11 trends that explain the world we live in
CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2016 - 9:00am

It may come as a surprise that the expert whom the top furniture manufacturing associations in the Philippines invited to hold workshops in Manila and Cebu is the first to say that he doesn’t know anything about making furniture.

Top global trends expert Daniel Levine, founder and director of the consulting firm Avant-Guide Institute, was in Manila this week to talk about social trends around the world with local furniture manufacturers who are preparing for the Philippine International Furniture Show on March 11 to 13.

Levine has consulted for hotels, designers, and companies such as MasterCard, Intel, Deutsche Telekom, UNWTO, Boehringer, Samsonite, World Travel Market, Turkish Airlines, Jumeirah, and the country tourism boards on four continents.

Levine can be described as a sociologist, psychologist, data analyst, writer — and magician because he can connect the dots between seemingly random behaviors and make this information profitable for businesses.

“When it comes to trends, there’s basically two things that explain our buying decisions: one is how we perceive ourselves and two is how we want to be perceived by others,” Levine says. “We work with companies that are number crunchers. We’re the other side of the trend, what I’d like to think as the sexy side. We say, we know how many people they are, how old they are, how much money they make — but who are they, what do they want, what’s driving their desires? So there are really two sides to trends, like the left brain and the right brain. There are numbers and then there’s what we do.

In his workshops in Cebu and Manila, Levine presented 11 social trends for 2017: Green and Natural, Socially Responsible, Heritage and Craftsmanship, Health, Introspection, Meaningful Connections, Uniqueness, Personalization, Technology, Simplicity, and Flashy Wealthy. And the colors that are going to be big, which are gray, beige, off-white, white, yellow, walnut, brown and gold.  

Instead of showing them furniture, he “showed them what’s selling in other industries.  I can do them a much bigger service by explaining to them why people want things and then let them use their own ingenuity to come up with answers and ideas that fit into what people want. That’s where innovation happens, not by copying.”

He then challenged the participants to think out of the box in designing around these behaviors. Like green and natural, it doesn’t just mean the materials, it could also be organic forms or motifs that fit into this trend

 “The definition of ‘trend’ is the movement of a people in a particular, measurable direction. When you can measure what people are thinking and feeling, there’s a trend happening.”

He emphasizes the differentiation between fads and trends, saying, “A fad comes quickly and then goes away real quick, too. A trend comes slowly and stays with us, like the green and eco trend has been around for a while and is really gaining critical mass here now. We have selfies, maybe next year it will be dronies or selfies using drones. ”

He adds that trendspotting is very much into studying contemporary culture. “I’m a generalist while a lot of people are specialists. Most people know what they do very well; I know a little bit about a lot of things. And I think the value I bring is I help people and business see what other people are doing and putting that in context for them. Most business people are very inward looking, they know about their business and their competitor’s, but they don’t know about other industries that are trying to attract the same customers they’re looking to attract.”

Excerpts from our interview:




THE PHILIPPINE STAR: The 11 global social trends you presented, how should they influence Philippine design?

DANIEL LEVINE: During the past few days, people were really open with their ideas and showed their creativity. The challenge that Philippine manufacturers are facing is marketing, to understand the buying trends in Europe and America which are their two biggest markets, and how to get closer to their markets.

The other thing is that the world has changed. The model used to be that buyers show up at a trade show, you make your connections and that’s it, you’re set for the year. Since the economic downturn of 2008, people started going to fewer trade shows but at the same time, with the oncoming of the Internet and mobile phones changing the way people are communicating, there are fewer reasons to go to so many trade shows. People who before may have gone to five shows a year are now going to only two or three shows. Another part of that is that because of the chain of buying things, they don’t want a lot of inventory, they’re buying a smaller amount of things and they’re doing it by email or phone. I was not surprised that some companies here don’t even have proper websites. These days, your website is your main brochure around the world. They must connect with buyers in other ways outside the shows.

Charles Darwin famously said something like, it’s not the biggest or the strongest that survive, it’s those who are best at changing and adapting. It’s true with nature and it’s true in the business world as well. That’s why small companies can do really well.

