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Don’t follow the trend; Don’t reject the trend.

On design trends as clues and not solution, for brand design.

Well past the mid-year mark now, it is safe to assume all possible design trends for 2019 from ‘buxom-serifs’ to ‘smashing-stereotypes’, and ‘realism-meets-flat-design’ have been published, devoured and reproduced. I do enjoy a good listicle, from time to time. Not as a ready reckoner, but more as a sign of the times, we design in and for.

When it comes to trends, the design community typically splits down the middle — those who value and reflect the trends, and those who eschew and frown upon them. When it comes to design for brands and identity in particular, the split inevitably skews towards timelessness with a higher moral pitch. However trend-based work shows up, in far greater numbers and popularity, in actual practice.

For those that espouse that brand identity should be timeless — my questions always are: is the brand timeless, is the consumer timeless, is the world timeless? In my experience ‘timeless’ is too generic a blanket to throw over expectations from brand design. Five years ago everyone was talking ‘disruption’, I’m glad it has gracefully evolved into ‘relevance’ in discussions on brand design lately. Relevance is timely — so the timelessness of brands needs to be reviewed for its relevance, from time to time. When it comes to designing tangible, visible elements of identity that need to be more permanent, this is easier said than done. This is where ‘design trends’ can provide interesting clues — not as the ready-to-eat variety of tips and tricks — but a visual collation of changing meanings and associations across larger slices of time.

Trend-based work fares well usually, because of its current familiarity, a known promise of fresh-ness. However in the long run, heavily basing brand design on trends is an expensive trap — lack of differentiation, fitting in (a bit too much) and eventually falling out as cliche or worse, outdated. To me, it also shows a lack of voice or imagination, and feels like a wasted opportunity involving money, time and resources.

Trends can be interesting and useful, if probed beyond the fact of their popularity. The emergence of 3-dimensionality in 2-dimensional visuals, rejection of grids, handmade imperfections as a cue for real & honest—probing the rise and affinity towards trends such as these helps redirect the focus to understand audience/users’ perception. However reading of design trends cannot be the starting point of understanding audience or the replacement for user insights. Instead, sound understanding of the audience helps a sharper, deeper reading of the trends.

In closing, I must also admit to freely engaging in a host of non-design trend lists & listicles. I find them most educative and entertaining, and would highly recommend these to broaden one’s horizons about how people’s responses and affinities are changing across a spectrum of experiences, from food to technology to socks.
Here are two such trend lists, picked randomly from my random reading list.
Healthy food trends (Via Vogue, France). AR & VR Trends (Via Forbes).
Enjoy, keep reading & keep questioning!