Main Body

Chapter 2 – The Trend Research Toolkit

by Gozde Goncu-Berk, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Introduction

Economic, social, political and cultural contexts or the zeitgeist are impacting trends across industries and demographics or market segments as the boundaries of traditional consumer segmentations and traditional markets are blurring. For instance, female and male interests and behaviours are merging; and scientific developments in nanotechnology are affecting fashion and architecture industries at the same time. Therefore, forecasting fashion trends requires a thorough assessment of the long-term direction of the society and its implications across multiple industries as the first step. Once an emerging megatrend across industries is identified, the next step is to focus on the meaning of that trend for consumers in the context of the fashion industry and to determine the applications of that trend in competition and in industry specific shows and publications. Finally, this data is interpreted and synthesized into product attributes such as function, style, color, materials and textures for future seasons.

Fusion of objective and subjective skills is needed for forecasting future trends. Objective and analytical skills are required for systematic data sourcing, data analysis and interpretation. Trend forecasters should also have more subjective and artistic skills and characteristics such as awareness and intuition to sense newly emerging directions and to make predictions about their future implications. These subjective skills do not come from birth or appear suddenly rather they are built over time based on collection of experiences such as methodological research and constant information flow from networks. Thus, forecasting trends requires using rational research and a well-established network to predict where, when and why new things happen.

This chapter will introduce methods of conducting desk research and building an online trend network to ensure up-to-date constant information flow as well as formal methods of conducting research in the field to gather original data about specifics of a trend.

Desk Research

Step 1:Megatrends and Trend Drivers

Goals:

  • To determine an emerging megatrend across industries
  • To determine potential innovators and early adopters of this trend
  • To determine target population of consumers for in-depth field research
  • To determine experts/knowledgeable professionals for in-depth field research

Sources:

Websites, Social Media, Blogs, Magazines, Newspapers, Periodicals, TV programs, Radio Shows

Methods:

Building an Online Trend Network

The first step of forecasting fashion trends starts with desk research where trend forecasters scan and review emerging socio-cultural shifts in economics, politics, science and technology, arts, entertainment and new ideas across industries in online and offline platforms. Although this process is described in a step-by-step manner, this scanning phase is an on-going process where forecasters constantly look for “the new”.

Gazing across online and offline media to detect and track changes in the way people live can highlight megatrends which can be observed in multiple industries, while identifying potential adopters of the megatrend and professionals knowledgeable about the megatrend. Forecasters use different terms such as cross-cultural analysis and cultural brailing to define this process of building insights about a megatrend affecting people on many scales.

Cross-cultural analysis involves scanning across industries to detect traces of emerging threads of commonality. Three-times rule can be used to prove credibility of an emerging trend when conducting this type of a scan. Three times rule is spotting three applications or examples of a trend with noticeable characteristics in three unrelated industries (Raymond, 2010). For example, let’s say you have identified three products with common characteristics pertaining to a trend, then you need to detect three examples of the same trend in three other industries which could be anything from retail, interiors, automotive, product design, beauty, technology, food, packaging or others. If common trends are found, these may constitute a mega-trend. Using three-times rule while conducting your desk research helps you validate your preliminary insights about an emerging megatrend.

Cultural Brailing is a term popularized by influential American trend forecaster Faith Popcorn and her trend forecasting agency “BrainReserve”. It can be defined as being open to anything new with all your senses wherever you are and whomever you are with. Susan Choi, Trend Track director at BrainReserve describes this process:

“Brailling is a way of communicating language through bumps on a page. We take that same technique here and feel the bumps in culture. The bumps are everything. Again it is about using all of your senses: things that you see, things that you taste, things that you hear. For example, it could be a matter of walking into a retail store and noticing the lighting, the music, feeling the different textures, just fully immersing yourself into whatever environment that you are in”

Whether the method you are using is cross-cultural analysis, cultural brailing or another one, according to Raymond (2010) asking the following questions helps while reviewing online and offline resources in order to build accurate insight about a possible megatrend.

Who – Who started the trend? Who are innovators and potential early adopters?What – What would you name the trend?

Where – Where is the physical or virtual space the trend emerges?

Why – Why is the trend emerging now?

When – When was the trend first noted?

Building Trend Network

As a result of the Internet, there is a tremendous amount of already existing research that can guide the trend forecasting process. As a result of the Internet, there is a tremendous amount of already existing research that can guide the trend forecasting process. Some of this information is paid for and some of it is freely available. When we consider the number of online daily newspapers and magazines, blogs, social media and websites dedicated to sharing new ideas, the amount of readily available data can be overwhelming. The first step in managing this amount of data to establish a library of favoured information sources and build an online information network, called a trend network. Such an online trend network can help you scan new ideas, products, services, cultural shifts on a regular basis.

