Tunnel vision

In the ultra-exclusive Hamptons in upstate New York designers are working on a luxurious retirement home which will feature round-the-clock medical care, sun rooms, recreation areas and on-site companions for 100 residents. But it won’t be pampering rich grannies – it’s a home for cats and dogs.

Welcome to the future where “elder pet care” is commonplace, where your fridge warns you when the lollo rosso is about to turn to slime and where you can munch on a “nutraceutical” bar to make you more intelligent. Science fiction? – not according to futurologist Marian Salzman who travels the globe, tracking trends for clients including Sony, Ford, Pepsi and Colgate.

As we approach the next millennium, futurology is becoming big business. Companies such as BT employ their own in-house futur-ologists, and employees from Kelloggs and Coca-Cola are taking masters degrees in future studies. Meanwhile, blue chip companies are hiring corporate “Mystic Megs” to give them an insight into what the future holds for their brands and their profits. Salzman, who heads the Brand Futures Group at ad agency Young & Rubicam, is regarded by the industry as among the best. However, she says, “the primary goal is not to predict the future but to uncover images of possible, probable and preferable futures that enable people to make informed decisions.”

Salzman and her team identify trends by talking to academics, scientists and groups of consumers at the cutting edge of fashion. She says she is not presenting some vision of a brave new world but identifying things that are on the horizon – trends that are currently on the periphery but which will become mainstream.

“Marketers have always needed to understand consumers’ current concerns and experiences. But, if they are to thrive in the years ahead, they must anticipate where technology, social trends and myriad other change agents are leading, to ensure that they will have a place in the consumer future,” she says.

One major looming social trend – which will have an impact on companies and on designers – is the world’s ageing population. The most rapidly growing age group in the US is made up of those aged 85 plus, and by the year 2030 approximately 20 per cent of the US population will be over 65. This will have an enormous influence, says Salzman. “It will affect everything from financial planning to home design. Expect to see adult-friendly caps on medicine bottles, wider car doors and foods that compensate for changing tastes and dietary needs.”

Smart entrepreneurs are expected to set up specially designed day centres where the “oldest olds” – those over 80 – will be looked after along with the under fives and pets, while the economically active are out at work. And those who are at home all day will be monitored through infrared detectors. An absence of activity, such as not opening the fridge during the day will trigger an automatic distress call to a carer, Salzman predicts.

As the number of elderly people increases, companies will recognise that they are an important target market. “The world’s elders will command unprecedented attention from marketers and the media. We’ll see even greater shifts with regard to our attitudes towards age. Images of the elderly as victims will become historical as they become socially, politically and economically important,” says Salzman.

Children will also become an increasingly important target market. In an uncertain, insecure world, parents will want goods and services that protect their offspring, so look out for organic clothing, antibacterial toys and members-only parks, beaches and zoos designed to keep undesirables out. And trendy loft-living couples will be able to call on the services of a “baby proofer” to make their homes child friendly as soon as they decide to reproduce.

Labour saving devices and services will also be in great demand. People already feel that they have less and less time to call their own, says a spokesman for research organisation the Future Foundation. “Time has become increasingly important in our personal lives and convenience is now king. A real demand for a 24-hour society is growing and soon it will be possible to get your suit dry cleaned, have a hair cut or a tooth filled at any time of the day or night.”

Salzman says that robotic lawn mowers programmed to avoid bushes, trees and children’s playthings will be an increasingly common sight in suburbia, as will fridges that track the consumption of staples and transmit a shopping list electronically to a home delivery service. If you have trouble sleeping or your dreams are always dull then invest in a sleep machine which will produce restful sleep or provoke intense dreams.

A whole host of new companies specialising in personal services for busy affluent consumers is expected to spring up. Personal shoppers will be on hand to plan a week’s worth of menus and will deliver the necessary combination of raw ingredients, frozen foods and prepared meals.

Alternatively meal trucks will cruise around at dinner time offering hot ready meals. Groups of friends and neighbours will club together to hire a community personal assistant who will pick up the dry cleaning, walk the dog or deal with the plumber when he calls. If your needs are more sophisticated then you could get a lifestyle planner who can choose your clothes, book your holidays, fill your fridge, find that specific bit of information that you need from the Internet, and tell you which books to read.

Clothing is all set to change with the introduction of new fabrics which offer in-built massage or which will emit aromatherapy scents for relieving stress. Other fabrics will alter their weave according to the weather and shoes will become self cleaning, Salzman says.

