How social media will shape future product trends

Professor Daizhong Su from Nottingham Trent University and the lamp designed for this project

There’s no denying the power of social media and online consumer reviews in shaping product trends. But can what we ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ on Facebook, Amazon, or eBay help designers come up with products that consumers desire? Researchers at Nottingham Trent University seem to think so. A team has been finding ways to harness valuable information gathered from various social media platforms to create an approach to change the way we think about design.

Led by design engineering expert professor Daizhong Su of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, the team worked with thousands of consumer comments on websites such as Amazon, eBay, Facebook, YouTube using data mining techniques to produce an algorithm which identifies the most liked and disliked features of existing products

The approach, developed using big data, data mining, and related Internet technologies, detects keywords using automated online searches and informs designers of the successes and flaws of any given product. ‘At our fingertips is an array of data which tells us the strengths and weaknesses of almost every product in the world,’ says Su.

The process seems relatively simple: as keywords are entered, the computer will categorise the reviews, giving a breakdown of positive and negative comments on various products and their features. It also learns to disregard spam comments.

The findings, says Su, has the potential ‘to make tomorrow’s products more innovative, user-friendly, sustainable and better informed of user requirements’.

To test the new technology, they designed a desk lamp purely based on thousands of consumer comments on available lamps on the market. The results revealed a preference for say smaller lamps, adjustable ones, ones with a dimmer, a touch function, and so on. Dislikes included unstable bases, poor reliability, dullness and excessive heat.

The data helped the team set a range of specifications for the design. The final desk lamp included an on/off switch which controlled brightness, a sustainable bamboo base and LED casing, plus a brushed aluminium neck with an adjustable arm.

Su says the case study shows how innovative design can be achieved with a better understanding of consumer preferences. ‘It demonstrates how the use of big data can help customise consumer preferences into the product development process, helping determine important design decisions to meet customer needs more accurately.’

This is an interesting area for a branding agencies like Spinach to explore. On the one hand, it is essential for design and designers to lead the way – to be the thinkers, the ones speculating the future. Yet the consumer should always be at the centre of any product development, and to know their likes and dislikes will only help bring about a more engaging discourse.

Images © Nottingham Trend University

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Table lamp designed by Nottingham Trent University according to consumer trends on social media
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