design trends

#Trending: Four Approaches Continuum Takes Toward Trends

How Do We Use Trends in Our Work? Let Us Count The Ways...

February 14, 2018
by Toby Bottorf
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Trends are a view of the changing world from a high altitude. They capture the cultural environment in which ideas live, so understanding and capitalizing on them can make ideas more dynamic and timely. But trends are abstract—not ideas or solutions themselves.

At Continuum, finding the relevant intersection points between general trends and project-specific insights helps us identify business opportunities. Some trends will be completely new to us and to clients, while others might be obvious things we may have noticed in another context without fully understanding their potential impact.

Finding the relevant intersection points between general trends and project-specific insights helps us identify business opportunities.

We often use trends to help us develop tools and frameworks that guide our decision-making process throughout the design of a future experience/offering. To transform abstract trends into useful tools, we employ the following tactics:

As Provocations

We use trends to provoke and inspire, and generally stimulate our imagination-and that of our clients. Our provocations can be loose or structured. Here's one structured approach: From our trends library, we select a subset of trends that are on-topic. From these, we randomly select three to frame a hypothetical scenario. With clients, we brainstorm ideas to solve for the opportunities or constraints that we've dealt ourselves.

The fact is, trends interact with each other in unpredictable ways. The future is built of compound trends. For example: We helped an electronics company anticipate the impact of "wellness" on their product pipeline. We also guided Fisher-Price in envisioning the future of parenting by playing out emerging ideas about technology and human connection. Both provocations did much, in both cases, to shake us up into seeing potential that was previously invisible to us.

As Exercises

We use trends to provoke and inspire, and generally stimulate our imagination-and that of our clients.

It takes rigorous thought to make connections between unrelated kinds of evidence. This is the work we do during analysis to make sense of what we've learned and establish priorities. To add bigger-picture trends to our available evidence, we might take this approach: Identify which trends feel relevant, intuitively and one by one. Then, question the rationale behind that judgment. We argue our way to a definition of key experience criteria, and in doing so we develop sharper judgment. Our goal is to understand why certain things matter to the problems we're trying to solve. These hypotheses then direct the development of personas or journey maps.

Sometimes responding to one or more big trends is the main driver for a project. When we began working on Audi on Demand, the premium mobility service, we were responding to a trend that pointed to new business opportunities, while threatening conventional car sales: We see that people increasingly prefer to access things as services, rather than own them outright. Experiences make people happier than things do. Even if that thing is an A7 in Ibis White.

As Filters

It takes rigorous thought to make connections between unrelated kinds of evidence.

As we formulate an ideal future vision and map out that experience, we employ trends as lenses to evaluate how well our ideas are capitalizing on emerging cultural expectations. Trends can be filters through which we look at our work, to strengthen some parts and eliminate what's extraneous. How do individual moments of value point to a vivid and coherent worldview?

We used trends to test certain hypotheses when working with a pharma wholesaler. The trends grounded our ideas with the appropriate cultural situation, and helped us move toward the right concepts, and away from the wrong ones.

As Stories

Ideas catch fire better when they work together to support an exciting big-picture perspective. If brand-new ideas seem inevitable or even obvious, we know they resonate with the current moment. Trends help us find the emotional heart and communicate a resonant story about work that may be intricate in its operational details.

Ideas catch fire better when they work together to support an exciting big-picture perspective.

For a certain mass-transportation project, we embedded our use-case stories in realistic city-wide trends, to make them resonate with the necessary audiences. Trends have a way of making innovation stories more visceral for an audience.

Which Way Is Your World Trending?

When you start thinking about trends, you notice them everywhere. We certainly do—and we hope this short post has got you thinking about how trends might be used in your business.

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