Archaeologists and art historians are most known for the study of material culture or artifacts. Tools and methods which they are used could be useful for trendspotting. While the range of artifacts can be highly varied, humans in all cultural and social contexts produce objects that can be examined as dense representations of society and culture.
A hand-woven basket used to collect tomatoes in a garden may represent gender relations and economic pursuits. A mass-produced skateboard probably represents industrial relations of production and corporate advertising as well as symbols of nonconformity, teenage angst, and socioeconomic class. Almost everything that humans produce has meaning and purpose, and the trend researcher should consider these dimensions of artifacts as cultural and social products.
CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL ARTIFACTS
In addition to the sorts of historical cultural artifacts found in formal archives and personal collections, trend researchers mostly work with contemporary cultural artifacts. Trends research takes place within living societies and cultures that are also its object, and the individuals and groups with whom the researcher comes into contact continue to produce artifacts as they pursue livelihoods, enact rituals, and exchange ideas.
In field site, you will almost always encounter cultural artifacts like newspapers and magazines, movies and music videos, as well as clothing and advertisements. These cultural artifacts are part of complex processes in which culture is produced, used, and potentially modified.
These larger-than-life artifacts from the 80s and 90s are landmarks at Disney’s Pop Century Resort in Orlando, where visitors can book into a kitschy hotel adorned in the decade of their choice. It includes a monster 1982 Sony WM-F5, a peculiar mashup between an IBM Thinkpad and a Powerbook the size of an actual Apple store, and a pile of floppy discs big enough to crush a supercomputer.
CULTURAL ARTIFACTS AND TRENDS
The trend researcher must consider purpose and meaning when evaluating and analyzing cultural artifacts. When working with documents and photographs, you should pay particular attention to the producer (author or photographer) and to the contexts of production, including purpose or message and intended audience.
Given the necessary technology and knowledge, individuals and groups produce and use documents, photographs, and publications in numerous ways. The meaning and purpose of similar items may vary significantly depending on context. Careful decoding of this context can help you to identify the right signal or catch the beginning of the trend.
Photo: Concept for a new mall, Volt in Berlin, by J. MAYER H.und Partner