I like owls but fortunately I don't covet them or collect them. Those folks that do will no doubt have a very owliscious Christmas. It strikes me that owl's being nocturnal are associated with Winter since it's a bit like the eleventh hour of the year. In a way they are this perfect kind of ecumenical symbol of the season without a nod to any religious belief.
The morning following my enlightenment, I was texting fellow designer Ty Wilkins and I mentioned the mysterious owl apparition. He too had made note of this and said he'd been contacted by Pier 1 earlier in the year about doing some seasonal theme design exploration on squirrels, pumpkins, and owls. We all know that merchandise doesn't just arrive based on themes by the luck of the draw. Leading merchants are obviously looking far down the road—they are likely wrapping up Christmas 2012 themes as we speak, and already dreaming of 2013.
Hallmark is probably one of the most seasonally sensitive manufacturers and retailers in the world. If they misread the public's mood, how can they possibly serve as the conveyer of their sentiments? Probably to no one's surprise, Hallmark has an internal Trends Group, directed by Marita Wesley, Trend Spotter. Wesley states "The goal is to spot societal change, and synthesize observations into cultural and consumer insights. Understanding trends is essential for companies and other organizations that deal with change." (corporate.hallmark.com) If as designers, we are not dealing with change, who is?
That's when it dawned on me that I'd mentioned seeing an inordinate number of owls in the 2011 Logo Trend Report. When we create the annual report, we literally look at every single logo submitted during the last year. That equates to approximately 33,000 for the last report. You can't help but notice clusters of styles, industries, and subject matter when you undertake an audit of this scale. To help us further verify a trend direction we will look at propensity of searches for any anomalies. Sure enough, LogoLounge recorded a better than 200% spike on searches for "owl" over the last two years.
But so much for statistical proof and trend departments. In order for a trend to develop, multiple people need to independently arrive at similar solutions. There may have been a genesis and we will seldom know what that is. The important thing is to notice a trend developing in its early stage so you can be at the front of the parade and not sweeping up the tailings of the event.
Because major merchants must gamble larger dollars on presumptive trends, they may be early adopters and they certainly can lend credence too, but they are seldom the seminal creators of a movement. If you want to find that early spark you have to go to the groundlings. Look to find early trends from manufacturers that are heavily invested in their product but on a much smaller scale because they are individuals. Etsy.com is an amazing resource for finding great often handcrafted merchandise but it's an equally effective resource for early identification of product to consumer relevance and topic adoption. Ty Wilkins suggests keeping an eye on Renegade Craft Fair, started in Chicago, which is a large scale marketplace event for the emerging indie-craft culture. These are held annually in urban epicenters of creative indie-entrepreneurship.
I don't know that we've tracked down the elusive owl that appeared on a doodle, that appealed to a merchant, that was reproduce by the millions, that now lives in your house, that started the trend, that launched this article, that you have now read. But as part of this big design circle of life, it's important to remember that ideas are not created in a vacuum. Now that we've exhausted owls in 2011, be a sleuth and take your best shot at guessing what we will see an inexhaustible supply of on the shelves this time next year.