Fashion trends do not take place in a vacuum independent from other industries (i.e. architecture, interior design, product design, food, entertainment, cosmetics and so on). All industries respond to major cultural shifts, the Zeitgeist or the spirit of times. Therefore, it is vital not to limit yourself to the fashion industry or build a network composed of only similar interest groups. People who share similar interests generally know similar things so the more diverse your network is the greater is the diversity of ideas you can reach.

Covering a wide range of online research sources builds a diverse trend network that will result in a need for a system to store, record and access material. One way to manage a library of online daily information flow is using online services like myalltop.com, delicious.com or google bookmarks where you can create a personal and online magazine rack of your favourite blogs and websites.

Collaborative Websites That Scan New Trends Globally

Today, most of the trend spotting websites benefit from crowdsourcing to detect emerging trends. Crowdsourcing is obtaining ideas and content from a large group of online community. Many websites benefit from communities around the world who help to spot new and hot ideas and happenings in their localities. Instead of relying on what a guru trendsetter states, these websites build a collaborative hive where thousands of people all over the world share new concepts they have spotted. The information sent by spotters is usually reviewed by an editorial team and then published in a blog format, often as free daily, weekly or monthly newsletters.

Springwise.com publishes new business ideas, technologies and products from wide range of industries on a daily basis as well as free daily and weekly newsletters.

Trendwatching.com is based in the Netherlands and publishes free monthly trend briefings where they address a megatrend with product and business examples from variety of industries around the world. The website offers a free tool called “consumer trend canvas” that can be used to analyze any detected trend in depth.

Trendhunter.com crowdsources new ideas about fashion, technology, design, business and culture publishing yearly trend reports specific to each industry. The website allows you to filter trends for each industry and also lists top twenty trends of the day, week and month. Interviews with influential professionals and articles about trends are also available.

Jwtintelligence.com publishes trend research and analysis across industries and geographies as well as in depth yearly trend reports.

Trendoriginal.com publishes new ideas in a categorized format such as lifestyle, fashion, tech, science and also offers user-generated directory which maps out the best trend spotting blogs.

PSFK.com is a content network that leverages its broad community and research methodology to create inspiring editorials, videos and events for their readers.

NOTCOT Inc is defined as a network of design sites including notcot.com and innovative community contributed sites notcot.org and notcouture.com. notcot.com visually displays editorial ideas and products in fashion, design, technology, home décor, food and drink while notcot.org displays ideas submitted by trend spotters. notcouture.com is solely focused on latest fashion and beauty for women and men.

Cassandra Daily or trendcentral.com is a free daily email newsletter and web site featuring relevant lifestyle, fashion, entertainment and technology trends and social happenings of the day using research, and insights of the global trendsetter network of The Intelligence Group.

CoolBusinessIdeas.com based in Singapore shares editorial and informer/trendspotter submitted ideas on emerging trends and new innovations at global and local scales. They cover wide range of topics from fashion and design to music, automobiles, retailing and health and beauty. It offers a free weekly newsletter.

Websites and Online Magazines

Coolhunting.com covers innovations in design, technology, style, culture, food and travel in a categorized format as well as weekly videos and interviews.

DavidReport.com is an online magazine and a blog that explores everything from art, architecture, culture, design and fashion to food, innovation, music, sustainability and travel.
trendtablet.com is a free social media platform designed and curated by Lidewij Edelkoort where you can see examples of her recent works for clients

trendland.com is a highly visual online magazine covering new ideas in fashion, design, lifestyle, music, art and architecture.

refinery29.com is an independent fashion and style website in the United States covering everything from shopping and beauty to wellness and celebrities.

Trend Forecasting Agencies

Trend forecasting is a very cyclical and on-going process that requires constant research and analysis of new ideas and socio-cultural happenings. Trend forecasting is a very cyclical and on-going process that requires constant research and analysis of new ideas and socio-cultural happenings. Therefore, it takes a lot of time, effort and money investment to forecast trends and many companies fully and partially outsource this type of research and analysis. There are many professional trend-forecasting agencies operating at many different levels. For example, World Future Society and Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies systematically analyse future trends that will shape humanity. Studio Edelkoort and BrainReserve are companies by two leading global trend spotters Li Edelkoort and Faith Popcorn that operate at macro level and offer trend forecasting services to many different industries. On the other hand, companies like WGSN and Stylesight solely focus on the fashion industry. These companies have staff travelling around the world looking at street fashions and lifestyles, monitoring all sort of online and offline sources to identify the new and the next. Fashion forecasting agencies visit trade shows for colors and textiles and scan fashion merchandise around the globe as well as attending designers shows during fashion weeks. Trend forecasting agencies charge large sums of money for their knowledge. While some forecasting agencies share parts of their information online, full access to their projective reports requires membership.

Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies (http://www.cifs.dk/en/) identify and analyze trends that influence the future based on statistical analysis and research of interdisciplinary staff from economics, political science, ethnography, psychology, engineering, PR and sociology. Most of the content requires membership.

The World Future Society (wfs.org) investigates how social, economic and technological developments are shaping the future.

StudioEdelkoort (edelkoort.com), headed by Lidewij Edellcoort, a world-wide known trend guru, offers consultation on trends and product identity to wide range of industries from automobiles and high tech to home environments and fashion. The firm publishes limited quantity trend books targeting fashion, interior and cosmetic. Edelkoort creates audiovisual presentations about upcoming trends twice a year and gives seminars around the world.

BrainReserve (faithpopcorn.com), led by famous American futurist Faith Popcorn, offers predictions of megatrends that will shape society. The company provides consultation at many levels with publications, seminars and future focused discussions.

WGSN (wgsn.com) was launched in 1998 as a trend forecasting service for the fashion industry and today employs over 300 editorial and design staff in offices throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America, and the Middle East. WGSN provides seasonal coverage and analysis on key looks, colors, and fabrics from all significant fashion week shows and offers specialized insight ranging from denim and intimates to kids wear and footwear to an international clientele such as Marks&Spencer and Target. The company partners with Vogue magazine to offer a digitized repository of every issue of American Vogue since 1892 as well as with the technology company Lectra for a starter pack filled with sketches, patterns and prints to create 3D virtual prototypes.

stylesight.com founded in 2003, has over 3,000 subscribing companies and 40,000+ individual users. The company offers forecasting and trend analysis and a large image library to a clientele from diverse industries such as eBay, Zara, Avon, The North Face and others.

Trendstop.com, Trendbuero.de, Japanconsuming.com are other agencies that offer localized and global trend forecasting services for their clients.

Social Media

The more people you are involved with, the more interesting ideas you are likely to receive. There are many social media platforms that can be utilized for trend forecasting research. When you consider the amount of information that runs in these networks, the number of people you need to be involved with may be overwhelming. Taking advantage of social media for trend forecasting research requires managing it carefully for effective use of time and effort. According to Vanston (2011) a first step in managing social network is selecting the general area of interest to receive new information. The areas of interest should be broad enough to uncover promising ideas but narrow enough to prevent the need for excessive effort. Next steps are to identify subject-matter experts who can provide new insights and then engage and maintain relationship with these people.

Facebook and Twitter can be especially useful to follow experts, influential people, companies and organizations on a regular basis. Pinterest is a significant social media channel where millions of consumers are interacting with millions of websites on a daily basis extracting ideas from the web and sharing them with others. Pinterest is not only useful to build a social network for receiving ideas but also to store and organize the visual information. Instagram is another web based social media platform where original photos are shared on a daily basis. Instagram especially resonates with Millennial consumers more than any other age bracket and thus can be effectively utilized to receive up-to-date visual information on their lifestyles. Tumblr is a microblogging platform. It is used to post short texts, photos, quotes, links, music and videos. Having a Tumblr account is like having a Web page. Users can customize its appearance with themes and get their own URLs that anyone can access online.

All of the websites, blogs and companies listed in this chapter including the ones that require subscription publish from one or several types of social media. Using social media to follow new ideas from a selected set of companies is a useful way of being up-to-date and conducting continuous desk research.

Blogs

A blog is a personal website where an individual records personal opinions on a regular basis. Fashion blogs can be split into two main categories; independent blogs which are personal postings of an individual or group of people and corporate blogs which are run by a magazine, brand or a store (Rocamora, 2013). Lately, fashion blogs have gained mainstream presence and influence in the fashion industry. Independent fashion bloggers get invitations to fashion events, sell advertisement space to fashion retailers on their blogs, review and promote fashion products. There are numerous fashion blogs that are dedicated to sharing new trends, ideas and street fashions in trend forward places around the world. Google Blog Search is a tool used to search for blogs and blogposts.

thesartorialist.com was launched in 2005 by Scott Schuman who was listed as Time magazine’s Top 100 Design Influencers. He captures street styles throughout New York and Europe as well as fashion shows.
Similar blogs for street fashion around the world: streetpeeper.com, facehunter.com, stockholmstreetstyle.com.

thestylerookie.com was started in 2008 by 11 year-old Tavi Gavinson who received a lot of publicity when her blog on teen style became very popular. She was invited to fashion weeks to give talks and style looks for well-known companies.

