Dion Chang of Flux Trends looks to the future.
The Mayans believed that Armageddon would take place in 2012, but at Flux we take a slightly different view. It will perhaps not be quite Armageddon, but the rules for a new world order are most definitely being rewritten. The following 10 trends provide a snapshot of “the state we are in” for this year. We are watching them closely and believe you should do so, too.
1. The blur between retail and advertising
As we continue to become more comfortable with digital media and the changing notion of users versus producers of content, many media companies are getting into the retailing business. Writing in The New York Times, Eric Wilson noted a rise in the number of fashion magazines offering readers the chance to make purchases from their websites. From Esquire to GQ and even Vogue, magazines are showing a keen interest in e-commerce as the world of print publication continues to struggle.
The benefits for readers are obvious—in an age in which time is precious and convenience is king, there is no need to look further than the website of your favourite magazine (the curatorship of which you trust) to purchase the latest fashion and beauty products. Howard Socol, former chief executive of United States department store Barneys, has conceded that there are no boundaries any more as traditional brick-and-mortar stores, which once viewed magazines as a way to sell their brand to customers, now see them as a threat.
Brands take note: the “see-click-buy” mentality will herald a new age of shopping in which consumers expect to be able to buy products wherever they see them online. This trend is set to unfold in South Africa soon, with Media24 planning to implement e-commerce ventures for a number of its titles.
2. Rise of the artisan eater
Last year we saw the emergence of the artisan eaters—the new foodies who are interested in consuming local, hand-made products bought at small-scale urban markets. The microbrewery ales and homemade preserves that adorn these market stalls reflect a sense of global nostalgia for idyllic rural life: a desire to cultivate, through the purchasing and eating experience, an intimacy with food suppliers and a greater sense of community.
The shift in favour of high-quality ingredients and craftsmanship of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers reasserts our value in upholding production standards that have been overshadowed by industrialised food provision.
More profoundly, the artisanal food movement has created a culture of ethical eating. The use of local ingredients to diminish the effects of food transportation—in an attempt to reduce our carbon footprint—is an example of consumption that is consciously aware of the effects of eating on the ecosystem. Although the artisanal movement is predominantly evident in the food industry, it is only a matter of time before other lifestyle industries will be affected. Brands that promote the use of high-quality raw materials and show a respect for traditional craftsmanship will enjoy growing support from consumers.
3. Revolution culture
Last year was undoubtedly the year of the revolution. In South Africa the establishment of a new police unit in response to increased outbreaks of violent protest spoke of a growing need to manage civil unrest. On a global scale, waves of disillusionment swept through youth culture, giving rise to what online trend-analysis company WGSN called the “radical revolutionaries”—politically and environmentally conscious youths who have grown up immersed in internet culture and use technology to create social change.
This form of digital activism or “clicktivism” is on the rise as youths across the globe harness the power of social media to organise campaigns and protests. Feeling disgruntled by corporate greed, radical revolutionaries are calling for transparency, honesty and accountability from brands (and governments). Important considerations for these young people are the future of the environment, the effects of mass consumerism, access to education and escalating debt among their peers. Brands that address these issues earnestly and show genuine support for the plight of the youth will enjoy the approval of the radical revolutionaries, who will show their support through promotion on their personal networks.
Whereas revolution culture will no doubt continue to evolve in the first half of 2012, the second half of the year will usher in a post-protest culture, a time for reflection and consideration of a new way forward in 2013.
4. Disaster design
With the number of natural disasters increasing dramatically each year, it is no wonder that designers are looking to environmental catastrophes for inspiration. Last year we noticed an increase in the number of designers—architects, industrial designers and even fashion designers—showing careful consideration for the effects of natural disasters and incorporating anticipatory and responsive features into their products. Examples include the newly built Dali museum in Florida in the US, which has been designed to protect artworks from storm surges and hurricane debris, and the Svalbaard Global Seed Vault on a Norwegian island, which holds more than a half-million seed samples and is designed to withstand a nuclear bomb.
On a smaller scale the disaster design movement is permeating consumer industries with items such as Jan Kath’s oil spill-inspired woven rugs and Ricardo Garza Marco’s San Andreas coffee table, which mimics a tectonic fault line. Apart from the fact that disaster design literally reflects the age of disaster in which we live, it also reflects a new age of conscious design that is inspired by real-world events. In 2012 more consumers will be looking for products that offer a story for them to share with friends, whether in online networks or face-to-face interactions.
5. On and, not or, off
In 2012 the distinction between our online and offline lives will cease to exist. Together they will just be “life”—fluid, dynamic and convenient. This blend of on- and offline living hints at consumers’ growing desire for a human element in our everyday experience as our lives become digitally cocooned.
Tesco Homeplus, South Korea’s “subway supermarket” initiative, is the perfect example of creating this seamless dual experience for customers. The advertising agency behind the campaign, Cheil, erected a large billboard inside one of South Korea’s subway station platforms that was designed to look like a series of supermarket shelves, complete with images and price codes of items. Shoppers were able to scan the code of the item they wished to purchase, thereby adding it to their online shopping cart. Once the web transaction was complete, items were delivered to the customers’ homes. London department store John Lewis initiated a similar “click and collect” campaign in which shoppers could scan the codes of items in the window displays and collect them within 24 hours.
