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At the start of each new year, our creative team conducts a deep dive to uncover the trends that will shape and influence the world of design for the coming year. We believe that design trends, just like research trends, serve as a powerful reflection of shifting consumer desires and preferences.

As the team (virtually) sat down to discuss the trends worth highlighting for 2021, we were struck by how much can change in a year. 2020 pushed us all to find inspiration in new places – influencing the design world for the better. We are starting off 2021 feeling inspired by all that we’ve discovered.

Download the report here of what we are predicting will rise to the top in 2021.

| Creative, Culture

Tracking the impact of COVID-19.

Over the past several weeks, COVID-19 has created extreme uncertainty consumers and businesses. In response, our team is compiling weekly trend updates that examine the current state and explore lasting changes the virus may bring.

So far, we’ve covered topics including how behaviors are shifting in categories such as health care and financial services and how brands can adapt their marketing efforts – and more trend updates are on the way. Interested? Download our reports here.

| Creative, Culture, Research

A Year Filled with Wisdom.

When we launched our Quote to Self project this past February, we were unsure where it would take us, who we would meet and if people would even participate. Asking the question “What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?” turned into more than we expected. Check out a few highlights from our team:

  • We met a man in Budapest who was reading on a bench by the Danube. When we asked him “The Question,” he thought about it, shook his head and said, “I can’t. That is too big of a question.” We were walking around a nearby park about an hour later when the same man came up to us and said excitedly, “OK, I have an answer now. I would tell myself not to be afraid. Fear is a lie. You can do whatever you want and be whatever you want to be.” We felt honored that he took the time to find us.
  • On a very hot June afternoon, we came across a photographer from California who was visiting Minneapolis. He answered our question in an extremely positive manner: “It will work out, and in the end you’ll get to where you’re trying to go. Crawl before you walk, crawl before you walk.” We laughed with him and had a short conversation. Afterward, he took our photo and we parted ways.
  • In Prague, on the Charles Bridge, we met a Scottish man who now lives and works in Prague. He said he rarely goes to the touristy parts of the city but felt the urge to visit that day. He, like most others we met, was skeptical upon our approach but quickly warmed up. We had a great five- to 10-minute conversation (much longer than most of our interactions), and at the end he said he was so glad he decided to follow his urge to be a tourist that day. His advice: “I trust my 15-year-old self to be the same as my now 50-year-old self. And I wouldn’t try to ask my 50-year-old self to give advice to me because I’m the same man as I was then and the same person. I don’t need to advise me and I couldn’t advise him.”
  • We asked a mother at United Noodle (an Asian marketplace) with two kids under the age of 7 – one in her arms and another at her feet. At first she was flustered by the commotion and our request, but then she paused to think about it and looked at her kids. Her response was a mixture of reflecting on her life and thinking about her kids. It stayed with us because it was such a great dynamic of looking into the past and the future.

Now, that’s just a snippet of what happened in the last 10 months. To see more stories, visit our Quote to Self webpage or our Instagram gallery.


| Creative, Culture, Quote to Self Project, Research

Public Sector.

Whether we’re closely following an election or simply grabbing a cup of coffee in a crowded café, there’s a good chance we’ll hear someone mention taxes – and what our taxes pay for at the local, state or federal level.

While opinions abound (and we’re certainly not here to give one), one thing we’ve been thinking about lately is the people compensated by those tax dollars. No, not just the politicians making the news. The everyday people: firefighters, snowplow operators, public defenders, librarians, mail carriers and beyond.

What’s life like for people who work in the public sector? Is their experience different than it is for those of us in the private sector? Learn more in our latest insight.

| Creative, Culture, Research

4A’s StratFest 2019 Findings: Welcome to the Age of the Empowered Citizen.

Today’s consumers are asking companies to be increasingly transparent, innovative and plugged in to public discourse. Brands are reacting by placing the customer at the very center of their business decisions. At StratFest in New York City, our team explored how brand strategy is evolving in an increasingly consumer-centric landscape. Here are two of our key takeaways.

Consumers want brands to recognize them as people1

As the rise of IoT, AI and voice assistants makes us more informed and engaged, the influx of information has also fueled a loss of trust between brands and the public – a public that is more critical and more aware than ever before of the value they represent to brands and advertisers.

Brands can start to rebuild trust by recognizing that consumer needs generally boil down to a few basic things. The four essential customer needs listed below can be used as guiding principles for brands trying to (re)build trust with their customers:

  • People want new and meaningful abilities: Brands can offer products and services that align with the needs of their customers.
  • People want to get better at something: Brands can show how they can help support the customer’s goal.
  • People want personal connection: Brands can recognize customers as people with hopes, values, talents and flaws.
  • People want purpose: While it is unrealistic to expect brands to give purpose to their customers, brands can show humility about how they can fit into and improve their customers’ lives.

Humility can launch brands to the forefront2

Leading brands used to inspire consumers to think about the very edge of what is possible – far beyond what the average customer could likely achieve. And brands placed themselves at the center of their customers’ universe – overstepping in their promise of life-changing results from something like a sneaker or a credit card.

But in the age of Instagram and self-care, consumers have become “their own personal heroes” and aspire on an individual level. They want brands to support them in their journey and to validate their goals, values and beliefs.

Brand leaders now mirror everyday people: Casper Sleep stands up to a category that is too complicated and too expensive; Fenty leads the charge in representing people of color in fashion industry advertising; and Tesla recognized it couldn’t realistically address the carbon crisis on its own, so it open-sourced all its patents.

To better connect with consumers, brands can incorporate the five key aspects of the humble brand.

The humble brand is:

  • True to itself: It owns who it is.
  • Accessible: It is approachable and doesn’t promote an unattainable dream.
  • Self-aware: It knows its role in the lives of consumers and doesn’t overstep in the way brands used to.
  • Ever-evolving: It admits to mistakes and commits to improvement.
  • Responsive: It prioritizes consumer relationships over sales.

In this new paradigm, successful brands have shifted from inspiring fantastical dreams to adopting a more humble, human-scale approach to connecting with consumers. The customer is now at the center of the brand’s universe, rather than the other way around.

  1. Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Groupe.
  2. Chris Konya, principal and managing director, Sylvain Labs.

| Creative

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