A few of the popular personal style blogs on women and men’s fashion are themanrepeller.com, theblondesalad.com, cupcakesandcashmere.com, fashiontoast.com, and bryanboy.com.

Other Online Tools

Google zeitgeist reveals the spirit of times by aggregating millions of search queries received every day. Google statistically displays searches done during one year and shows the top ten searches of the year as the current worldwide Zeitgeist.

Google Trends is another statistical tool that can be very helpful when researching megatrends across industries. You can search a specific term and see how many times it has been researched over time. You can specify it according to a country, according to a city. It gives a statistical display of what’s popular and what people are interested in currently.

You can set up Google alerts to monitor a query of your interest. Then, google alerts searches the web such as web pages, news, blogs that match new results for the query. When there are new results, google alerts sends them to you in an email format. Your query can be a topic as wide as fashion or very focused, such as customized footwear.

Offline Media

Although there are many online tools that help you research and store ideas and inspirations of future trends, it is still very important to do it in the traditional way. Following news from physical newspapers and magazines, reading books, following influential TV shows and radio shows are still effective means to understand the spirit of times.

Having a physical trend notebook for documenting your ideas and research is a very useful tool. You may not be online when you have an immediate idea or when you see or read something interesting. You can use a robust notebook and keep it with you at all times to sketch ideas, take notes, make diagrams, attach images and materials, fabrics and trims. Trend notebooks do not have rules set in stone; it is a completely personal tool, almost like a personal diary of the new things you have detected.

Gathering data from different online and offline resources and networks will give you insight about what is new and hot; however it is not enough to predict future trends. You will need to start analyzing this data in order for it to make sense and carry you to the next stage of field research.

As stated earlier, using the three times rules validates that you have identified a credible megatrend. While scanning online and offline media first determine the three examples of the megatrend in the fashion industry and three more examples of the same megatrend in three additional industries.

Next, you will need to identify innovators and early adopters of this trend to be able to focus your research on a specific target population during the field research stage. Based on your desk research so far, you can create a list of demographic, geographic and psychographic characteristics of innovators and early adopters of this megatrend. Demographics are about characteristics such as age, sex, income, marital status, family size, education, religion, race, and nationality; Geographics are about where people live, including information about which country, state, city, and the population in each area. Psychographics are about attitudes, tastes, values, and fears of people.

During desk research you will also develop a list of repeating expert names about the megatrend. These experts are knowledgeable professionals who can provide in-depth knowledge or coherent insights about the megatrend. The experts can be academicians, industry professionals like marketers, designers, retailers, journalists, economists, editors, and psychologists.

Field Research

Step 2: Industry Specific Trends

Goals:

  • To focus on the specifics of a megatrend in the context of fashion industry
  • To develop an in depth understanding of the target consumer population
  • To develop an understanding about the state of trend in the marketplace and competition

Sources:

  • People (innovators, early adopters, experts)
  • Environments (streets, malls, stores, campuses, bazaars, concerts, theaters, bars, pubs,…)

Methods:

  • Observation
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Competitive Research

When an emerging mega trend is identified with desk research, the next step is to deep dive and focus on the specifics of this trend by researching its potential impact on consumers for a specific industry. For example, the ageing population is a megatrend and there may be less obvious industry specific trends within this trend such as new materials and sizing system in clothing that is are sensible and aesthetically pleasing to older adults. Field research with consumers and experts related to the identified mega trend can yield valuable original data.

Even though disciplines like fashion, design, retail, marketing or journalism may seem quite diverse, one common factor among these disciplines is that the person is at the center of the profession. Understanding the human component is a vital part of understanding the impact and importance of a trend within a business sector. Today, there is a need for deeper collaboration between creators and individuals. Individuals think of themselves as active participants in the creation process rather than as consumers, customers or users of products. Thus, understanding behavioural and attitudinal needs, expectations and aspirations of individuals in the context of a megatrend are crucial to forecast industry specific trends and develop new products.

It is not a very straightforward task to understand people and especially what people will want in the future. Therefore, conducting field research is much more ambiguous than desk research. For example, if you ask people what type of garments they would like to wear next season, they probably will tell you the things they see around them. It won’t lead to anything new but only a repetition of what is already available. It is your job to discover the unarticulated aspirations, discover the needs people themselves probably are not aware of. You will need to work like a lifestyle detective and your tool in doing this is field research with methods of observation, interview and survey. You will extract knowledge first by observing what people do and asking and then listening to what they say.

Observation: Sensing vs. Looking

Trends have social, cultural or lifestyle aspects that can be observed more effectively than be articulated or described. Observation is seeing and understanding the world through images and then articulating this understanding with words. Like cultural brailing, observation is a transformative experience and requires immersing ourselves with all senses to see, listen and feel the new things and form impressions. Observation also requires freeing ourselves from the biases and prejudices we hold toward people and things.

