Opinion: The Art of Foresight

Written by trendbible

19 April 2013

Joanna Feeley is Founder and Creative Director at Trend Bible, the leading home and interior trend forecasting agency. Joanna set up the company in 2007 and has established a global client base including Gap, Target, Selfridges, Nokia, Crown Paints and Ronseal. Here, Joanna shares her unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes world of trend forecasting.  

Call it what you will – trend forecasting, insight, taste-making, futurology – looking to the future has never been more important. And with the trend forecasting industry worth an estimated £36 billion and growing fast, it’s strategists, designers and marketers that turn to forecasting specialists for guidance on how to generate products and messages that connect with future audiences.   

During times of economic hardship, brands, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly anxious about getting their product ranges and marketing messages exactly right. Having shelves full of products that don’t sell is simply not an option in today’s precarious financial climate. And it’s not just the pressure of getting the right products, in the right colours – timing is everything in trend forecasting. These decisions, which quite often equate to millions of pounds worth of stock, weigh heavy on the shoulders of head office teams in some of the world’s biggest and best brands. Making these decisions alone is risky, the tendency to rely on personal taste or what worked well previously, more so. And so these design professionals underpin their decisions with advice and guidance from trend analysts who bring a broad range of research and inspiration, steering companies to make sound commercial decisions.

So it’s easy to understand the ‘why’ of forecasting, but less obvious is the question we get asked the most: ‘how?’

Today, there are around 2,000 trend forecasting agencies worldwide. And whilst there are some disciplines that unite them, there are numerous approaches. Different industries have different requirements; the fashion industry for the most part still takes influence from the twice-yearly catwalk collections and works just 12 months ahead, whilst architects look at how citizens use and interact with space and materials. With a lead time of 18 months to two years, home and interior trends are forecast further out than the fashion industry, due to the development and sampling of hard goods like furniture and the increased complexity of co-ordinating cross-substrate ranges that can include plastic, metal, wood and fabric.

At Trend Bible, we have our own tried and tested process and methodology. Despite having a strong gut instinct about what we think will influence design and colour trends, it’s vital we begin with sound reasoning. Multi-national brands cannot make decisions based purely on our instinct, so rigorous research is the foundation of our forecasts.

From big-picture ‘macro’ trend drivers, such as social change, government policy and demographic shifts through to cultural events, art and literature, we build a picture of the future so that our clients can understand the context within which their products will exist in two, three or even five years time.   We invite a panel of thought-leaders – from anthropologists and scientists to colourists and designers – to share their ideas for the future with us.

Our instincts, while valuable in themselves, undergo a scrutiny – a cross-examination – where we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and sense check the commercial viability of every single theme, print and colour. What influences trends differs from country to country, and the aesthetic interpretation is tweaked to reflect specific geographical regions.

Whilst technology provides sufficient innovation for us to continually find new trends, there is a cyclical nature to trend forecasting. Typically at the end of each decade, there is a type of ‘palate-cleansing’ that takes place in the form of cleaner, minimalist design references and a focus on neutral or monochrome colour palettes. Of course back in 2010 we were still in the grip of deep recession, where the consumer mood was one of fear, meaning that consumers were much more responsive to things that provided comfort and that reminded them of better times rather than a clinical, graphic look. Consumers craved the emotional connections with products that made them feel happy and safe, and so we saw a trend for nostalgia begin to build, resulting in nostalgic pastimes like knitting and sewing (sewing machine sales have shot up 500% in the past five years, along with a flurry of Bitch ‘n’ Stitch social groups), baking and growing our own products (baking product sales and waiting lists for allotments have also increased dramatically).

As a result, nostalgia as a trend driver became a major theme, responsible for a rise in vintage clothing, mismatched china tea sets and a national roll-out of Cath Kidston stores.

The appetite for crafted goods is also continuing to grow. Following a decade of excess, where cheap goods were bought in high volume, we are noticing a period of careful, thoughtful consumption, where ‘big ticket’, expensive items are considered better value, because of their longevity. This mood continues well into 2014, as people continue to apply more thought and planning to their purchases. Craft – and craftsmanship – in all its forms, provides rich inspiration for the design world.

Influence spreads from certain areas of society, so the first people to pick up on such a trend are what we refer to as ‘mavens’ – a small group of influencers who can be characterised by their willingness to stand apart and desire to be seen as unique. The next group, ‘early adopters’, read unusual magazines, rifle through blogs and are on the look-out for inspiration in niche stores, happy to pick up on changes in the early stages of a trend. Our last and largest segment is the ‘late majority’ where most of our clients (blue chip corporations, mass-appeal brands) operate. This group pick up on trends once they are truly established, seeing them in high-street shops, mainstream magazines and adverts before purchasing. Predicting what will be the ‘next big thing’ at this level of the market requires careful trend tracking, seeing the seed of a trend get adopted at the top of the chain and filter through to become a broader concern.

So this summer, when you’re suddenly drawn that colour, that car, that particular activity, remember there’s a trend forecaster somewhere who’s waited two years for you to be ready for it.

Easy to digest, visually inspiring, and just the right dose of information.

Webb deVlam

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