Trend Spotting Field Trips
Lee Gullett, creative director of
“How do we know what’s going to be a trend?” Gullett confessed. “We don’t.”
It takes roughly two years for a trend to reach the mainstream, he explained. By then, it’s an everyday thing. But, as part of Stretch, members of iMart’s creative group have the opportunity to spot developing trends years before mass adoption.
“The company has evolved from a technology company to a creative company,” said iMart CEO Gary Mahieu. “The technology is becoming a commodity. It’s the creative that will differentiate you.”
With that in mind, the iMart team realized that for all its charm,
“We go to the areas where trends have really emerged,” Gullett said.
The delegation strafes retailers and galleries, buying samples and taking hundreds of pictures. These are collected in iMart’s library as the seeds of dozens of potential trends — colors, textures and an endless assortment of fads and breakthroughs that could influence clients’ brands.
Last year, Gullett began spotting variations of some of iMart’s collected samples on shelves at Target and other retailers.
“Trends are started by the fashion industry a lot of times,” said Yang Kim, principal of BBK Studio in
Kim said that many designers get inspiration from travel, adapting ideas from discoveries in other locales, commonly outside of the
“It wasn’t too long ago that Banana Republic and J. Crew and those kinds of companies came here,” she said. “Even though that might be sort of commercial, it shows how things are coming to small towns more and flattening the access issue.”
For Fairly Painless Advertising in
“By virtue of just keeping up with our clients, we have a continual influx of new ideas,” said Principal Chris Cook.
Fairly Painless has followed its clients across the globe. It monitors current events, newspapers, magazines, the Internet and its own network of partners, including young, trend-setting companies.
On one occasion, it contracted an anthropologist to examine the historical usage and potential future usage of a client’s product.
“Other times, we’ll talk to 300 CEOs of midsize companies; maybe there are trends occurring unbeknownst to any of them,” Cook said. “There are certain trends that take place, and you’re not aware you’re part of it until you pass a threshold. Then there is a paradigm shift.”
This is a phenomenon made popular in recent books like “Tipping Point” and “Blink,” both by Malcolm Gladwell.
Lee Jager and Charlie McGrath, principal and creative director of Jager Group and Structure Interactive, respectively, both feel that everything their staffs need to keep in touch with “what’s hot” can be found, for the most part, from the comfort of their
“Advertising is an easy thing to see what’s going on at the national level, because you see it,” McGrath said. “If someone is doing something new, we become aware of it pretty quickly.”
With the bulk of its work in the Internet arena, Structure Interactive has an even greater advantage. Everything in that space, across the globe, is available for instant viewing.
“The downside is that there is so much clutter out there,” McGrath said. “Everyone here is essentially a filter. We have 40 people with overlapping interests finding things to help the company — 40 little squirrels gathering nuts for winter.”
A survivor of the dot-com era, the technology-driven firm has learned to be wary of trends. Many times, an investigation results in warning clients to avoid a new technology. In general, McGrath said, the firm is not as concerned with matching strides with fashion as it is with outpacing its clients’ competitors.
Like McGrath, Jager gets much of his industry gospel from trade media and industry groups.
Gullett was critical of industry experts, however.
“If you rely on experts, you’ll be a little slow,” he said. “You’re just a follower, really. We’re the players: You have to be out on the playing field. If the designers don’t feel it’s the cool thing, it may prove the experts wrong.”
As a counterpoint, Jager disputed the notion of
“The most creative agencies aren’t in the big cities anymore,” he said, citing the nations’ “hottest” agency,
Bill McKendry, chief creative officer of Hanon McKendry, is
“A few years ago, they opened up an
For similar reasons, he said, his firm has attracted clients away from the major cities.
“It’s not about looking at
McKendry and Cook both cited the furniture industry as proof of
“These aren’t things that are going to be on the cover of GQ,” Cook said, speaking specifically of the design revolution ignited by Herman Miller’s Aeron chair a decade ago. “But these are trends that affect any of us.”