Observation promotes feeling, thinking and responding toward something without passing judgment, as opposed to simply passively looking at something. When all we do is to look at something, meaning is lost. We look at the screen of our phone or we only look at the penny we use every day. We don’t consider the context beyond this simple act. This also applies to most of the objects we see around us. If asked to draw a quick sketch of a bicycle, you would probably have a hard time remembering all the details. When we look at something, although our mind may be active, we are not fully engaged in creating and embedding every detail to memory. On the other hand seeing something means to “understand” it in a deeper way. The combination of seeing something and understanding at a level at which you can identify all the details is really needed to observe something.

When we observe something, we not only see the big picture but we also see all the elements that unite to create it. As the observer we should be able to briefly take ourselves out of the story, and see the patterns we miss when we are too close to the subject. So observing requires seeing the parts as well as the sum of the parts. Think of it as zooming in and zooming out, zooming in to see the details, to see the leaves and branches of the trees and zooming out to see the bigger picture, the forest as a whole.

There are two formal ways of conducting observations. Non-participant observation involves data collection by observing behavior without interacting with the people and the environment. In this method, the observer is quiet, watching and trying to understand people’s lives, behaviors and environment. Non-participant observation helps to develop a preliminary understanding of the cultural context. Participant observation data are collected by interacting with people and environments, thereby experiencing the phenomenon being studied. Observers actively experience and feel people’s way of life by shadowing them. There are two options in conducting participant observations. Covert observations are when the viewer blends in and identity as an observer is not revealed. The other is overt observations where you reveal your identity as the observer. The advantage of covert observation is people will behave naturally. However, it is open to many ethical concerns as you are covering your identity and actively engaging in an activity with people and not telling them that you are conducting an observation.

In conducting observation one rule of thumb is to never rely on memory, as it is very easy to forget details. It is best practice to get help from notebooks, pens and pencils, sketchbooks, cameras, video cameras and voice recorders. It is also a good idea not to rely on a single method to capture observations. You should use a combination of visual data in addition to notes. You should always physically take notes in addition to digital recording because while you take notes, you not only record what you see but also reflect on what you see. When taking notes it is very important to be descriptive about what you observe rather than to be prescriptive or judgmental. To be descriptive you need to use descriptive adjectives and nouns that help you visualize the thing you are describing. This not only helps to remember but also triggers subconscious insights and associations. For example, in describing a shoe as “a navy sneaker” is shallow and prescriptive. On the other hand, being more thoroughly descriptive can be: “Navy color ankle sneaker with large logo on the side, white thick sole and checkered print behind ankle.”

Trend forecasters tend to be very descriptive about their observations as they have the ability to remember great detail. Raymond (2010) describes several techniques to build a visual memory and recall things effectively when observing a person and an environment. When looking at what a person is wearing including jewelry and body adornments, you can note items by placing the person in north, east, south and west axis. Another way is systematically noting items from head down and from inner layers to outer layers. While observing an environment, you can place it in three by three grid and start noting down characteristics in a clockwise direction from top to bottom and left to right.

In addition to observing consumer behaviour, other environments for observing fashion trends are Fashion Weeks, Trade Shows, and street fashion in the world fashion capitals. Some of the influential trade shows for fashion include:

  • Premiere Vision- Textile and fabric shows with around 700 weavers from 28 countries held in Paris and NY.
  • Pitti Immagine Filati- Knitwear for men and women, held in Florence, Italy.
  • Bread & Butter- Latest trends in street and urban wear, held in Berlin, Germany.
    Interstoff Asia- Textile and apparel show held in Hong Kong.

Interviews

An interview can be described as a conversation with a purpose. Interviews are very useful tools for gathering information of an emerging trend from innovators and early adopters and also from experts. In situations where we can’t observe we have to ask people questions. For example, we cannot always observe thoughts, feelings and intentions. We cannot observe behaviors or things that took place in the past. Sometimes there may be private situations that preclude the presence of an observer. In these situations the interview method and asking questions will provide the best opportunity for information gathering.

The traditional methods of interviewing empower the interviewer, as he/she is the person in control of the discussion content and time spent. Interviewers should purposefully develop and plan their interview strategy to bring participants into the partnership and avoid researcher/respondent or the expert/novice perceptions (Beyer & Holtzblatt, 1998). As an interviewer you are not there to fulfill the task of collecting answers to a set of questions from the people, nor as the experts who are there to help the people and answer their questions. Host/guest perception of interviewee’s role is another obstacle in building rapport (Beyer & Holtzblatt, 1998). The presence of interviewers as strangers in the interviewee’s environment may result in the host role for the interviewee and the guest role for the interviewer. In this type of relationship participants may try to please the person conducting the interviews just to make them comfortable.

