Learning by Keeping Your Eyes Open

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This article has been written by Nehal Shah, a Design Researcher. This article was published in issue 06 of Social Technology Quarterly.
Summary: Identifying trends, fads, and patterns in behaviours through a socio-cultural perspective is key to understanding users’ needs. How these are determined in terms of relevance and impact is important to
businesses.

Published in: Technology, Business
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Learning by Keeping Your Eyes Open

  1. 1. KulizaCommunitiesA few years ago, while doing field researchin parts of rural Maharashtra, I realized theimportance of keeping my eyes open. Afamily of five wove bamboo baskets and soldthem at the local market and had two mobilephones. One was used as a landline, the otheras a mobile phone. The ‘landline’ was keptconstantly on charge due to frequent powercuts and hung low from the plug point. Thisis a common pattern I recognized through myvisits to many houses in the village. This simpleimage gave rise to many cultural, ergonomicand design challenges in my head. It had adefined space as a landline, was a shrine totechnology and something for neighbours tocome, see, and use. Its mobility was not takenadvantage of, its potential hazards, increasedexpenses through unintended calls by childrenillustrated the need for a serious upheaval ofcharger designs. One of which is providingspace for the phone to rest while it charges.For any problem, working on the pattern ofcause-effect-solution is the most commonone people take up. Similarly, it becomescritical to discern that these behaviours areparts of a pattern, even if in outliers.Understanding the pulse of a country, whatcitizens are passionate about, the things theycare about become important. Identifyingthese is what large businesses spend millionsof dollars on. It is the starting point of all greatif not successful ideas.Most organizations value leaders who havea vision. Business decisions are often basedon predictions – of time, people, behaviours,resources, economies, amongst others. But,these predictions are well, predictions, andthere are no sure ways to future-proof ideas.The idea of keeping one’s eyes open for whatis happening in an attempt to understandpatterns in behaviours, people, resources,economies, is not new. People are constantlyengaged in identifying these. Be it the stockmarket, the weather or fashion; the lastCommunitiesLearning byKeeping yourEyes OpenIdentifying trends, fads, and patterns in behavioursthrough a socio-cultural perspective is key tounderstanding users’ needs. How these are determinedin terms of relevance and impact is important tobusinesses.by Nehal ShahPhoto Credit: Not Another Dinosaur
  2. 2. Social Technology Quarterly 06decade has seen the idea evolve into aprocess – as scientific as research can get.When there is a pattern, one can almostalways predict its path.Trendspotting is often confused with fads andfashion. But the concept of trendspotting isrecognizing patterns in their evolution. Theycould be nascent, be just ideas or thoughts,may become a fad, bring in a behaviouraltrend, initiate a consumer or lifestyle change,cause a social shift or spark a generationaltrend even. It is essential to not only identifypatterns but also map where they fall on theevolution continuum. On the other hand, afad is usually something that has a very shortlife span, affects a few industries but has veryhigh, almost peaking interest. For example, afew years ago there was an obsession withCrocs, the not-so-pretty shoes made of asurprisingly sturdy material called Croslite. Itstarted very small until most people ownedeither a pair of Crocs or a cheap fake version.In contrast to a fad, a trend is often a complex,socio-cultural phenomenon that scanslifestyles at a particular point in time. While itwould not be right to consider Apple’s iPad asa trend, it is actually the concept of gesturalmulti-point devices that brings the worldto our fingertips, which definitely is a trend.It would be interesting to note why Psy’sGangnam Style video became such a ragelast month. In his article ‘Gangam Style,Dissected’ in the Atlantic, Max Fisherdissects the mise-en-scène to understandthe subversive message of this Koreanmusic video. The kind of social stimuli thatit presents and the number of people thathave paid attention to the song is incredible.It creates a commentary on contemporaryKorean life and styles. Such videos becomea starting point to understand social shiftsand the pulse of the nation, which could thensnowball, or trickle down to the design of newproducts and services or simply die out.All fads, trends, social shifts and generationalchanges have life spans. While technologyand new media trends have the shortestspan, fashion comes next, design andconsumer trends soon after, and cultural andgenerational changes being ones with thehighest term. But as people with day jobs,keeping track of these can get exhausting.Today, technology and Social Media makesthis much easier. Crowdsourcing ideas helpidentify trends. Dell’s IdeaStorm site is anexample of how a company uses a websiteas a tool to gauge what ideas are importantand relevant to the user. A detailed analysisof what people are asking for, reveal whatmatters most to them. One is then likely tocreate a product or a service that satisfieslatent needs.One now has a pile of data, sourced fromdifferent areas - looking at magazines,conversing with people, reading researchreports, tracking newspapers, watchingcommercials, deconstructing people’s
  3. 3. KulizaArticle photo,previous page:A Timeline forTrends and TechnologyCredits: RichardWatson at Nowandnext.com,Benjamin Frazer at Snap,Oliver Freeman,Mike Jackson and Scott MartinNot Another DinosaurLeft: MoodboardingCredit: lolololori
  4. 4. Social Technology Quarterly 06TrendsMap is a better looking engine for real-time Twitter trends that one can filter throughproximity or/ and topic. CassandraDaily, isa site for the lazy trendspotter. It collectsstories and inspirations and categorizesthem into themes. Each theme is supportedby live manifestations of the trend. Similarly,for some more focused Indian content, JWTIntelligence produces reports and collectsdata on trends therefore “...converting culturalshifts into opportunities,” is appropriately theirtagline. Springwise is a great resource forinnovators and early adopters looking to tapearly into a trend. It has informative listingsof new and upcoming products and services.Tracking these help put knowledge intoperspective. They provide a framework or alens through which one would base futuredecisions. They work across domains anddepartments, help lead projects, businesses,and organisations in appropriate, valuabledirections, and stay ahead of the curve.fashion sense on the street, and more. Eachone is probably suggesting a different trend.There are a few simple analysis techniquesthat can help consolidate this informationwithout distilling it. The easiest is to createmoodboards by observing the stimuli untilpatterns emerge. If there is no “The BeautifulMind” moment happening, one could tryand categorize observations into different,non-obvious buckets. Alternatively it ispossible to use a moodboard to achieve andcommunicate this clarity. Anybody who has a“Pin It” applet on the bookmarks bar wouldalready know quite a bit about moodboarding.These moodboards or themes can be grand,slightly zoomed out trends, and can be appliedto any product or service or thought, acrossany domain. A set of metrics can be used todetermine impact, relevance, and uptake ofthese trends on businesses. The process thenis- evaluate, track, and predict it.While moodboarding and the smell ofFevicol take one back to craft class, it is thevery nature of childlike curiosity that makestrendspotting fun. If the smell of Fevicolmakes one gag, there is always an app forthat; websites in this case: WhatTheTrendcollates popular hash tags from Twitter.Top left: Psy’s Gangnam StyleVideoCredit: StarcasmTop right,100 things to watch out for in 2012Credit: JWT Intelligence

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