8 Important Consumer Trends to Look Out for in 2008

Early this year I wrote about the Top 5 consumer trends to watch for 2007 and how it relates to Industrial Design. Following tradition, here we go again for 2008, and this time it is a little earlier and hopefully will help all of us be a better prepared in our never ending push to identify, synthesize and create a product that could become the next big thing.


Once again I am tapping in and responding to the large body of research by Trendwatching.com who graciously shares it with the world in their annual report for 2008. The consumer trends that were identified are very wide ranging and have applications in many areas, but the astute designer will realise a lot of it can be applied in your design programs. In particular if you start your design programs with a scenario base strategy as most of what was discussed is about our culture and habits of tomorrow. Even if you don’t, its just great information to keep for your lateral thoughts.
Here are my thoughts and comments, from an industrial design or product design stand point:
1. Status Spheres

“Here’s something trend watchers, CMOs and other business professionals should be able to agree on: in the end, when dealing with (and selling to) people, everything always comes back to status. In a traditional consumer society, he or she who consumes the most, the best, the coolest, the most expensive, the scarcest or the most popular goods, will typically also gain the most status.”

Selling products as Status has always been big business, and with the polarization of the market place and manufacturers or consumers moving up market, this trend to status will continue to feed each other in a vicious cycle. However designers will need to realise that this does not work with all products as:

As we’ve pointed out many times before, one mistake both trend watchers and brands make all the time, is to assume or pretend that a certain ‘trend’ will affect or be embraced by ALL consumers. No. Remember, in life and in trends: beauty (or ugliness) is in the eye of the beholder.

I believe tt is all about experiences and what is important to your target market. I have always said your consumer may eat premium pasta, drink expensive wine, but drive a Toyota, or worst still buy a $20,000 Home Entertainment system just to watch his pirated DVDs. In-depth study and understanding of your target market’s motivations is the key to unlocking what they find important to their status.
In terms of a consumer group, the status seekers will not only include the Rich. The “Nouveau Rich” (the growing rich middle class in developing countries like China, Russia and Eastern Europe) together with the Baby Boomers and Female market will be important considerations as they now have the money for self-actualization.
Interestingly enough status does not only have to do with money. Trendwatching also identifies other Status Spheres that Industrial Designers can think about.
a) The Transient Sphere: people who strive and seek as many different experiences as possible. Travel, trying new products, I see such consumers fluttering around everything like butterflies.
b) The Online Sphere: People craving an online status or in other words how many Facebook friends or visitors they have to their blog. I expect the internet to continue to be the place for new product launches and limited edition (Internet only?) launches.
c) The Eco Sphere: The Green movement will continue to gain momentum, and making sure your products are green will be a given.
d) The Giving Sphere: Gaining status by giving back to society.
e) The Participative Sphere: Customer made and interaction with your best customers can be a key to great market research and designs. Just don’t let this hinder your innovation.
2. Premiumization

Basically, with more wealth burning holes in (saturated and experienced) consumers’ pockets than ever before, quick status fixes derived from premium products and premium experiences will continue in full force next year.

This is something we started to see in 2007, Leather laptops, scarce electronics (planned scarcity?), limited edition water bottles, limited run toys, First Class Suites etc. I think this will continue to be big in 2008. As they say every product and service will soon have a “premium version”.

How about 2008 being about the PREMIUMIZATION of everything and anything. In other words, no industry, no sector, no product will escape a premium version in the next 12 months.

From the design side, expect modular platforms with “pimped” materials or features, and perhaps an “elite” range product runs. Mass market manufacturers will be struggling to look for differentiation but still maintain their bottom line as their volume calculations are hit. Luxury product manufacturers will also struggle as they pull no stops in locating the best and most unique features for their status conscious customers and hopefully redefining what is luxury at the same time.
3. Snack Culture

SNACK CULTURE thus embodies the phenomenon of products, services and experiences becoming more temporary and transient; products that are being deconstructed in easier to digest, easier to afford bits, making it possible to collect even more experiences, as often as possible, in an even shorter time frame.

Trendwatching calls it the Transient Sphere on steroids, however to me I think it is more that just about accumulating experiences. Our hyper-consumers are so overloaded with information that there is so much they can mentally process at anyone time. From over styled products visually fighting each other to easy to use products, this Snack Culture will have a huge impact on Design. What “bite-size” products will essentially do is impact in your product’s use experience. Consumers will likely throw your product in to the bin if they can’t figure it out in the first 2mins. As a result try-before-you-buy will be big, and just like Toys, your product better demo well.
4. Online Oxygen

…control-craving consumers needing online access as much as they need oxygen.

