Recently, Design Forum Finland published the report “The Stuff People Want – A New Horizon for Design in Finland”. The report is based on a multinational study on customers’ attitudes and behaviour in the near future. What leading-edge consumers think today will become mainstream in a few years.
The study, called “Stuff in Flux 2” focused on people’s relationship with “stuff” – physical goods that we have, acquire and use. As expectations from goods are in transition, companies producing “stuff” are facing new challenges. The objective of the study was to give companies some insight of what should be done now, in order to be ready for the emerging needs of consumers in in the next 3-5 years.
The first Stuff in Flux study was carried out in 2016 and now, in 2021/2022 it was time for a renewal – high time, it proved to be. The new research revealed quite an impressive change in people’s behaviour. The leading-edge consumers’ expectations are morphing to be increasingly about longevity, responsibility and sustainability in their relationship with goods, without forgetting that people will not abandon consumption, and will expect it to be guilt-free and joyful. To companies this can mean in many cases revamping their business or totally new ways of working.
The objective of the study was to give companies some insight of what should be done now, in order to be ready for the emerging needs of consumers in in the next 3-5 years.
We interviewed the researchers, Sharon Greene and Oskar Korkman from Alice Labs Partners, a company specialised in customer, market and strategy research.
Sharon Greene describes the study and its methodology: “it’s an innovative multi-method and multi-client exploration into the future. It’s about the relationship between people and the physical and material things in their everyday life. The aim was to get deep understanding of what is changing for people, for consumers, in their purchase and consumption behaviour.”
It’s a fairly unique type of research, Oskar Korkman adds. “We have been working on this now for more than five years and we haven’t bumped into anything similar. We are combining these different methods in the research.”
Also the short timeline is rare. “The study is focusing on a very specific timeline, three to five years,” Sharon Greene continues. “The idea is to actually bring to the surface things that are most relevant for brands and companies. It shows what they need to change within that time horizon. We show new opportunity areas that you can prepare for now, having a market in three years time.”
“… We show new opportunity areas that you can prepare for now, having a market in three years time.”
What were the most interesting finding, then?
“The first thing we find very interesting is the magnitude of change,” says Oskar Korkman. “When we were comparing the researches in 2016 in 2021/22, we were surprised. The picture looks very different from 2016, just the way of thinking about acquiring things is quite different. And the changes could be described as dramatic. It’s not only about the pandemic. Tendencies had started before but corona had this kind of accelerating, facilitating effect on the changes.”
The second finding was the way people saw themselves as consumers. “Consumers are realising that everything they do has an impact also on others and the world we live in,” says Oskar Korkman. “We are now talking about the sufficiency paradigm.”
“The sufficiency paradigm is very interesting,” says Sharon Greene. “In 2016 there was an awareness that there was a bit too much of everything but not yet a real need to totally rethink one’s own consumption, to ask if you have enough. This is a very clear change in behaviour. People are starting to see themselves as actors in a system.”
This means either keeping things in flow, as the researchers call it, use something longer, or use second-hand. Sharon Greene: “Today more than one in two of the people that we surveyed said that they would prefer to buy second hand goods rather than to buy new goods and draw new material into the system. That’s a very big change.”
Even big actors, global brands, are introducing their second-hand ranges, she notes. “We were very lucky to work with some of the largest consumer goods companies in Europe and in the world. They are very interested in getting this understanding of the consumer transition so that they can mirror it in the way they change their businesses.”
The research was category-neutral, not looking at any particular sector. “We were looking in a very broad way, from a core subject which is the relationship to things,” says Sharon Greene. “And by doing that we can actually see four different opportunities, four different areas where competitive pressures are coming from and four different changes that are happening.” These four opportunity areas offering concrete ways of preparing for the future, are presented in the report.
From the findings of the international study a report for Finnish companies was compiled. The results were mirrored with the circumstances in Finland and supplemented with design expert interviews and case presentations. The focus here was on design: seen as a strong asset in product development in Finland, how could design expertise support companies in the inevitable change?
From the findings of the international study a report for Finnish companies was compiled. The results were mirrored with the circumstances in Finland and supplemented with design expert interviews and case presentations.
“We started to analyse the Finnish landscape,” says Oskar Korkman. “it’s fantastic to see that there are lots of interesting companies with potential.” But the ambition level should be higher, he adds, one should look even more at the opportunity from an international market perspective. Many of the strengths of design in Finland is growing in importance.
The researchers hope that the study leads companies towards the transitions that they need to make in the next three to five years. “We all have a feeling that a lot is changing within how companies are working and seeing the market,” says Oskar Korkman. “But the change is so big in terms of expectations of consumer goods in the future, that it requires massive investments.”
There is a lot of work to be done.
Design Forum Finland
The report is downloadable here.