Tomas RoopeThere’s a very simple filter that comes with working at Google, and it’s about putting the user first, says Tomas Roope, creative lead at Google Zoo, the tech giant’s think tank focused on pushing the limits of creativity through technology.

Talking to Rachel Arthur in a live recording of TheCurrent Innovators podcast from the FashMash Pioneers event in London, he says: “They way we think is always user-first. Are we really solving something for somebody here? …At Google we’re about solving problems at scale.”

Tomas RoopeThat attitude should be applied to every business, including those in the fashion and retail vertical, he explains. The Zoo is a small team that is designed to be a conduit between creative agencies and Google’s own products, its engineering teams and its data. The result is all manner of both creative and technology-driven projects for different industries, from a coded couture dress for H&M’s Ivy Revel brand, to an advertising campaign redefining what masculinity really looks like today from Axe.

While Roope admits some are more PR or headline-driven than others, his process, whether the result incorporates buzzworthy terms like augmented reality, artificial intelligence or beyond, always comes back to whether the solution is something that answers a consumer need. “What shifts the bottom line is making things more relevant, and making them simpler. [It’s about answering] what do people really want?” he asks.  

Anchoring much of that work these days however, comes data. “[At Google], we have seven to eight products that have over one billion users monthly, and so we have a really great understanding of what people are doing… and what they’re thinking,” he explains.

Tomas RoopeThat insight is what informs the work his team does as a result, while machine learning (ML) then takes it to the next level, Roope notes. He refers to ML as an area that’s not yet being explored to its full potential.

“We’re in the middle of two massive revolutions – one of which is still the smartphone coming from 10 years ago, and now the rise of machine learning.” He refers to this as not only a powerful and extraordinarily interesting tool that allows you to fix problems in a way you couldn’t have done before, but as the most exciting underpinning to the future we’re currently building.

It’s completely reshaping what our world looks like, and what opportunities there are for brands in it as a result, he explains.

To get there, he says experimentation for all industries – including fashion and retail – is key. “For me, you’re not going to sit and discover the future by dwelling on it… it’s all about test and learn,” he explains.

As to where it will take us, he adds: “There’s a great quote by Bill Gates that says we tend to overestimate what’s going to happen in two years, but underestimate what will happen in the next 10. If you look back 10 years, we didn’t have smartphones, but in two years nothing’s happened. Only when we look over a good chunk of time do we see how much it’s changed.”