David Shah Lecture at Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago

Last night we were graced with a lecture by fashion trend forecaster David Shah, who also spent this morning with us in a Q&A session. To preface these observations, I should note that the man talks about 25% faster than most humans can comprehend with an energy level that would keep even the most jaded of audiences engaged. The following are a few of his observations.

Generation Jonesers (late baby boomers) are taking over leadership functions and they are conflicted between responsibility for the world and personal greed. They are caught between technology and face-to-face conversations. They are afraid of being left behind by technology but haven’t fully integrated it into their culture. They like reliable brands such as Gap and Timberland. But they are also interested in lifestyle brands such as Ralph Lauren (the first lifestyle company).

New design thinking centers around reductionism. There is too much information everywhere and most people don’t like choices. The only place to get away from information overload is a forest. Internet culture has resulted in continual partial attention syndrome. People focus on experiences rather than meanings. People want to declutter. There are too many choices. Simplify options. A table with 6 jams will sell out before a table with 24. Supernormal is beautiful because it’s simple. When you make something ask yourself, “Is my design about pause?”

Show how things are made. Gucci had a worker in one of their boutiques that demonstrates how much work goes into their product. Balenciaga had a show in Paris showing how difficult it was to make a one-off that brought back haute couture by demonstrating value. “Oh, this dress is like art.”

Microbrands are beautiful. People want a story as to why you chose those materials, who made the product and why it’s worth the price you’re asking. People want to feel like they are connoisseurs. It isn’t enough that your coffee comes from Columbia. People want to know the farm it came from and the story of the family that picked it. Cathay Pacific focused their brand campaign on the flight attendant’s backgrounds and how they would be serving you. They humanized the experience, making people feel comfortable.

People are happier when they spend on experiences than objects. Hedonistic adaptation: Memories of experiences seem better in retrospect. People are happy with use of things. Community sharing is growing. Especially in a recession, consider unfancy packaging. Even the rich are buying cheap. The look of home-crafted and rural with clean graphic design sells because it looks honest.

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