Kathy Gibson is at a Fjord-Accenture Interactive webinar – Change is a constant, it is said, and never was an adage truer than this year with the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic upheaval ravaging businesses worldwide.

Every year, Fjord crowdsources trends for the year ahead. When it began collating last year’s research in December 2019, the Covid-19 crisis was not even on the horizon.

But Mark Curtis, founder and chief client officer at Fjord, thinks that the trends identified have turned out to be more relevant than ever in light of the pandemic.

“When we looked at the trends in terms of Covid-19, we realised this makes them particularly relevant.”

Curtis describes what people are calling the “new normal” as the “never normal” since things will never be the same again.

The latest trends indicate that there will be a move to realigning the fundamentals. “The way we all define ourselves was already changing, although it has been massively accelerated by Covid-19,” Curtis says.

Fjord has identified seven trends that it believes are playing out this year and will continue to do so into the future.

The first of these is the many faces of growth where there is a feeling that business has to redefine what it is for. “We think this is a significant tipping point,” Curtis says.

Corporate transformation will soon switch focus from digital to purpose in response to people’s demand for a success metric that enhance our lives alongside financial growth.

It’s not only people outside of companies agitating for change: employees and customers want mission-critical companies, they want businesses to be in the business of making things better.

“We are rethinking what businesses are for. We are also rethinking what countries are for,” Curtis says.

For instance, New Zealand is budgeting to make the country a great place to live and make a living.

With the pandemic, purpose has come into the centre of the lens for many organisations. “Those that haven’t stood up have come under the lens of customers and employees. Those that have stood up are well-known and are being widely shared.

“If the recession is as big as we think it will be, purpose will be more important as we come out of it.”

What’s coming next will be a re-examination of long-held beliefs stemming from changing societal value, concerns about finite natural resources, and economic and political instability.

Innovation in meaning and metric will be important, Curtis adds.

Emma Carpenter, group design director at Fjord Johannesburg, points to the example of Coca-Cola which partnered with an NGO on a recycling initiative to the extent where South Africa now leads the world in PET recycling.

In summary, the main thing companies must do is focus on what they measure, and how they define and measure growth for different stakeholders.

The second trend is money changes, where our experience of what money is and what it can do is changing.

At the micro level, we are seeing the rise of challenger banks that are competing effectively with the traditional institutions.

“Their features and ideas are radically changing the way we relate to our money and deal with it every day,” Curtis says.

New models of money are coming in as well, and new digital currencies.

“What happens is that our mental model of what money does changes,” Curtis explains. “And money can be the bearer of other information separate from the money itself.

“A powerful analogue is what happened to music, where digital music now carries other information over and above just the music.”

The information carried by money could carry information including the bearer’s age and occupation which starts to shift our relationship while opening up opportunities.

“The main change we have seen in Covid-19 is with cash, which is looking in danger,” Curtis says.

Cash is now seen as a carrier of disease and this will probably drive a shift to a cashless society.

Carpenter points out that this trend is particularly relevant in Africa. In South Africa, three digital banks were launched in 2019 against a backdrop of many innovations throughout Africa.

The third trend, walking barcodes, is about new ways that technology is being used to identify both people and features of their behaviour.

Curtis points out that 5G’s impact will extend beyond faster connection to enable new physical experience, made possible by facial and body language recognition.

“The technology to do this is already out there, and it is causing a lot of controversy,” Curtis says. The issues of privacy versus benefits is raging, even as the technology moves forward.

“This is an active debate, and it has been accelerated by the pandemic,” he adds.

For instance, some governments are using facial recognition for screening, tracking and tracing. Others are using people’s phones to monitor movements.

“These are forms of your body as a signature,” Curtis points out.

Even pre-Covid, airports were experimenting with facial recognition and today touch screens are looking like bad investments.

What we will see is the Internet of Bodies being added to the Internet of Things, Curtis says.

“The critical thing to learn from this is that we can’t make data mistakes. If your facial identity gets hacked, you can’t change it.

“There are some big issues here that we need to design into the use of this technology.”

In Africa, biometric solutions could help with the 440-million people who have no identity documents. On the other hand, most African countries have failed to implement privacy legislation.

Liquid people, the next trend, is where people are starting to evaluate what they do and why in terms of what they consume and what they do.

“This is possibly the end of mindless consumerism,” Curtis says. “This demonstrates the way that people are more thoughtful about what they do.”

Technology has driven this by making choices easier to find and easier to make.

“We think that Covid-19 has accelerated this trend. We have all pressed this reset button; we have had to live at home, close to our family and not able to buy what we normally might have.

“People are reconsidering values and we are seeing that these values will persist after the lockdown,” he says.

Companies should be thinking about how their brand enables people to define themselves beyond what they consume, Curtis advises.

Designing intelligence, the next trend, talks to the use of everyday artificial intelligence (AI).

AI now ranges from the uses we were aware of to the completely hidden. While 80% of companies are either using or planning to use AI, many members of the public are wary of it.

AI is moving from automation to a dynamic tool that is active in value creation and, as such, is critical for businesses. The ability for AI to solve problems with incomplete information will drive this trend.

When it comes to Covid-19, this is the area that at first glance is least changed, even though it is

Curtis says there are three ways AI can unlock new human potential: enhancing our experience by extending what we perceive; empowering employees to operate in dynamic systems; and dreaming up and innovating new products and services.

Designers need to think about how they can use AI as the complete way they go about their strategy – and how it can work with humans.

Digital doubles, the next trend, have extended the idea of digital twins from machines to people.

Curtis explains that digital doubles will be used to understand us better, with tools that allow us to be represented as ourselves.

Instead of amorphous clouds, we will store all our data in digital doubles – and nurture it to expand its capability. Emerging areas are in the life sciences and agentive sciences industries.

What this means for us now is that we will increasingly create digital doubles that can interact with other people and services to manage parts of our lives.

“We think these will be in the market soon,” Curtis says. “And this will be accelerated by Covid-19 because so many more people have had to go online.”

This trend will have a massive impact, Curtis adds, and they could rewrite the data ownership model. “It creates a central pace for your data and people can begin to become the gatekeepers of their own digital lives.”

Fjord urges companies to start thinking about how they can reimagine the representation of people.

The final trend, life-centred design, pulls most of the others together and addresses the design response to them

“We are questioning the validity of a user-centred idea and are moving from a me-focus to a we-focus – and the systemic effects of what people and companies do.”

Designers and business owners must face this complexity head-on and unite the best of systems thinking and practice.

Again, the pandemic has thrown this trend into focus with people questioning values and hoping that the world will emerge from the crisis better.

Companies are going to have reimagine the role of design in 2020 and going forward. “We are going to have to think much harder about the broader consequences of what we do,” Curtis says.