When coolhunting meets Innovation *


photo by Bridget Flemming

What do we mean when we use the therm coolhunting? We mean innovation, development and knowledge to improve present products and services by advancing the future.

Where coolhunting meets innovation? The sociological point of view represents one of the most appropriate umbrella in order to combine such binomy. As a sociologists, we are get used to define targets, groups, features and study the behavior of individuals belonging to different groups in relation with the whole society. We correlate this behavior and features with social issues. So, the sociological point of view is able to study and define the patterns of different social groups by defining and studying them inside a defined framework. Nothing new in comparison with the regular market studies and researches. The step forward, innovation, comes when we are able to detect something new, different from the regular behavior within some members of an observed target. Analyzing how often and why has been done such a “new feature” and being able to link such new trends with bigger social changes will give us an extremely useful clue in order to set up new policies or product developments. In short, it means a competitive advantage for product or service developers in front of their competitors as well as a good tool for design thinkers when defining and setting up improvements in products and services too.

Coolhunting is not only some sort of fashion word but something based upon a social research and a constant and methodical monitorizing of several issues. It should be stressed that the therm coolhunting has usually been associated with fashion trends and markets, since the first time it was used by the New Yorker review in 1997. Nowadays, several companies belonging to different sectors have been hiring coolhunters (or contracting their services) in order to set up strategies and product developments based upon the insights from those coolhunters.

According to Víctor Gil (on of the most renowned coolhunters in Spain) coolhunter’s main mission is to provide valid and relevant information on innovations and trends that may have a positive impact (opportunities) or negative (threats) on the business. And I would like to add that coolhunters can help as well in design thinking issues for social policies as well.

How a coolhunter can do that, in general therms?
Here you have, in very general therms, how a coolhunter monitories target groups and design a strategy.
First of all, we should focus upon what do we mean when talking about detecting trends: we should find out the elements that compose a trend; the environment when it borns and it’s going to be developed; who is adopting it and how it’s going to be spread around the whole society.
So, we should find out signs of change, innovations in normal behaviors, what social groups are adopting them and finally, try to advance if those changes are going to be spread to the rest of society and how they will be spread. This explanation is useful for macro trends as well as for micro.

So, the most important things could be summarized in:
1) Group targetting: by defining the groups we have decided to observe related with the business or sector we are working in. By establishing those groups, we’ll be able to detect changes in their routine that will be a clue for trends developments. Usually, these changes are going to be connected with biggest social trends.
Trends and innovations often rely on certain social groups more likely to adopt innovations and usually have a very specific actors. Those actors are usually well connected to social, economic and cultural environment, and this links facilitate the spread of trends. A social researcher has to identify, analyze and monitor those groups.
2) Framework knowledge: it means the context where our target operates. We must know very well our target, their motivations, how do they act, their environment. This extremely good knowledge of our targets will give us the chance to detect, when it happens, any kind of changes and, for sure, will allow us to observe the frequency with which happens the constants associated to that changes.
We can obtain these insights with a constant observation of our target and it’s patrons by using social sciences techniques usually associated with sociology, anthropology, netnography…
3) Main spreading channels: Knowing where to look to see if these trends have a chance to be spread to the rest of society or only can be reduced to a momentary fashion for a particular group. If you are conducting a research for a particular sector, you should identify the influencers well known for their reputation and very prone to all kinds of innovations. Nentnography usually delivers the best tools for that issues.

One of the best examples of product and service development after detecting a trend is the one related with the sensing of our environment and living conditions.
First, there is the concern for the improvement and control in health as well as placing emphasis on preventive care rather than surgery, the appearance of the group known as “elders”, retired people with good health, which are plenty of time ahead, looking for mobility and continuous monitoring of their health status just to enjoy all their free time in optimum conditions.
Second, there is the will for the improvement of home comfort and energy consumption.

The observation of these trends has led industry to the starting of processes of technological innovation leading to the integration of sensors everywhere, programmed to:
1) Provide information “on time” to end users on certain vital signs (eg, sensing garment that emit signals to mobile devices)
2) Provide comfort and reduce energy consumption at home. The introduction of sensors that monitor the number of people in a house to increase or decrease the power of light, to detect whether or not weather conditions allow increase or decrease in heating degree … introducing sensors in mattresses, blankets, walls, etc…
This an example, but we can observe several examples for industry, for instance, improvements in 3D printing and how is going to affect product design and development as well as social changes due to it’s expansion.

The most important thing is remembering that most of the innovations becomes from changes in society and they are translated into new services, products and social researcher using coolhunting techniques will be able to detect these changes, an extremely useful information for business,services and social policies developments.

* This post was originally the first article from Guest Editor Issue – Design Thinkers Academy Network blog

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