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From Signals to Great Products: Spotting Trends for Product Design

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Besides working on innovative products, my work as a Design Researcher also revolves around identifying new trends. I get super excited when I discover a potential one. I quickly share it with other designers in the studio and we have animated conversations about the possible concepts.

Spotting trends is a regular part of our activities in the product design team. Innovating in a fast-paced tech environment requires both designers and researchers to be aware of the shift in consumer taste. From ideating to conceptualizing to production, we arm ourselves with the relevant knowledge to create a great experience on top of an appealing product.

With creating a great product as our north star, identifying trends is a collective effort. The Singapore Asus Design Centre works as a team to gather, analyze, and explore the trends we have come across. The diversity of perspectives from our designers provides an all-encompassing outlook on the trends and possible opportunities.

Trends at its core

A trend is an observable change and manifestation of consumer behavior towards something new or different. It is the consequence of social change, technological development, economic impact, environmental impact, and political shift. The change in trend follows an s-curve shape. At the early stage before adoption by the mainstream, it is seen as a weak signal. It could be easily dismissed because it is seen as ridiculous. It is increasingly accepted as more people see the value. When it is in the mainstream, it influences a new way of addressing human needs such as social relationships, security, value, and excitement. Once the basic human need is addressed, it sets new customer expectations.

Trends could be mistaken as hype when it first emerges. A hype fades away without any lasting impact. It disappears quickly when the feeling of novelty has gone. A trend, in contrast, continues to grow as it connects with emerging values and needs. The trend’s enduring nature is the fundamental reason that product designers refer to it to add value to consumer products.

There are three types of trends: Megatrends, macro trends, and micro trends. The types of trends are distinguished by the impact and the time taken for the change to take place.

Megatrends are shifts that have the biggest impact and are longer term in nature. The change has irreversible consequences as it has a global impact. It is a consequence of major political, economic, social, technological, and environmental changes. Furthermore, with the interconnectivity in today’s world suggests that the mega trends that we see do not exist in isolation. The change could take place over 10 years or more. Some examples of these trends include technological change, rapid urbanization, changing demographics, and climate change and resource scarcity.

Macro trends are moderate changes that have a widespread impact. These trends are driven by the global forces from the mega trends. It reflects how consumers taste are affected by the underlying drivers. It has a shorter timeframe of 3 to 5 years. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked macro trends such as gravitating towards healthier living, building a connected home, and hybrid work.

Micro trends are short-term, emerging changes. These trends are specific shifts in consumer behavior. It impacts a smaller region and market. The time for the change to take place is from 1 to 2 years. These are a few current micro trends are reducing food waste, sustainable materials, and voice-based chat apps.

Process for spotting trends

As designers, we need to create relevant products that fit with consumer needs. Spotting trends provides the insights to strengthen our product line. For the Singapore Asus Design Centre, we needed a systematic approach to identify technological solutions, design directions, and consumer behavior. We work together as a team to collect, analyze, discuss and explore relevant micro trends.

Collect innovations

Spotting current trends begins from looking at present innovations. There is no right or wrong way to identify trends. It requires looking around to find interesting and relevant items. These items could be novel as it highlights an emerging needs and the relevance could provide opportunities aligning with the business goals.

There are a plethora of resources like web articles, videos, audio, and trend reports. We also tap into influencers’ and key opinion leaders’ posts as they are early adopters of technology. We seek to be inspired and look for design, technology, experience, and user-related items. Every contribution matters to us. No items are discarded as the goal is to create volume and a big picture.

Analyze contributions

Within the SADC team, we have a trend-spotting team who will regularly review contributions from the team. This six-member team categorizes and tags the posts with relevant keywords. Similar ones are grouped together. A growing cluster suggests a present or emerging micro trend that is relevant for the whole team. There are times when we find some innovations that seem niche or out of this world. We don’t dismiss them as they could be weak signals of what will be the norm in the future.

Discuss trends

The trend spotting team puts together several similar micro trends into a deck with a common theme. We share them during a bi-weekly team meeting, where we discuss how we could adopt the trend. Ideas and suggestions that came up are consolidated. We also circulate our trend findings and discussion to other design colleagues in a fortnightly newsletter to exchange ideas.

Explore trends

We take a step further to explore how these trends could result in innovative ideas for current and future product portfolios. Guided by the trends, we organize regular ideation workshops. We challenge ourselves to come up with novel, relevant, inspiring, and timely concepts. At the same time, we continue to examine important and new topics further and monitor those that could impact business goals.

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