Analyzing trends can sometimes feel a bit messy and unstructured. That’s why we thought it’d be useful to share with the process that our firm, Avenear Studio, uses for analyzing signals of change and provide you with some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your next session or project.
Trend analysis is about trying to paint as vivid a picture as possible about the edges of possibility through analysis, discussion, and imagination. At the end of a well-executed trend analysis session, you should be left with a clear picture of which trends to include for additional foresight exercises, as well as a better understanding of trends’ opportunities and potential repercussions. Let’s take a look at how you may want to structure your next session.
If you’re analyzing trends as a team or for a specific project, we recommend trying to complete your trend analysis in a week or less. This time frame would be suitable for analyzing 15 or fewer trends as a remote group, and it will give everyone on your project team enough time to dive into each trend and revisit them if needed. You’re also allowing enough time to build off of each other's analyses and paint a more thorough picture of possibility.
If time is of the essence and you’re comfortable leading workshops you can certainly complete trend analysis in a much shorter time frame by way of a group exercise. Depending on how you structure your exercise, you could still end up with strong analyses. Keep in mind you can’t always rush insights, so giving yourself enough time to do a proper analysis will help you lay a strong foundation for the next phase of the work.
We’ve found that analyzing trends in small teams of 3 to 5 people works best. Separating larger groups into smaller teams helps to avoid groupthink and ensures everyone gets a chance to contribute. It allows teams to add to other team’s analyses in iterative rounds of constructive feedback, thus making sure all teams visit each trend. Using a digital whiteboard tool (such as Miro or FigJam) has proven to be the easiest way to synchronize the team’s work and democratize access to trend analysis throughout the week.
TREND ANALYSIS GUIDE
At Avenear, we like to give ourselves a standard format with which to assess trends. We find this makes it easier to compare and collect trends. Each template is divided into four categories: the introduction, the impacts, the implications, and the speculations. Let’s go through it step by step.
Start by setting the stage. What are we talking about? It’s necessary to explain the trend in the simplest way possible. Give it a title, then write a couple of sentences to describe what it’s about. You don’t have to do any analysis at this point, simply document what you’re observing. Here are some additional tips for this stage of the process:
Descriptive title: Sure you can use puns and imaginative titles to capture your trends, but it may become harder to find that trend in your database if you can’t remember the exact title you gave it. We recommend sticking with good ol’ descriptive titles.
Keep it simple: Don’t go overboard with the description. Try to keep things simple, accessible, and digestible. Of course, you don’t want to omit anything important, but remember that you’re not writing an academic essay on the subject -- you’re just trying to convey enough information to someone to understand the concept so they can participate in the analysis.
Drop the jargon: Try to explain everything in simple terms. This not only helps others understand the trend, but it also helps us think about it in a broader, more abstract way. This in turn can help us apply the trend to other industries, themes, or trends. Imagine you’re trying to explain this to your parents or cousin who’s in a totally different field than you. How can you describe this trend in a way that they might understand it too?
Examples: Jot down whatever it is that can help “prove” that this trend really is a thing worth considering. Maybe it’s a list of key companies playing in this field, some notable events or statistics.
Label type: We find it useful to broadly categorize the trend into a “type.” For example, note whether this trend is a new type of technique, system, physical product, behavior, service, or a bigger, overarching enabler of change. As you build your collection it’ll be easier to compare things happening across these categories.
Draw it out: If you can, provide a sketch or find an image to represent the trend. Thinking visually can help you connect the dots in new ways.
Links to themes
This phase of the process is about identifying how the trend potentially links to other industries and themes. This starts to get us thinking about implications. For example, what might need to happen in order for it to affect an industry?
Identifying links: Identify the themes and industries that the trend might most affect. If you’re not sure, mark it anyways, you can always revisit it later.
Think in greys: Trend analysis is not a black and white exercise, instead it’s a walk in the grey. When identifying the relationship to various industries, we’ve found it useful to fill in a progress bar to indicate the strength of the relationship. It doesn’t have to be exact. Just a gut feel will do! When working in groups, everyone will have their own take on just how related it is to different industries. This is your time to discuss each other’s perspectives.
Vary your mark making: If you’re using a checkbox to identify categories, you don’t have to limit yourself to checkmarks. Instead, you can use small and large dots, dashes, stickers, or other marks to indicate the potential strength of a relationship. You can even use colors to highlight or differentiate your choices. Remember, there’s no “right” answer.
What might happen
Next, we think creatively about what this trend might catalyze. What could come about because of this trend? This is the fun part of trend analysis because it’s where you get to flex your creativity and imagination. Jot down anything that comes to mind, however inconsequential or silly you may think it is. Make sure you give the time and space to others to add their thoughts.
Refer to categories: Look back at the categories identified in the previous section and/or STEEPV categories and ask yourself what types of changes this trend might instigate for each.
Think full spectrum: Sometimes a trend can catalyze change that can be both good and bad. Don’t fret too much if you don’t know where to write it down -- what’s most important is that the implication is logged. You’ll find that most positive implications will have some negative side to them as well, with the reverse ringing true.
Think in magnitudes: What might happen if this trend was but a small ripple? What could happen if it was to become fully mainstream? This will help you create a timeline of magnitude, from when the trend is but a small ripple, to when it becomes fully mainstream.
Think of intangibles: Take some time to imagine how our behavior, personal lives, and values might change when faced with this trend.
Imagine different POVs: A useful frame is to ask yourself how different people, stakeholders, or system actors might experience this trend.
Document questions: Don’t forget to jot down any questions that pop up as a result of the analysis. Are there any uncertainties that are manifesting themselves? Anything that could flip either way?
What might be created
Now, this part of the trend analysis overlaps with implications, but here we like to wrap up our trend analysis by specifically calling out design implications for future services, experiences, products, and spaces that could be created as a result of this trend. This is the part that outlines ‘what could be exciting’ and ‘what we could do’ for future developments.
New businesses: What types of new companies (private/public) could exist thanks to this trend?
New products, services: Think about shopping in the future. Is there a new type of device that is a likely output of this trend gaining importance? What might people be buying, owning, or using?
New jobs: Are there new jobs or business roles that could be created? Scan your list of implications to get thinking about new types of jobs that would be required to support or monitor those changes.
Mitigators: What might need to exist to counter the trend? Is there anything we’d need to create to help control it? Something like a policy, a device, or a system?
Erasers: What might no longer exist? Think of the potential destruction or disappearance of present-day systems. What might get replaced or become obsolete?
Key takeaways: Include a section for overall key insights that you want to make sure are highlighted when thinking about this trend. If you don’t have time to fully review your analysis at least you can read this section and get the high-level view of it.
MORE PRODUCTIVE, HAPPIER FUTURING
This is Avenear’s current version of trend analysis. We acknowledge that it may not be perfect but we wanted to take this time to encourage you to have fun with it, modify it as you see fit, think creatively, and build off each other’s perspectives. Happy futuring!
Rachelle Bugeaud (she/her) (www.rachellebugeaud.com) is a foresight-driven designer and innovation strategist working in the space between design, artifacts, and futures. She is the founder of Avenear Studio (www.avenear.com), a design futures studio using industrial and graphic design to embolden futures explorations. You can connect with Rachelle through LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/ra chelle-bugeaud/or directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org