When consulting firm Ziba Design decided to look back at the 30 years it has been in business, it delineated 12 trends that sum up our recent past – and will likely shape the future.
The release of Apple's Macintosh personal computer in 1984 and the company's flamboyant Super Bowl ad of that year were a mainspring for the ideas such as "everyone is a designer" and "over-the-top is par for the course." The compact fluorescent lights introduced the next year fit the trendy idea that "scarcity is something we embrace." The Toyota Prius played into that theme, but also exemplified "the mundane shall be celebrated."
The trends may seem both familiar and odd. Ziba, based in Portland, Ore., compiled these ideas after cataloguing all the consumer trends it had seen and then sorting them into broad categories. "It's important to be aware of the shifts over the years in people and technology," Wibke Fleischer, Ziba's creative director, said in an interview.
Here are the trends Ziba mapped:
1. Over-the-top is par for the course
With so much information clutter these days, innovations struggle to become known. "Spectacle used to be reserved for parades and pageants, but now it can show up anywhere, from rock shows to sporting events, and into our personal lives," notes an infographic Ziba created about the innovation trends.
Ms. Fleischer said the best example of this trend in business is Richard Branson, the chief executive officer of Virgin Group, whose daring exploits and PR pizzazz launched a variety of enterprises. And don't forget Madonna's Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed cone bra of 1990, another over-the-top clutter cutter.
2. The mundane shall be celebrated
The Dyson bagless vacuum carries out a mundane task, but with much greater efficiency than we used to expect. Objects and activities of everyday life can become popular innovations when proper attention is paid to them. The Pinterest social media site springs off this trend, sharing photos of everyday life.
3. Community is unlimited by distance and time
Technology has allowed us to bring people together over vast distances, so shared interests trump proximity as the primary organizer of communities. Nike created communities of runners around the globe. "It made a solitary activity like running into a community activity," Ms. Fleischer said.
4. Everyone is a designer
This trend threatens even her company, as the tools of creative expression become widely accessible. Communities of enthusiasts in video, music and interior design are expressing themselves in professional fashion. YouTube, PowerPoint and SimCity are some examples.
5. Brands are keepers of culture
Brands have always been powerful but these days, individuals cling to brands as self-definition. In the process, brands define our culture. Red Bull attaches itself to extreme sports and even has a production house creating 90-minute movies.
6. Everything you need fits in your pocket
Smartphones and wearable electronic gadgetry have taken advantage of miniaturization to give us an array of new possibilities. The iPod and iPhone are, of course, the most celebrated examples. This will continue, Ms. Fleischer predicts, with mobile payments, as our smartphones become our wallets.
7. Life is a project to be optimized
Individuals are not willing to be stuck with what life gives them, but seek to change what they can. "Viagra changed how people approached a certain part of their life," noted Ms. Fleischer, also pointing to people who opt for cosmetic surgery.
8. Technology never sleeps
Last thing before bed and first thing in the morning, people check their smartphones. Technology is working for us, even when we're otherwise occupied – and sometimes it seems as if we're responding to technology rather than vice versa. The World Wide Web, the Blogger platform, and World of Warcraft games are examples.
9. Scarcity is something to embrace
This countertrend to the over-the-top approach shows itself in people choosing products and services that offer more with less. Increasingly, companies are considering sustainability in their supply chain. Zipcar, the Mini Cooper, and Ryanair exemplify this trend.
10. Connectivity is like oxygen
Connectivity is ever-present, like oxygen. WiFi and cellular networks allow us to be plugged in from anywhere. M-Pesa, unveiled in 2007, is the world's largest mobile payment system.
11. Nothing is from one place any more
We don't particularly care where a product originates from, as long as the brand is trusted. Apple's products are assembled in China from parts around the world but the company stresses they're designed in California. A thirst for localism is arising, which might become a significant countertrend.
12. Crowds know more than experts
Companies can source ideas and check out which opportunities to pursue by seeking advice from the crowd. Budweiser Black Crown is one of many products that emerged from the test marketing of consumers.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter