The home, household goods & services

Fortresses of solitude

Is privacy the future of families? Consider the following. At the recent International home builders show in Las Vegas (US) a house billed as "the ultimate family house" barely had a family room. Meanwhile, top architects in the US are building homes that wall people off from each other. In other words, common rooms are declining and small spaces are increasing. Exposed kitchens and big central spaces like hallways are gone in favour of his and hers garages, his and hers home offices (usually at opposite ends of the house) and even separate front doors and foyers so family members and friends can come and go without talking to each other. The TV room is also on the way out in favour of media rooms for each member of the family. We're obviously talking about the top end of the market here, but many of these ideas are already trickling down into the mass market because there is a growing need for privacy. People who get married later in life are used to personal space and private space is often the only way for families with more than one set of kids to stay together.
Ref: Wall Street Journal (US) 26 March 2004 'The Dysfunctional house', J.Fletcher. 

FUD Products

In Japan, sales of electrical devices that don't need batteries are up between 200% and 300% on last year according to the Nikkei Weekly. Products range from wind-up radios that also charge mobile phones (eg Toshiba's TY-JR10 radio) to self-charging flashlights with built-in phone chargers, radios and emergency sirens. Why the sudden increase in sales?  Part of the reason is a series of natural disasters in the region, such as earthquakes and floods, which has made people stock up on emergency items. Other reasons include the increased availability of such products (manufactures are making more products with solar or manual charging capabilities) and the fact that such devices can also be used for outdoor activities like camping and hiking. Meanwhile, over in the US, sales of so-called Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) devices are on the up. Examples include sophisticated home and personal security systems like SENTRI (Sensor Enabled Neural Threat Recognition and Identification), which is a phone-sized alarm that alerts users to threats such as the sound of gunshots or breaking glass.
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 8 August 2005 'Battery-free devices fill people's emergency kits'.
See also The Control Freak Revolution, by Vickie Abrahamson, Fast Company (Online) August 2005.

Designs on the future

Generally speaking, the public is becoming more design literate every year. It is also becoming richer which in part explains the phenomenal growth of luxury brands. Nevertheless, furniture seems to be something of an exception. Most premium furniture brands are small companies selling iconic designs to the design cognoscenti. However, this is slowly changing as luxury conglomerates buy up furniture companies alongside fashion houses. So what are the new strategies for generating sales? One of the most popular techniques seems to be tapping into the nostalgia trend by exploiting back catalogues. Another is borrowing some of the branding tricks used by the fashion trade - such as entry level pricing to drive trial and adoption amongst younger audiences. But the biggest opportunity probably lies in the fact that the residential market is larger than the office market. In France 40% of people have a home office; whilst in the UK the figure is 25% and people that work from home tend to spend a disproportionate amount of money on furniture.
Ref: Wallpaper (UK) July/August 2005 'The future of furniture', N.Compton.

You don't sound like mummy

The US $20 billion toy industry is in the midst of change as spending on toys migrates to consumer electronics. Indeed, over the age of about eight or ten, children seem to be adopting the buying habits of adults, acquiring (or at least desiring) devices such as mobile phones, MP3 players, digital cameras and even laptop computers. Not to be outdone, one US toy manufacturer has launched Amazing Amanda, a doll with almost as much computing power as an early space mission. The doll features facial robotics, voice recognition, RFID scanners and memory chips. Say your name a few times and the doll will recognise your voice in relation to others ("You're not my mummy"). Place a plastic cookie in front of it when it's asked for cereal and it will correct you courtesy of RFID tags placed inside the accessories ("that's not a cookie").
Ref: New York Times quoted in Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 3-4 September 2005, 'A living doll', M. Marriott.

Keys to the future

12% of people in the US live in gated communities (a figure, incidentally, that is exactly the same as the number living in trailer parks). The idea of high-security living has never really taken off in Europe, but high-tech security does seem to be making an impact on the housing market, especially apartment blocks.  We've had CCTV and intercoms for quite a while, but the new breed of entry and surveillance technology includes electronic swipe cards and electronic tags rather than keys. But even these are being overtaken by ideas borrowed more from airport security and science fiction than  from your local hardware store. Biometric products include voice, fingerprint, palm print and iris recognition entry systems. Even DNA products are in the pipeline. As you'd expect these technologies are pretty expensive at the moment, but as the price drops adoption will become more widespread. As for the benefits not having to worry about losing your keys is one, but there's also lower insurance premiums and even the status of having DNA entry before anyone else in your street. Of course, building mixed-use developments and getting to know your neighbours is a good low-tech alternative to ensure that the comings and goings of strangers are monitored.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 27-28 August 2005, 'Towers of strength', J. Thomson.