Meet Global Trend Forecaster Sem Devillart

semHow do you know when a trend is about to change? How do you pinpoint what the next trend will be? We recently interviewed the global trend forecaster Sem Devillart on this subject. And the conversation was simply fascinating.

In our conversation, Devillart discusses the way she applies cultural analysis, design research and brand strategy to analyze current and upcoming global trends. Read on for her insights on the way media analysis can help identify dominant moods, recurring aesthetic tropes or other kinds of patterns that can be used to craft more robust design solutions.

The Global Trend Forecaster: Sem Develliart

What makes you passionate about trend forecasting?

Trend forecasting requires that you suspend your sense of judgment, as in right/wrong, good/bad, like/dislike. If you’re judging something—if you’re deciding whether you like it or not—you’re not really perceiving it fully, deeply. And trend forecasting is predicated on deep perception. Every conversation, every person sitting next to you on the subway, every pop song, every movie released, every book published—all of it has something vital to say about our current moment in time, and how it’s likely to develop. So I’m really passionate about doing something that drives me to drop my own sense of judgment; perceive as deeply as possible; and take an interest in just about everything. In order to do my job well, I have to work on being fully present, here and now.

What resources are there for designers who would like to explore the trends?

Detecting trends is about being open to the world in a particular way. I don’t think it’s a matter of resources per se. I often say to my students that detecting trends is like listening to a musical performance. Wherever you sense dissonance, some kind of imperfection, that’s the place to focus on, to interrogate. What is happening here? Why is this happening?

Have you noticed any global cyclic trends?

Yes, I’m really fascinated by young people right now. They’re totally rejecting the very rational, dry, data-driven, super-pragmatic approaches that were in favor only a few years ago. They’re writing poetry again, lots of poetry, and not just within the confines of academic writing programs. They’re engaging in all kinds of introspective practices, and they are very, very idealistic. The unexpected success of someone like Bernie Sanders is a great illustration of this shift. It’s a shift that hearkens back to many previous periods in history, the mood of the 1960’s, for example, or the Romantic era in the nineteenth century.

What is the range of clients that you work with?

Big companies, design firms, ad agencies, NGO’s, celebrities—anyone interested in the dynamics of cultural change really. I’ve worked with Phillips Design, Omnicom, The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, to name a few. I started out in the world of fashion and design, working on aesthetic trends. But then I realized that changes in style were tied to deeper psychological movements in the mass mind, and that these insights had important implications in just about every industry, market and culture.

At HOW Design Live this year, you’re going to be on the panel “The Death of the Supermarket.” Could you provide me with an overview of the panel’s discussion?

All the panelists are faculty from the School of Visual Arts, in New York, from the Masters of Branding program: Dan Formosa, Richard Shear, Tom Guarriello and me. Debbie Millman will be moderating. Tom will talk about changes in the organizing principle underlying supermarkets. Dan’s going to talk about different approaches to the supermarket amongst men and women. And Richard will discuss the instincts that supermarkets tend to trigger, relative to their design. I’m going to focus on how people think about food relative to their sense of self and well-being, and how these changing notions might alter supermarkets’ look and feel. For instance, there’s a great reconceptualization of cleanliness happening right now, new ideas about the role of bacteria in human health. These new ideas are totally at odds with the notions of hygiene and efficiency out of which supermarkets originally arose.

What are you looking forward to the most at this HOW Design Live?

I look forward to the chemistry, the unexpected interactions. This conference always feels like a safe space, where unfiltered, first-time thinking emerges naturally. Not the usual networking mania. It’s a space that’s not so tainted by the pressure of having to express yourself in a calculated manner, which fosters creativity.


Don’t miss the “Death of the Supermarket” panel at HOW Design Live! April 19 is the last day for the early-bird rate. Register here.

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