Design Trends 2012: More reprocessing of the past

This article in Vanity Fair describes a design rut that we seem to be in at the moment.

I’m not sure I would describe it as a rut, but I think there is a lot of reprocessing going on.

You may wonder why I care.

I don’t work in design but I do have this habit of moving around a lot, and buying/selling/decorating houses so I can move seems to be my unofficial job. I also have 47 blogs in my RSS reader under the home/interior/design category that I have been using as resources for about 4 years. I see a LOT of design in order to have an opinion on it.

Looking at all these blogs, I have wondered how the 18-25 crowd looks at a lot of the resale stuff, clothing and music from years past as new. (anthology, lonny, backgarage are examples) I attribute this to a specific age group because that seems to be my observation from the bloggers but it could be more widespread.

I do think as a rule the younger generations tend to drive style & design innovations and it then travels through age brackets like waves. By the time it reaches the eldest brackets the youngest don’t want it anymore.

eddie izzard coolness circleIts like Eddie Izzard once said, things work in a circle: cool hip & groovy is right next to looking like a dickhead, but you can’t back into it, there is only one way around.

Some of my thoughts about this younger generation’s design mash ups:

  • They take furniture that my grandparents donated to charity years ago and call it mid-century modern and cool. I sometimes call this style “granny chic”. I make fun of it, but I do have a 1965 stereo credenza in my living room now.
  • Sometimes the rooms look like a 19th-20th century explosion with no 2 pieces with any similarity whatsoever. I sometimes think of it as the garage sale look. (I also have a mixed era home.)
  • This new generation takes jeans and sneakers from the 80’s and call them cool one day and wear bell bottoms from the 70’s the next. (This I can’t do)
  • They have convinced me that yellow gold colored jewelry is ok again after loathing it for about 20 years post 80’s. (about 75% of what I wear is yellow gold now)
  • They like 80’s music, and not really the stuff I feel nostalgic about.
  • The people who haven’t lived through much of the 20th century seem to be driving the rebirth and reprocessing of all the styles from that time.
  • It is also important to note that the millennial generation has the highest unemployment of any age bracket due to the recession. It may not be a surprise that they would think so differently about design/life and choices based on what they can afford and have experienced.

The vanity fair article cites several reasons for this design rut. One being a cultural overload where people just can’t process any more new information because the internet/call phones was too much! This may be true for the Boomer age groups but not the Genx-Millennial. I think the millennial is actually driving the design changes and for completely different reasons.

Does this drastic innovation make me less interested in new stuff? New design? More nostalgic for the past? Not at all.

I feel lucky that all the drastic innovation and change that is listed in the article happen just after I graduated high school. (internet, computers, cell phones, social networks, search engines) None of the available professions at the time really appealed to me so it makes sense that I now work in a field (internet marketing) that didn’t exist in 1993. I look at these radical changes as “normal” and something I need to and like to learn about.

I think there are other elements to this design nostalgia epidemic and reprocessing phenomenon.

1. It is easier and cheaper to reprocess than invent. This relates to my previous post about ROI being the only metric in business these days.  Society has no time for developing cutting edge design. Good ideas come at the sacrifice of time and a lot of re-dos, and time is expensive just like materials. And what materials are available now that weren’t 10-20 years ago? No real innovation there either. Things just keep getting made from cheaper less durable materials. The only R&D going on is how to make things cheaper that look good but fall apart quickly so the customers come back again to buy more. Plus we don’t have enough trees for everyone in the world to own teak/oak/mahogany furniture.

2. We have had a more documented history in the last century than ever before both through museums, video/audio, photographs and the family history of people passing down their personal stories while living much longer. We look back at history and think, boy they had it right.  Nothing is as elegant as how they designed things back then. And they took pictures in B&W, what an elegant design choice! You get reprocessed things like the PT Cruiser/Plymouth Prowler/Chevy SSR, Oxford Heels, Swing Dancing, Sailor Pants, Pea Coats, Red Lipstick/Bottle Blondes, Bombshell hair, Mad Men, Starburst Clocks and just about any kind of hat.

