Megatrends are big broad cultural and social trends that influence our values and consumption behaviours. They represent big trend movements in society that occur over a five-to-ten-year period. In product design, aspects such as purchasing behaviours, the types of products society values and the kinds of product experiences people are favouring, need to be understood to create meaningful successful products.
We all experience megatrends at different levels. Depending on where we live and how much we interact with culture and society.
“Megatrends capture anything that’s happening. In a commercial environment, this can include the way we access services, the way we purchase and the way we behave in an economical sense,” says Nancy Malik, product designer at Outerspace Design.
“Megatrends drill down to the way we live our everyday lives – the way we eat, how charitable we are, how we work, our political views, how we interact at a global level and a local community level,” Nancy says.
Megatrends are an important tool at Outerspace Design. As an example, we see technology is a big influencer of trends. When new technologies emerge, which ones are accepted and adopted depends on current trends and vice versa, where technologies can create space for new trends or a new virtual experience.
“We can only accept virtual technology if it exists, but the technology has to appeal to people and their values need to resonate with megatrends,” explains Nancy. We ask questions like, “How does this product speak to someone who values new technology and VR or environmental issues?” We look beyond the brief and see how the product can appeal to a bigger group of people.
At Outerspace we apply Megatrends when we design a product. We look beyond the brief of a specific problem or market, to look at other opportunities we could open up or take advantage of, within a product space. We look at how people are going to react to this product and how we can tap into the values and desires of these people. That’s where Megatrends come in.
How and when to apply megatrends are interrelated. We can draw from megatrends in several stages of a project. At the highest level we use megatrends to shape brand values and use them to think about the meanings of things in wider society and a cultural context.
As we progress through a project, we challenge every part of the creative process. We ask – Who else could this appeal to? What does this product do? What comes with the product? How it is used? What values are being communicated?
By asking these questions, we use megatrends to make sure we are taking every opportunity to apply this information to a product.
“People often ask, ‘So if we don’t do this, what are we missing?’ We often talk to people who have a very specific problem and they feel they have an idea of a solution to this problem. They have an idea of what a product can be and they give us a tight brief around this,” explains Nancy.
The danger here is that as a design and engineering team, if we just focus on a brief and a definition of a solution, we lose the opportunity to look at other potential markets and spaces where a product solution to the problem could have a wider benefit or application.
Outerspace Design has researched and developed eight megatrends. “These megatrends are specific to the Western developed world, they are not specifically Australian, as this is where we and our clients operate at the moment,” says Nancy.
“We are not a trend research company. As design is our speciality we use and analyse this information and apply it to the products we create for clients,” Nancy says.
With the help of specialist research companies and our own research, we have isolated eight megatrends – Sustainability, Natural, Athleisure, Digital Physical, Social Awareness, Luxury, Powershift, and Digital Virtual.
We refer to trend research specialists and also comb through information about news, products, fashion, art, technology and politics to detect repeated ideas and patterns.
Each megatrend contains multiple sub-trends and outcomes such as commodities or services, and the experiences these are leading to. It’s a way of creating a pyramid structure of grouping and ordering things so we can easily talk, refer and design to them.
We use a three-tier approach to trends.
Tier 1 – Megatrends with their own sub-trends and outcomes.
Tier 2 – Product Trends specific to what we do. Out of megatrends you see trends through product design, fashion, architecture and they are expressed through colour, form, materials.
Tier 3 – Styling Trends our colour, material and finishes trends.
“We are observing new influences in the world of consumer products. One trend that has surfaced over the last couple of years within Social Awareness is the need for transparency,” says Nancy.
“Today people are much more interested in how things are made, where they are made, what kind of standards and working conditions are in place, a company’s values and where profits go. There’s a great “cry out” for transparency in companies and markets.
“We see more and more companies providing information about this to the public, on their websites and product labelling,” she explains.
The Social Awareness megatrend directly influences product design materials, manufacturing processes, applied technologies, and how a product embraces sustainability and recyclability. It influences the style and appearance of a product, because people are not necessarily valuing a product that is glossy and made from plastic any more.
“What we used to call ‘luxury’ has changed. The new Luxury, which is also another megatrend, is connected to the natural, sustainable, bespoke, aged or repurposed. There is definitely an interconnected movement in this space,” Nancy says.