JM Trend Spotting: volume I

Here at Josephmark, our field of vision is broad – ideas and solutions aren’t formed in a vacuum, and knowledge doesn’t reside in siloed domains or disciplines.

We know insights, acuteness, intuition or even epiphanies don’t come out of thin air. They are the result of being tuned in – of being open to seeing the big picture, the patterns, and the parallels.

Sometimes these patterns call out a groundswell and tell us that an idea is good to go. Other times they point to what’s new and bold – to emerging ideas, which lead us to our own new and different thinking.

Rather than keeping our conversations to studio walls and Slack channels, we decided to bring them out into the open, sharing a range of trends our disciplines are pondering right now. We have a feeling that what we’re seeing is being echoed by many others around the world – if you’ve thought about any of the trends below, then let us know. Add to them, dissect them, and tell us what you think we’re missing.

The new SaaS model: Space as a Service

By Colleen Morgan, Product Director

You may know ‘SaaS’ as an acronym for ‘Software as a Service’, but recently we’ve seen plenty of momentum in a new by-product model, Space as a Service.

Lifestyle magazine Monocle have plans to launch a high-end apartment complex in Bangkok, following other similar ventures launched by Bulgari, Armani and Aston Martin. Whilst WeWork have acquired Meetup, invested in The Wing, and are dabbling in offering a office fit-out and culture service to large companies to help them get the best out of their teams. Also following this trend is furniture company Floyd, who have created several Airbnb properties where people can stay to experience their products before making a purchase.

I think three things are going on here:

  1. People care about the space they inhabit. The homewares market is booming – just look at H&M, Zara, CB2, Muji, Anthropologie, Kmart, Target and Big W.
  2. There’s a growing appetite for paid experiences and people are looking to curated brands they trust to offer these. Look at Airbnb’s Experiences.
  3. As online shopping dominates over physical retail, experiences are becoming the leading edge that brands are turning to to keep and win customers.

Watch this space and get ready for more and more SaaS offerings – hopefully nothing like Fincher’s 1997 film, The Game.

Sex, drugs and depression: A much-needed education

By Georgia Dixon, Content Lead

Educational content is in need of a right kick up the arse in general, but for topics traditionally seen as taboo, like sex, drugs and depression – something’s a brewing, and I for one, am froth-city excited.

Not only is educational content around these subjects due for a repackaging, in some cases it’s just plain due. Whilst sex, mental health and drug education has started to be taken seriously as their own verticals, now we’re starting to access this content in a beautiful and easy-to-use way – removing the stigma and shame (albeit slowly), but most importantly, providing us with the information we so desperately crave.

Leading our forbidden education revolution is my ultimate human crush Cindy Gallop, who recently raised $2M for her social-sex platform Make Love Not Porn, which encourages you to learn from real-life sex, rather than the latest niche on Pornhub. OMGYes is another leader in the space with an honest, informative, research-based approach to women’s pleasure, and if you’re looking for more on sex ed or sextech, Bryony Cole, Laci Green and Shan Boodram’s content are all worth checking out.

But sex is just one area in dire need. Another is drugs, and who’s leading the charge there? Vice, with their always practise safe sesh series, you’re schooled by a young scientist from drug testing non-profit organisation The Loop. He also looks like he was on Skins, so he’s hella trustworthy, but the fact it’s delivered in a raw, short-form style makes it more relatable. Another enlightening initiative is Baking Supply Co, which is pretty much the Blue Apron for cannabis-infused baked goods.

When it comes to mental health, there are well-known frontrunners like Headspace but I’ve also heard good things about 7cups and recently downloaded the adorably named Woebot because let’s be honest, woe is me.

Sure, the internet eclipsed the classroom on these subjects ages ago but we’ve still got a long while before these topics become water-cooler conversation, and it’s RIPE for new tech, business and content.

Product vs. project management: The ongoing debate

By Ash Fish, Project Manager

Nearly a decade ago, JM recognised that the traditional fee-for-service model wasn’t sustainable, and we decided to invest in our own ideas, becoming a design studio and venture lab. This shift has seen our project management team naturally take on some responsibilities that are typically a product manager’s domain. These days, to successfully manage a team, meet deadlines and make budget, we need to have an understanding of the product requirements and be involved with all decisions.

