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23 Insights and Predictions to Light a Spark in 2023 from Wolff Olins


Agency takes a look at what the year ahead holds across design and branding, tech, talent and broader societal trends

23 Insights and Predictions to Light a Spark in 2023 from Wolff Olins

Whether it’s designing for a Geosphere mindset, a nearly-non-existent metaverse or generative AI opening up the creative process, 2023 and beyond looks set to be quite the ride. Enjoyment levels just might depend on whether you thrive on the loop the loop of life, rather than the slow and steady.

We’ve picked the brains of some of our finest as we look at what the year ahead holds across design and branding, tech, talent and broader societal trends.

“There might be an instinct to hunker down when what’s up ahead appears uncertain. But one thing we know is that time never stands still - and nor should we,” says Global CEO Sairah Ashman. “We must continue to evolve, invest in our people and business, and seize on the weird and wonderful technology coming down the track. While being mindful of its pitfalls in terms of bias, exclusion and distortion. Opportunities are born in moments like these. The world is changing and we can be a part of that, leading from the front.” 


Rise of the Geosphere designer mindset…

2023 will see more emphasis on why and how things are connected, through the lens of design thinking. Post-Covid, we will see a desire for more connection in innumerable ways, as we move to an era of increased convergence that is quickly gaining pace. 

Now fridges talk to your iPhone, your watch monitors your personal best in a run, and the whole world will become more connected and uninterrupted like a Geosphere.


… And how we are designing for connecting behaviour

Brands now live as an ecosystem of many ecosystems, at different volumes and at their intersections of parts. Think less traditional brand design, and more like how nature works as a series of billions of tiny parts that tell different stories depending on your entry and exit points. Think designing for connecting behaviours, with design systems that use visual, sonic, touch, smell, language and intangible elements. “We have only started to dip our toe in this modern design movement but fast forward to the end of the decade and it's going to be more commonplace as our industry forgets thinking in silos and starts looking wider and deeper,” says Global Principal Wayne Deakin.


The metaverse still won’t exist

Shock and horror, we hate to break it to you, but there won’t suddenly be a full-scale metaverse in 2023. “The pre-existing technologies will continue their decades-long path of improvement. And maybe we’ll see them start to come together into a compelling proposition by the end of the decade,” predicts Global Principal Tom Wason.

We do, however, expect to see more useful applications of the metaverse with brands starting to play a bigger role - but only when the value of the consumer-to-brand connection is clear. “If people are to engage more, it can’t be a techno-dystopia,” warns Brian Meyers, US Strategy Community Lead. “It must be a place for creative and emotional nourishment that converges with wellness trends.”


Generative AI will dominate the conversation 

Generative AI - where a machine is generating something new rather than analysing something that already exists - will dominate every creative discipline and upend production. “It will open up the creative process to a broader demographic,” says Tom Wason. “And things will get weird, fast - it’s very exciting.”


We won’t believe our eyes

We will move towards people creating their own reality through text-to-image, text-to-sonic and text-to-video technology. It's already happening, and tools such as Runway are great to play with. It will enable everyone - without even pulling out a camera - to imagine their own, convincing, reality. The implications for fakery are, of course, huge. 


Bottom-up community building

The rise of creators has perhaps been one of the biggest shifts in marketing and branding, and we’re excited to see creator culture continue to merge with consumer culture. 

Community building is important as we spend an increasing amount of time online and disconnected from the geographies and institutions that used to shape our identity. Now, we self-sort and identify around shared passions as tribes and fandoms. Brands that can empower fandoms will position themselves to succeed as conveners of community and amplifiers of every passion.


The crypto winter turns into a crypto ice age

It may be the first ice age the Wild West has ever seen! Crypto and web3 have the promise to change how the mechanics of business and the economy work. But for years that’s been totally obscured by widespread absurd financial speculation - and the distorting actions of actual criminals, explains Tom Wason.

“The ‘two communities’ of technologists and financial speculators have fed off each other for years. No longer the preserve of get-rich-quick merchants, the more regulator-friendly entities will survive and eventually prosper. Even the largest and most cautious entities like central banks will start to play a serious innovation role - and about time, too.”


Telco reasserts its innovation leadership

Could the telco industry go onto the front foot and regain the ground their brands have ceded to tech players in the last decade? We’ve seen 5G and IoT failing to deliver the transformation promised by their promoters, while Ericsson, for example, has tried to 'rebrand' both technologies as an opportunity to monetise the metaverse. 

But if the metaverse is also not gaining traction, what can they do instead? Maybe the telecom industry needs to move from technical hype to clear-eyed explanations of the business benefits of these new offers.


The changing landscape for big tech - and talent

Big tech will change, becoming more politicised, and more diverse with bigger stakes. Regulators will assert themselves more effectively and the state may, once again, play a huge role in shaping the future. Could this present an opportunity to recruit talent away from the lure of big tech? Perhaps, as a result, we could see a big increase in campaigns related to employer branding. 