3. Law of diminishing returns: It is also more difficult to keep finding something “new” in design when we have to design so much more stuff. It is common for Americans to replace their entire closet of clothes every 3 years and retail stores have to replace everything on the sales floor every 6 weeks to seem “new” again. We kind of don’t respect good design, or any design. As a culture we want to throw it out as soon as we see it in too many places and be more unique again. Shows like Project Runway also show how anyone can be a designer with training and everyone gets more educated about what the demands of great design should be. This makes the general public much harder to impress.

4. At the same time a certain part of the population is sick of all the new-new-new and the churn that happens. We want useful, dependable, reliable and timelessly elegant.  We don’t have time to go shopping for things every 6 weeks in order to find those elusive great items at a great price before they’re sent off to the overstock stores. And of course when you do need something…you can’t find it anywhere because the supply chain in China didn’t anticipate that need 6-12 months ago, and it’s not “new”. I think some people literally choose to go retro because they see it as timeless. In many cases this is cheaper, more elegant and less work.

5. Globalization happened. We used to think it was quaint to go visit another country and come back with something to remember it by.  Now we see places all over the world in places other than World News Tonight or National Geographic. We see the world on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Imagur, Stumble Upon and Google. What used to be new to us is not all in mash up mode. We take the best of every era as well as every culture in our past to create this new hodgepodge mix that represents who we are. And everyone is more global now than we were 20 years ago. I have had fascination with Asian prints and Indian jewelry as much as Scandinavian furniture. We have bought most of our cars from other countries for a while. It is just lagging that the rest of the items we buy are more globally influenced too. I sometimes click to buy things on Etsy or from a blog link to a store and don’t notice that the store isn’t even in the USA until I see the shipping cost. Sometimes I buy it anyway, it is a rare moment to be unique in my neighborhood.

Lastly, we’ve seen the future before.

We grew up hoping for flying cars and they never showed up.

Our future can be found in watching FUTURAMA. Or Wall-E and  Idiocracy.

We know where things are going, and it seems more about recycling and less about space ships so I’m going to hang out with the millennials and see what else they come up with.

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Predictions for the next 10 years

2020 predictions vision of the home video media center family roomBack in 1999 I went to a conference at the Field Museum in Chicago called The Next 20 Years (sponsored by ZDNet, I still have the button that says Believe in Technology).

Now that we’re rolling over the odometer to 2010 I can honestly say that none of the predictions about string theory have come true.

It was an interesting idea though, to think about what is possible now and in the future and speculate in ways that may inspire people to do more, make things better and improve life.

I have been thinking a lot about this decade ending in the last few weeks and aside from an obvious comment about how blindingly fast it went by, I’m skipping the recap and these are some thoughts for the next ten to twenty years.

Disclaimer: These are just my ideas as one person, who analyzes things for a living, and I don’t have a lot of data to prove any of it. Take it with a grain of salt or as entertainment only.

1. Photo Recognition will be big. And I am not talking about face recognition software. But with smartphones we mostly have decent cameras at our disposal that are connected to the internet 24/7. I have been thinking I’d like to be able to redeem the coke-points my husband collects by snapping a picture of the cap rather than entering the number on a form online (boring and slow). This is the exact stuff that QR code readers are used for that work for UPS tracking and a whole bunch of other applications. Expect them to be used as the new coupons, contests, offline-online gaming and a whole bunch of other stuff. Then maybe by the time all that is common place facial recognition of images will be working online.

2. You will probably work in an industry that does not exist yet. Continuing education is a must. I say this because my life is an example. I work in Online Marketing and data tracking for ad agencies and this didn’t exist as a job or a technology available to most companies in 1999. I have to make sure I spend time learning on the job and off the job each year because things change a lot. This does not make having a family easy and we have no idea if we will do that as a result, but it means that you have to be curious about new stuff and be willing to investigate it and you may end up the local expert when you’re the only one with that knowledge. And learn a lot of math.

3. Taxes will go up. All this BS about lowering taxes to stimulate business and rich people spending will go away since we can’t fund the programs required, can’t borrow any more as a government and we would still have the lowest taxes for those rich people to pay when compared to other developed economies. Interest rates and inflation may follow, and of course oil prices crunching a lot of people out of the middle class. Someone will finally do the math proving that investment in hiring new people at a company and creating jobs is inversely related to lowering taxes on the rich and everyone else.

