While at Alibaba I developed Refinity, a mixed reality shopping kiosk with a 3D display. Completely touchless. No wearables needed. It was the first of its kind.

We marketed it at major conventions, like the Chi Conference, and demoed it at malls in Beijing to generate interest. It received a lot of press for its wow factor.

With no mouse, users point and grab to select items in a 3D scene. They could then “touch” the object as if it was physically there.

This UX was designed to mimic the way babies instinctively reach their hands out when they want something.

But no matter how natural we designed it to be, it required consumers to adopt new behaviors that weren’t mainstream yet. While some vendors considered Refinity a marketing opportunity, others saw no value.

Upper management continued to pushed us to find a product-market fit.

After a year, the project was stopped and we moved on to new things.

This is called the 9x Effect, a fundamental problem where companies want consumers to embrace innovation, but there’s a 9-to-1 mismatch between what innovators THINK consumers want and what consumers ACTUALLY want.

“Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers” by John T. Gourville

Innovation adoption depends on the level of behavioral change required. Snapchat’s self-destruct stories were a completely new social medium, but it was easy to pick up. It was a “smash hit.” Refinity fell somewhere between a “sure failure” and a “long haul.”

Despite everything, I’m extremely proud of my team and the effort we put in. The team was a research lab anyway—our job was to innovate. Refinity was a breakthrough product in mixed reality and it was only possible with Alibaba’s backing.