In this area, students will have the opportunity to explore new product genres and new business opportunities. It will deal with processes, methods and tools to identify weak signals, create design provocations, physical fore sighting and materialized lifestyle scenarios.
03 Emergent Trends
“Trends tell us less about the future than they do about the present. They are often presented as a preview of what is coming, but outside of specific short-term contexts we need to look beyond mainstream trends to understand the changes likely to affect us. History teaches us that that major change (which leads to myriad minor resultant changes) comes about as a result of disruption. It also teaches us that while these crises may occur in a defined category –financial collapse, seen as a war, pandemic and so on– they seldom have their causality in one domain and always produce seismic knock-on effects in many adjacent areas.
We see how technology develops in leaps and bounds in response to the crisis of war, how social change can occur in response to natural disaster and how epidemics can affect the faiths and belief systems of a society. By looking at history we can see that while events don’t repeat themselves in neat cyclical patterns, there are trends that we can usefully observe in predicting the future. So while the energy base of contemporary western societies is very different to the primary resource usage in the civilisations of the past, there is a similarity in the way these societies, separated by millennia, consumed energy and failed to plan ahead.
How, as designers, do we usefully gauge the near future at a practical level? We often see the extrapolation of contemporary technology as a measure of the future. We are constantly told that the pace of development of technology is very, very rapid. In fact, the statement obscures the fact that we generally see the emergence of new and significant technological shifts over decades, and then show surprise and excitement when an innovation appears in product or service form for us to consume.
We should see change – political, economic, environmental - as a dialectical process, that is fuelled by a multiplicity of factors and not just look at the linear precedents that they are seemingly built on. We need to look for “weak signals” – anomalous, counter-cultural, arrhythmic disturbances in the patterns of social, technological and cultural order around us and interrogate their authenticity and reliability. Designers need to get fit in their sensitivity to weak signals and apply rigorous filters to differentiate likely future trends from false alarms.
Our world is at a stage where significant changes to the status quo can be observed at different levels – massive geo-political realignments are taking place, a shift in economic centrality from east to west, changes in the material basis of what we consume, a re-ordering of the economic table as some rich countries make way for previously poor countries in global influence, a change in technology from electro-mechanical to biological, a crisis in antibiotic medicine, an epidemic of lifestyle diseases– indicators that are very evident if we look for them.
Understanding these phenomena before they manifest as mainstream trends gives us the head-start to shaping their application and averting their negative effects.”
“The concept of a sharing economy is engraved in our human instinct. Cooperative structures that include sharing, individual choices, gifting and swapping are a basic part of any community. However, it being adopted as a business structure is relatively new, and the term “sharing economy” has only recently come about in the mid-2000s.
It mainly spread due to a combination of social technologies and a realization of global issues, including population growth and resource depletion. The financial crisis in 2007 also awakened people to be creative and turn underutilized materials into steady incomes.
In addition to the “sharing economy” a broader concept “collaborative economy” was born too. It refers to an economy built on distributed networks of connected individuals and communities versus centralized institutions, transforming how we can produce, consume, finance, and learn. It has four key components: collaborative consumption (a.k.a. Sharing Economy), digital production (of both digital and physical goods), P2P financial services and education.
The phenomenon (including Airbnb, Kickstarter, FabLabs, LendingClub, Wallapop, BlaBlaCar) is growing very fast all around the world. According to PwC reports, the total transactions for Europe’s five most prominent sharing economy sectors – collaborative finance, peer-to-peer accommodation, peer-to-peer transportation, on-demand household services and on-demand professional services – could see a 20-fold increase to €570 billion by 2025, up from just €28 billion in 2016.”