Building a relaxed rapport is the key for a successful interview. There should be a mutual relationship where both parties are equal, honest and open. A master/apprentice model works the best where master symbolizes the interviewee and apprentice symbolizes the interviewer (Beyer & Holtzblatt, 1998). A master teaches in the context of doing and this way the implicit structure becomes apparent and visible to the apprentice. People usually are not aware of the reason for their actions as they are built based on years of experience, or they may have simply become habits. Showing and doing create a natural flow of conversation and each step of doing a certain task can remind the participant of other details and create new questions. Other ways of building rapport is are listening and empathizing, being quiet and letting the participant talk, using encouraging probes to trigger more stories and mirroring participants like nodding when they node or smiling when they smile.

Creating interview questions is the most important step of gathering rich data from your interviews. In asking questions descriptive questions are especially useful to start the conversation and keep a participant freely talking. Following are some useful examples for creating descriptive questions.

Descriptive Question Examples

  • Could you describe a typical…?
  • Could you tell me how you usually make…?
  • Could you describe what happened ….from the moment ..until …?
  • Could you show me …?
  • Could you give me an example of…?
  • Could you tell me about some experiences you have…?
  • If…, what would you do/say/think?
  • Imagine yourself ….what kinds of things/what would you…?

In asking questions, put forward your own idea by asking leading questions. An example of a leading question is, “Do you follow the latest fashion trends?” In a subtle way this raises the prospect that maybe you don’t seem like you follow fashion trends.

It is very important to avoid multiple questions in one question and questions where yes/no would be the response. Asking a question like “do you like simplicity in fashion?” is not going to reveal much other than yes or no.

Asking questions such as “What do you mean by that?” when something is not clear may contain a hidden judgmental component. Such a question may seem to mean you haven’t been clear; you haven’t adequately explained; you are hiding the true reasons for what you told me (Spadley, 1979). Instead of asking for meaning, it works best to ask for use such as:
What are some other ways you could talk about…?
Can you think you think of some other examples of…?

During interviews making repeated explanations and restating your goal help to put the conversation in context (Spradley, 1979).
As I said earlier, I’m interested in finding out ….
I want to understand …. from your point of view

Also during the interview you can select key phrases and terms used by participants and restate them. Restating in this manner reinforces what has been said by way of explanation. Restating demonstrates an interest in learning their language and culture. Restatement must be distinguished from reinterpreting, a process in which the interviewer states in different words what the participant said. Reinterpreting prompts interviewees to translate while restating prompts them to speak in their own ordinary, everyday language (Spradley, 1979).

People tend to summarize their experience by abstracting from a number of concrete experiences when they are asked to talk about them. It is human nature to provide a general impression instead of focusing on all the little details that formed that general impression. Using probes in addition to supportive and encouraging manners is a strategy to overcome abstraction and probe deeper (Chambers,1992). The use of Cultural probes is a technique for gathering inspirational data about the peoples, lives, values and thoughts (Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti, 1999).The probes are small packages that can include any sort of artifact (like a map, postcard, camera or diary) along with evocative tasks, which are given to participants to allow them to record specific events, feelings or interactions. For example you can ask people to keep diaries or record photos that capture a sense of their day or to remember a specific activity like dressing up or shopping; you can ask people to record places they visit for fashion shopping on a map; you can ask people to upload visuals or texts to a social networking site about favorites they own, things they aspire to, technology they use, daily life (shopping, home, work leisure). Then this information is used as a guide during the interviews and can be used to as a referral point to probe deeper. By sharing data this way, the information becomes public, both researcher and user can point out, manipulate and discuss the information.

Focus groups are basically group interviews where overlapping spread of knowledge is gained at once. They are useful to understand some sensitive topics that may be discussed in a group more easily than individually and to eliminate dominance of single voice. However, one very big disadvantage of focus groups is that participants influence each other. Participants may be affected by others’ ideas or they might be too intimidated to answer questions in a group. Focus groups are rarely successful where one person has the power card and is in charge of the whole process. For focus groups to be successful they should be done with mutual relaxed rapport, in an environment where people can freely navigate, share ideas, point out and show things.

During the interview process just like observation you should record data in physical and digital mediums. Note taking should be always supported with voice and/or video recording. Having multiple interviewees in the field can help you focus on the process better as one person can ask questions while another person can take notes and be in charge of video recording. But as the number of interviewees increases it can get more intimidating for participants; therefore it is very important to balance the number.

