Whether within an industry, a particular demographic, or culture at large, trends remind us that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. The word has two nuanced meanings:
1) the latest "it" thing, and
2) the general direction in which something is developing or changing
One is short term, rising and falling in popularity quickly—like what's hot in fashion, which shifts between seasons and Fashion Weeks. The other maps to longer timelines, sometimes taking years to develop—take the Quantified Self Movement.
Trends are your friends. They help us understand the cultural context for the work we create, and shape our strategies and creative ideas. Being aware of emerging trends—and more importantly, the why behind them—is a baseline must for anyone in the industry.
With this in mind, here are my 5 favorite resources for trends. The criteria is that they're 1) free! 2) easy to consume, and 3) great at going beyond "what's new" to dig into the cultural impact. This isn't the be-all-end-all list, or the only way to suss out trends. But whether you subscribe to their newsletters, bookmark the sites or dive into the report archives, think of them as good places to put your feelers.
Cassandra delivers three concrete examples of a future-forward trend or theme daily, as the name suggests. Larger reports are for paying clients only, but I've found a ton of value in the daily emails alone. If you're looking for something specific, their site neatly archives past emails by date and keyword tags.
Based in New York, sparks & honey was built around understanding and tapping into culture. Acknowledging that the beast is ever-evolving, its team, platforms and network of contributors allow the agency to keep its ear to the ground. Lucky for us, their Open Agency model means that a good chunk of their forward-looking reports are public via Slideshare.
Another agency-born resource, JWT Intelligence has long been pumping out robust reports on larger cultural shifts. Not all full reports are free, but you can access 20-page summaries of everything on Slideshare and get bits of what's on their radar from their Weekly Roundup newsletter. Look out for the annual Future 100 report, which identifies microtrends to watch in the coming year.
The TW:Free section houses visual-heavy, long-scroll reports that are engaging and fun to read. I don't love their overuse of exclamation points, or that the content has no chill in trying to rope in brand clients, but they get points for their quarterly international trend briefings for South America, Asia and Africa.
While the insights from this nonpartisan fact tank aren't the most surprising, it's a great place to find data-driven support for your more basic hunches. Using public opinion polling, demographic research, and content analysis, the Pew Research Center covers a wide range of topics and makes all findings public. My favorite content is its broader reports, like the Social Media Update 2016—while the presentation is the driest of the bunch, it's chock full of graphs and charts just waiting to be screenshot.
Your turn: what are your favorite trend sites/resources?
Ready-made reports are one tool for building your trend awareness. Equally valuable is what you see happening in real life and online (more in a future email). And remember: it's not just the information you consume—it's what you do with it.
Onwards & upwards, (+ an extra squeeze just because)