Marian Salzman 20 Dec 2019 // 8:00AM GMT
When I published my first trends book, way back in the last millennium (OK, 1997 to be exact), I had the territory pretty much to myself. Sure, there were a handful of relatively well-known soothsayers out there, including Faith Popcorn and Edie Weiner, but trendspotting was still fairly niche. No longer. Type “trends for 2020” into the Google search bar today, and you’ll get nearly 1.5 billion hits. There are trends lists for everything from beauty, fashion and home décor to web design, travel and workplace safety. You can even find trends lists for fonts and book design. Word to the wise: get ready for some Swiss-style typography and psychedelic book covers to appear on a shelf near you.
Trendspotting has always had serious applications for business, but now it’s being approached as a critical tool across industries. Dozens of colleges and universities are carrying courses designed to hone students’ future-forecasting prowess. In Sweden, Lund University offers a series of seminars and workshops centered on spotting and analyzing trends in science, technology, society, art and economics. And Central Saint Martins, a constituent college of the University of the Arts London, promises to teach students enrolled in its “Trend Forecasting for Innovation” course how to “scour the city for triggers and indicators about the future.”
The field of trend-seekers is growing exponentially, but I can’t help but notice that so many of the actual trends we’re seeing are more extreme variations of shifts my fellow “futurists” and I spotted years ago. In looking over the latest iteration of my annual trends report, I’m struck by how many of the trends poised to grow in 2020 are basically amped-up versions of earlier developments.
Nearly two decades ago, I reported on the spike in “pets as family.” Now we’re seeing that trend morph into something new as pets begin to serve as their owners’ emotional security details. In the US, the National Service Animal Registry — provider of official-looking animal vests and “support pet” certificates — has nearly 200,000 pets registered. That’s up from 2,400 in 2011. The situation has reached such extremes that airlines are frantically crafting rules to stop people from bringing their “support” peacocks, ponies and penguins on board.
Back in the 1980s, Faith Popcorn’s “cocooning” was a big trend. It was all about nesting and enjoying the comforts of home. Now, we’re seeing a very different and more troubling extension of this shift. Rather than being about coziness and drawing closer to loved ones, it’s about fortifying one’s family from outside threats.
Fearful of a whole host of potentially impending perils — whether it be an environmental catastrophe brought on by climate change, armed uprisings, a pandemic or a widespread economic collapse — people in some countries are going into full-on survivalist mode. They’re stockpiling provisions and weaponry, and training in everything from field medicine to hand-to-hand combat. Others are taking far less extreme measures to safeguard their families and properties, most notably by investing in surveillance mechanisms. Sales of smart home surveillance cameras are booming, with Strategy Analytics forecasting the global market to rise from nearly $8 billion in 2018 to around $13 billion by 2023.
There also are signals that people are becoming more conscious of cyberthreats, including both financial attacks and threats to their privacy. Consequently, I think we’ll be seeing people become less cavalier about what information they share online. Mark Zuckerberg won’t have to take a second job anytime soon, but advertisers and others should take note that people are beginning to question the value they get from social platforms and whether it’s worth what they are giving (or at least risking) in return.
At the core of so many of my 20 Trends for 2020 is a quest for security. In a world marked by chaos and existential threats, we hunger for things that make us feel a little safer, a bit more in control. We’re fighting back against these impersonal, artificial times by pulling our pets closer and snuggling under weighted blankets at night. We’re using our wallets to try to fight climate change or support other causes we care about. This may mean donating to a GoFundMe campaign or Kickstarter, avoiding purchases of disposable goods or ditching eco- and artery-unfriendly beef in favor of plant-based alternatives. Individually, we may not be making a real difference for the world, but we’re at least feeling we’re asserting some small measure of control.
And, really, that’s what trendspotting is all about. By forming an idea of what is to come, we’re attempting to impose order on our world, detecting patterns that connect disparate things and bring sense to them. As business leaders, we want to know what our customers will be hankering for 18 months down the road—and which of today’s must-have items are going to be gathering dust by the spring. As consumers, we want to know what it’s worthwhile to buy now and what we should hold off on in anticipation of a lower price or upgraded design or capabilities. As human beings, we want warning of any looming dangers so we can prepare to defend ourselves against them—and we want to know, too, about any opportunities we should be gearing up to take advantage of. FOMO is still very much a thing.
In general, the most significant difference I can detect in trends for 2020 versus 1997 is that they feel more consequential today. We are far more worried about making the wrong choice — buying the wrong big-ticket item, investing in the wrong stock, training for the wrong career or electing the wrong political leaders — because the stakes are so perilously high. And yet amidst all that fear and uncertainty, we are also more convinced of our power — as citizens and as consumers — to influence change.
We’re fighting back against the downsides of urbanization by embracing micromobility solutions and planting trees by the millions. We’re using smartwatches and other gadgets to monitor and improve our health. We’re standing up to predators and bullies with a #MeToo 3.0 movement that challenges assumptions and behaviors that used to go unquestioned, unchallenged and even unnoticed. And we’re watching as a new generation of activists shows their elders how to navigate the treacherous environs of the online world with grace, savvy and humor.
As we head into yet another new year, I — now along with seemingly tens of thousands of others — will continue to keep an eye on those shifts and developments that are most likely to impact our lives in the coming days and decades. I see at least one hopeful sign, yet again in the déjà vu category: in 1998, I spoke often about Millennium Blue, the color I felt best encapsulated the spirit and promise of the turn of that century. Last week, the Pantone Color Institute announced Classic Blue as its 2020 Color of the Year, describing it as a shade “reminiscent of the sky at dusk.” It’s a color that anticipates what’s next, the institute says, and “offers the reassurance, confidence and connection that people may be searching for in an uncertain global milieu.”
Here’s to a new year that has us looking forward to, rather than fearing, the future once more.