Trends Aren’t Universal, But Paradoxes Are: Against the Current is Sometimes the Best Choice

ou have the keys to becoming the artist and creator of your design practice. The 30 trends discussed in this issue of DesignIntelligenceare each full of possibility as you develop your agenda for the future. However, keep in mind the opposite of each trend could also hold the essence of competitive advantage for you and your firm. Design Futures Council Senior Fellow Richard Farson, Ph.D., reminds us that paradoxes in professional practice often provide unique, often hidden, opportunities. So I encourage you to question all the trends we discuss here. There is much to be said for going against the grain.

Here are a few questions every design leader needs to answer to prepare for the future.

  • How are the trends in professional practice relevant to my practice?

  • How are my clients’ needs changing?

  • What should I do differently in the future to cope with trends and change?

  • How is the essence of my practice likely to be altered?

  • What paradoxes are most applicable to me? What new vision of my firm could result from them?

  • How may I allay doubt within the firm regarding necessary change?

  • What will be the new essence of my professional practice? What will be the unique promise to our clients?

You may pursue any number of options, but don’t avoid confronting trends and change. In the words of Jim Taylor and Watts Wacker: “You can determine your own tomorrow instead of letting tomorrow determine a place for you.”
Try this exercise: take out a clean sheet of paper. On the top left answer: What is the essence of my firm? On the right, list the defining statements of each of your three primary competitors. When finished, draw a horizontal line and record the changes needed to keep your firm relevant and special to your clients.

In this exercise, great results come by using uncommon sense. For instance, in our cover story you will note that trend No. 19 deals with green and sustainable design. You can choose to lead with this trend or try a counter strategy – form a powerful alliance with another professional service firm (engineering, for instance). Allay client and staff doubt regarding the level of service excellence you provide in green and sustainable design. Or consider what Autodesk did with their CAD systems precision. Instead of just going to the next level of precision they offered a new option: the wavy line. The technique has become popular in communicating with clients to relay work in progress. This counter trend made for a new growth market.

Your marketplace positioning can be compelling without riding the same bandwagon as other firms in your area of practice. The trends in this issue of DesignIntelligence can be profound for you. But the opposite of a profound truth can also be true, Farson reminds us. It just may define your essence more dramatically.