feel." Though innovate7 aspires to eventually get enough people using Tunepics to influence iTunes charts, the app has been built to possibly also accommodate other music services in the future.
Of course, in order to influence iTunes charts, the app will have to scale its user base. Cooke and his team believe music has enormous potential to keep users loyal to Tunepics. For example, as they were designing the app, the team studied research literature on the relationship between emotion and music, gathering valuable information about how songs—even sad songs—can activate the brain's reward center. Cooke also believes the app could foster "secret interactions" "where people are going to post something about the way that they feel that maybe only one other person will understand but hundreds of people might see."
As for the images themselves, several photo filters are available in the Tunepics app—including a few filters that allow users to add weather elements to their pictures, like rain, snow, a sun, and a rainbow. There's something artificial about adding fake rainbows and raindrops to photos, but Tunepics seems to be more about communicating emotional realities than literal realities. "There's an element of Peter Pan to the whole thing," says Cooke, "which is everyone wants to create a world that they believe exists. When I wake up and walk down the road in the morning and come to my office, it might be a cold morning, but I might feel so incredible that day that sunshine for me is the best way to articulate that."
The new app also features a novel multi-colored "emotion wheel" which allows users to express a range of emotional reactions to Tunepics photos—both their own photos and photos posted by other people. The 16 emotional reactions that can be expressed in the app range from "Laughing," "Dancing," and "Jealous," to "Heartbroken" and "Moved." Each emotion is paired with a color, and those colors are visualized in a tiny pie chart below Tunepics photos, above more conventional text-based comments. Innovate7's director of Innovation and Experiences, Nicola Peters, says the emotion wheel is part of an attempt to move beyond "likes" to something more meaningful.
"When you get a notification saying that you made someone dance, or you made them happy, you get more feeling than when they just say they "liked" something of yours," she says.
Cooke says the process of pairing emotions with colors was painstaking. "[Creative director Laura Oakden] had gone through a whole series of Pantone references, and had written down every single color. We looked at all of them and the team did a whole lot of research under Nicola's direction: What does this color mean?" In the Tunepics app, "Love" is represented by a cheerful red—but as Peters points out, "The color Laura picked for "Heartbroken": It's almost like blood."
Choosing the 16 emotions represented in the app was an equally demanding task. "You have to try and imagine what are all the possible interactions," says Cooke. "What if someone you love dies, what would be the word for that? In the end we went with "Moved" because you could be moved by a song, you could be moved to tears, you could be moved by the way you feel because you love someone, because you're grieving...we were trying to cover what we felt would be the opportunity around every single emotion."
That opportunity is, in no small part, data. Cooke is eager to study the relationships between feelings and color, and music and emotion that he collects from his users. "I think people are going to use Tunepics in different ways, and that's part of the beauty of it: We want to see what the user does and how they take it on in their own way," he says. "It's about creating a new set of values that people can express themselves through, and that ultimately is going to lead us to richer data and more beautiful data."
Cooke understands that harnessing emotion is a powerful weapon for brands and marketers, thanks to his background in the fashion industry. Cooke spent seven years as a vice president for publicity at Burberry before joining Topshop as its global chief marketing officer. As a marketer, Cooke was obsessed with creating emotionally satisfying experiences: When I met him over a year ago in his then-office near Topshop's flagship London store, I found him obsessing over new cosmetics packaging he had helped produce, which he hoped would make young women who can't afford to shop at Chanel feel luxurious and valued. His key staff at innovate7 also come from the fashion world: Peters has worked in various marketing roles at Burberry and Stella McCartney; Oakden has a background in illustration and spent five years leading Topshop's digital design and UX team.
But Cooke says that one of the reasons he decided to start his own consultancy was the fact that his former industry wasn't doing enough to mine the data around all that human emotion. "One of the big insights I had from working in [fashion] companies was that no one really had any great measurements for social, because it was either "likes" or "shares," but you don't really know how that makes someone feel." It's easy to imagine how valuable Tunepics could be to outside partners if it produces quantifiable data about how users feel about certain colors, songs, or images in different contexts. For example, "You might find some fabulous overlays in the future about the favorite colors of an entire country," Cooke suggests.
Beyond gathering better social data, innovate7 is imagining ways it might involve more human senses in future iterations of the app. As the company builds a Tunepics roadmap, Peters is studying smartphone manufacturer patents for possible future technologies. "You have all of your senses when you talk to someone, you look at them, the smell, whether it's just been raining, you know all those things because you heard it or you saw it or you felt it, so digital's really 2-D for me," says Peters. "We built this app with the evolution in mind, how can we bring in touch or how can we bring in tracking and the use of sensors that are in phones, to really bring that experience to life a little more?"
In the meantime, the professional network innovate7's team cultivated during their years in fashion has helped them lure some big name people and companies to the Tunepics platform, such as fashion brands Paul Smith and Chloe, sharing economy darling Airbnb, chef Jamie Oliver, actress Kate Bosworth, fitness guru Tracy Anderson, and musician Will.i.am. Some of these users, like Will.I.Am, are also innovate7 consultancy clients, along with big brands, including Coca-Cola and the Chelsea Football Club.
But celebrities alone aren't enough to get an app to resonate with the public—the real test will be whether or not users gravitate toward pairing songs with pictures. Despite its novelty, attractive design, and ease of use, there's something slightly weird about staring at a still image while a song plays in the background. Scrolling through my Tunepics account, I find myself waiting for something in the photo to move. At times I didn't understand the connection between a picture and a song. Perhaps the fault lies with my GIF-ed out environment, or perhaps I just need to get used to consuming photos and music together. On the other hand, scrolling through the app, there are times when the Tunepics experience feels right. Like photo filters, when used wisely, music can conjure up an emotional context to a picture—one that is often difficult to articulate, but not hard to feel.
Cooke is optimistic that Tunepics will scale, though it's clear that the app is also a clever way for innovate7 to showcase its marketing, strategy, and design abilities to potential future consultancy clients. "We know how to brand, we know how to create the dream around the product, but we also believe that the product is exceptional. Already everyone we're working with, they put us on a completely different level when they see we have the depth to think of something like this. Imagine what you could do with a company if you can come up this on your own."
"It's not just an app, it's a way of thinking we'd like to ingrain in people," Cooke says. "The more digital we become, the more important it is to sit beside someone and tell them how you feel, and I think maybe what we've done is put some of those simple human interactions into a digital environment, and that's a bridging of that gap, if nothing more."