Q&A: Helen Sac – ‘The Hybrid World is Very Much Here to Stay’

WGSN’s Consultant Director for APAC offers insight into how brands can best approach the redefined concept of “home” in our post-pandemic world.

Though it might seem like a bad dream, it wasn’t so long ago that our homes became the epicenter of our entire existence as Covid lockdowns forced us to close our doors to the world.

While the long-term effects, be they benefits or drawbacks, are subject to debate, there is no denying that it changed how we live – both on a personal and a professional level. With a blurring of distinctions between “home’ and “workplace,” it also changed how brands approach consumer needs in both areas.

Following up on last year’s release of WSGN’s Home Lifestyles 2025 white paper on product opportunities for brands in the home, Branding in Asia recently caught up for a conversation with Helen Sac, the company’s Consultant Director for APAC, to get her take on how brands should approach the new normal where the home is now a multipurpose place to live, work, rest, and play.


 

WGSN released the Home Lifestyles 2025 white paper late last year outlining the product opportunities for brands in the home as it evolves into a multipurpose place to live, work, rest, and play. What are some key trends that will emerge in Asia’s homes?

The pandemic has caused a mass migration of activities to the home, and new challenges will keep them there as we head toward 2025 and beyond. Higher living costs, recessionary markets, and the impact of global warming will all see us continue to do more – and expect more – from the spaces we live in. Our homes have evolved into a multipurpose place to work, unwind, exercise, educate the kids, entertain friends and so much more.

One key trend that will emerge in Asian homes is the demise of blind consumerism, which is now being replaced by conscious consumption. Consumers are now looking at more sustainable products – repair and recycling are helping to solve the problem of rampant waste, and the push for never-ending profit is being eschewed for a more sustainable business model.

“One key trend that will emerge in Asian homes is the demise of blind consumerism, which is now being replaced by conscious consumption.”

In addition, we’d also start to see more consumers – especially the younger ones – embracing fluid identities. Every consumer would benefit from an inclusive design, and brands are starting to recognize this in their product development. In the home, this will be particularly relevant for consumers who are ageing, neurodiverse or living with disabilities.


 

The white paper notes that “the next three years will be challenging, but they also offer a unique chance – indeed, an imperative – to innovate.” What advice do you have for brands to accomplish this?

Periods of change and economic uncertainty can be the best time to refine old products, create new ones, and expand into new markets. Problem-solving products will be essential, whether it is affordable, well-made designs that promise to last longer, or items that can help us be more resourceful and self-reliant in an unpredictable world.

Smart innovations will also be scaled up to a macro level as governments upgrade infrastructure to megacities. UBS has predicted that Asia’s smart city market could reach $800bn by 2025. Beyond enhancing comfort, convenience and safety, digitalisation and smart innovations by brands will also change how we relate to tech as it becomes integrated into everyday life, whether through personal robots or more intelligent, conversational, human-like digital assistants.

It also talks about an increasing desire in the workforce to be allowed more time to work from home. How is that dynamic playing out in Asia between employers and employees?

The pandemic and worldwide lockdowns have forced us to relook into the way we work and measure efficiency, as we are now putting more emphasis on work-life balance. Coupled with burnout and the Great Resignation, this change has also opened up space for us to explore new and more dynamic ways of working – whether that be trailing four-day weeks, moving towards FIRE (financial independence, retire early), or simply re-organising the day to make time for personal goals.

“As more tech products make their way into our homes, brands will need to borrow from domestic aesthetics to make them feel more discreet and friendly – while still enhancing their service offer and user experience.”

The hybrid world is very much here to stay, even as we all return to pre-pandemic days and return to the offices without masks. Many companies will be formalising hybrid work arrangements and people will be replacing makeshift home offices with more long-term (and comfortable) set-ups, and more people will be planning their next move or taking up side hustles from the kitchen table amid an economic downturn.

Tell us more about some of the trends you’re seeing such as “resimercial furniture”, “adaptable and invisible designs” and the “gamified home.”

Our homes have had to become more flexible and multifunctional over the past three years, and the next three years we will see brands catching up by offering products that can be adapted to a range of needs. For instance, we will start to see the rise of flexible and resimercial (residential + commercial) furniture in the home. US company Herman Miller makes office chairs in a broad range of colours and materials to suit domestic settings (and saw its home-office category grow by 300% between 2019 and 2020).

“The hybrid world is very much here to stay, even as we all return to pre-pandemic days and return to the offices without masks. Many companies will be formalising hybrid work arrangements and people will be replacing makeshift home offices with more long-term (and comfortable) set-ups.”

As more tech products make their way into our homes, brands will need to borrow from domestic aesthetics to make them feel more discreet and friendly – while still enhancing their service offer and user experience.

Dell, for instance, has created a concept design for a compact wireless camera called Pari, which can be magnetically attached anywhere on a compatible screen to offer complete control over its placement. It can also be attached to a discreet desktop stand to capture overhead shots – perfect for sharing creative work such as sketches in real time.

Lastly, gaming will also continue to be a key opportunity in the home as pandemic habits stick and economic pressures bite. In 2022, nearly 3.2 billion players will help the global market generate $196.8bn according to Newzoo, and this is set to grow to $225.7bn by 2025.

Gaming kit will remain important and WGSN has tracked the rise of cosy gaming (typified by cute characters and soft colours in titles such as Animal Crossing, Spiritfarer, Cozy Grove and Stardew Valley), which inspired character-themed controllers and animal-shaped thumb grips.

In addition, the gamification of the home will also manifest in the rise of friendly tech and metaverse-influenced interiors.

The report focuses on 2025. As for the near future, what are some general 2023 trends you see?

Higher living costs, recessionary markets, and the impact of global warming will all see us continue to do more – and expect more – from the spaces we live in. Blind consumerism will be replaced by conscious consumption.

The recession and reduced disposable income will force more consumers to live intentionally, where consumers’ decisions and actions will be made with a greater sense of purpose.

In 2023, consumers will continue to face financial hardship and limited access to basics such as fuel and goods, anything that can empower them to be more self-sufficient will have a clear appeal. Trends will also deviate towards self-sufficiency as consumers look to tide over the incoming recession with limited resources.

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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