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FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
(Published: 2007-04-13)

A good Trendmaster knows how to find the sweet spot on the trend curve…the place where new is exciting and attractive, yet understandable and acceptable. That’s where profits come from.

This is not a new concept. The famous designer Raymond Loewy, back in the 1930’s, coined the anachronym MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. He acknowledged that novelty could be a deterrent to success, just as it can also be an accelerator. He pointed out that the consumer does not necessarily know what to do with the truly novel. (If this sounds familiar, you might remember my admonition in The Trendmaster’s Guide that trend for the sake of trend doesn’t mean that something is trend right.)

I recently saw this delicate balance brilliantly highlighted at “Curves of Steel,” a special exhibition of Streamlined Automobile Design at The Phoenix Art Museum. The museum has assembled 22 of the rarest and most stunning cars ever to be presented in one show, including a Tucker, a Lincoln-Zephyr, a Hispano-Suiza, and the elusive 1937 Delahaye 145 Grand Prix winner. “Curves of Steel,” on display through June 3rd, showcases cars and designs that changed the face and shape of the automobile. Despite the fact that I am not a car buff, I learned something about the mission of design and the nature of trend as a result of seeing this show.

When streamlined cars were first introduced they represented a brand new kind of motoring...the nearest thing to flying. (The same company that made the Hindenburg created one of the cars on display.) Streamlining was a new trend in design based on an intuitive perspective. Although visually advanced, it was considered a natural solution and a functional design. Thanks to the emerging technologies and advanced manufacturing techniques spurred by a post war society, many of the designs from this era were shockingly advanced and jarringly new.

A 1934 Chrysler Airflow Imperial incorporated streamlined details but was deemed a failure. Featured next to it was a 1939 Ford Zephyr Coupe, considered a revolutionary success. Both streamline models were inspired by the 1920’s Art Deco movement and utilized contemporary aerodynamic understanding derived from the aviation industry and wind tunnel testing. Yet only the Zephyr was a financial success.

What happened in between 1934 and 1939 that could make such a difference in acceptance by the American consumer? In 1934 the Burlington Zephyr passenger train was presented at the Chicago World’s Fair. Its shape, inspired by a teardrop, was considered to represent nature’s perfectly aerodynamic shape (the same shape assumed by water as it passes unhindered through the air.) Critics called the new look “poetic.”

When the Chrysler Airflow was introduced in 1934 it was an aesthetically unacceptable style for the time. A mere 5 years later, the Lincoln Zephyr met a public significantly familiar with the intent behind the flowing lines and new curves to consider it ‘poetic’ and exciting. Its ultimate success demonstrated Loewy’s MAYA principle.

Raymond Loewy spent over 50 years streamlining everything from postage stamps to spacecrafts, a concept that he is credited with originating. When he died, New York Times reporter Susan Heller wrote: “One can hardly open a beer or a soft drink, fix breakfast, board a plane, buy gas, mail a letter or shop for an appliance without encountering a Loewy creation.”

Loewy believed that “the adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.” By finding and understanding the consumer’s sweet spot, Loewy ultimately claimed his place in history as the Father of Industrial Design.

I love the term sweet spot. It implies a ‘pleasant or favorable place.’ You can find your customer’s sweet spot by practicing the Zen of Trend. It’s a delicate balancing act. You need to be able to live with the push and pull of opposites and to embrace the paradoxes—the trends and the countertrends—that exist in our world.

Einstein said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” It’s the same with trend. Keep pedaling! Just don’t try to go too far too fast.


Visit www.phxart.org for more information on Curves of Steel.



Curves of Steel


Raymond Loewy



Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at www.rwtrend.com. All Rights Reserved.


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