After the interviews are completed, type up the notes and transcribe the recordings. As a result you might validate your prior findings, develop new insights or discover new veins of research. Such discoveries may require online or face-to-face follow up interviews.

Surveys

Once you have fully established a clear understating of your topic using interviews and observations then you may want to move onto quantitative research. Using surveys in addition to interviews and observations triangulates research results. Triangulation or cross-examination indicates that more than two methods are used in a study (Beebe, 1995). The idea is that a researcher can be more confident with a result if different methods lead to the same result.

You can gather statistical and numerical data with surveys while observations and interviews are qualitative in nature – promoting understanding of needs, aspirations, and limitations. Interviews and observations are about things that are hard to measure with numbers; surveys are mainly about things you can easily measure using a numerical scale. Surveys are helpful in identifying some general facts about people involved in the trend and for creating typologies. For example, you can gather generalizable data about demographics of the people, ages of the people in relation to adoption of the trends, percentage of male and female members in this target population, the income levels of the people, about their ethnicity, about the regions in which members of this group live, etc. It is also possible to gather data about psychographics by asking them how they value something using a scale. You can also compare participants across demographics, psychographics and geographics. When surveys are repeated over time as longitudinal surveys, it is possible to determine the status of a trend, whether it is at the beginning of an innovation curve or moving from innovators to mainstream.

Using surveys requires careful identification of target populations. Participants who are not part of the target population skew the data when they are surveyed (Raymond, 2011). For example, if you are doing a long-term trend forecasting abut children’s trends, then you probably want to target people who have children and exclude people who do not. How can you do this? You can use a screener or trick question that will help you determine those who are not part of the target population. A screener question is asked as the first question in the survey. It should be asked so that the respondent can’t guess the correct answer in order to proceed to the next question (Raymond,2011). For example, if you are working on active wear trends, you will want to exclude people who do not exercise with a screener question such as:

How many times do you exercise a week?

  • I do not exercise
  • Once a week
  • Twice a week
  • Three times a week
  • More than three times a week

In this case, a person who answers, “I do not exercise” can be excluded from the sample.

Developing survey questions that will lead to meaningful data requires very careful planning and understanding of the types of questions you can ask and types of answers they can reveal. A trial or pilot test with a small sample can help you determine if you are getting the responses you want.

Demographic Questions
Demographic information describes a person. Demographic questions ask about age, gender, occupation, education, family, nationality, income, and such. These types of questions help you compare results across categories. For example, you can compare answers of female and male respondents.

Behavioral Questions
These questions are about how a person behaves and about certain actions.

How many pairs of jeans have you purchased in the last three months?
Or
In the last three months I bought

  • one pair of blue jeans
  • more than two pairs of blue jeans
  • no blue jeans

Attitudinal Questions
These questions are about how a person thinks and feels about something rather than what a person does.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you feel about simplicity in fashion?
1- Very dissatisfied
2-Dissatisfied
3-Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Satisfied
4- Satisfied
5-Very satisfied

There are different ways of asking demographic, behavioral and attitudinal questions. You can ask participants to choose from a set of answers, you can ask them to order things, or you can have them use a scale to determine their position on a particular subject.

Multiple Choice
The multiple-choice question consists of three or more mutually exclusive answers. These types of questions are widely used for demographic and behavioral questions:

What is the highest degree or level of school you have completed?
No schooling completed
High school degree
College degree
Graduate degree

Rank Order
Rank order questions allow ranking based upon a specific attribute or characteristic. You can also use images of products and compare products, tastes, aesthetics preferences or mainstream and emerging trends. These questions are especially useful for developing attitudinal survey questions.

Please rank the following brands according to their aesthetic appeal. Place a “1” next to the brand that is most aesthetically pleasing to you and so on.
__ GAP
__ Abercrombie
__ H&M
__ Urban outfitters

Rating Scale
A rating scale question requires a person to rate something along a well-defined, evenly spaced continuum. Rating scales are often used to measure the direction and intensity of attitudes so it is good for attitudinal survey questions.

Which of the following categories best describes your last experience …?
–Very pleasant
–Somewhat pleasant
–Neither pleasant nor unpleasant
–Somewhat unpleasant
–Very unpleasant

The Semantic Differential Scale (Likert Scale)
You can ask a participant to choose where his or her position lies on a scale between two bipolar adjectives. The semantic differential scale asks a person to rate a trend, product, brand, or company based upon a five-point or seven-point rating scale that has two bi-polar adjectives at each end. Unlike a rating scale it does not have a neutral middle option and a person is asked to evaluate things to an extent.

Would you say simplicity in fashion is:
(5) Very Attractive
(4)
(3)
(2)
(1) Very Unattractive

Common rules applicable to all types of survey questions are avoiding yes/no questions similar to interviews and developing first response statement answers, which are more emotional and subjective.

