Stop me if you’ve heard this one … 1,000+ designers across the world engage in a three-month process to identify emerging trends at the intersection of humanity and technology, resulting in identification of seven trends and one meta theme. These trends then inform a body of work examining how relevance and value shape user engagement and interactions with organizations and institutions, as well as the products and services we create. If this is all fascinating but unfamiliar to you, I’m sorry to say you’ve been missing out on Fjord Trends—our annual effort to distill the wisdom of our curious collective for public consumption.
But as I look to apply our Trends to my work and promote them through talks like the ones I’m preparing for SXSW, I’m compelled to ask—to what end? What exactly happens with that knowledge once amassed? What was the original intent and the eventual outcome?
As a designer, I am dedicated to outcomes, not driven by aesthetics, feelings or politics. That’s art. This is design. And as one of those 1,000+ designers, I need to understand the impact of our observations and insights as they twist and turn to become the Fjord Trends, year after year. Perhaps it’s not just about the Fjord Trends, but the act of trend spotting itself that bears scrutiny in this moment.
Trends and trend spotting are universally pervasive, with applications far beyond consulting, design or technology. But one might argue that a fashion trend may be far less harmful or impactful, in the long run, than a trend about how your data is captured, used and potentially abused in a data-driven economy. Yearbook photos might say otherwise, but we all make the occasional bad choice.
Fjord Trends represent a sizeable, statistically relevant, global “think tank.” But how diverse are those perspectives really? Sure, our clients help. And in some cases, our Accenture brethren even pitch in. What I want to interrogate here is not whether we are well informed, well intentioned and empathetic; I want to question whether we are aware enough to truly glean the impact of our words—our speculative truth—on our audience. Are we cognizant of the decisions they might make, emboldened by our advice and supported by our narrative?
As I wrote this, Chicago was preparing for a municipal election. In truth, we had been voting for days—early voting, absentee ballots and the court of public opinion were in full swing. As I lined up to vote last weekend, I considered which of our trends might have direct consequences (good or bad) for the people of my city, my neighborhood, my block. Take Ahead of the Curb, for instance—all about the burgeoning bike and scooter sharing services, autonomous vehicles and delivery, and even non-mobility players jumping into the mobility game (like Walmart and Nike).
Ahead of the Curb is a trend that, at its heart, requires participation from those who control our state, city or town infrastructure. But when you can’t get your streets plowed, there aren’t enough buses to ensure you can get to and from work, or you’ve hit your fourth pothole in as many days, do you care about the mobility economy? No. Should you? Maybe. But why? What’s in it for you as the recipient of this nugget?
What strikes me most is that the Trends, without context and grounding in real life, don’t quite play through ubiquitously. The emergent behavior we see in a sliver of the population leads us to believe in and attest to the potential of a behavior we see repeated or a technology that’s being adopted. It doesn’t make these insights less valuable, necessarily. But it does, at least for me, beg further contextual examination. To ensure that we’re not perpetuating ivory tower fodder destined to widen the divide between those asked to participate in the process and those who are the unwitting recipients of the solutions to problems they don’t actually have, need or want.
I pray you aren’t hoping for a clear answer. I am still wrestling with this beast. And I’ll continue to do so, in search of the “So, what?” I do know we must dig beneath the surface of the words, of the Trends as packaged, and look for the anti-trend. We have to eagerly seek out the cases where these emergent patterns are tested and even proven false, if we want to truly understand the power of trend spotting in the first place. The solution to this quandary is in the hypothesis, the learning journey—the curiosity driven by open hearts and minds that will continue to question. Not, as it would seem, in the answer itself.