Design Trends: Do We Follow Them Without Realizing It?

Quick – what’s the hottest design trend right now? Whether you answered ‘flat design‘ or something similar, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, we all know what the trends currently are, and we all have opinions about them. The truth is, every designer hops on the current trend bandwagon in some way.

Some are more obvious about it than others, but cultural design trends do seep into our consciousness whether we want them to or not. So, designers: are you following the latest trends without even realizing it? I think you are, and today we’re going to explore some reasons why.

A Product Of The Times

Take a look through any design annual from before the turn of the century, and you may notice something interesting. The designs featured there, though they may all be different and unique, still have a certain type of aesthetic. For example, designs from the 1990s were heavily influenced by the New Wave and grunge styles, and thus overwhelmingly feature distressed looks and bold, unusual type treatments. The same goes for design work produced in any period, whether it’s baroque, psychedelic, Dada, Bauhaus, and the list goes on.

Even if the designers didn’t associate with one another at all, their work can still look alike. This is because of the shared ideals of a particular generation. People living in a particular time and place are influenced by the socio-economic realities of that era. If there’s a war going on, or if there was a devastating natural disaster that is still fresh in people’s minds, these things will come out in their work. Even music, television and film, paintings, sculpture, and every other kind of creative work will share this kind of collective commonality.

Faster Trend Cycles Today

It seems like we go through trends much faster than people did in the past. A design style can be around for mere months before everyone is tired of it and moving on to something new. This is largely because of the Internet and the increased speed of communication. When ideas spread at lightning speed, it becomes much harder to hold on to a trend and to make it stick.

But what does this mean for design? It means that designers are all aware of this faster cycling, and will adjust their work to keep up with the bandwagon. They may not want to, or they may even deny that it’s happening, but they still do it. When those likes on Dribbble or Behance start to dry up, designers may grudgingly adapt to keep their popularity strong.

Do You Have To Be Conscious Of It?

In a word, no. As we saw, designers can have no connection whatsoever to one another or to any particular style, but they will still echo the current events that are happening in their part of the world through their design in a similar way. We humans are very adaptable – any time something changes in the world, we unconsciously adjust our worldview to deal with it.

Take me, for example. I completely ignored the coming of “flat” design – didn’t care about it at all until last year’s iOS 7 update for the iPhone forced me to notice its predominance. Yet my work still echoes that of others who were consciously embracing it all along. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but I was still exposed to the same environmental influences that others of my generation were. It’s odd, but that’s just the way it happens.

What Goes Around…

So, what do you do when people start comparing you to designers you’ve never heard of? Do you correct them and insist that your ideas came to you independently? Do you change your style, or is it better to just stick it out and wait for the trend wheel to come full circle? What if the person everyone is comparing you to actually came after you, and they’ve got it backwards? Is it appropriate to point that out, or will that just make your reputation worse?

I think that, if your work is genuinely good, it doesn’t matter whether it’s “in” or not, or whether people know who influenced whom. The work will always be new to someone, after all. If your clients are happy, and you are happy, there’s no need to worry about what others are thinking. If you like, you can lay out your own creative “family tree,” as explained by Austin Kleon in the book Steal Like An Artist. Kleon advocates making a public note of your influences, as well as those creatives who are doing anything similar to your own work.

What Do You Think?

Do you pay attention to trends? Is your work suggestive of the trends of your generation anyway? (Yes. The answer is yes.) Tell us your trendy thoughts in the comments.