There are many organizations and companies as well as governmental agencies that run surveys and build databases. Mori, Mintel, YouGov, Harris Research and Pew Global are a few of them. For these types of firms the number of people who should take the survey depends on the geographic area in which they operate, as it is proportional to the population. For example, 1000 is the minimum standard requirement for most European countries, while in the United States this can rise up to 10,000 in relation to over 300.000 population (Raymond,2011). How many participants should you have when you conduct surveys? The minimum number for statistical significance is 30. With at least 30 participants, you can generalize for those results.

In addition to conducting physical surveys there are free online tools like Surveymonkey.com or limesurvey.org for running online surveys. You can use social media and websites like Facebook to reach out to your target population to conduct your survey.

In analysing survey results, the first step is listing key findings. Survey results can show common threads but can also display anomalies and thus, you need to detect these anomalies. Once all the findings are listed, they should be analyzed in relation to findings from desk research and qualitative research (observation and interview). As stated earlier, one of the benefits of combining desk research and methods of field research is data triangulation. Data triangulation happens when a finding is verifiable with multiple research methods. This adds to your credibility and makes your findings and predictions about future trends stronger.

Competitive Research

In addition to desk research and field research, competitive research monitors activities of competing companies with similar consumer bracket and product categories. Competitive research can identify competing companies’ offerings and predict their responses to future trends and market conditions. It offers potential benefits for understanding the market in which a company operates, improved targeting of consumers and finding niche consumer segments It is also highly beneficial in determining pricing strategies.

However, competitive research can sometimes be a dangerous tool as companies may replicate their competitor’s strategies. What is happening in the marketplace today is obvious to everyone and do not create new opportunities. Trend forecasting should be about finding out what’s going to be big and unique tomorrow while competitive research should be used as a tool to differentiate brands and products from those of competing companies in the context of future trends.

Fashion designers and merchandisers shop the marketplace locally and globally to benchmark and collect inspiration from innovative companies. Visiting competition first hand and experiencing competitor’s products and pricing as a consumer provide valuable insight for gaining an understanding of the marketplace and positioning trend forecasting efforts within the competition. Companies can purchase services such as Hoovers and Dun & Bradstreet that can provide detailed competitive analysis. They offer data about history, directors, consumers, employees and recent developments as well as their products and pricing.

Application Exercise

This process is intended to help you learn about identifying emerging mega trends through desk research

  1. Using the list of online resources described as a departure point, start building your online trend network. You can use the following guideline to build an effective trend network.
    • Build a network composed of various interest groups (i.e. architecture, interior design, product design, food, entertainment, cosmetics…)
    • Subscribe to newsletters of collaborative trend research/forecast websites (i.e. springwise.com, trendwatching.com…)
    • Follow experts, influential people and professionals related to trend forecasting in social media
    • Subscribe to personal blogs on trend forecasting
  2. Research through the online network you have built to detect repeating patterns/ ideas for an emerging trend. Expect your research to be very open at the beginning. It will get more and more focused as you proceed and start seeing patterns. As you research, create a visual and textual library that outlines the emerging trends you have tracked. Start grouping links, images and texts about repeating patterns/ideas.
  3. Make a list of repeating patterns/ideas you have identified for each emerging trend by answering the following questions
    • What are the common characteristics you have detected across various industries related to the emerging trend?
    • Who are experts/knowledgeable people related to it?
    • Who are potential target population for this emerging trend?
  4. Name an emerging trend of your choice and write a concise trend thesis defining its major characteristics.

References

Beebe, J. (1995). Basic concepts and techniques of rapid appraisal. Human Organization, 54(1), 42-51.

Beyer, H., & Holtzblatt, K. (1998). Contextual design: Defining customer-centered systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper Business.

Chambers, R. (1992). Rural appraisal: Rapid, relaxed and participatory. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

Gaver, W., Dunne, T., Pacenti, E. (1999). Cultural Probes. ACM Interactions. 6(1), 21-29.

Hampden-Turner, C., & Trompenaars, F. (1997). Riding the waves of culture: Understanding diversity in global business. London: N. Brealey.

Pine, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1999). The experience economy: Work is theatre & every business a stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Raymond, M. (2011). The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook, London: Lauren King.

Rocamora , A. (2013). Personal Fashion Blogs: Screens and Mirrors in Digital Self-portraits, Fashion Theory, 15 (4), 407–424

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview, Holt, Rinehart and Winston‬.

Toffler, A. (1981). The third wave. New York: Bantam Books.

Vanston, J.H., & Vanston, C. (2011), Minitrends: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, Texas: Technology Futures

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