During the past months I've been mentoring Marnick, a graduate student in Communication & Multimedia Design. He wanted to learn more about trends and how to apply some of the trend skills and activities for his graduate project. Want to know how he experienced this trend journey and what the final output was? Read on for an interview!
Who are you and what are you studying?
Hi, I’m Marnick, I study Communication & Multimedia Design at University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. Our graduation year is split into two projects, of which one is a ‘free’ project where you can choose to develop yourself into a specific role related to your professional work field. In my case, I chose the role of trend researcher.
Why did you decide to focus your project on trend research?
Because the future is exciting! For the past few years I have been very interested in the future, in long-term developments and what these mean for us as a society. To understand change, trend research seemed to me to be the perfect tool. Also it helps me to create relevant, innovative communication concepts that align with people’s changing values and needs. The past few months I delved deep into the world of new media and technology and how it affects our society.
Which trend activities did you really want to train yourself in?
Mainly doing field research. I’m not the most self-assured person on the planet and I always feel a bit uncomfortable among a group of unknown people. But for trend research, doing just desk research is not enough. You need to get yourself out there, talk to people, go to events and also do this on your own. Executing trend research was also a way to develop myself on a personal level apart from the professional side of it.
How did you train these skills?
Just by doing it! Philosopher Alan Watts said: “The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.”
So I did! I went to events, presentations and talked to people that I found interesting. To give you an example, I volunteered for a Dutch non-profit called Bits of Freedom, which fights for digital rights, concerning privacy and freedom of speech on the internet amongst other things. On May 5th, our national Liberation Day, Bits of Freedom was present at all liberation festival locations in the Netherlands to make the public aware of how their personal data is being collected and used. As a volunteer I could explore the organisation from within and talk to people to make up my mind about what the general public thinks of this subject.
Next to attending events, I closely watched the news by reading newspapers, magazines and watching and listening to news programmes. I also watched some documentaries. All the information I collected quickly became quite overwhelming. To create an overview and to get a sense of the meaning behind it all, I made a spot wall where I pinned the most interesting and important spots.
What was the output of your project?
I chose to write an opinion article, called ‘Stilstaan is vooruitgang' (loosely translated this means 'Moving forward by standing still'). I was looking for a way to show my personal vision on the developments I spotted. And to position myself as a future-oriented and critical thinker/designer, I needed something to support that. An opinion article seemed to be the right medium for this.
I have used all the work from my scanning and analyse phase as input to write my article. During my research I found a growing need for ethics. Ethics was a recurring theme in my research, sometimes unexpectedly. The past two decades or so, we have been in love with our technology. More technology was better. And technology really is amazing. But increasingly people seem to get aware of the possible disadvantages that are attached to it, and these deserve our attention. The timing of my project almost couldn’t be better, because what a coincidence that the Cambridge Analytica scandal took place right in the midst of my project! It caused an explosion of media coverage around the tech industry and Silicon Valley in particular and it has made the discussion more mainstream.
How did the methodology described in the book ‘How to Research Trends’ and mentorship of Els help you in your process and project?
I found the methodology of Els very helpful, clear and easy to understand. The three distinct phases (scan, analyse, apply) are explained in detail and complemented with examples from the field and comments by experts. The book also includes some questions and gives you small assignments to think about your research process.
And who better to learn from than the author of the book? Els! She is not only experienced as a trend researcher but also as a teacher and trainer, which was really nice. I’ve experienced her as a kind and knowledgeable person. Els supported me during my project and was able to give valuable feedback. I’m grateful for that, thank you Els!
What would be your number one advice for others who want to learn more about trend research?
Well, the best way to learn it is by practising it. So pick an area of interest that appeals to you, take a deep dive and take a good look at what interesting trends you may have found! And read the book, it’s the best around, at least for now! 😉