JM isn’t the only studio experiencing this product vs. project manager debate, with numerous articles out there questioning the difference between the two. There are people in both camps, defending the needs of the old school Project Manager and their number-crunching, resourcing and scheduling abilities, and there are those firmly in the product camp, touting the need for a CEO-type person who understands what makes a good product and can confidently call the shots. Some are even creating a hybrid of both.

As a project manager, I believe both skill sets are more necessary than ever. With such a varying range of work coming into our studio, our project managers often collaborate closely with design leads on smaller projects to set out a strategic plan and execute on it. Out of necessity, project managers have developed product strategy skills simply to do their own jobs effectively and be better informed. On the other hand, long-term ventures that depend heavily on product managers cannot be left to operate without acknowledging the need to be accountable to costs, timelines and stakeholders.

There seems to be this symbiosis occurring when a product and project manager work together with both the product needs being represented and managed in the most efficient way possible. Whilst I don’t think this debate will be resolved anytime soon, it’s my own personal goal to ensure I create an environment where my team can flourish and do their best work, so if that means going deeper on product strategy, watching the IT Crowd or understanding blockchain then so be it.

Putting the ‘human’ in human resources

By Megan Griffiths, People & Culture Director

From our spacious and sunny Australian studio, the future of people and culture doesn’t look so much like nifty gadgets or cool tech, but coming back to the, well, ‘human’ bit of HR.

Focusing on individual needs and motivators are at the forefront of employer’s minds, leading to increasingly bespoke working arrangements. Gone are the days when a tech company had a foosball table, segueways and everyone’s job title had the word ‘ninja’ in it. The best teams are diverse in gender, sexuality, age, nationality, personally engaged with what they do, and have the flexibility to do it in a way that works best for their lives.

Here at JM, we’ve started paying more attention to the personal wellbeing of each team member, introducing creative perks that actually make a difference to employees holistically. Our new Personal Development fund gives our staff an allowance to do anything that enriches them, like learning a new language or taking a still life drawing class.

Along the same lines, there is an evolution of what people want and need from not only from their physical workspaces but also their digital workspace. Open plan offices have proven to only increase distraction and decrease productivity. And whilst we love Slack, there’s definitely more drive around finding the mental peace and quiet to get into ‘flow’. Constantly plugged into the chatter of a business doesn’t work for most roles, so we’re seeing more tools to zone out like Brain.FM as well as leafy, zen interior design aesthetics and more individual, private working areas.

And finally, it’s no news to anyone that 2018 is the year of the womyn, so we’re seeing more of our sisters claim their rightful spots in boardrooms across the globe. In Australia, we are still reeling from the depressing fact that there are more men named John than women running top Aussie companies. All I can say is: move aside, John. The revolution is coming. This is going to bring its own wave of female-centric initiatives and positive changes to the workplace. RISE UP GIRLFRIENDS! ✊

The rise of anti-design

By Alex Naghavi, Executive Creative Director

The standardisation of UX design in the past decade has led to a whole generation of digital products feeling more uniformed and systematic. Thanks in part to various systems like Google’s Material Design that’ve ushered in new standards for consistency and improved the cognition of the general punter, it’s also led to a homogenised (read: predictable) digital world.

Only cementing this process further is our fail fast, fail often culture, where designers rely on tried and tested models, like generic UI patterns or hamburger menus, to save time and rush products out the door for early market validation. If you combine time pressure with generic design elements, of course you’re going to end up with something that resembles – and has no advantage in – the rest of the market. By no means am I saying that these systems are bad or ugly – quite the opposite. From reducing cognitive load to quick adoption and onboarding, these systems are highly effective and often serve their purpose more than adequately.

On the flipside, what we’ll see a lot more of in the coming years (thanks in part to literally boundless new technologies like VR) is a rebellion to the structure that we design in, and for. We’ll start to see designers doing what they do best in a world that’s no longer confined to conventions and standards. Trends like brutalism and anti-design are responses to our current homogenous design landscape – to some, they feel confronting, but just watch as these ways of thinking bleed their way into the mainstream and become the new normal. The common intention of these two movements is to push the envelope and be different. Because of that, they captivate, surprise, and often confuse. Is it possible that ‘confusion’ will become something designers strive for as a physiological and experiential differentiator? One could argue that Snapchat wouldn’t have achieved its early success had it not been for its naively confusing UI.