Designers at Philips, headed by Stefano Marzano, have already designed prototype sweatshirts with phones and radios built into the toggles and a jacket with a tracking device – handy for keeping an eye on your kids or for skiers buried in avalanches as part of the company’s own “vision of the future” project.

Baby boomers will seek a new sense of spirituality in the next decade, says Salzman. New Ageism will become mainstream and the greetings cards industry will offer cards for alternative events such as the winter solstice. (The Archers is ahead of its time – Ambridge is already celebrating it!)

Mass market consumers will seek “pure” products – herbal toothpaste for example, with simple packaging that emphasises the product’s natural origins. Vitamins, herbal remedies and “nutraceuticals” will also be fashionable, says Salzman. In the US, one third of consumers regularly eat foods to treat specific health conditions and half want food that can boost the immune system. Snacks which claim to influence moods are already on sale in the US and Asia. Personality Puffs for example, contain a blend of plant extracts including St John’s wort and ginkgo biloba to fight depression and improve memory, and Kava Corn Chips claim to aid relaxation.

Water will be the big drink of the next century as consumers become more health conscious. However, Salzman predicts that marketers will start to brand it in different ways. “For instance, brand A may be perfect for everyday use, brand B for after exercise and brand C, a luxury water for entertaining.” She says that in the US water with added caffeine is already available. And those who want to treat their bodies as a temple can rush off to the nearest oxygen bar for an invigorating blast of pure O2. Oxygen bars have already been launched in Canada and the Far East and there are plans for a London branch in the near future.

Homes will become a haven in the next millennium, somewhere to which we can retreat from the outside troubled world, says Salzman. And she says that changing lifestyles will have an impact on home design. “In the past, builders and architects could comfortably make certain assumptions about family size (mum, dad, 2.5 kids) and home function (sleeping, eating, entertaining), but the Nineties family is a testament to diversity and such categorisations may no longer apply.” Tomorrow’s homeowners promise to include greater numbers of single women, single parents, empty nesters and couples or multigenerational families, and Salzman says these factors will have to be taken into consideration. “The advent of the home office has drawn attention to the need for flexible design. Partitions that can be taken down or moved around to suit homeowners’ needs and preferences are one possibility.”

Homes are also increasingly likely to incorporate peaceful elements such as Zen gardens and meditation spaces. For flat dwellers we are likely to see the return of the allotment with leasable patches of green in urban environments. And “good noise” peaceful sounds collected by “acoustic ecologists” will be pumped around homes to “make dwellers happier, healthier and more productive”, she says.

People will increasingly seek a sense of peace and harmony and, as a result, the colour of the future will be blue. Salzman says that, as people make the transition from the 20th to the 21st century they will experience apprehension as well as excitement, and blue invokes sensations of calmness and relaxation. Salzman quotes a colour psychologist from the Pantone Color Institute in the US who says, “there are many shades of blue but when we talk about blue for the millennium we’re talking about a twilight blue with a touch of green in it. It is a gorgeous colour, a spiritual colour to respond to.”

Let’s hope that the designers of the “Bide A Wee” retirement home for pampered pooches have invested in some blue paint.

Marian Salzman’s book, Next: A Vision of Our Lives in the Future, is published by Harper Collins at 14.99

Other organisations facing the future

The Future Foundation

This research organisation predicts we will soon become a 24-hour society. Hairdressing salons, book shops, dry cleaners and dentists surgeries could soon be open around the clock, to fit in with consumers’ increasingly busy lives. It says 60 per cent of people would like to see doctors surgeries open later, while 20 per cent would appreciate schools opening into the weekday evenings. Over half would like pharmacies to stay open longer and 46 per cent would like grocery stores to extend their business hours.

The Netherlands Design Institute

The Netherlands Design Institute, which was set up in 1993 by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science describes itself as a ‘think-and-do-tank’. It identifies ways in which design may contribute to society and develops scenarios about the future. A spokeswoman says, ‘The institute’s end product is ideas, knowledge and relationships which help companies, designers and researchers improve their capacity for innovation.’ The institute focuses on a number of areas including sustainability in the future, connectivity and designing for an ageing population. ‘For years, industry has aimed its products and services at younger people, ignoring the needs of older people but design has a pivotal role to play in shaping a world which meets the needs of all of us,’ she says.

DesignAge

DesignAge, based at the Royal College of Art and funded by the Helen Hamlyn Foundation and the European Community, is also exploring the impact of an ageing population. At the end of the 19th century, male life expectancy in the UK was less than 50, a century on, most of us expect to live until at least into our 70s. Central to the programme is the idea that designers, technology developers and students of design should be aware of the needs of older people.

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