From timeless to terrible, fashionable graphics run the gamut of taste, with most falling somewhere in between iconic and diabolical. Some design trends come and go like the weather, whereas others stick around for a little longer, but all eventually dissipate into the ether. As designers, we frequently feel pressure to conform to what’s “in” rather than following our instincts, but there are several concrete reasons why you might choose to reject the latest fads in favor of your own ideas.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Made famous by Will Ferrell’s Mr Mugatu character, the phrase, “So hot right now” applies as equally to the world of graphic design as it does to the world of fashion. But what about next month? Next year? Five years from now? The most fashionable trends don’t stay fashionable forever, leaving your clients with dated materials they need to pay somebody—hopefully you—to redesign.
Cast your mind back to the beginning of the Papyrus font trend, for example. Chris Costello spent six months lovingly hand-drawing Papyrus before releasing the typeface via Letraset in 1983. Over the next several years, the font became so overwhelmingly popular that it eventually found itself blacklisted by most self-respecting designers. Costello himself declared that his creation had been overused, and the design world goggled at James Cameron’s choice of typeface when Avatar came out in 2009. Nowadays, many creative professionals openly mock Papyrus wherever it is found. Don’t let your designs end up like Papyrus.
Some Trends Are Truly Awful
The convergence of fashion and art is a curious juncture. When the creative “powers that be” declare something trendy, we’re all supposed to follow suit. Some trends, though, are clearly appalling. Brave designers who stand up and point out the obvious, however, draw ire from the elite and commonly end up on the receiving end of significant backlash. Regardless, a clothesless emperor is an emperor with no clothes on, and none of us need to follow fads we know are ridiculous.
Take leg warmers, for instance: what were we all thinking in 1985?
Let us take a moment to remember Web 1.0, with its flashing neon banner ads and dancing GIFs. In 1998, everyone got really excited when mouse clicks led to a cascade of falling stars, or when they were able to set the default font at their favorite forum to Curlz MT. Those trends were clearly over-the-top from the very beginning, but they were uber fashionable before the Millennium. Stay safe out there, kids: don’t fall for horrible mainstream design fads.
Everyone is Trending
If all you do is stick to current graphics trends, you’ll find it hard to stand out from the crowd. Accolades like the D&AD Awards and Communication Arts Award of Excellence trophies don’t go to vanilla designers—they go to creatives with spark and vision. Successful graphic artists put an individual spin on every project they get involved in.
Maybe you don’t aspire to artistic greatness. Still, if you go with fad-only design, you’ll find yourself in stiff competition with many other creative professionals out there, some of whom might be better at recreating trends or who might work a little faster than you. Even worse, their living expenses might be lower than yours, so they might charge a less expensive hourly rate and filch your potential clients. Don’t blend in: offer customers something a little different and stay ahead of your rivals.
Unique Designs Are Timeless
In the design universe there are followers and there are leaders. Why be a lackey when you can be a luminary? Instead of adhering blindly to whatever’s in style, think outside the box and come up with a few interesting ideas of your own. One of the best indicators for success is imitation: once you start to see other designs inspired by your creations, you know you’re on the right track.
Of course, basic design rules still apply while you innovate. Timeless principles like contrast, space, element proximity and repetition make it easier to come up with great concepts that endure for years. Use them to create designs your clients will love and your peers will aspire to. Don’t be boring: set the pace for everyone else instead.
Pretty Doesn’t Mean Practical
Flash websites were all the rage for quite a while. Sure, they were—and still are—stunning, but they also made effective SEO techniques almost impossible to utilize. As a result, sites didn’t gain proper traction on search engines like Google and client sales often fell as a result. Additionally, not everyone had access to a machine capable of properly rendering those pretty Flash websites, so quite a few potential customers got left entirely behind.
On a similar note, parallax scrolling is totally in vogue right now. Once again, however, parallax scrolling doesn’t play well with SEO. It’s interesting and sometimes beautiful, but it’s not really practical. Some customers get annoyed with it, too, and navigate away from parallax sites altogether. The occasional parallax page can work well in context, but it’s best not to base an entire website on the concept. The same type of balancing act applies to print design as well.
One Reason to Stay On Trend
There is, of course, one compelling reason why you need to remain familiar with the latest design trends. What could that be, you ask?
Your clients want trendy design.
Inevitably, some clients really want to drift along with the current and really want to hire you, too. Thankfully, as their chosen designer, you’re in a powerful position to future-proof their projects. Instead of railing against your customers’ wishes, try to suggest ways in which their ideas might be made more practical. Show them examples of really iconic artwork and come up with unique additions to the fashionable fads they feel drawn to.
In conclusion, mainstream design trends come and go, but great graphic design lasts forever. Well, perhaps not forever, but certainly a lot longer than flavor-of-the-month trends, which can disappear before you’re even done putting the finishing touches on your client’s project. Instead of simply going with what’s fashionable, try to use time-tested design principles to come up with a concept your clients will love for years.