Megatrend 3: Powershift

It’s normal to be different.

Anyone designing a contemporary product needs to consider this. We’ve come a long way since the power of consumption has been in the hands of the white collar, middle aged, able-bodied caucasian man. They’re not the classic breadwinner anymore; not only do women have the same spending power, but young people, retirees, and people of all different backgrounds and abilities are influencing purchase decisions and directly buying our products.

The world is effectively one big market, with geographical boundaries fading fast. Traditionally rich Western cities are now highly multicultural while previously developing countries like China and India have established a strong middle class with huge combined purchasing power. China is currently the world’s second largest economy and expanded 6.9% last year on the back of stronger consumer spending and exports.*

What does this mean for your product or service? Your buyers are diverse. Your users are diverse. Your audience is diverse. Not only is it good for your business to consider the diversity of your customer base it’s also become culturally unacceptable to overlook whole groups of people – be it through their culture, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or age – in your messaging and advertising. And the critics are vocal.

This powershift certainly poses some challenges and requires us to be more aware of the issues of our day. But it also opens new product opportunities. For example, we now have a huge aging demographic with a lot of spending power – Euromonitor forecasts that the global spending power of those aged 60 and above will reach $15 trillion by 2020** – and their unique needs provide opportunity for unique products.

For instance, the long-term use of chopsticks has been linked to higher cases of arthritis, but for billions of people across Asia, chopsticks are a way of life. Japanese company Yori So have designed premium timber chopsticks which are attached together at the back and feature tiny magnets at the tips, so that as you draw them together, they pinch together for you. Not only is this great for the aging population for whom they were designed but they have turned out to be a great product for everyone – those who haven’t quite mastered the use of chopsticks, those who want to make sure every grain of rice is gobbled up, and those whose hands aren’t as dexterous as they used to be.

We are starting to see many examples where designing a product or packaging to include a minority actually creates a great product for everyone. Microsoft recently unveiled their Xbox Adaptive Controller–a gamepad for people who live with disability – and have designed packaging that is just as accessible, resulting in an empowering experience from beginning to end. The gamepad itself is about the size of a bluetooth keyboard and features large pads that can be pressed with just about any part of your body. To start unboxing, you pull on a loop, and rip a single line of tape right off the box. Pushing on the box from any angle, unfurls it completely flat. Basically, there’s no right way to open the product, but several easy options, you can even use your teeth without damaging them. To develop the packaging, Microsoft worked with people who live with a disability to test their ideas and provide feedback. The result is beautiful packaging that is simple, clear, and a joy for anyone to open.

But powershift isn’t just about universal design, it’s also about the messages embodied in our products and how they play into the broader cultural narratives of our time. We’ve grown in our awareness of what includes and what excludes people of different experiences – whether that be by their gender, sexuality, race, religion, or any other cultural aspects that make up our lives. Power shift compels us to design products that are inclusive, universal, sensitive and empowering.

In the mid-2000s Barbie faced her first serious competition after years of maintaining about 90% market share of the doll sector. Barbie had become a problematic buy for modern mothers who want their children to see more realistic body types in toys. So when mums started voting with their dollars, Mattel had to reassess the doll which was out of touch, materialistic, and not diverse. After a long run of short-lived CEOs and sales declines 6 years in a row, Barbie’s sales finally increased by 24% in the first quarter of 2018 – diversity, both in skin tone and body size, has been a big part of that sales boost. Recent changes include less makeup and a younger look, articulating ankles for wearing flats as well as heels, new skin tones with more variants and a range of body shapes including curvy, petite and tall. Kim Culmone, VP of Barbie design at Mattel says Barbie will continue to evolve and is “looking to be inclusive to all kinds of people.”

As product designers, we also have the opportunity to create a powershift by design. For example, diagnostic devices for Glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness, are typically only used by highly specialised doctors such at Optometrists and Ophthalmologists and cost between $5,000 and $15,000. So Outerspace Design worked with Ingeneus to design a diagnostic device that any healthcare staff could use, and was affordable for a wider range of healthcare facilities. Using clever product design and engineering, Outerspace was able to replace the high tech, complex and expensive equipment, with a simple but effective mechanism in a single use medical device. The Ingenesus eyePressure device empowers the primary healthcare community (nurses, GPs, pharmacists and ancillary staff) with a tool to easily identify at-risk patients for less than $40. This shift in the status quo will become even more important as the population ages, and opens the door to more comprehensive and accessible health services for large third world markets.

Identifying and anticipating these power shifts helps us find opportunities to differentiate the next generation of your product, or opportunities for entirely new products, while broadening your customer base to be more inclusive. To see how megatrends apply to your product, contact us via our website. We’ll help you explore the opportunities that powershift brings to your product area.

Stay tuned for the next trend in our 8 part series on megatrends. If you’re interested in how you can use egatrends to increase the value of your products please get in touch!

* https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/china-counting-on-consumer-spending-to-drive-growth
** https://www.ft.com/content/e9fc95c0-44b1-11e4-ab0c-00144feabdc0

Subscribe to Receive Updates

Nancy Malik
About the Author
Nancy Malik
Nancy is a design addict with a special interest in textiles, fashion, photography and product development.

Learn More About Nancy