Trendmapping: Formulating Consumer Innovations

Lennart Kaland
Jun 18, 2018 · 7 min read

A consumer trend
— “A consumer trend is a new manifestation among people - in behaviour, attitude, or expectation -of a fundamental human need, want or desire.” — TrendWatching.com

It’s in our human nature that we would like to understand ourselves and the things that happen around us. With a background in Industrial Design Engineering, I see the world around me as a system and I think in systems. We live in a system containing elements that are all linked together, making it complex to comprehend. However, it depends on the zoom of your perspective lens if you focus on either small or bigger systems. For example looking on a ‘small’ scale system could be a factory with a working line, while a ‘big’ scale system could be a country’s financial system or an ecosystem.

Trends are part of any system and can be explained as a serie of recurring activities between elements which have gone by unnoticed. In the case of human centred design, the elements we are talking about are individual people. And people tend to participate in recurring activities, thereby forming trends. Since the goal of designers is to design for people, we should therefore understand these trends. And the best way towards understanding trends is by mapping them, through an activity that we call trendmapping.

What’s Trendmapping?

Trendmapping is an activity in which relevant trends of a given topic are placed in a visual map with their influences on the system linked together. A trendmap is normally developed using the collective knowledge and experience of a group of stakeholders who are familiar with the given system and its context. The visual trend-map is the product of the so-called trend forecasting technique.

Trends can be categorised on a timeline, which WSCG has generated in a logical order to use in forecasting techniques. The team at WGSN even produced a white paper on the art and science of trend forecasting, called Anatomy of a Trend. The common existing types of trends mapped on a timeline are:

The types of trends depend on what time-period you are aiming for.
  • +10 years (Future Scenarios):
    > Future Scenario mapping happens when your perspective is aimed for futurism and extrapolate trends to an extreme level.
  • +5 years (macro trends):
    > Macro trends, by contrast, span at least five years and impacts a variety of industries from technology to finance.
  • +2 years (micro trends):
    > Micro trends begin with the early influencers and move to mass adoption within one to two years. These trends mainly occur at fashion companies, and tend to realise the desires underlying macro trends at a smaller scale.

When defining a list of trends you can start the process towards formulating consumer innovations.

The Result: Trend Insights

At Oak & Morrow we use trendmapping in combination with user research to generate customer insights. Because we believe that knowledge is power and the customer is always right. Whether you offer B2B or B2C products or services, understanding customers is key to your success. It all starts with mapping relevant trends for your topic.

Benefits of Trendmapping:

  • Get ahead of the customers’ accelerating expectations.
  • Create compelling businesses, products, services and campaigns that deliver meaningful growth.
  • Build an innovative culture within your teams and organization.
  • Create a better future — for ourselves, society and the planet.

How to map trends?

1. Formulating trends — First, you have to formulate relevant trends for your topic. Trends are all around us, just pick up the signals and analyse them. There are many resources for finding relevant trends, starting with traditional media, business publications or academic networks. Even your favourite late-night comedy show can contain relevant trends for your research!

When do you have enough formulated trends: at 15, 30, or 100 trends? The answer is to formulate trends as long as the inspiration of your trend explorer group goes , but normally we would say within an hour (max!).

Formulating trends is done one post-it size with a title and short description!

We’ve worked in the past with governmental clients such as the Municipality of The Hague. So let’s take the governmental perspective as example, we then can formulate the following trends:

2. Prioritising trends — Define which trends are relevant for you to work with? You don’t want to spend your energy working on irrelevant ones, since normally not all trends are equally important. This is the point where you need focus, and tools like the Consumer Trend Radar can help you to create one.

The Consumer Trend Radar helps to define prioritise your formulated trends (©TrendWatching.com)

The Consumer Trend Radar has four focus areas: Product/Service, Vision, Business Model and Marketing/Campaigns, and uses a priority timeline in relation of the brand: now, next or beyond. Mapping trends in the radar canvas generates an overview, and helps to place the trends in one of the four impact areas. What do they mean for your organisation? How much impact can they have on your brand? And when they will have an impact?

We’ll use our trends and estimate how they will affect the government system.

  • Artificial intelligence / Happens NOW with intense impact on service experience
  • Robotics technology / The NEXT thing with intense impact on business model
  • Empowered citizen-consumers / The NEXT thing with total impact on vision and business model
  • The “Internet of Things” / Happens NOW with total impact on business model
  • Cybersecurity 2.0 / Happens NOW with total impact on service experience
  • Megacities / The NEXT thing with intense impact on vision and service experience
  • Resolving the privacy debate / Happens NOW with a light impact on business model and marketing

You’ve now created a trend-map and selected the trends which are most urgent for you to dive into!

3. Analyzing priority trends —Select a handful of trends from the Consumer Trend Radar that you want to focus upon, let’s say three of them. In order to analyze each of the selected trends into detail, you can use the Consumer Trend Canvas.

Two parts on the Canvas (analysis and apply) transform trends into innovative ideas (©TrendWatching.com)

The analysis part of the canvas focuses on four elements:

  • Find inspiring representations of this trend in either brands, products, or organisations.
  • Define human basic needs that are fulfilled by this trend, for example freedom, love, or excitement.
  • Describe the drivers of change that have caused this trend to emerge? These can be split in long-term shifts ( more than five years) and short-terms triggers ( less than five years).
  • Think of new customer expectations that are emerging because of this trend.

The second part of the Consumer Trend Canvas is to turn this trend into an innovative idea. Two elements need to be defined for this to happen:

  • What is the innovation target on which you can apply this trend? And in what way?
  • Who is the target group that you are aiming for? Who might be interested?

Try to come up with names that stick to your mind (cocktail mix two or three words into a new imaginary word helps often). From the previous section let’s focus on artificial intelligence, robotics technology and empowered citizen-consumers. Three inspiring representations of this trend: the digital Estonian Government (organisation), the European GDPR Law (product), and the Abu Dhabi Digital Government (brand). They are leading examples of how this trend can have impact already. Evolving human basic needs that we recognise are security, connection, and self-improvement.

Based on this analysis of the trend we would define it as “Cognitive government” or “COGNIVERNMENT”. New customer expectations that arise is that by 2020, the cognitive technologies start to augment the government workforce and improve the quality and efficiency of government systems (Gov2020). The innovative target would be government systems on the one hand and the innovation groups would be citizens on the other hand.

When repeating this analysis, you will have a set of analyzed trends at this point — defined what drove them, what expectations they create, and how you can apply them for your business goals.

4. Formulate innovative ideas — Just giving names to your new innovations has not brought ideas very far in the design process (trust me we know). Providing more body to your idea will convince others easier to join your ideation process, and makes ideas transferable.

Providing more body to your innovative idea makes them easier transferable (©TrendWatching.com)

I hope this article provided you with enough inspiration to define a set of innovative ideas based on consumer trends to kick-off your project, so let’s innovate!

In short

Our reason — Comprehending the world around us with its numerous elements that are interlinked within one complex system.

Our reaction — Creating an activity in which relevant trends of a given topic are defined in a visual map and their impact on the system linked together.

Our solution — We use trend-map activities in combination with user research to generate customer insights that are the foundation for designing innovative ideas.

Oak & Morrow

Insights and thoughts by the people of Oak & Morrow — a strategic design studio.

Lennart Kaland

Written by

A design thinker and Strategic Product Designer at Oak & Morrow, driven by challenges in the 'fuzzy' creative stage.

Oak & Morrow

Insights and thoughts by the people of Oak & Morrow — a strategic design studio.