How similar or different are these trends from, say, two years ago?

These big trends are big trends because they have been with us for some time. A fad comes and goes quickly and it’s fun whether it’s a piece of fashion or a hairstyle. Trends come slowly and stay with us. Furniture manufacturers in the Philippines have been doing green and eco since the beginning of time.

But it wasn’t sustainable until in recent decades.

Perhaps it wasn’t always sustainable, but it has always been done naturally. It’s a concept that’s now really important to western buyers, that things should be sustainable and eco. Getting back to the question are these trends all new? No. It’s not like every year there’s a new trend.

There are two trends that seem to be contradictory, simplicity and flashy wealth. Can you expound on this?

When you look at the United States, it’s 400 million people, it’s not one market but many markets. You find some people who are consuming so much and then they say enough, and they give everything away. The idea is that some people want to live simpler lives and a good example of that is the current Pope. It’s not about money ultimately; it’s about things that cannot be taken away, whether your bank account goes up or down. It’s about health, family, friends, learning. There is a large group of people who understand that what’s important in the world are the meaningful things.

It is the opposite of flashy wealth. In some cultures like, famously, some Middle Eastern countries, flashing wealth means more bling. In the US, flashing wealth is not about being blinged out, they are showing it in different ways. For example, the Prius — it’s not a cheap car and it’s not very expensive — but many rich people in the US drive this car. It’s showing something about their mentality. Toyota created a totally different new form for the Prius, so when people see it, they know it’s a Prius.

What does introspection mean as a trend?

I’m connecting this to the idea that people are monitoring themselves all the time. It’s connected to the trend of smart watches. Look at this Fitbit, it tells the time, monitors your heartbeat, calories burned, number of steps, sleep, etc. There are smart socks for running to monitor your stride and foot strike; helmets for bicycling to monitor the oxygen levels in your blood; goggles for skiing that tell how high you are on a hill, how high you jump. I see something new every day — some gadgets may be a fad, but monitoring ourselves is a trend. I might even connect this to selfies.

Whenever I see a big trend, like this one, there are always ways for businesses to create something that will appeal to consumers.

Would you say the biggest driver for trends is technology?

It is a driver but not the biggest. Sometimes it’s economics, culture in general, politics, and social drivers. In the American workplace, there’s a very big trend for flexible work time as long as you get the job done, so working from home is not directly related to technology but it makes it possible.

When we buy, is it always a conscious decision?

It’s almost never a conscious decision. I feel like I’m selling the secret sauce, because nobody goes into a store and says, ‘I’m looking for something because I follow the trend of simplicity.’ Nobody. I’m explaining to businesses how, if you put something out there that’s simple or if you make people’s lives simpler, they will go for it.

Of the past decade, what trends surprised you the most?

Well, I’m not easily surprised, but sometimes I’m surprised at how fast things can change. Things can go very slowly and all of a sudden there’s a quick shift. At least in the United States, how quickly, all of a sudden, gay marriage became normal after years and years of people pushing to make it happen. All of a sudden, there was a cultural shift. Marijuana legislation is another thing in the United States. In Canada, they have a new premier, Justin Trudeau, and one of the platforms he won on is to make recreational marijuana legal. That’s the way the world is moving right now.

Is that a good thing? These events are sure to change our values.

Our values are the same thing as trends; we are continually evolving and changing — all of us. It’s economic, social, political and technology that push us to change. Many people say it was social networking that pushed the revolution to happen in the Middle East.

Culture changes slowly, almost imperceptibly day to day, and sometimes there’s a huge culture quake that changes things immediately, like the economic downturn of 2008. Otherwise, it’s almost imperceptible when you look at it in five-year chunks. What we do is we notice these changes as they are happening. It’s very hard to do that because they’re happening so slowly. That’s how we help businesses.

Is your research team made up of sociologists then?

No, our team is made up of regular people. We have thousands of trendspotters around the world who individually send us things that are new and unique and unusual. What we do back in our New York office is to study these and determine whether the same things are happening, whether psychographic, demographic or geographic. And we connect the dots and alert our clients.

Which part of the world leads in trendsetting?

