I’ve gotten many questions about design trends lately. Not only from readers, but also from other blogs or magazines asking me what I believe the design trends for 2018 will be.
And to get straight to my point: I don’t believe in design trends and I rarely speak about them. The problem with design trends are exactly what they are, they’re just trends. And riding any trend just means that whatever you do most likely will fade away as fast as the trend appeared.
I mean, just look at the recent articles on 99designs or even TheNextWeb. Read through the “2018 design trends” and you’ll quickly notice that there isn’t anything substantial. Gradients are coming back? Letter Stacking? DASHING DUOTONES? BRUTALISM? I can barely read through these without cringing.
Trends of course exist for a reason and knowing how to navigate them can either be beneficial or a disadvantage.
One reason to follow a design trend may be because you’re trying to fit in. It’s the primary reason clients often ask for something “trendy." They want something safe, something that looks familiar and something that won’t provoke or bother anyone. And if that’s the goal, well then follow the trend and do something that looks generic and like everybody else. In some cases it may be positive to appear “trendy” and help make a new, upcoming business look more legit to its current time. Does that mean we also created something timeless? Probably not. But timeless isn't always a requirement anyway.
On the downside, following a design trend is boring (at least for me) because you're just following the majority. There isn’t much creative thinking involved. Doing something trendy is easy and most likely not very challenging or rewarding. On top of it, whatever you design based on a trend will look and feel outdated pretty quickly. It may look fancy and trendy today, but tomorrow the company or client needs to redesign everything again. Following a trend is basically a quick fix.
Consider fashion trends. I can wear clothing thats trendy right now, and it probably makes me look cool and hip. But the moment the trend has faded I need to jump onto the next trend to keep my reputation as being trendy and cool. The longer I do this, the more I depend on trends for my identity. I completely lose my own style and voice, assuming I had one in the first place.
The only way to prevent this is by coming up with your own style and finding your voice. And that’s a pretty challenging task. Of course, the greatest possibility is that you start a trend yourself, which can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
'There is a lot of noise out there. I don't want to follow the trend - I want to create the trend." - Iman
The best part about design trends is that you can easily spot them. You can learn about them, then you can break and remix them in your own work. If you see what everyone else is doing, you can easily take that and put it on its head. You can be brave and go in the opposite direction, or you can combine things the way YOU want to design it. And honestly, it’s hard to do this because you’re basically going against the grain. It’s risky to do something unexpected or unique that goes out of line. If you’re working on your own projects this may be easier than working for a client who demands something trendy. (Note: Not all clients are like this, but an awful lot are, for a reason.)
But the best work, the work that excites you, the work that lasts for many years, is the work created without looking at what's trendy, but looking at what’s unique and timeless in its own way. It requires confidence and trust to design something like it, but it is possible.
When looking at design trends we can take what we need, but disregard the rest. Often when working with clients the best way through is to find a compromise between making something unique and bold but also familiar and safe. The magic comes in when you manage to strike the right balance. If you’re really good at what you do (combined with a bit of luck) you can create something unique, new and even timeless.
My advice to designers is usually fairly simple:
See what's trending and dare to do the opposite. Don’t follow trends blindly just because design magazines write about them. Most importantly: Don’t care too much about trends and just do what you think is the best solution and style for the project.
P.S. The only case where following a design trend makes a little more sense is if that trend is related to some best use case that is benefiting everyone, but not related to an aesthetic or style. For example, anything related to usability or sustainability. But I don’t consider these trends, but more of a necessity.
Another example may be if you’re forced to follow a trend because you’re dependent on a platform that dictates certain aesthetics and styles. For example when designing for the iOS/Apple platform. There’s always a subtle pressure to do things a certain way, otherwise you risk the success of your product. But even here, it’s possible to push the boundaries without resorting to following the trends blindly.