Christopher Böhnke is Managing & Group Director of the Vienna office and Fjord Studios in Germany. In the first episode of the NEXT – SHOW series 3, he explored the key issues in the Fjord Trends 2022 report, how the pandemic has impacted everyone’s working lives — and what businesses should be focusing on over the coming year.
Watch the complete episode
The last couple of years have been very strange for Chris Böhnke and his team. They’re used to all collaborating in a studio, and now he’s had to get used to doing the same work with 50 or 60 people — but from home. And that raises all sorts of questions that a designer is bound to ask.
“What will happen with the new normal?” he says. “How do we empower talent that is not extrovert, when they can’t be in the same room? How can you make sure you still get good quality design out there, when you can’t meet each other, touch what you’re designing and do things manually?”
The solution, he suggests, lies in the way people work. They have different moments in the day: silent work, collaboration, meeting times and casual networking.
Trends in the evolution of workspaces
“Most workspaces — not just ours — have been designed in a uniform way,” he says. “You have to abide by the rules of that place. They’re not designed for everybody’s cadence between these four types.”
“A big part of our team is extremely happy to have more silence because they used to be in a big, loud place, with music always banging. At the same time, there’s a group of people who really miss that, and who can’t mimic it in a fully remote experience.”
He thinks that spaces will need to evolve to be more modular, to account for these different styles of work. And that’s just one example of the major trends that will impact businesses over the next year.
Finding Fjord’s Trends for 2022
These are precisely the sorts of pressures and shifts that the annual Fjord Trends report aims to capture, and clarify. But this year’s edition is slightly different, as Böhnke explains.
“This year’s report is about tangible things for the next year, rather than the five- to 10-year visions of previous years. It’s not to guide you to what you need to hit, it’s more ‘here’s what you need to understand’”, he says.
Over 40 studios across the planet, with 1,700 designers between them, contribute to the report. They invite those designers into two- to three-day workshop sessions. Traditionally, those have been physical, but recently they have been virtual, for obvious reasons. They collate the ideas into big clusters of related ideas, but also identify the frictions between those ideas.
And then it all gets sent to one of Fjord’s founders, Mark Curtis, to combine all this stuff into something tangible. And then this is tested against the teams in different countries, looking for signals from their neighbourhoods that amplify what they’re exploring. That’s all then synthesised into something that’s both global, but with enough nuance that it’s applicable regionally, too.
What they’re most interested in is discovering the places where there’s friction between ideas, where the future is less clear. “That’s where we can say to clients that this is where you can play,” Böhnke says. “Here are the interests and needs, but not just of humans, but the planet, cross-species, actually, and then you get to play with that, to figure out what you do with them.”
That’s another reason that they only have 7 trends, plus or minus two. “You can’t work on more than that in a year,” he says. This year, there are just five. But all five are critical.
Trends in the New Fabric of Life
We’re weaving a new fabric of life out of the changes wrought by the pandemic. And weaving emerges from the friction of threads on one another. “We believe that this year will be the renegotiation of your relationship with big institutions,” Böhnke says. And that can be employers, brands or even your family.
The five trends are the five threads you’re weaving with:
#1: Come as you are
The first thread is “come as you are”, which is about you. People are caring less about the old social norms of behaviour. Look at Simone Biles pulling herself out of the biggest sporting event of her life — because she’s not well. “Come as you are” means you put yourself first and renegotiate the terms on which you are supposed to act.
“We’re renegotiating the things we want to stand for,” says Böhnke. “Your purpose. The Great Resignation is one of those things. That’s people who don’t want to play by the old rules anymore. The creator economy is enabling people to go off and make a living off their own content, often competing with the established brands.”
That’s something the brands need to understand.
“It’s no longer ‘do you have enough purpose for me?’,” he says, “It’s ‘do you come along with me where and when I want to work?’.”
The negotiation between employers and employees about where and how to work is very much ongoing. The very rules of that discussion are up for negotiation, too.
“The difference between me and the collective is being reset,” Böhnke says.
#2: The end of abundance thinking
“‘I want this’ is over when it comes to stuff”, Böhnke says.
Can people really let go of the desire to acquire? Well, Böhnke argues, they have seen what happens when a ship gets stuck in the Suez Canal and stuff isn’t available. Many young people are hyper-aware that the planet is in trouble. “People realise that infinite growth isn’t a thing, and now that they know that infinite stuff isn’t either.”