Things come from everywhere now. Obviously, California is a leader when it comes to technology. There’s so much pastiche of culture because it goes around the world in a second with the Internet. There’s no reason why anybody in a small town in the Philippines who has Internet connection cannot know the same things as someone in the center of Paris. The world is moving faster every year.

Is that good for us?

That’s a question that maybe you should ask a philosopher. What I’m sure of is that it’s led to this anti-trend movement where people want to get away from all the technology and sort of go back to simplicity. Even in travel and tourism, people want to be cut off from the rest of the world and be quiet.

They say technology is doubling every year and a half. The amount of transistors that they could put on a chip physically doubles. I was at ILTM, International Luxury Travel Market, in Cannes and I was on a panel. The main speaker was Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. He was telling stories about going to the moon and he said the Apollo 11 aircraft that he was on had less computing power on it than the iPhone. Isn’t that amazing? It shows you how far we’ve come. Now, we have these in our pockets.

What got you interested in trendspotting?

My first job right after college — where I studied history — was writing guidebooks. I wanted to travel around the world but didn’t have enough money to do it. In my naiveté, I thought, well, if I could travel and write and get paid for writing, that would be cool. I was living in New York and called up on the phone one of the biggest travel guidebooks in the US at the time which was Frommer’s. And I found Arthur Frommer, the guy who started it, and called him up at home and invited him to lunch (laughs). I was 21 and finishing my last year of school. He was so nice, he said yes and came to lunch. I had been to Europe before, and I had read his book, the biggest travel guidebook in America was his Europe.

I said to him, I love your Europe guide and I used it recently, but it sounds dated to me and I gave him a bunch of examples. He said that “girls in Stockholm looked like Greta Garbo,” you know, this kind of old references.

He said, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I don’t own the books anymore. I sold them to Simon and Schuster 15 years ago. But I still keep an office there and they told me that for the first time in 30 years, they’re looking for young writers to completely re-do the books and I will introduce you to the editor in chief.”

So I was in her office the next week and we had a really good meeting. I walked out of her office on a cloud. The summer after school, I went to London, stayed two and a half months, wrote that chapter, they paid me $4,000, and I continued traveling around the world.

And you still wrote for them?

No, that was the only thing they offered me. This was almost 30 years ago. I was traveling between the US, Europe and Asia. Then I flew to California and I saw Santa Barbara and thought, wow, I could live here. I didn’t know what to do next. I moved to California and called my editor, and she said, oh that’s interesting. Our California writers just quit, would you like to write our California books? I said okay. I ended up writing 10 books for them. So that’s how life goes.

Then I started my own company and we were publishing guides to cities around the world. We were hiring a lot of people around the world. Frommer’s, they just hired me — one guy with a deadline; I thought the best way to do the books was to hire a bunch of people living in those places. So that’s what we did. It’s a much harder way to do books, it’s an editor’s nightmare. I was sometimes hired a hundred people to do one book. We had a lot of books and more than a thousand people writing them.

A few years later, the Internet came up and people stopped reading and buying books. I could see the future and thought this was going to go down. At the same time, I got a call from a big company in Europe and they wanted me to take their CEO and CFO and top people around on a tour of some cities to show state-of-the-art retail because they were interested in opening stores. I knew where to take them because we were putting these little books together. They paid really well for it, and that’s when I started connecting the dots in my own head. I thought, there’s a business here — to help businesses understand trends and what was going on. I already had these writers who were the beginning of this trendspotting network. I sold the publishing company and went full on with my partners into trendspotting .

I see it really as a continuum. I studied history because I was interested in how I got here, and writing travel guides was like writing contemporary history, and I could imagine in the future historians looking at your blog to see what it was like. That’s how I see travel writing. And at the same time it was like writing my autobiography in guide book form.

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Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @iamtanyalara. Visit her travel blog on www.findingmyway.net.

  • In his workshops in Cebu and Manila, Levine presented 11 social trends for 2017: Green and Natural, Socially Responsible, Heritage and Craftsmanship, Health, Introspection, Meaningful Connections, Uniqueness, Personalization, Technology, Simplicity, and Flashy Wealthy.

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