Talent and team-building: trading rockets for level ground  

More workers will choose psychological safety over daily drama. “Brands in 2023 will be wise to reinforce employee value propositions and build a talent story that demonstrates that their companies are innovative but also trustworthy and authentic,” explains Global Principal Amanda Munilla.

In addition, management teams are shifting to more long-term thinking about how to build the teams they will need in the future. To mitigate risk, companies will invest in the right people, ensuring they have a rewarding employee experience, by equipping them with the right tools.


People-first leadership: time to invest

Enlightened leaders and businesses will continue to throw a focus on supporting their employees. Whether it be through mental health initiatives, supporting DE&I activities, career progression or help with navigating more challenging economic times. The labour market will continue to be tight due to residual pandemic supply issues and the war in Ukraine. Businesses that lack the appetite or resources to invest in their people will feel the pinch and its inevitable effect on customers.


Returning to the office

2023 will be another year of experimentation as businesses get to grips with finding a sustainable model. Pressure on costs will push many businesses to go fully remote in order to release fixed costs around space and experimenting with automation. While raising issues around culture, team working and how to deliver scalable efficiencies. The role of leaders and HR in this context will continue to be critical, as will the balance in supporting employees in a remote working environment that can promote productivity over company cohesion.

Low-key longevity 

Following the rise of ‘quiet quitting’, we think calm branding approaches will sync with a consumer desire for a slower, sustainable pace of life, replacing the focus on productivity and performance. 


Inclusion: recalibrating for sustained change…

The companies who continue the social justice work that gained momentum in 2020/21, will invest in deepening their approach to inclusion, and recalibrate their cultures for sustained change with customers and employees. “It will start to be less about the fear of being “called out” and more about the risk of being left behind,” warns Munilla.


… And building those values into your products and services with inclusive branding

Apple’s latest iOS is built on the belief that “personal is powerful,” which is also in sync with Google’s Material You design language - both put the user’s needs and preferences over the brands’, and turn a monolithic OS into a personal canvas. 

While the benefits for self-expression are obvious, these developments also have the benefit of including marginalised people and going beyond ADA accessibility standards. That’s good for brands and business, too - 65% of people with a disability have abandoned a purchase due to poor accessibility. 

We’re inspired by 2022’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Coda, and the representation of people of all abilities as a key cultural growth opportunity in 2023.


Designing (for) women 

Women will increasingly take leadership roles and VC funding, especially in critical fields like healthcare, politics and finance. “I hope that we’ll continue to see momentum build,” says Munilla. “Perhaps we’ll see more top female VC players launching their own firms - the best way to get the cash will prove to be from the ones giving it out.”

Integrated impact for business and branding…

Brands and businesses will continue to integrate impact within their models, shifting away from separate CSR initiatives, one-time social justice pledges, or sustainability commitments. At Wolff Olins, we see branding as a way to line up commerce, culture, and community, and envisage a bright future for brands that walk the talk. We call these businesses Conscious Brands, responsible to the world and society around them, and responsive to people's needs, moods and culture.

… But what will the green transition mean for the ‘big polluters’

In 2023 and into 2024 and beyond, we predict that we will see the very companies who were criticised as the biggest polluters seeking to reposition their brands to claim ownership of the “green transition” across energy, transport and construction. Unless activist investors get there first, of course, and pop the ESG balloon, as seems possible right now with attacks on Larry Fink and BlackRock.

But consumers will reject any whiff of greenwashing. Corporate responsibility will be increasingly scrutinised at an operational level and dismissed out of hand as disingenuous PR from bad actors otherwise.

Corrective narratives, honesty and transparency

Those brands who transparently share their values and take responsibility when unforeseen issues come to light will be rewarded. Regular reporting will be key, and we imagine an elevated role for objective third parties who can validate information and help rebuild public trust. 

Beyond words: brands taking action

We expect to see more brands taking real action in 2023 - shifting from talking to doing - across topics ranging from ethical sourcing, supply chains, carbon footprints, and closed-loop waste approaches. “The time for discussion and inaction is over, says Brian Meyers. “Brands that can help people to live more ethically and sustainably will be rewarded.”

Right to repair 

People will embrace more low-key approaches to work-life balance, and try to extend the lifecycle of their product purchases to save more, and worry less. We might even see new legislation enshrining a customer’s “right to repair”. 

Ownership will change

2023 could be the year that pay-per-use, leasing and fractional ownership goes mainstream.  As thriftiness becomes the new norm across all socio-economic levels and consumers look for ways to live more sustainably, there will be a race to find more innovative ways to make outright ownership a thing of the past. Experiences will continue to command a premium resulting in a greater number of consumers making trade-offs between trading down on basics to maintain luxuries elsewhere. An attitude that neatly lends itself to re-selling platforms, pay-per-use and fractional ownership models.


Ukraine: unlikely midwife to global Asian brands

Thinking more broadly, the Ukraine war may lead to new patterns of trade across the Middle East and Asia, leading to a decline of American and European prestige. And could this new wealth bring Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese brands onto the world stage? And will new brand owners rely on Western agencies to build and promote their expansion?


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Wolff Olins UK, Tue, 13 Dec 2022 11:55:00 GMT