4. There will be a whole new batch of media mavens that we listen to and we will like them because they are curators not experts. No one person will be able to create enough content or be syndicated to as many channels, mediums and messages as would be possible in this fragmented media world. The people you will look to for advice are blogging now, looking at thousands of sources of information, knowing how to process it, evaluate what is good-bad-meaningless and just filter down to the good stuff. We need people like this because the big media push to produce new stuff 24/7/365 is too much for one person to go through and we all still have jobs/families/houses to attend to. And not everyone wants to spend every day plugged into a screen reading constantly. We just want those wow, aha moments. Eventually maybe this 1000 cable channels, commercials every 10 minutes, 100 blog posts a day, constant content model will streamline due to lack of popularity of most of it (no ROI) but as there is more digital space available someone will put something on it, with no guarantee of quality because people seem to randomly stumble upon things still and listen/watch/interact with amusement/laziness/procrastination of their day job. 

5. Expect more digital sensors everywhere. And this could mean in our clothing, in our fridges, on the roads, in our homes. There is a lot of bandwidth for transmitting data and ways are improving for processing data and analyzing it (without human intervention, or programming needed). I foresee more real-time data on traffic and alternate routes in my car guided by my voice requests (like Knight Rider’s Kit?). I foresee clothing measuring weight and texting me that I shouldn’t eat any more calories today. I foresee my fridge telling me the milk has gone bad again and there is a cracked egg leaking all over it. We may spend all day responding to automated messages. These may be an upgrade fee kind of thing but I think at some point the regular cost will include it because the data will be so valuable and targetable for marketers. The recent privacy discussions prove that people are becoming more aware of ad tracking as well as digital capabilities and the younger generations don’t want to go back to a time without it. But we do need better security options for this to work or an opt in policy for managing what companies know and how we want to get/share/target this info.

6. We’re going to get a whole lot more competition from China, South America and Africa for jobs. Companies are going there for operations now and not just to supply their own regions with goods and services. All the Bill & Melinda Gates (plus Oprah, Warren Buffet & That Facebook guy too) funding health/education programs in Africa will create a continent of healthy people who have jobs that used to be here related to their natural resources and possibly other areas as well. China will continue to be a leader in growth and the US needs to define itself. I always wonder why there is such an emphasis on making sure all the other countries have the help they need to solve their problems by these foundations and not the ones with people starving/not getting educated or employed in the USA. Also Immigration, population growth and birth rates in the US will all drop by 2020. (based on what I saw from the census in 2010)

7. The market will continue to be tumultuous. Up, down, sideways. It isn’t connected to real people or the economy as we know it anymore. We’re not sure how to gauge it or if it will make any positive growth in 10 years. With higher interest rates in 2012-2013 CDs may be the hot investment again.

That is it for now, but I may have more ideas later. One thing is for sure, let’s get out there and party like it’s 1999.

rolling over the odometer 1999 2000 2010 100000 miles

Government Income Taxes in History

income tax brackets rates through history united states usa

income tax brackets rates through history united states USA

(click graph to see full size version) I was just looking at this really interesting infographic of the income tax rates for the United States over the last century or so. It is an interesting graph because it makes it very clear that the wealthiest people are paying the lowest taxes by percentage of any time in our country’s history. By contrast the low and middle class are paying the most they’re paid or close to the most. 

I’m not sure how the government got away with a 90% tax rate in any time period, but it sure looks like they did. As much as I think the wealthiest people need to pay more again, nobody deserves that.  It makes the 5-10% increase in taxes we need on the wealthy people making over 1 million a year now seem paltry and insignificant. 

According to the graph the yellow areas say that in the 50’s and 60’s if you made more than $10 million you gave 90% of it to the Government. Wow. (9 million?) That doesn’t really seem plausible although they tell a story about boxing matches being held only yearly for this reason. There has to be something between 90% and 35% though because these people are the cash cows of our country/economy and are the only ones that can actually pay for the fancy jet security and government health care. 

Also I found it interesting that in the early 90’s people making less than 10K had to go from 0% tax to 15%? That is a big loss for the part-time workers of the country and it happened just in time for me to start working at my first job. Someone making 9K would lose $1350 to taxes, a huge sum for someone who may be just scraping by. Previously in history this tax bracket was taxes between 10-20%, so it has been higher, but the logic seems difficult that the people who make the least are losing the least also. Maybe if more government programs like healthcare actually give back to this income bracket this will be a more justified expense.  

