Were it not for trends, changes and the evolution of interior design, all of us in this industry, trade or profession would be working elsewhere. Trends keep customers coming back and looking for fresh new looks for their homes and places of business.
Trends, Not Fads
Trends are long-term directions or patterns of consumption lasting 10 to 20 years, whereas fads usually spin themselves out of popularity in two to five years. Trends are general directions in design, and a way of thinking that empowers us to buy what we buy.
An example of a design trend is the Neo-traditional interior, brought about by contemporary human needs to return to more genteel times during which furnishings were built to last and life was less harried, complex or demanding -- a time before electronic media and communication devices overwhelmed our lives. In other words, life in a stress-reducing mode.
Fads often are spurred on by blitz marketing and the gotta-have-it-'cause-others-have-it attitude. An example of a recent design fad, soon to spin out of popularity, is the sunflower. Whether delightful, garden or wildflower variety, the sunflower has surfaced with relish in home and apparel fashions. Yes, Americans love flowers and we love to garden, but this flower will become trite and likely lose its appeal completely in the next two to three years.
In this article we will focus on long-term consumer trends: What people are thinking, why they are buying and how it can help us in our own marketing, selling and customizing.
Niche Marketing: Group Trends
While there is no one direction for all Americans, we can find niche markets in which a group of consumers may have similar reasons for buying. Examples of consumer groups that have common bonds are:
The Baby-boomer Generation, poised to retire in the next 10 to 15 years and who stand, at the turn of the century, to inherit more money than any other generation in history. They will be ready to redecorate and are looking for good quality products and design.
On the flip side, many Boomers have always possessed a restless, almost rebellious side. Most survived, or in some way participated in, the hippie movement and those roots have not completely dissolved. Some Boomers may be looking for design that reminds them of their '60s days -- the retro look may serve them well. They may want things that are out of the ordinary.
Retired Consumers want to simplify. They want items that are low upkeep, easy to operate and will not break or malfunction. For example, where applicable offering motorization as an option on window treatments may meet their desire for universal design, ease and comfort (both physical and emotional).
This group prefers both traditional and easy living comfort looks. A challenge often encountered by design professionals is to steer members of this group away from their penchant for boring, safe design that is devoid of color. One designer said to me during a color psychology seminar, "If I could just give them color, they would want to live again!"
The Thirty-something Crowd has a taste for great design, although budgets may not always accommodate its often expensive tastes. Offer them a great look with a moderate price tag. They are often an open-minded, even daring consumer group. However, those who have landed a great job and have money to decorate, may lean toward the Neo-traditional interior because they want a look or feeling of established success. They are your socially upscale clientele and are anxious to impress others.
The Generation-Xers of late teens and 20-year-olds have been rule breakers. In their interiors they seek something no one else has. They also relate to the retro-look. Helping this group requires of the design professional an open-mindedness and a sense of fun and adventure.
Those in this group have been computer literate for much of their lives, and the brilliant media colors they see on their screens seem to encourage their acceptance of near-psychedelic colors in furnishings, too.
These groups constitute consumer niche-marketing. When you meet with a client, ask some leading questions and make observations using the paragraphs above as a guideline, and it will help you to help them find what they want and be happy with their selections.
The Popcorn Direction
Faith Popcorn's update of her first consumer trend book, The Popcorn Report, has been released. Entitled Clicking and co-authored by Lys Marigold (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1996), this hefty 498-page volume is a terrific road map for anyone who produces or sells products.
Enlarging on The Popcorn Report's 10 consumer trends, Clicking lists 16 major, long-term consumer trends each of which composes an entire chapter of fascinating, enlightening reading. These trends are listed below with a brief definition and an idea or two about how to implement them in your window coverings and home fashions businesses.
1. Cocooning. Coming and staying home in a cozy environment, safe from an unfriendly and unpredictable outside world. This trend is custom-made for the home fashions business. Emphasize how your products and services will fill consumers' needs and wants for a comfortable, stable and beautiful home.
2. Clanning. Forming and linking up with groups of people who have like interests and beliefs. In home fashions, this may be the need to win approval and impress friends, family or professional associates who visit the home.
