Understanding Trends (Part 1)
What’s this all about?
Trend Research is an interesting, and often misunderstood field, so I wanted to spend some time breaking down the fundamentals. Even if you’re not in the industry (or adjacent fields like marketing and design), trends really do shape our world, so understanding them is useful no matter what you do. In this article (the first of three) I’ll be covering the definition of a trend, and what trends can say about us and what’s important to us at a given point in time.
So what is a trend?
This is one of the questions people ask me most often, especially in Q&As after my talks. And I usually respond by explaining that they’re just a shift in what people value. A trend defines what’s important to us here and now. This is a really simple way of putting it, but it helps you to focus on the bigger picture behind a specific expression of a trend. When you look at it like this you can see that trends aren’t just about novelty or fads (more about this later), but about what we value.
One reason I like looking at trends like this is because you can see how they’re not static. A trend doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere either. It’s usually the result of a change in our world. And it also implies that a trend won’t just hang around indefinitely. There are certainly very long-lived trends, but no trend will last forever. They operate on a spectrum, going from very niche to more mainstream (and mass) and then are ultimately replaced by something else.
Let’s talk the trend towards farmers’ markets in South Africa (and indeed the rest of the world) as an example. It seems like in the last 10 or so years, these have popped up in every suburb of the country. We’ve always had fetes and flea markets and car-boot sales, so this kind of outdoor retail isn’t a totally new concept, but what it says about what we value is very different. In going to markets, people are looking for authenticity in what they buy. They’re aligning themselves with a pastoral/agricultural heritage that they may or may not have ever experienced first hand. It’s about connecting with the growers, makers and producers behind what we consume.
So what does this trend say about us? The obvious answer is that we feel disconnected from what we buy and eat so we’re looking for a real, individual experience and not the standardised convenience of supermarkets. So yes, farmers’ markets are a trend — and a very mature one at that — but the actual “macro trend” is authentic living. And in my work I’m always looking to get to the macro trend — the bigger truth in our world.
Where to from here?
In the next article I’ll be discussing the difference between a trend and a fad, why trends are about more than just fashion and style (but how they are ultimately related). Watch out for them up on this site shortly.