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How does a trend expert work? What is a trend really, and how do they even spot and analyze trends? We have asked the Trend sociologist Kirsten van Dam, who is one of the founders and owners of ‘Out Of Office’ – a network-based office for future thinking, trend research, consumer insightand strategy.
This is a small excerpt from the book ‘Trendsociology v. 2.0’, published by pej gruppen. Buy the book here.
Why and how did you become a trend expert?
I wouldn’t describe myself as a trend forecaster. I use trend research in my work to define what may have value for people in the future in order to create meaningful innovations. I never had a big plan to become a trend forecaster, but there might have been two important elements that defined this interest from an early age. First, there is
my background in design, and during my study of Industrial Design Engineering, I learned how to structure creative processes and to identify patterns (which helps me to decode new trends). Secondly, there is the ability to connect and having a genuine interest in people. I guess that understanding the people around you – what they do and why they do it – is key and is the basis for what I do. I like to connect content and people and question the why (why people do, act, think). Throughout my life, I have combined an open attitude and view in life, with a focused vision on what I think is relevant. I have found opportunities to travel places and meet new people, and along the way, I have discovered that dialogues with all sorts of people inspire new cultures and lifestyles. I never set out to be a trend
forecaster, nor an entrepreneur, but I translate (trend) research and insight into human (business) innovative ideas, strategy, products, services, processes and systems.
Why is it important to forecast trends?
In complex hectic times like these, it is important that we – companies, governments and organizations – can imagine alternative futures. In order to see new opportunities, one should have the capacity to be open for other possibilities and to do things differently. More than ever, it is important to find trusted partners to guide them through these (customized) processes and understand the nuances. It is important to help businesses read between the lines
and capitalize on the opportunity of doing strategy, i.e. imagining their future. Instead of coming up with the same solution in a different shape, we are looking for meaningful innovative solutions. There is no simple answer and we need to rethink how we interact with the world around us. For me, spotting or seeing the trend is not where
the value is. The value comes when you start curating (selecting) these trends and make them relevant to a (client’s) context. That is where the difference can be.
How do you define the concept of a trend?
I usually work with a framework based on megatrends and start setting up the direction by identifying which areas will influence the project: technology, community, mobility, although this also depends on the clients and projects. All our projects are customized, and we design our process to be able to deliver the best quality to our clients. We begin the process by digging through the Internet, data, books, reports, statistics and the latest developments within
the client’s framework and experience. Once we have developed a frame of reference, we reach out to our 404 Network for qualitative insight (interviews, videos, etc.). Our 404 Network is a positiv future-focused global group of experts that we trust and that feeds us with original and relevant information for the development of
products and services. We have designed this global network of insight generators and thought leaders to gain new insights from people in diverse environments. Our 404 methodology enables us to dive deep and understand what the consumer wants and how the consumer thinks and feels. We add a layer of texture with our expert interviews, in which creative leaders lend their unique visions. Based on this, we come up with strategic and creative opportunities.
Which types of trends interest you the most?
In general, I like to work on fully integrated projects (from communitydriven trend research to strategy and concept towards final design) where I am able to influence the implementation. I am interested in a multi-disciplinary approach, where I bring together a team of experts suitable for that specific project. At the moment I am working on a project that focuses on the city of the future, how people are changing the city and how the city is changing the structures in the city. Cities are one of the most interesting places where people meet and interact, and where meaningful innovation is most needed.
How and where do you discover trends?
Way before it became mainstream, we believed that ‘Out Of Office’ is a work philosophy more than anything else. After working inside offices (and in a real basement!) for 6 years, I believe that in this networked world you are better off experiencing the real world and challenging serendipity by working out of office and meeting new
people and mindsets. I have always believed in hybrid spaces, hybrid places and hybrid ways of working, also for myself. By being connected to educational labs as one of my favourite places to gain new insights from young people that are eager to challenge what there is to know, I recently became part of a Service Design Lab at Aalborg University in Copenhagen. This is great inspiring and active research dedicated to studying and applying service design to address issues of societal concern.
Are you interested in getting your hands on the entire book, (it’s 400 pages), it is possible to buy here.
The book consists of three parts:
1. Theory and practical description of what a trend is, how it is spread and what effect it may have.
2. Interview with 17 of the world’s top trend researchers
3. Practical process description (5 phased process) with concrete methods and tools for working with trends.