The Year’s Biggest Product Trends—And What We Predict For 2022.

Decades ago, the psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed an industry-changing theory about what motivates people in their daily lives. He argued the motivations underlying human behavior—the decisions we make every day—can be broken down into a “hierarchy of needs.”

At the foundation of the hierarchy are the necessities people must secure to live, like food and clothing; but as we move up the hierarchy, we can focus more of our energy on growing esteem and the ultimate goal, self-actualization.

Because people are behind digital products, one could argue Maslow’s hierarchy also impacts how teams think about creating new products—and how the wider world will respond to emerging products.

If 2021 was a year for product opportunity, after the world regained security post-2020 crisis, then 2022 will be a time for product innovation.

The Emergency Response

Let’s take a step back to understand why we believe 2022 will be the year of product innovation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work in 2020, the world had to move fast and do its best to adapt to an unpredictable situation. As governments instituted new policies, many of us were responding by the day, or even the hour, to a changing world.

Because of this, the world had to rely on existing products to keep the lights on. The moment was about survival and trying new products on a wide scale, but innovation and the creation of NEW products had to be put on hold.

The Energetic Response

Once industries made it past the 2020 emergency, people had more energy to think about improvements. The question became how to solve the problems of 2020 in better ways.

Perhaps the leading example of this trend was the widespread dissatisfaction with Zoom, and how this unhappiness cascaded into new remote work products. As we discussed on our Future of Work podcast series, products like Pitch and Around emerged to not just improve virtual working experiences, but to keep company cultures alive from afar.

2021 is a moment where product leaders are shifting away from problem-oriented innovation and into opportunity-oriented innovation. 

The Emerging Response

While there are always exceptions, we argue there are only so many ways to respond to existing problems with digital products. At a certain point, you have to go looking for untapped opportunities. The public expects more.

Think about the public response to Facebook’s Meta rebrand and Mark Zuckerberg’s proposed Metaverse. This vision was pitched as the next generation of social media, where distance and reality can be dissolved and users can meet friends and take up new hobbies in an all-virtual world. But the pitch is being ridiculed for missing the point: there are other, distinct needs that can be solved by digital products.

We believe the better products of 2022 will lean towards a few core traits:

1. More imaginative. Products will seek to capitalize on once unexplored or dismissed opportunities. When we think about unexplored opportunities, we have to consider how products will respond to the cascading impact of the pandemic’s peak.

As an example, there’s currently a worldwide microchip shortage limiting new car sales. But many people continue to work from home, and some of the world’s largest companies are embracing remote work indefinitely. So should our focus stay on solving a shortage for a product (cars) that could have diminished usefulness in the years to come? Where else might our energy go? The better products of 2022 see this gap and are responding to the changed landscape with new ideas.

2. More representative of people’s full selves: Products will become a vehicle for cultural change and countercultural movements.

Digital products have been a vehicle for cultural change before. Think about the rise of alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo as a different answer to Big Tech. When the public craves something different—and especially something that’s better for them—the industry tends to respond. And today, concerns about data privacy online, democracy, and a swath of related issues are intensifying. This creates a prime moment for people-centered products like MyMind, a productivity space that promises complete privacy.

3. More community-oriented: Products will be less about building communities for the sake of building communities, and more about creating intentional shared spaces. Communities will not just complement products; they will be the digital product.

Community-based products are powerful because of how adaptable they are. On Better Product, we explored one product, NOWINCLUDED, that’s leveraging community to generate diverse data for the health industry. The goal is to improve what industry leaders know about Black health experiences so they can make equitable decisions. NOWINCLUDED’s end goal is monumental, and one that quite literally touches on life and death issues. But other community products are on the rise too, like Diem, the social universe for women and non-binary people.

4. More irreverent. Products will try to have more fun; not every better product has to strive to save the world.

Memes are now valid go-to-market strategy because they can get viral adoption for your product. And as a result, more digital products can succeed by leaning into social commentary, satire, and pure entertainment. We’re reminded here of the product Posdates that launched in 2021; it adopted its brand cues and a name from the popular delivery app Postmates, but created a new premise around getting your stuff back from your ex. While not all products will engage in the kind of “brand skitching” we see with Postdates and Postmates, this and other examples (mostly from the NFT world) show a willingness to put resources into irreverent ideas.

Summary

What we’ve presented here are predictions and are up for debate; there’s no right answer to what could be the most impactful trend in years to come. But we hope this article gives us all a starting point for what’s sure to be a robust moment for digital products, full of the twist and turns life will throw our way.

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