3. Fantasy Adventure. Seeking adventure without leaving home or in risk-free trips. Decorating rooms in fantasy themes to be explored by the imagination provides a safe, yet exotic experience at home. Media rooms with big-screen televisions and surround sound, and the accommodation of computers, are a manifestation of the fantasy adventure trend.
4. Pleasure Revenge. Tired of too many rules and restrictions, consumers are looking for a way to cut loose and indulge in pleasurable pastimes, particularly when it comes to eating fat-laden, delicious foods and belligerently not exercising. Making kitchens a pleasurable place to be -- using colors that stimulate the appetite such as reds, greens -- with crisp and delicious designs is one example of catering to pleasure revenge.
5. Small Indulgences. No repeat of the large indulgences of the 1980s, small indulgences are pricey but affordable. Offer the customer gorgeous trimmings, crystal hardware and accessories on their draperies, fabulous fabrics and all those other great fabric and accessory add-ons with a you-deserve-this feel to them.
6. Anchoring. A new trend that reflects the emerging desire for reaching to our spiritual roots and of being comforted from our past in order to anchor the future. Historic interiors, both formal and folk, are tailor-made to fit this trend, which is just beginning to develop. Look for it to be a major player in the future.
7. Egonomics. This means personalizing -- catering to the ego -- and is a challenge well-suited to home fashions. Take an extra minute to ask questions and custom-design your offerings to your customer's taste, needs, wants, desires (healthy or pleasurable) and you'll be clicking into egonomics.
8. FemaleThink. Both society and business values are being influenced by the way women view life: more caring, sharing and family-oriented. No longer do we need to feel embarrassed about making the home beautiful for families to live in, sharing love, laughter, tears and life's experiences. Indulging and validating a woman's desire to feather the nest is turning into this major new trend.
9. Mancipation. Another new or emerging trend, this one focusing on a man's desire to be an individual rather than all business. Find out what hobbies, interests and desires belong to male clients, and indulge and verify them with the products and furnishings you provide.
10. 99 Lives. This trend isn't new, but what is are the ways we are coping or using services to simplify, streamline and make our lives less demanding. Offering products that don't require dusting or dry cleaning is on track with this trend. Motorization is another way to take less of the customer's time in operating window treatments.
11. Cashing Out. A reaction to high stress and leading 99 lives, these are people who are opting out of high powered careers in favor of a simpler way of life. Helping customers de-junk, simplify and decorate with a less-is-more philosophy will be on track.
12. Being Alive. This trend is a desire for wellness focusing on maintaining good health, which in turn adds years of quality living to our life spans. In interiors, large windows bring in lots of sunshine. Help customers enjoy the sun while screening out harmful ultraviolet light with window film, blinds and shading products. Creatively look for other ways to encourage or provide products for healthy living.
13. Down-aging. The all-too-serious roles of adulthood are being reversed as many seek ways to live life with a new sense of lightness. Whimsical interiors and fun accessories are childlike qualities that add a magical touch to interiors that not only will delight children, but adults as well.
14. Vigilante Consumer. Frustrated and often angry, this consumer will protest and pressure for better quality for the money. Providing the best quality in products and service will win you customers and referrals. If a problem occurs, take care of it quickly and go the extra mile with service.
15. Icon Toppling. Disillusionment with big business, big department stores, religion, doctors, government and you name it has given way to finding alternatives that fit our busy and harried life styles. Prediction? Shop at home will be bigger than ever. So will catalog and on-line shopping. After work hours appointments will be a necessity.
16. S.O.S (Save Our Society). More than just protecting endangered species, we are seeking a "necessary blend of ethics, passion and compassion." Sensing this feeling in a customer can be the cue to talk about the long life spans of your products, recycling and obtaining materials from sustainable resources.
Understanding consumer trends is of great value to a decorator or designer because it can unlock the door to success through offering the right products in the right way and the right time. Faith Popcorn suggests that if you can click with at least five of these major trends, your product or service will work.
Take a look at the new design trend photographs that illustrate this article to see how they click with consumer trends and how to apply the concepts to your own offerings. Here's to the future!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.