by Timo Veikkola
Read this article in Chinese (translated by Fangfang Liu, proofread by Christina Li)
It always amazes me how many people believe that innovative concepts spring up from nowhere. In my view, this is an illusion. Once, in a presentation on trends and design process a question was posed by a young industrial design student. “This is all very interesting but what if I woke in the middle of the night with this amazing idea, from nowhere?” To be honest, not to burst any egos but innovation is more often than not the result of many pieces of valuable information such as general observations both conscious and subconscious, media influences, interactions, discussions as well as a mix of intuition and common sense.
As a Senior Futures Specialist for Nokia Design, I am in a privileged position to provide this type of information from the evolving changes in society to direct or inspire design innovations. Our trends team works as part of a multidisciplinary design team to shape a view of the future. We can provide a vision from the existing facts in society, how these are applied becomes the measure of success. At Nokia, we believe that nothing compares to the intimacy of face to face communication but people will always deal with the barriers of time and distance. We aim at making mobile communication as natural as possible, and technology as human as possible. There is no better way of achieving this than by People Centered Design. Its not about consumers, it’s not about users. It’s all about people.
The endless question: “Why Trend analysis?”
Over the past years, the term trend has experienced inflation and is used in various ways to describe fads, cool hunting, the latest thing, what is fashionable and much more. In truth, a trend is a tendency, a means of describing changes and evolutions basically in any topic. We particularly focus on researching changes in the values, attitudes and behaviors of people. Consumer trend research is an extensive process that encapsulates many facets from ethnography, observation and analysis to academic research on changes in existing and emerging trends. Trends do not change on the last day of the year and we don’t pull new trends out of our sleeves. All trends can be tracked for extensive periods of time to uncover slight or rapid changes which provide new visions on the direction in which the world/societies/people’s behavior may be heading. Albeit, not rocket science, but a social science on which the validity of the future hypothesis hold true. Over the past years there have been many influences on the values, attitudes and behaviors of people including war, natural disasters, political and economical shifts and new social paradigms. To understand their impact is to envision two to five years ahead because that is when their manifestations unfold. Just as any change in the lives of people it takes time to be able to address the affects and thus the emergence of new behaviors or expressions of the state of society i.e. through graphics, colors, form factors, applications etc.
From Macro to Micro and back again
Consumer Trends range from macro level societal trends that are slower moving and can take decades to evolve or shift to more rapidly changing social. Macro trends are those that people do not have direct influence such as gender, demographics, information society etc. They are the key influencers and drivers of the societal and consumer level trends such as social media, ethical consumption, optimism, hence those manifestations of behaviors that can be mapped and analyzed to build a hypothesis on the direction of society. There are many trends that influence our lives and true competency comes from the ability to track the applicable trends for a particular industry or business venture. Designs as well as color and material trends are manifestations i.e. micro trends that are more rapid, having 1-2- years cycles, which are the reflections of the state of people’s lives and society. The combination of various societal and consumer trends leads to innovative concepting through observation and informed intuition.
People are generally able to intuitively deduce a favored direction based on their past experiences and competencies, their education, work experiences, interests, lifestyles, media influences etc. A collection of thoughts and information, together with intuitive common sense thinking can be the most basic tool needed in concepting brilliant ideas or directions. Moreover, it is about observing the world around us first and then designing. It is about exploring possibly very mundane behaviors from a very objective perspective and seeing the wonderment and new possibilities.
To achieve this Observation and ethnography is not as clinical as it seems. It involves a lot of passion and a true desire to understand what makes people tick. A range of methods are used that are applied in the same way in design and user experience creation. As an anthropologist, these tools allow for the development of personas, scenarios as well as narratives that are an integral part of concepting. Notwithstanding, a great portion of concepting also entails the integration of design principals, user interactions and both mechanical and industrial design processes.
“The anthropological looking glass”, is a way in which to see the world around us. Not only is the observation a key tool in concepting as well as trend analysis but it can also mean active participation whether as an actor or spectator. This, of course, can constitute many techniques from contextual inquiry or integration of participant observation. For example, while in Sao Paolo last year performing ethnography with a group of designers from Nokia we attended a traditional ceremonial event called Samba de Roda. At this people sit in a circle (roda) and perform, sing and play samba music. A secondary group forms around them which is the audience, also participating through dancing and clapping. An interesting event from an ethnographical perspective because of the spontaneous yet controlled dialogue happening within and between these two groups. As the narrative through music and song evolves, the communicative networks are simultaneously formed among all participants. The researcher in this stage of exploration is utilizing an elementary fieldwork technique using participant observation. These observations can be further linked to the in-depth shadowing ethnography performed earlier in the field to better understand and explore how this behavior can be translated to modern social media and future communication concepts.
The Multidisciplinary Mosaic
People Centric Design, the placing of the behaviors, attitudes and values at the center of the design process, is at its best when used done through the co-operation of many creative and intellectual individuals. The content and knowledge, especially from other countries offers a significant forum in finding unique solutions. Trends on a macro level are global yet there are the local manifestations that need to be captured aswell. Through these building blocks we can construct from trend directions, ethnographic explorations and inherent and observed local manifestations new innovative concepts that direct us to new experiences.
The future is bright
Many shifts in society and their influences on the behaviors, values and attitudes of people are often slight and may be overlooked. Through consumer trend analysis, ethnography, and contextual inquiry we are able to forecast the emergence of new behaviors and conceptual visions. The natural progression of society and people will always offer new frontiers. One thing that we can be certain of is that things always are in a state of change. Understanding that the pendulum can only swing to a certain degree before it must, by laws of physics, swing in its opposite direction, we can anticipate the future. Development has always played a natural role in the evolution of people and thus we have an invaluable position to influence that direction in its most human and natural way.
Timo Veikkola is a senior futures specialist within Nokia. Based in the design team, and an anthropologist by training, his job involves observing human behavior and lifestyles in order to identify signals and new trends. His observations inform and influence Nokia's design team. His work takes him all over the world from Europe to the US, Latin America and Asia. He is Canadian by nationality, and currently lives in London, UK.
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