This is about more than sustainability or the circular economy, this is about regenerative business. “It’s not just about net-zero, no damage, but about businesses that actually do good for the planet,” he explains. “That’s a big shift.”
We now have inflation again in a way the majority of the population has never experienced. “This magic line of 4% inflation is breaking down,” he points out.
And so stuff is not only less available, but it’s also more expensive. “It makes you think, do I need to have all of that?”
And when you do decide you need something, you think harder about how it’s made and where the supplies come from.
“People now understand interconnectedness finally — because it now hurts,” he says.
There’s an inherent tension between immediate delivery — and unavailability of basic goods. “The delivery services that bring things to you within 10 minutes are like the last bravado of the Roman Empire of capitalism,” Böhnke says.
However, developing regenerative practices take time. Whole supply chains and systems need to be re-engineered to support it.
#3: The Next Frontier
“As things and stuff become less available, intellectually, digitally, there is infinity,” he says.
While he jokingly dismisses “the metaverse” as the “biggest bullshit bingo word we have”, he points out it is a trend, but one which few people truly understand. The next frontier is defining what that next virtually infinite digital space will be, and how to build an economy out of it. Yes, there are NFTs and other transactional forms, but what really interests him is the spatial element.
“Yes, you can now physically experience each other at far distance in a virtual space,” Böhnke says. “You don’t have users, you have participants.”
There’s so much to clarify about this nascent technology, though, including transmissibility between spaces, and their ethics.
“Will this be good for diversity, for inclusion because everybody can be who they want to be? Or is it just glitter on the fact that outside the metaverse, we’re not inclusive in the way we would like to be?” asks Böhnke.
#4: This much is true
On one hand, we’ve never had so much misinformation. On the other, we’ve never asked so many questions. We can use Google to access any information we want.
“This means that for brands the competitive edge is no longer having the best product, but can I layer information in such a way, that questions that I didn’t realise consumers have are being answered?” he says.
Can I see if the jumper I’m buying was made in a “good” factory? Can we provide this information in a scalable way? Could AI chatbots be a way of delivering that, to bring context into the consumer discussion?
“Younger consumers will choose the brand that has this information over the one that doesn’t,” Böhnke says. The trick is to go beyond mere transparency, to being on point: to serve up the contextual information that the buyer wants at any particular point in the process.
# 5: Handle with care
The pandemic has propelled health into the foreground of everything.
“Arguably, every business has to pick up on care,” Böhnke says. “Every business needs to have a chief health officer because we have so many looming mental health and economic problems.”
Big companies have the resources to do this — but small companies have the potential to offer this more personally, person-to-person. “Can I be there and intervene? Mental health problems are often about a disconnect,” he says.
You also have a huge industry convergence in health. Insurers don’t just want to collect data sets about you, they want to make sure you stay healthy longer, so they invest in health services. They move from a payer to a provider.
“I would like to make sure I’m not making you sick,” he says. “How do you ensure what you’re doing isn’t addicting people and making them worse?”
Can companies who aren’t in the health field understand the impact they have on your health? As an employer, can you offer something more meaningful to people’s health than a webinar? Is your company set up in a way that ensures that your people stay healthy over time?
“These are more important questions than ‘can I track you to make sure you don’t do something stupid?’,” Böhnke says.
Designing this for these trends
So, those are our five trends for 2022. But how do we get there?
“We need to design ever closer with the people that can help build what others will be using,” he suggests. “A big part will be shifting away from proscriptive innovation to creating platforms for behaviour.”
“Take, for example, platforms that allow you to design your own clothing line, and sell it online with an e-commerce store. That says something about how e-commerce should work for individuals.”
Setting this up means working with doers who are not yet doing. “And that’s exciting,” Böhnke says. “And it vibes a lot with where the new generation thinks employment is going to go to. It’s not going to be a fixed career, it’s going to be more purpose-driven.”
We also need to broaden our range of conversations about what and how we’re doing things.
“We need to design for, and with, other species,” he says. “A lot of the problems we have as humanity are killing bacteria, fungi and misusing and abusing animals, instead of seeing it as a collective ecosystem that is always there.”
“The biochemists out there, the neuroscientists out there, the future veterinarians out there who don’t want to become veterinarians — they will be part of design teams.“
They will be the ones with the insight to try something new in co-creation teams.
This is a summary of an interview with Christopher Böhnke, conducted by Monique van Dusseldorp and broadcast on the NEXT Show on 10th February 2022. You can catch up with Chris and his work on Xing and LinkedIn.