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Tools: Trends matrix

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Documenting Insights

The first stage of a design or innovation process involves deciding where to start.  Perhaps you have a designerly, ‘restless discontent’ and feel the need to seek improvement, maybe you have a sense that services are not quite meeting the needs of the people you support, or perhaps a loss of funding necessitates a rethink.

Rather than jump straight to a solution, adopting an inquiring mindset allows you to take time to explore the changes happening in the world around you.   In the insight phase of the design process, we encourage you to ‘go wide’, exploring a range of perspectives and sources of information, hunting and gathering information that can help to reframe the way you view problems and opportunities.

There are lots of sources of insights and to get started, you don’t even need to leave the building!  A Google search will lead you to a range of sources – reports, studies, newspaper articles, opinions and blogs.  However, nothing beats going out, talking to people and seeing things for yourself.

With so much going on out there, it can be overwhelming.  One of the ways to maintain a sense of direction, and to ensure that you notice patterns and themes as they emerge, is to document your exploration in a disciplined way.

There are a number of frameworks and templates to help with this.  We’ll explore a few that we’ve been using in Better by Design in the series of posts that follow.

A Trends Matrix

A trends matrix provides a structured way of looking at what is changing in your operating environment and helps to get you thinking about how these changes might affect your services and business model in the future.  By looking at trends over time – formerly, currently and emerging trends – it is easier to see how rapidly things might be changing. In a stable environment, incremental service improvement would be a rational approach but where it is clear from the trends matrix that the environment is more dynamic, a more radical approach to innovation may be required.


A trends matrix is a framework for setting out the current, former and emerging situation in relation to key factors in your operating environment:

  • Service users.  Who uses your service, what are their needs and requirements, what are their characteristics, where do they come from, Where do referrals come from?
  • The service offer.  What are the key components of the service you offer?  How do people become aware of your service? What is their experience as they journey through it? What happens when they leave the service?  What outcomes is the service achieving?  What impact is it making?
  • The wider market.  Who else is playing in your space with similar or related offers?  What partnerships are important?  Who are the main funders of your service?
  •  The social or cultural context.  What social factors are affecting demand for your service or attitudes towards your service users?
  •  Technology. What technology has been adopted that affects how you deliver your service or how people might access or use your service?


The trends matrix provides a high-level summary and overview of key trends.  It allows you to map trends over time and take a comprehensive view of how trends interact with one another.  Reviewing trends can point you towards particular opportunities and helps to clarify your design direction.


In a workshop:

You will need:

  • A piece of flipchart paper marked out with ‘Service users”, “Service Offer”. “Market”, “Culture” and “Technology” down the side and “formerly”, “currently” and “emerging” across the top.
  • Sharpies or fine marker pens
  • Post-its

In groups of up to 5 people, discuss trends across each of the dimensions.  Note each trend on a post-it and add to the flip chart paper. In your groups, discuss each trend and how they are relevant to your service or business model.  Compare the trends across the dimensions to see how they are related.  Look for patterns and discuss how these might point to future directions for your project.  Capture these insights on a separate sheet.

Working alone:

Using the template – or design your own in an Excel spreadsheet – based upon your research and your knowledge and experience, fill the matrix with relevant trends.  Describe the situation across each dimension as a statement, for example, “older people have limited access to online technologies”, “more older people are using touch-screen technology”, “technology is being designed to be dementia friendly”.  Discuss your template with colleagues or others.  Highlight areas where trends are inter-related and pointers for the future direction of your project.

Step back and identify insights from the matrix and from your discussions.  Record the insights alongside your matrix.

Using the Trends Matrix in Better by Design

In Better by Design groups have been using the trends matrix as a basis to discuss the drivers of change for their organizations and service areas.  In workshops we have been introducing this framework as a way to encourage teams to develop a sense of inquiry and to establish an overview of the operating environment around them.  The trends matrix has been used to break down the components of the environment in a structured way and from this basis identify the significant interrelationships across the system of operation.

A download of the Trends Matrix worksheet/template can be found here: Trends Matrix download

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