These kinds of strategies should inspire weary brands to create unique experiences for customers who want to retain their digital native status (namely, a person born during or after the general introduction of digital technology, according to Wikipedia), but also play an active part in the real world.
6. Leasing lifestyle
This year there will be an increase in the number of consumers adopting a transient model of ownership. In recent years we have noticed a decline in traditional ownership because it implies a certain level of cost and commitment that does not appeal to consumers who are looking for convenience and the chance to collect as many experiences as possible. For those living in dense urban environments in which physical space is scarce, owning bulky and irregularly used items makes little sense, hence the shift towards a “leasing lifestyle”.
With ubiquitous mobile access across the globe, consumers have (and desire) the option of booking items whenever and wherever they are needed. Although the trend is manifesting predominantly in the transportation industry (think car- and bike-sharing initiatives), its effects are being felt in industries such as art and fashion, with designer handbag rentals and virtual art-buying on the rise.
Businesses should take heed of the benefits offered by the leasing-lifestyle trend—shared ownership presents companies with opportunities to broaden their audience as more consumers now have access to otherwise out-of-reach luxuries. For consumers, fractional ownership offers the possibility of perpetual upgrades and the ability to maximise the number of experiences they enjoy.
7. Gaming for good
It is reported that the average young person in a country with a strong gaming culture would have spent in excess of 10 000 hours behind a console by the age of 21—the same length of time spent in school from grade five to matriculation. The glorification of the “nerd” in recent years (think of Marc Zuckerberg’s rise to stardom) has led to a renewed interest in gaming culture, which has traditionally been relegated to the not-so-cool-kids corner.
Although gaming is strongly associated with escapism and distraction from the real world and its problems, new game designers and theorists are exploring the potential psychological benefits of gaming. According to gaming expert Jane McGonigal, we become better versions of ourselves when we game: we embrace an infallible disposition and are more eager to co-operate and solve problems creatively. This year we will experience a rise in “gaming for good”—harnessing the benefits of gaming to improve our quality of life.
New game designs will feature crises of our time—oil shortages, animal extinction and global warming—encouraging players to map a new way forward. With researchers solving a protein-folding problem that perplexed Aids researchers for more than 10 years with a mere 10-day game-play of Foldit, it is clear that gaming will play an integral role in shaping our future.
8. Rise of the free radicals
In the past few years we have noticed the emergence of the “slashies”—people who, according to global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, define themselves not by a single occupation, but rather by the diversity of their experiences, passions and networks. Last year we had the evolution of the slashies into what Scott Belsky, the chief executive of Behance, has termed the “free radicals”.
Dubbed the new professionals of the 21st century, free radicals “take their careers into their own hands and put the world to work for them”. According to Belsky’s “Manifesto for Free Radicals”, this group of young professionals makes a living doing what they love and sharing their thoughts and creations on social networks, thereby authentically building an audience that provides feedback and leads them to new opportunities.
Businesses take note: free radicals refuse to surrender to the status quo and make a point of questioning and challenging old-school bureaucracy and antiquated business practices, finding innovative ways around them. Free radicals expect to be utilised to their full potential, regardless of whether they work for a small start-up company or a global corporation.
Continuous learning in the workplace is crucial and when their learning reaches a plateau, free radicals will not think twice about leaving.
9. The days of our (online) lives
Psychology experts are hailing this as the “fourth revolution”—a time in which technology is responsible for drastically shaping our perceptions of self and our crafting of identity.
With a bulging global youth market that enjoys constant mobile connectivity, it is no surprise that we are placing significant emphasis on the development of virtual capital through our online networks. Young people today are investing in “brand me” from an early age, collecting friends, followers and badges that reflect their aspirations for the future. Last year we noted a rise in “online status symbols”—virtual symbols that consumers acquire to display their contributions, creations or popularity to their peers online. Over and above this 2012 will show an increase in the number of services that allow us to archive our digital lives.
Examples of such services include Twournal, a site that enables Twitter users to transform their tweets into a real-life published journal, and the Intel Museum of Me, which creates an online virtual museum based on users’ activity on Facebook.
10. Rise of the technocrat
When the traditional politician is rendered spineless and incapable, the electorate is tempted to seek the wisdom of outside experts in top jobs.
This has been the recent turn of both Greece and Italy, which found answers in candidates Lucas Papedemos and Mario Monti after old political systems left the countries submerged in debt and crisis. “Technocracy” first abounded when the US assembled a group of engineers to combat the Great Depression. Indeed, the US government still holds on to economists such as Larry Summers to help make the big decisions. The technocrat puts national interests above party interests and his know-how makes him trustworthy to take exceptional political actions adequate for serious crises: whether making spending cuts or closing military bases.
There are plenty of elections taking place in 2012 and much of the world seems to be on the lookout for rulers who have the capacity to make difficult decisions. The question, however, is whether scientists and economists with dazzling CVs will be favoured over those with political prowess—the technocrats’ lack of political legitimacy has always proved them to be a short-term fix.—Research by Sarah Badat and Amanda Ballen