I think the effect is pretty clear as I had written in my Amazon Kindle post, products will need some kind of on-line strategy to vastly grow its use experience. It could be about accessing online information like internet radios, or uses the internet as a means to sell the product like limited edition prints or T-shirts. What ever you pick, on line information of your product and using blogs to generate buzz will be the norm for 2008.
5. Eco-Iconic

Over the past few years, the ECO trend has moved from ECO-UGLY (ugly, over-priced, low performance alternatives to shiny ‘traditional sphere’ products and services) to ECO-CHIC (eco-friendly stuff that actually looks as nice and cool as the less responsible version) to ECO-ICONIC in 2008: “Eco-friendly goods and services sporting bold, iconic design and markers, that help their eco-conscious owners to visibly tout their eco-credentials to peers.”

As mention earlier, the Green movement will continuing to gain momentum, influence and thus power, will be something to watch in 2008. Eco design should be something manufacturers can seriously consider as strategic competitive advantage. Furthermore, as going green will be a given, designers should take the next step to be not only aware of the environmental impact of your designs, but to build systems and products that foster sustainable behaviours in consumers.
6. Brand Butlers
This is an interesting idea where brands engage customers by getting involved in their day to day lives. This builds brand loyalty and love that encourages the customer to spread the good news! Designers might like to see how advertisers will position their products together with their customers. I probably won’t say too much more as this is really more of a marketing, advertising or PR strategy.
7. MIY | Make It Yourself

It’s a mainstream trend now, one that keeps giving, with millions of consumers uploading their creative endeavors online, and tens of millions of others enjoying the fruits of their creativity. User-generated content, at least in the online world, has grown from a teenage hobby to an almost equal contender to established entities in news, media, entertainment and craft….the next frontier will be digitally designing products from scratch, then having them turned into real physical goods as well. In fact, expect MIY | MAKE IT YOURSELF (and then SIY | SELL IT YOURSELF) ventures to become increasingly sophisticated in the next 12 months:

Of all the trends we are discussing today, this perhaps has the greatest impact to Industrial Designers. While this trend speaks about the current online MIY trends, and soon to be available physical facilities for customers to make their own, the next step is pretty obvious. Basically if people are making their own products to a specification of what they want, then what is the role of Designers and Design? This is something that should force Industrial Designers to sit up and think about, as it has a huge impact on our future.
While I have touched on this topic in the past with “Fabbing: A primer for Guerilla Design Strategies” and “The future relationship of IP and Industrial Design“, I will soon be exploring this topic in greater depth here as part of my in-depth research paper on this issue. So do stay tuned!
8. Crowd Mining

CROWD MINING: when co-creating, co-funding, co-buying, co-designing, co-managing *anything* with ‘crowds’, the emphasis in 2008 will move from just getting the masses in, to mining those crowds for the rough and polished diamonds. How to do that? Shower them with love, respect and heaps of money, of course.

This is an interesting as it will impact how we do our Market Research for our design programs. Now with communities of people with common interests coming together, it will be interesting to see how companies or people managing such websites take advantage of the “power of the people”.
While it is tempting to create a product that a group of people may want, it may not be entirely correct or successful all the time. We still need to be prudent with our costings and due diligence.
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I hope you enjoyed that run down and I wish you a great year of product development success!

4 Comments
  • cybrpnk

    January 18, 2008 at 12:35 pm Reply

    Extremely interesting post…with the MIY trend though…how does this weigh up against designing products for mass manufacture? ie MIY/SIY vs products mass manufactured by bigger entities…in terms of costing and many other issues. I see SIY and MIYs more as hobbies whereas pure Industrial Design for the masses is a whole different ball game…

  • DT

    January 22, 2008 at 12:25 pm Reply

    Hi Cybrpnk,
    Actually this trend will have much impact in both the niche design market and the mass design market. How? That is the six million dollar question and something that I am thinking of doing a Phd on about!
    Thanks for your comments and please keep intouch.

  • Mario Vellandi

    February 1, 2008 at 4:09 am Reply

    Ahhh…the good ‘ole trends. Private label design work (and the volume of PL goods sold) will continue to rise. I like how ‘premiumization’ is moving beyond mass chic [which itself was interesting for a little while until it permeated the market into various product categories and retail channels]. Although I like nice aesthetics and packaging, its wider prevalence over the last 5 years has made me take it for granted, and notice it less. I believe a second result of the original mass chic movement has forced many shoppers to expand their definition of ‘value’ and ‘luxury’. Any high-class ‘premium’ brand that has responded by simply raising its prices has fared well.

  • DT

    February 1, 2008 at 6:57 pm Reply

    Hi Mario,
    Good to hear from you. I totally agree Premiumization is kinda taken for granted these days, and the differentiation value has dropped. The question is what is next and what will luxury brands do now? The whole definition of luxury will change dramatically and increase of prices cant be the only solution.

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