Why avoid trends in design and communication?

Why should we avoid trends in design and communication? There are many reasons to not follow trends, but there can be reasons to actually dig deep into them. Let me explore that thought.

But before I begin, to be answer that question, you should probably ask ‘Why are there trends in design and communication?‘ and even more important ‘What is a trend?‘.

What is a trend?

A trend is a temporary occurring behavior in people that lasts over a certain amount of time. Trends are mostly associated with fashion and design, but can also easily be found within science and business fields as well as in other cultural structures. Some trends lasts only a short period of time while other continue to hold sway over its subjects, even over decades.

Jeans are an exceptional example of this, which have been a popular type of trousers for almost 60 years. As a trend it is extremely long-lasting, maybe one the most persistent trends in our modern society. In communication, and especially in techy subcultures, we have seen many short-lived trends come to life just to die out in a few months later (feel free to leave your favorite in the comments below). Since the wide-spread use of the Internet trends have been born and disappear in an even faster rate. A few global companies have been successful creating trends (strengthening their brand through their design methods in the process) and monetizing from it, while others spend huge amount of resources but fail over and over again.

A trend could be identified by a number of factors, but one of the most obvious is the growing numbers of adherents and practitioners that take part of what the trend dictates, thus further extends it. A trend is never more than the sum of what these people put in to it, and when it decreases in popularity or halts completely it fades or dies out. However, some trends turns into new shapes and forms and might be given new strength to flourish once more.

From a psychological perspective it is an interesting phenomena – is it a flock mentality characteristic that makes trends come and go, or is it something else? I am not a psychologist and will not delve deeper into it, but it is definitely a subject worth discussing, either with your clients or creative partners. But keep reading, I’m going to rant a bit about the reasons for giving up trends – or to stay with them and embrace them.

Why are there trends in design and communication?

When we know more what a trend is, why are there trends in design and communication? Aren’t designers and communicators supposed to work without having trends tainting their work? Well, first of all there too many different type of designers and communicators to be speaking of them as a whole. Most designers and communicators that have reached an intermediate level of professionalism can often identify a trend and either choose to stand above it or roll with it.

The problem is that often a business leader that hires a designer or communicator might have an idea of what they want from a project, especially if they are professionals themselves and know their own field of expertise, or if they are interested in design in general. Then an idea or concept might be a part of a current trend as they are more likely to have encountered it somewhere. Unless they are lucky, I mean really really lucky – or if they are creatives or communicators themselves – that trend is most often one that isn’t applicable to their type of business. The reason for this is very simple; as the trend haven’t sprung from the company’s own core values, it is could not really be a part of it’s marketing strategy. There are exceptions of course, I’ll come to those later.

How to deal with trends

What’s the difference giving into a trend or rejecting it? The consequences and end result might differ massively. As a professional designer or communicator being original is something desirable, almost a holy state of mind. Giving in to trends even on a subtle level might deteriorate that originality. This doesn’t mean doing the opposite will result in success, however, given the choice of hooking on to a trend or choose a different path either way will affect the project.

Being lazy and not actually choosing with a desire to deliver a uniqueness in a project, will result in a generic, mediocre and flock-behavior-induced project at best. Researching given trends can avoid this to some extent, as knowing what sort of attributes a trend might associate the project with. And with information at hand, arguing with a client might turn even easier. If a trend is supposed to be embraced, it should be done with after knowing what the consequesces will be, not just because of ‘taste’. This is an argument I often use myself in workshops and during the analysis stage of a project.

What can be achieved by hooking on a to a trend?

For a start, avoiding trends isn’t necessary a good thing. You have to identify a trend and analyze it, then decide whether you should avoid it or not. In some cases getting on the trend-train instead could open up doors by showing you belong to a specific group, culture or other subculture you would like to belong to. By labeling yourself with a trend you could signal certain, desired aspects of the trend’s nature – but as said, it is important to know what the culture that brought forth the trend stands for and what it means. Just as it isn’t a purpose in itself to design or own a ‘web 2.0’-ish web site, hooking on another trend is not one either.

This can be applied to almost a ‘rules’ and theories within the design and communication field, in fact most design educations and teachers in the creative field encourage students to explore trends and see what happens when you hook onto them, as well as if you reject them. From these experiments you often realize how to break rules or avoid trends, but also what can be following given rules. Here’s one of my points – when you know why and how a certain set of rules or a trend was born, you can easily grasp the consequences from not adhering to them.  In the real world, rules and trends affect projects either you want it or not.

Why avoid a trend?

When you have analyzed a trend and decided not to become a part of it, you suddenly open up doors to becoming an independent and unique player in your field. Regarding that project you worked on where the client suggested you used those ‘beautiful glassy, shiny buttons’, knowing how they emerged and where they were first seen might give you the tools to argue with the client in a constructive manner. Here’s my other point; I argue that by researching a trend and actually getting a grip of it’s source and nature you could choose to either strengthen yourself and the results of your work by actually digging into trends and the reasons behind them.

This might mean to embrace them and to work with them, but it could just mean a whole lot of work looking for sources and reading magazines, blogs and forum. Being a professional you should do that anyway, keeping up to date to be able to spot a trend when it emerges.

As closure I’d like to say that most professionals do this, research their clients and any trends that might come up during a workshop or from the first briefing. But as many clients don’t have experience from creative or communicative work, they don’t know this. Research is always positive, with it you can either decide if you want to stay inside or outside the framework it creates. ‘Rules are meant to be broken’ some say, yes, but only if you know them to be rules in the first place. Otherwise it’s just plain old ignorance.

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