talking trends with lisa white of wgsn
Trend forecaster Lisa White spends her days working out what we'll all be loving in a few years from now. Whether that means a move towards buying less or simply an obsession with rosé wine, she’s got her finger on the pulse of the planet when it comes to interiors and lifestyle. We chatted to her recently after she had spent some time in Cape Town, attending this year’s Design Indaba conference.
How does one learn to predict the future?
I learned by doing – and still learn by being constantly curious. Just out of university (where I studied international relations), I landed a job at [trend research pioneer] Li Edelkoort’s office in Paris, managing the many international clients and also writing for Li’s trend books and magazines. I learned a great deal from her – there is a reason she is considered such a guru! – and I ended up as a senior trend analyst, also running and heading the trend forecasting magazines View on Colour, InView and Bloom.
Currently, I am head of futures at WGSN, and it’s a fascinating process. We don’t make trends, we capture, analyse and communicate them. Trends are a continual flow of information and inspiration coming from both consumers and creatives – it is about predicting what’s next and ‘pressing pause’ on a particular time period. We highlight what we predict will become a major trend two or more years on, with some of that information being immediately actionable for early adopters.
Does constantly working on future trends mean that you start to lose track of the present?
On the contrary, you need to be very much in the present, to pick up signs of small trends that you sense will become important in the future. In fact, I always say that ‘the past and the future are present’ – it’s a question of pulling out the relevant messages from the past and inklings from the future for our clients to act upon.
How do you and your team come up with the 'big picture' trends that you produce for your clients?
It is a very intensive process: twice a year, I invite 100 of our international editors to two days of presentations, where they present the key trends in their area of the world and their area of expertise, from consumer and colour trends to fashion, design and technology trends. I also invite key outside speakers to deliver insight on global economy, art, education and other key topics. Then I sit with senior editors and consultants and we spend a week putting together the big-picture global trends into three big-picture stories and an overarching message.
Five weeks later, these big-picture trends are published on WGSN in a comprehensive report called The Vision. After that, every WGSN department publishes their Big Ideas based on how these trends will affect different industries, from womenswear and menswear to beauty, lifestyle and interiors. And then we produce the Forecasts, which drill down into how specific design directions will be influenced by these trends in two years’ time. I like to say we deliver insight on everything from macro trends to coffee mugs.
What's your favourite 'big picture' trend for Spring/Summer 2018 in relation to design and decor, and why?
One of my favourite trends for this season is called ‘Slow Futures’ and it speaks of the importance of buying less, but of better quality. We need to think about design in the long term and cannot sustain models of ‘quick and cheap’ production and sales. It’s all about decluttering and surrounding yourself with things you really love and want to enjoy and update for years to come.
Do you think there's a good example of trend forecasters getting something completely wrong?
Not if they are good trend forecasters!
And getting something completely right?
Let’s talk about wine – WGSN also features a very robust Food & Drink section. In 2011 we announced the importance of pink drinks – and the rise of rosé. Since that time period, consumption of rosé wine has increased tremendously and is one of the growth areas of the wine economy, in South Africa in particular. We have also seen the rise of rose gold as a key colour in interiors and tech items.
You recently spent time in Cape Town for Design Indaba. Were there any particular speakers at the conference who really inspired you, and why?
Design Indaba is one of the best conferences I have been fortunate to attend – they take some of the most compelling creatives from Africa and around the world and bring them to Cape Town for three days. Every year Design Indaba gives me creative goosebumps. This season there were so many inspirations, from [Icelandic-Danish artist] Olafur Eliasson to [Kenyan photographer] Osborne Macharia and [French interaction designer] Nelly Ben Hayoun. Each is able to show the audience how they see the world through their eyes, and in turn allow you to see the world differently. More than anything else, key trends are about listening to all points of view and finding the connections between them.
Did any of the Design Indaba speakers resonate with your trend ideas in terms of the direction that you see interiors and design moving towards in the near future?
One of the things that South African artist Robin Rhode said was ‘a wall is just a membrane and you can choose to go through’. That resonated with me because of the walls that are going up politically and economically all over the world. In interiors, where people feel safe to express themselves, we find quite the contrary: people really do want to reach out to others and create openness. Just think about the trust involved in services like Airbnb and Uber.
With regard to interiors, open-plan offices and loft apartments have been trending – people are looking to create nooks in their interiors, with soft screens and room dividers, plants, armchairs with wings and devices that allow for privacy while keeping themselves open to others and what is going on in the space.
Were there any other particular highlights of your visit to the Cape?
I love whatever is going on at Whatiftheworld gallery every time I come, and I am totally taken with our new offices in Cartel House on Loop Street (WGSN Africa). The relaxed but well-designed interior – with lots of plants, and light and open offices full of creative professionals – is a great place to work from.
We were struck by how appropriate and useful your 2018/19 idea about people being recognised as 'multi-local' could be in our diverse South African context. Could you briefly explain the idea of the 'multi-local person' – and do you think this idea might apply more in some parts of the world than in others?
One of our trends for this season is called Kinship, and it is about how as human beings we long to belong, and increasingly we feel like we belong to many different places. I know I feel very at home in Paris, London, New Orleans and Cape Town. All of them resonate with me because of childhood rituals or the relaxed, creative lifestyles and the open-mindedness of the inhabitants today.
The idea of the multi-local that inspired this trend comes from the writer Taiye Selasi, who says ‘Don’t ask me where I’m from; ask where I’m a local.’ She feels that the idea of belonging is no longer based so much on the nation state but on personal rituals, relationships and eventually political restrictions on where you can travel easily. Her TED talk is short and amazing – a must-see or read. Selasi says, ‘In fact, all of us are multi – multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgement of this brings us closer together, I think, not further apart.’ For me, this is a way of explaining how we can feel at home with other people, in other places that are not our own. And it works all over the world.