To those who know me well this may come as a surprise, however, the other day my girlfriend said to me “You’re a trendy person aren’t you”. This got me thinking, how did I become this trendy? What does it actually mean? What can we learn from this and how do trends affect customer behaviour?
In this post:
Explaining how trends happen
Looking at why we follow them
The great trends of today and the future
How UX Professionals can handle trends
Jamie (right) sporting the [at the time] super trendy mullet
The fact is, whether we’re aware of it or not we all react to and live out our lives based on trend. Whether they’re good or bad. We can all remember trends that we thought were the best thing since sliced bread and that we now look back and ‘lol’. We point a finger at what we see as ridiculous or even cringe worthy. For example, some of my favourite fashion trends include the Mullet haircut, Bum bags and of course the ever so trendy shell suit (admit it you had one!). Light heartedness aside, trends can also be observed on a much larger and significant scale. Take religion for example, and on a more sobering note the rise of extreme political movements such as the Nazis and Soviet communism.
The usual suspects: Culture and Technology
Trends that affect us can be largely grouped into one of two categories: cultural or technological. However, these are not mutually exclusive, they have a two way relationship.
When a change in behaviour is observed within a society we call this a cultural change. It is often measurable and happens over time. Cultural change often indicates a shift in the way people are living out their lives and interacting with each other.
Technological developments can initiate a cultural change but this is uncommon, rather the reverse can be common i.e. the broad adoption of green technologies in response to a widespread cultural embrace of environmentalism. We have seen in just the last few years and months how technological change affects our lives, like how we have access to anything, all the time. This means I can finish that annoying spread sheet on the train home or finally start reading the Roger Moore autobiography I was bought for Christmas.
Why do we naturally follow trend?
Quite simply we follow trends because we don’t want to be left out. As humans we want to feel socially accepted and not outcast from the crowd. Few of us have the confidence to initiate change as this draws attention to ourselves, like Mr Dancing Man in the video above. The people who do take this leap are known as ‘trendsetters’. Slowly, early adopters (Mr Green T-shirt Dancing Man) start to follow trendsetters and a handful of adopters turns into a crowd of evangelists, the trend is then seen as socially acceptable and we all jump on board.
In addition to this, when we interact with others we often talk about what’s current and new. We like to swap opinions this way. It makes us feel accepted and respected by each other. It’s kind of like keeping up with the Jonses.
Sometimes we follow trend or opinion to feel social acceptance against our better judgement. This was demonstrated in studies carried out by Solomon Asch in the 1950s, his aim was to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. Asch concocted a ‘vision test’ which he used as a smoke screen to mask the true purpose of the experiment. Carried out in groups, participants were shown an image of a line, a target line, and three comparison lines of differing lengths, they were each asked to state aloud which line was most like the target line. The clever bit about this was that all participants in the room, except one, were actors and ‘in on it’, they had all previously agreed to give the obviously wrong answer. The poor participant who was oblivious to this was seen, overwhelmingly so, to go along with the majority and state the wrong answer. This was due to the pressure of social conformity.
The Asch Experiment of the 1950s
What recent trends have we seen?
Mindfulness and Awareness – The world has grown a conscience in recent years, people have become more aware of their ethical responsibilities and the consequence of their actions on the environment and people around them. With the digital world throwing distractions at us from all angles we are taking time to distance ourselves from this during those rare moments we have to switch off, focusing on self-development and rich experiences that shape our lives with deeper meanings.
Driven by you – More and more we are expecting the world around us to provide us with personalised experiences. Not only this, but we expect them to come to us rather than us having to hunt them down. Systems are getting to know us and what we want based on our behaviours, we are then targeted with content that is relevant. This is now no longer seen as annoying but rather acknowledged as a useful tool in providing a better customer experience to each of us.
Will we all be calling these trendy soon?
The Non-interface – Remember the Nintendo Wii and the reaction to this new approach of interaction with interface? Whilst that was a revolution at the time indeed, recent advances have seen us take a step closer to that Sci-Fi utopia that for years we have been told is on the cusp of becoming reality. More and more we are seeing examples of voice activated interaction, where all we have to do is speak commands out loud and the system does all the leg work for us. In addition, we are finding ourselves waving our arms and hands around to play games, rent movies and maybe do a spot of online shopping all via our TV in the comfort of our living rooms. As time goes by we are interacting with the tech around us in a more human-like fashion.
On the go – Perhaps not such a recent trend but highly significant is the prevalence of mobile devices within today’s society, such as smartphones and tablets. It seems these days everyone has one of these devices and as competition has forced prices down and manufactures target the lower end of the market they are now more accessible that ever. What does this mean? Well it means that we’re always connected, wherever and whatever we want to know or do, by and large, we have the power to do it. Because we have got used to consuming information on the move we’ve developed greater expectations of the experiences on offer. We expect to be entertained, educated and stimulated and to experience this in a mobile friendly manner. Companies can no longer build a website and be happy with that, they must span the channels, delivering an Omnichannel offering and therefore continuity across the experience.
These trends and more have led to a wealth of new innovation that is slowly creeping its way into our lives such as voice recognition, the cloud, response design, Google glass, augmented reality, the smart home, 3D printing, gesture recognition, eco cars and many more.
Bunnyfoot consultants planning the UK Parliament sites
Why does this concern us as UX professionals?
Awareness of new trend and cultural change is detrimental to us as UX professionals being considered credible within the industry. Being ahead of this curve and understanding of the impact of trend on customer experience means we can confidently present ourselves as thought leaders and influencers.
As mentioned earlier on, we often find ourselves following trends whether good or bad, so it is important as UX professionals to step back and ask ourselves: how will it affect the end user? Careful consideration must be given when implementing trend elements into web design, not only in terms of usability but also how this affects users’ perceptions of the company or service.
Trend or not we must always consider whether it is necessary. If a client asks for ‘the latest thing’ to be incorporated into their new site design we should ask the right questions to ascertain why they feel the website and indeed the customer would benefit from it, or whether other political reasons lurk beneath the surface. Sometimes we have to tell our clients ‘no’ and not be afraid of that as in the long run they will benefit from our expert knowledge and experience.
James and Roey picking up an award for their UX greatness
One thing for sure is that we are living in an exciting time, with innovation and new tech pushing the boundaries like never before, often aiming to enrich our lives, improve the well-being of society at large and sustain the environment around us. We are becoming more powerful and knowledgeable as consumers and companies are going to have to work harder to meet our expectations.