Under the influencer: Celebrities are cashing in

By Jordan Kadell, Marketing & Content Assistant

This is the age of the celebrity influencer, where famous people no longer need to endorse SodaStream, fish fingers or spirits disguised as luxury items – they are creating their own products, and they’re digital.

In the last couple years, a number of celebrities have teamed up with digital product companies and started their own ventures. These aren’t one-off endorsement deals, but ongoing projects like Ellen Degeneres’ beloved game Heads Up!, Tyler the Creator’s very own space for fans Golf Media, or Gwyneth Paltrow’s travel app G Spotting (which should be about spotting something else, i.e. not delicious restaurants).

These public figures have such loyal communities that the success of the product is almost guaranteed, and not by accident this time. Not only do these partnerships ensure acquisition, but they generate mass celebration and endorsement of multiple products and services, and so the reach and potential for further marketing only grows.

Whether a celebrity needs to live, breathe and become their product is another conversation altogether. If a heterosexual Chinese man can own the Western world’s most successful gay dating app, then sometimes it’s simply good business. While we may be living in an era of trust over truth, I think we’ll see more and more celebrities creating their own apps or sustainable digital businesses that do good.

Collective gameplay: the new knowledge game

By Uzi Baron, Developer

Day on day we create, collect and analyse loads of data. By 2021 it’s expected that monthly global mobile data traffic will be 49 exabytes (exabyte = one million gigabytes). Big data has matured into a field in its own right, and smart algorithms are being used to make sense of data in all sorts of ways. But, what about those difficult problems that AI can’t tackle yet? Here’s where we are seeing a new trend: using our analog human minds in surprising ways to create new knowledge and solve big problems.

One of the ways the human mind is being used to tackle big problems is by harnessing the hivemind, which is virtually using a collective of humans from around the globe. Back in 1990, the Human Genome Project set the precedent for this trend by breaking down the problem into smaller, more achievable sizes (approximately 150,000 base paris), sharing the load as well as all knowledge, and creating a collective intelligence to solve it (as a group and at the same time).

More recently, this hivemind approach has been paired with a gameplay mechanics model to tackle other biological challenges and generate new knowledge. By its nature, gameplay inherently incentivises progress. Researchers are building community-driven global game platforms like foldit, designed to reveal the structure of proteins so that we can understand how they work and how we can target them with drugs, and Eyewire, to collaboratively map neurons within the human brain. Using the collective might of game-players around the globe, the Eyewire project has already discovered new cell types in the human brain(!!!).

Where this is going gives me goosebumps. Shifting our thinking from the rational, logical mind as the tool that unlocks new knowledge, to understanding that we can abstract ourselves one step away from the data and introduce new logic in the form of game mechanics is huge. It opens up the research world to so many more people – children even – and will propel us further and faster towards knowing the unknown.

Venture toward your future

By Matt McCauley, General Manager

2018 will see a mainstream shift into corporate venturing. Companies are realising that the time to allocate capital to multiple future scenarios is now. We are seeing the growth in demand for venture labs that allow businesses to experiment with new technologies, like blockchain, AI or VR, to better understand the opportunities they present and prepare themselves for markets of the future.

Venture labs go beyond pure R&D into new technologies, they create an environment where ideas from the bleeding edge of domains are generated and rigorously validated before being rapidly turned into products and services structured around innovative business models for market validation. This pipeline of investment opportunities allows companies to diversify their capital allocation risk through exposure to a steady stream of early-stage businesses, rather than simply relying on competing for individual open market investments.

Whether it’s a world with open banking, driverless cars, or more social impact driven business models, the pace of digital transformation requires a capability to continuously evolve, pivot and adapt. Employing a lab as an ideas generator and early-stage growth engine (AKA, the venturing model) allows companies to be agile with little or no risk to their existing core businesses. It’s a smart move and one that I think is a win-win for business and for the digital product industry. Lab environments give product teams an opportunity to be laser-focused and to make decisions purely in the best interest of the product’s success. No more never-ending cycles of feedback or labouring over how to incorporate a left-field request from a client, as we are all too familiar with in the fee-for-service world. And no more flogging a dead horse when you know an idea or a product isn’t working, just to satisfy an investor. Cull it and move on to a better opportunity – everyone benefits.

The renaissance of raw illustration

By Ryan McShane, Motion & Product Designer

Illustration’s foremost goal is to communicate an idea, and as products become harder to explain (or perhaps our attention spans are shortening) – illustration is needed more and more. When the idea isn’t tangible, illustration can aid in making it feel like it is. While product designers have been looking to illustrators for over a decade to warm up a typically cold internet, there’s been an obvious shift from polished, geometric illustrations to a raw, hand drawn, quirky aesthetic – designed to humanise brands. It’s like the editorial-style illustrations you’d see in an issue of the New Yorker: just look at Dropbox, Oscar or Slack as examples.

Why? The more digital brands become, the more they need to emphasise their humanity and connect with their audience. This raw illustration style feels less rigid, unexpected, it’s usually abstract or satirical, and most importantly, it’s relatable. It also means more brands are venturing out of their comfort zones and taking a risk. Not to mention the importance placed on artistic expression, and of course, more jobs for my talented peers.

Another great example is Google’s Calendar app, which uses illustration in a way that connects you back to reality and breaks up months with scenes related to the time of year. This way you’re not only thinking about that dentist appointment in March, but also that the leaves will be falling and dogs are out walking. Who doesn’t want that?

And as we’re all a bit scared of where technology is taking us (cheers, Black Mirror), we want to interact with a product that looks like it was made by people. Because it was, probably. Raw illustration is coming through more and more to give products and brands that personal, authentic edge. Because let’s be honest, you wouldn’t react to overlapping rectangles the same way you would to a cutie in a suspenders.

Subscription model fatigue

By Jared Fossey, Product Strategist

Everything that is old is new again. The boom in subscription businesses means you can now subscribe to just about anything – from Netflix and online gaming, to toilet paper and razors. But the influx of innovative new entrants is creating a new problem as the market becomes saturated.

With multiple smaller groceries offering subscription services, consumers are effectively paying for overheads in each of the individual businesses to a point where the cost of the individual subscriptions can rival the cost of purchasing the items individually from supermarkets. The same is true for streaming television, where in order to watch some of the most popular shows (Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead), it’s becoming necessary to manage multiple subscriptions like Netflix, HBO and Hulu, adding up to a cost that can be compared to traditional pay TV.

The trend is a natural evolution as we tear down inefficient legacy infrastructure like supply chains and manual exchanges, and replace them with digital versions. But every new solution creates a new problem. This problem didn’t emerge until enough people were purchasing these kinds of businesses. The subscription model has become the go to, but as we all fatigue of that long list of monthly outgoings – it pays to bring our focus back to the mental model of the customer. Sounds like a total ‘duh’ statement, but I think the promise of that shiny new subscription model is clouding the minds of many.

Unless you are a big player like Google or Apple, who have the potential to up their game and offer month-on-month value across verticals, then here are some of our hot tips for checking yourself and not falling into this shiny, new trap:

1. Identify your customers’ mental models around paying for the kind of value you create. Is it a flat rate? Is it something that should be discounted when bought in bulk? Is it a program that gets cheaper over time with more use? Or is it a one-off fee?

2. Identify your customers’ consumption behaviours. Do they consume once a year? Like Airbnb? Do they consume sporadically and unpredictably, sometimes once a week, sometimes several in an evening, like Uber? Do they want unlimited access, like Netflix?

3. Identify trends in consumption behaviours. Is there a likelihood that a firehose-style, unlimited access tier is going to become valuable at some point? Imagine a subscription model to Airbnb so you can fly anywhere and stay anywhere – unlocked if a customer spends 150 days a year in Airbnb accommodation. Or, a flat-rate for Uber users who have travelled at least twice every business day for a percentage of days in a given year.

4. Most crucially, make sure you can create a good deal for users, or at least the opportunity for users to make a good deal. Buying a movie on iTunes might cost $20, but subscribing to Netflix allows a user to watch hundreds of movies for the same cost (per month). Customers might not watch anything at all, but by being able to turn that into a good deal, the control is in the their hands.

Alternately, there might be an opportunity to become an over-the-top platform to manage all of these sprawling subscriptions, which could become the ticket that single-market players like Spotify or Dollar Shave Club need to compete.

Josephmark is a design studio and venture lab based in Brisbane, Los Angeles, Sydney and Stockholm. We design, develop and launch meaningful digital products that change the way we work, play and connect. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We create work we love. We believe in what we do. We are Josephmark.