Designers need to stop chasing trends and start making sense.
Designers and agencies love to send off the old year by writing, reading or sharing presentations on the hottest trends for the upcoming year. It has become a bit of a end-of-the-year ritual, so I want to share why I don’t believe trend reports — reading them and writing them — are worthwhile. Worse; if taken too seriously, they can lead down a road where Design (capital D!) stops being about value and relevance, but gimmickry.
You will meet a tall and dark stranger…
Determining the trends of the next year is like reading tea leaves. It’s pretending to speculate about what might matter soon, but it’s always based on what the authors already know about the now. The results are hit-and-miss — if you look for trend reports of past 10 years, you can check their track record yourself. The trends they do get right don’t exactly come out of nowhere, but have been going on for a considerable time. It’s confirmation bias in full effect.
Invariably, they completely miss the big, seismic shifts that change the playing field forever. If at the end of 2006 somebody had predicted the rapid and almost complete collapse of Nokia’s and Blackberry’s marketshare and the effective end of Adobe Flash within a few years, they would have been ridiculed. In January 2007, Steve Jobs presents the first iPhone. Oops.
Trends don’t create value
Trend reports present technology as a gimmick, but miss the big things that completely change the game. These things happen when somebody decides to create an entire new market for themselves, and all the competition can do is to scramble to get a tiny share of it. This doesn’t happen by doubling down on a gimmick. The core of their product is creating amazing value for it’s users.
Everything else (touchscreens, apps, location services…) is just a means to an end. They aren’t reasons why a product will create value or not. And just like no trend report was able to predict the success of the iPhone, they will fail to predict the next seismic shift.
Chasing trends won’t save your product
So what, you might ask. They get some things wrong, some things right… what’s the big deal? Aren’t trend reports just marketing devices for agencies anyway? Yes — Trend reports are like elaborate calling cards. They show off two things: 1) “We can afford to have people sitting here to create these.” 2) “We know everything about new technology.” They are marketing, which is fine.
But how many companies have wasted time and resources by focusing too much on technology as a gimmick, trying to bolt on “gamification” or social functions to their product, while leaving the strategic question about their products unaddressed: “How can we create value for our customers?”