Design trends have become hugely widespread in recent years. I’m sure you’ve seen loads of articles on how to leverage these trends to make your work look as trendy and hip as possible. What happened to informed design, tailored to customer needs? What is the designer’s role here?
Over the past few years, we have noticed clear trends and styles in graphic design. There are vast amounts of resources and sources where you can get inspiration and get references on what is moving in the visual sphere. Newspapers and amateur bloggers are looking to create lists that try to specify what has been trendy in graphic design in the past year, and also try to predict what will be fashionable in the time to come.
This is where design trends begin to create problems, especially in designing visual identities and brands.
Trends and branding are two different things
Flared trousers are back; minimalism is being replaced by brutalism and illustration trumps images. Trends are subject to constant evolution. They are short-lived. It’s what makes them trends.
An identity, on the other hand, is a long term investment. Brands have a lifespan that extends well beyond the timeline of a trend, often decades. There is so much uncertainty about whether trends are here to stay or if they’re just trends. The risk you take by jumping on a trend in the hope that it will be “cool” in ten years is significant.
Brand rebranding is a comprehensive process and significant economic investment. So my advice is not to put the money into something just because it is timely, but rather bet on what is timeless. Then you know that investing will bring you joy for years to come, not just right now.
A trend should not determine how you look. Design is a business tool, and it should be used to highlight a company’s unique culture, product, mindset, and soul. Identity is, by definition, what makes you unique, to who you are, what sets you apart from other brands. Too much focus on trends in developing a visual identity could, ironically, make you more like competing brands.
Instead, use promotions and marketing as an arena for exploring trends.
On the other hand, trends are not entirely a waste of time. As mentioned, we are fully aware of the existence of design trends, and we do follow them to some degree. Trends can be a great tool to use in short-term campaigns or events, or even websites. The utilization of trends in the short-lived design shows that a company stays up to date.
So there are places where graphic design trends can live, namely in campaigns that will at some point expire, as trends do. Brands, on the other hand, should have a longer shelf-life. It does not necessarily mean that brands never expire – a brand needs occasional updates because the target audience is growing or developing. But there is no room for trends. It is a premature emergency solution in an attempt to stay relevant, and will usually not be compatible with the values and identity of the brand itself. Here, the agencies must familiarize themselves with the customer, their core, and let it direct the design choices one makes.