Providing 'Authentic' Products For Today's Consumer

Faux is out. Consumers coming out of the recession are looking for honesty and simplicity in new products

By Joel Delman, Design Director, Product Development TechnologiesJoe Delman

Although it seems that the worst of the recession may be behind us, there is still a lot of uncertainty among U.S. consumers. Unemployment remains high, and retail sales see no steady sign of rebound. But to the extent that consumers are spending money during these uncertain times, they look for products that are real, honest, and authentic.

“Faux” is out as consumers seek high quality, long lasting products with a modern aesthetic.  People want honesty and genuine value in the things they buy, rather than a veneer of quality that is only skin deep.  

While this trend of authenticity was first seen in the use of materials -- real metal or wood vs. plastics finished to look like those materials – it has expanded across product categories in deeper ways, reflected in how products can become a part of people’s lives as much as the way they appear from an aesthetic standpoint.

Consumer electronics, housewares and lifestyle products have all shown signs of becoming more focused in function and honest in the way their design reflects their place in consumers’ lives. A few examples that we’ve noticed here in Los Angeles include:

“Fixie” Bikes: Once popular only among bicycle messengers, anyone who lives in or has visited L.A. lately knows that single speed, fixed gear bikes (affectionately known as “fixies”) have become the ultimate form of personal transportation for teens and twenty-somethings.

Fixie bikes are stripped to the bare requirements of pedaling, steering and rolling (directly connecting the pedals to a single gear) making them both extremely satisfying -- and challenging -- to ride. But the fixie aesthetic -- what riding such a bike says about its owner’s priorities and state of mind -- has overcome their inherent challenges and made them the most sought after mode of two wheeled transport since the scooter craze a few years back.

Manual Push Mowers: The iconic push mower -- you remember, the ones with spinning blades that slice your lawn as you roll them along – is coming back thanks to the benefits it offers to both the environment and users’ health.

One of the most advanced models to come on the market is the Fiskars Momentum Reel Mower. True to the proven functionality of a push mower but updated with respect to ergonomics, engineering and materials for maximum effectiveness, the Momentum has become a reverse status symbol in a town known for the constant sound of gas mowers and leaf blowers.

The Polaroid 300 instant camera: The Polaroid camera, recently re-released along with new production of instant film, is a nod to the bygone era before digital photos and Photoshop. The instant gratification of Polaroids is no longer what it’s really about -- after all, digital images are viewable a second after they’re snapped.

What a new generation of Polaroid fans are after is instead the surprise and capriciousness that analogue photography offers, the certainty that the image which prints out will be far from the perfection of digital, but in a way that makes it more “genuine” and personal. Fans even enjoy the way Polaroids age over time, changing in color and tone to reflect their lack of timelessness in a way that electronic recordings of images can never capture.

PDT’s team predicts that companies who work to bring authenticity into their product development plans will continue to realize success in the marketplace for years to come.

It’s not a call to avoiding artificial materials that we’re talking about at all here. Products made of plastic are not automatically rejected, for example, provided they are presented as just that -- plastic. Plastic is as “real” as any other material when used honestly. But the most beautiful use of bamboo in a product may be rejected if all the wood does is provide a meaningless shell or aesthetic diversion. Honest representation will continue to drive consumer interest in new products in all markets.

Joel Delman is the design director for the Los Angeles office of Product Development Technologies, a global product development firm based in Lake Zurich, Illinois. You can learn more about PDT at www.pdt.com.
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