I am also surprised looking at the top income bracket at 50% through the 1980’s and it re-frames how to think about Ronald Regan’s presidency (known for cutting taxes), but seeing that he got a larger percentage of paychecks to finance things with during a time of de-regulation and government cuts, no-wonder he was able to make things work. I doubt he would have believed that the tax rates should go as low as they are today though seeing how much government is expected to provide. 

Seeing over time how high these income tax rates have been in order for the country to survive and knowing what people expect from government right now (more services), I think we will have to return to the previous income tax rates and raise business tax rates at the same time to make up the difference even in a good economy. We have a huge budget deficit, increasing costs and government loans that are ballooning (bonds that are declining in value). Things aren’t looking good. It’s all our civic duty to pay taxes and the country can’t survive without it.

Ways Google Has Changed Media Consumption Behaviors

I was glancing at Google Fast Flip today and it struck me that they have been successful not only in providing what people want but in some ways changing human media consumption behavior.

We all know that Google has turned the media world upside down with the humble text ad because of it’s ad matching relevance and pay-per-click business model.

They have up-ended the rest of the media world because they have influenced people to stop using it. This may be completely un-intentional, but I think it has happened.

The obvious way is that Google has  gained brand preference as a reference tool and a information source on limitless topics. But there is another behavior that they have changed is not usually talked about.

This change in how people consume information is that they can scan headlines now and glean what has happened in the world without actually viewing the ads around the content. (or visiting the content site, via rss, email, search engine, aggregator or google news) This has been bad for online ad inventory (although some may say we need less inventory to drive up prices, not more) and worse for recouping the cost of producing the content.

I don’t think that Google is stealing anything like copyrighted material by linking headlines from Google News, the search engine or screen shots Google Fast Flip. That would be like saying you are stealing copyrighted material by cutting out an article about a local festival coming up and posting it on the break room bulletin board for your coworkers to see.

I do think there does need to be revenue sharing for content sharing on some level though. How this should come about, I haven’t the slightest clue yet. And it can’t happen in the search engine because it seems to vast to fully comprehend let alone orchestrate.

I do think Google wants to be in the media business without actually producing any content, and they don’t usually ask for exclusivity with that content. Google wants to provide more products for consumer use and consumption of information branded offline. If they offer basic content for free on these product/services and upgraded content for a fee they should share the fee with the content providers. The rates may depend on usage and of course demand, and they will probably always be in flux. (no more rate card anything)

Yet I think it’s important that these shared fees (content payments) should be as low as Adsense revenue share since Adsense revenue is largely regarded as welfare for website owners. It needs to be enough to incentivize content providers to really feel like Google is a partner in their business and devoted to a positive business relationship.

The alternative may be that someday you have to pay a large content creator to crawl its site and republish parts of the content. Yes sharing is good, but if the content borrower doesn’t bring in enough revenue (analytics can tell you if your google news readers view, click or buy things) then is it profitable to be hosting the traffic from that source? (yes, hosting costs a ton of money for large content sites) I guess everyone thought they could replace millions of dollars in branding with a simple search engine relevance project and all their traffic generation problems would be solved. It’s never that easy. You have to own the relationship with your customer, you can’t outsource that to Google or anyone else.

Trust is also one of the BIG hurdles Google has to overcome to really being a star in the B2B space. Google has always believed that any process can be automated by a computer and nobody needs to talk to a human because humans are either too expensive or busy engineering things. This seems to enrage some humans, mostly the ones that run large companies. Also, No customer service and No sales people that can actually answer your questions along with ridiculous inflated PPC rates have actually eroded their text ad client base in the last 2-3 years. (and that whole display thing isn’t really looking great for ROI either when you consider people under 30 don’t respond to them at all)

So, in order for Google to really keep that growth going, they need to compensate content creators when re-publishing their content on/in their branded products in the future or the content creators with the greatest authority won’t be there for very long. Yes, some laid-off journalists are blogging but in 20 years how many will be left doing any journalism at all if it doesn’t pay and very few newspapers exist?

I also think all businesses need to stop every few months and think about the future. We’re too busy overloaded with tasks from laid off coworkers to really do this, but in a profitable world we would make time to consider where things are going in 3,6,12 and 24 months out (not a swat analysis, those take too long and are somewhat cumbersome) and really think about what they think the business should be doing to compete and win and innovate.

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?