American engineers may not be able to predict the future of furniture design, but with some intentional research and awareness of popular design trends and an understanding of basic human nature—we can be better prepared for upcoming product-development projects. Having the extra time to think, plan, and get ready for these trends fosters more creative and robust solutions that have the potential to drive better product design in a shorter amount of time.
Engineers have opportunities to solve wonderfully-challenging problems by identifying trends and patterns in data sets. There are many great scientific instruments and mathematical tools used to describe and analyze these objective trends. But what about the more subjective trends?
In furniture, I have noticed design and marketing trends that cause déjà vu moments. Many times, a new aesthetic or marketing requirement seems to resonate with something I have seen or used in the past. As I dig through my memory, googled trade show photos, and online trade show galleries, I have found design trends that seem to repeat between trade shows in Europe and are followed within two to four years in the Americas.
Does this mean that American designers are copying European designers? Does it mean that all our products are simply derivatives of another original thought? Is this a good trend? Is it a bad trend?
This does not have a simple answer. I don’t believe anyone with integrity is intentionally copying other designers. But there are design and marketing elements that resonate so strongly in the product-design communities that they cannot be overlooked. Nor should they. Derek Thompson’s book, Hit Makers, points out that market hits often combine a familiar element and a new exciting element. This satisfies people’s need for familiarity while giving them the thrill of grasping a new complexity. He states bluntly that people crave complexity up until they can’t understand it. I have seen this as a great opportunity to create products that are more desirable and have a more readily accepting market.
Last fall, DISHER led a personal development course for our team members where the ideas of biases were discussed. Human nature causes us to gravitate towards things that we are familiar with. We have a confirmation bias towards them. We already like the idea, so we are disproportionally drawn to any concept using it. It is up to our product-development teams to ensure that products have a familiarity to customers without being boring repetitive copies of their predecessors. This is where we need to inject a new aesthetic, function, or performance improvement that is delightfully surprising while still being understood by the customer.
How can engineers use this information to be better at product development? Creative ideas seldomly arrive immediately. They are often the result of long hours of critical thinking. It is why final solutions rarely arrive during brainstorming sessions but often weeks after the thoughts expressed in a brainstorm have had time to percolate in the minds of the attendees.
Understanding that there will be a bias towards familiar products, how may we support design and marketing by inventing new exciting ways to create similar products or add features that provide more value to the end user? For example, if product designers are considering new composite materials, how could the engineering community provide different finishes to these composites that are different from what is currently available?
Engineers may use trade show visits, online trade show galleries, or trade journals (MMQB is a great trade journal) to view popular furniture trends that may soon become requirements for upcoming projects. Constant learning and critical thinking about how we can achieve similar or better results early gives product developers the necessary gap in time to refine ideas before we are asked to execute them on a new project.
In conclusion, there are no guarantees that trends viewed in Europe, trade shows, or magazines will gain popularity in the Americas. But noticing popular trends in the design community continues to significantly benefit engineers in their careers. Taking time to think about how we can do things faster, stronger, more consistently, and for less money will produce well thought-out solutions that blend design trends and new applications. Through deliberate research and active trend awareness, knowledge gaps can be corrected long before it becomes “mission critical” on a new project. Being able to produce robust engineered solutions quickly gives the rest of the development team the much-needed time to convert concepts into quality products that will be rapidly adopted by users and provide years of reliable use.
If you need a product development partner, contact DISHER. We love to help our clients with everything from the fuzzy front-end of product development to design and engineering it to a successful market launch.