What do you consider an important new user trend?

I think it would be a shame if we didn’t focus some of our attention towards what users are actually doing “out there” in the real world. While it’s always fun to track new stuff on its way out of the design studio and onto the retail shelf (think gizmodo.com, Wired Magazine, Core77), it’s equally important to pay attention to what people are actually buying, watching, eating, reading, and talking about.

One of the things we do periodically in our research group is skim various non-design sources as a way of keeping ourselves in touch with users/consumers/the huddled masses/red state morons…call them whatever you will. For us, short of spending quality time in some stranger’s home while sticking a camera in their face, it’s a great way of finding out what’s happening in Wall-Martville.

The following is just a little bit of food for though.

The top 5 selling books of 2004 (source USAToday.com)1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
2. The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston.
3. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown.
4. The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren.
5. The Five People You Meet in Heaven: A Novel by Mitch Albom.

Top Ten Cable TV Programs - For week of 12/6/04 - 12/12/04 (source nielsenmedia.com)1. NFL Regular Season L (Eagles/Redskins) - 10,413,000
2. 3-Premiere - 7,247,000
3. WWE Entertainment (WWE RAW Zone) - 4,438,000
4. WWE Entertainment (WWE RAW) - 4,323,000
5. Law & Order - 4,249,000

Here’s what I would say are some strong user trends thriving out there in the market.

Old-School Spirituality: Check out the top sellers above. Whether people practice it themselves, or simply like to admire its history and rituals, religion is hot. Also, don’t forget Mel’s little movie from earlier this year.

Macho-Sports: RVs, #3, WWF, Home Depot, Monster Garage…boys (and girls?) must be getting tired of sitting behind a desk. Has anyone been to a Cabela’s superstore lately?

Domestic Arts: Julia and Martha kicked off this trend with home cooking, but now it’s moved on to scrapbooking, knitting, and software-based sewing machines. Are pickling and hand laundry far behind?

I have found that the best way to keep up with the current trends in consumer habits is to…

1 - have a wide variety of friends. Talk to them, do stuff with them. Observe what they buy, what their hobbies are, etc. Why rely on what others think the trends are, see them for yourself.

2 - walk around the mall, Wally World, etc. and see what people are buying and what the stores are stocking. The retail world is an alternate reality to the design studio. Looking at it through magazines, surveys, etc. does not always give an acurate picture or present it in context.

3 - I suppose you could also get a part time job at a retailer. You’ll make a little money on the side and get to see what people are buying.

I fail to see clear trends throughout the population. Instead, I see regions - even sub-regions - of consumers that have their own tastes, hobbies, shopping habits, favorite TV shows, world view, etc… East coast vs. west coast, NE vs. SE vs. midwest vs. pacific NW, etc. The company I work for gears some furniture towards specific regions simply because it will only sell well in that location. Obviously not all product categories are subject to regional variences, but few seem to see regions and their often differing buying habits and subsequent trends.

We met someone at a B&B about 2 years ago that makes their own soap. This prompted one of the older members of our group to go on a serious rant (in private) about making one’s own soap by CHOICE when it was something that his mother had to do, and it was awful.

Not quite hand laundry but close.

Pickling? I bet a DIY pickling product (Mason jar with an envelope?) would go over very well.

Does this count as one?

Trading Up: The New American Luxury
by Michael Silverstein, Neil Fiske

From Amazon.com:
“Clothing, cars, beer, coffee, kitchen appliances, lingerie, personal care, pet food, restaurants-in dozens of categories, new luxury goods occupy a sweet spot in the market, because they can sell in much higher unit volumes than “old luxury” goods, but command much higher profit margins than ordinary products. But new luxury leaders-such as Callaway Golf, Victoria’s Secret, Panera Bread, Belvedere vodka, Whirlpool Duet, and Williams-Sonoma-create and market their goods very differently than do conventional companies.”

I think if you look at the combination of the user trends that Kord listed then it’s almost a looking back at the past. Possibly 50’s? Where men have to be Macho and women happy in the kitchen and religion is what keeps and holds everything together. Almost a validation of the “thinking” behind the vote in the US this year.

Not so much the moral argument as much as a reaction to the words Metrosexual and Will and Grace on television. This coupled with the personalization movement…where people want to personlize things and create a sense of individuality.

More and more I see a culture that is created by products. Things like the i-pod come with a parade of new products that will allow you to integrate the original product into parts of your life you probably didn’t initially intend to use it for. People are thinking more about how versatile products are and how personal are they (hello camera phones!!). Mass production for the individual is key. Just because everyone has one, doesn’t mean everyone uses it the same way, or should have to use it the same way. I use the i-pod example cause I enjoy the idea of it so much (even though I don’t’ have one). You can now say “This is MY i-pod and it has all of my favorite things on it.”

What is the newest design trend? Products with human appeal.