Why Insight is More Valuable Than Trend Spotting

We spoke with CEO & Founder of PSFK, Piers Fawkes, about how his company connects the unexpected and inspires innovation with data.

If data were water, then we would all be millions of feet under. As individuals, we’re walking nodes of data points, tethered and sometimes clothed with devices. We measure our performance during exercise, the ambient temperature around us, our productivity levels at work and other pertinent trends that we want to track.

If the constant feedback of information seems overwhelming to you, then just imagine what it must be for large corporations and whole industries. PSFK, a New York-based data research lab and future resource hub, helps corporations do just that.

PSFK CEO, Piers Fawkes

PSFK CEO, Piers Fawkes

“We’re not worried about the noise, in fact we enjoy the fact that there is so much information out there,” explains CEO, Piers Fawkes. “It just takes time to go out, track it and find the right stuff. It’s like going through an orchard, looking for the red fruit rather than the green fruit.”

PSFK gathers information from corporations and then turns to experts to discern the patterns discovered. PSFK Labs sifts through the research and PSFK.com publishes daily stories about trends and emerging patterns from across the world.

“We gather hundreds and hundreds of data points. In the trends business, they might call them weak signals,” Fawkes says. “Conduct a process called pattern recognition where we look to identify clusters of ideas that have a similar theme. These clusters are the trends that are emerging.”

It may seem easy to spot trends, especially with all the ways data can be monitored, but not everyone is able to do it effectively and quickly. It takes experience to recognise the difference between industry constants, trends and profound shifts.

“We identify 15 themes or trends that are emerging. And then we talk to experts, who are running startups, or sometimes they are journalists and opinion leaders,” describes Fawkes. “They help us understand, which of these patterns have always been around, which of these patterns are brand new, which of these patterns are emerging, what the velocity of those patterns are, and what size they could blow up to. They help us to understand what the trends mean, and what are the potential implications and opportunities around those trends.”

Creative companies and professionals in the fields of design, travel, retail, advertising, media and technology gain insight from PSFK’s trend reports detailing the forecast for their industries.

In September 2015, PSFK partnered with Architizer to publish a trend report called Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK Labs took 1,500  entries from Architizer’s A+ Awards, and with the help of leading architects, designers, academics, psychologists, entrepreneurs and the design think tank Consortia, described how the built environment is evolving. 

Merit_Mulder_Tongva_Park

Designing Distraction-Free Zones (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

Designing Distraction-Free Zones (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK

Designing Distraction-Free Zones (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

They concluded that the three main drivers for change in architecture and design were connected lifestyles, an empowered citizenry and an urbanized population. Architecture’s responses to these drivers were outlined as 9 trends building tomorrow: communal spirit, intentional play, fluid states, hidden escapes, blended landscapes, exercised restraint, second life, passively powered and breakthrough builds.

Think Small When Designing for the Cities of Tomorrow

Think Small When Designing for the Cities of Tomorrow (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

Think Small When Designing for the Cities of Tomorrow

Think Small When Designing for the Cities of Tomorrow (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

From these 9 trends, PSFK Labs noticed 4 pillars for creating experiences that impact the lives of residents and visitors in a work of architecture, which are to embrace change, source locally, catalyze connection and scale down. Right now, Building Tomorrow is one of PSFK’s few free reports and is definitely worth reading.

How New Technologies Push the Limits of Futuristic Design

How New Technologies Push the Limits of Futuristic Design (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

How New Technologies Push the Limits of Futuristic Design

How New Technologies Push the Limits of Futuristic Design (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport

How New Technologies Push the Limits of Futuristic Design (Building Tomorrow: Trends Driving The Future of Design. PSFK)

For their 2013 Future of Cities report, PSFK looked at sustainable development and efficiency in cities around the world, examining 28 key trends driving change. Pop-up culture, elastic environments, multi-modal transit hubs, hyperlocal reporting, micro-financing, shared transport, derelict revival, infrastructure reboot, compact farming, micro parks, proximity devices, data transparency, intelligent transportation and creative clusters are just some of the trends listed. 

From gaming to wearable tech, and retail to travel, PSFK is charting the future and finding actionable ideas that can be shared between places and industries. It is a cross-pollination of insights used to encourage development.

“It’s important that companies look at analogous industries and examples,” suggests Fawkes. “If we don’t learn from others industries and cutlures, we tend to optimize, and make something as good as it can be.” Sometimes to find solutions to problems within an industry, or to tap hidden markets, it takes an outsider with a fresh perspective to lead the way.

Detroit Transforms Its Abandoned Homes Into Colorful Bus Stops

Detroit Transforms Its Abandoned Homes Into Colorful Bus Stops ( Future of Cities report, PSFK)

“The hotel business was never going to create Airbnb themselves, because they spent their time looking at each other, and just tried to be a little bit better than everybody else,” Fawkes explains.

It takes creativity and intelligence to spot patterns and produce industry forecasts, but according to Fawkes, it also takes something more. “Curiosity. We wear different hats. And when we’re looking to hire staff, we’re always looking for this idea of curiosity.” Another characteristic that their team of researchers, trend-spotters, reporters and editors have is passion.

“If we want somebody who is into food, we want them to deep dive into a certain topic related to food. The topic isn’t that important, all that matters is that they geek out about a certain cuisine – even if that’s sandwiches!. This is what we look for.”

Passion is what keeps people connected to what’s happening in the world. Sifting through data points and trend lines is a time consuming task. Anyone doing such work has to love it. For Fawkes, you either have it, or you don’t.

“You can’t really teach curiosity. It’s the sort of thing that’s built inside. You can teach the process of how to help people find data, but it is hard to do it if there’s no passion. You can’t really train for passion.”

As an agent of innovation, PSFK hopes that their insights inspire creative professionals and innovative companies to develop new products, new services and new experiences. They do that by publishing, organising events, and consulting. “I think what we do at PSFK is provide ideas which people will want to use. We’re inside the Petri dish. We’re not like those observers who only say ‘this is what’s happening, and isn’t that interesting.”

Words: Phil Roberts


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