How trends are designed and/or evolve

Friday, 30th January 2015

How trends are actually created and develop

Around this time of year I usually put together a design article about up and coming trends for the year. However, this year I thought I’d do something a little different. Whilst researching, I got to thinking about how trends are actually created and develop in the first place, and what factors a designer should be taking into account when creating or building upon ‘the next big thing’. This led me to some interesting articles about how trends evolve through design, communication and the sharing experience. I’d like to share and expand on some of these ideas in this latest post.  

* Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments about what you think constitutes and indeed influences a trend. Trends can be governed by many things including allure and desire, prolonged or repeated sensual exposure, a practical usage with the feel of comfort and familiarity, material types, touch and emotional factors; I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on trends and trending….*

Designing Trends

 Abstract pattern design style

The making of beautiful NEW things is preceded by the development and sparking of original ideas, for new strategies and unique experiences.

Designers, experienced business people and educators in varying design disciplines understand and take on these trends, trying to represent them in an understandable way. The ultimate aim is to utilise the idea in a way that is either useful and/or desirable for the person on the street, because that is where the money will be made if successful.

Are designers ever ready, educated, disciplined and responsible enough to produce these trends as they were originally meant to be executed?

Do designers fully understand the rationale behind the idea, how it is meant to work and how it might develop or unfold; perhaps even into another trend or trends?

A designer requires experience, knowledge, discipline and a wise and balanced understanding of an array of subjects, wrapped in a creative mindset. This allows them to produce a diverse style of communication that is relevant, connected and that will just possibly enhance a current style or trend.

Scale and Complexity

Thinking and seeing ahead through the project stagesDesigners need to understand context and the bigger picture outside of their creativity. They should be able to prepare for a large scale and plan from the ground up for each section, area, or individual component of a design. Designers also need to prepare, and indeed show foresight, for the potential problems and feature requests down the line. No solution can be absolutely perfect first time for every instance or experience. Subsequent adaptations to the original brief will be encountered. The most intuitive designers will place themselves in the shoes of many different people to be able to anticipate potential problems, but also to anticipate potential improvements; all before the customer is even aware of them themselves. 

The approach to a design brief necessitates an open mind. You have to remember that you are dealing with a human audience, so will encounter highly varied aspirations set within different social, technological, and economical systems. For a trend to grow and spread, it may also need to cross demographics, experience and abilities. 

Designers have a responsibility to manage the scale and complexity and put together clear, unique and creative messaging. They must consider as many of these human and social factors as possible whilst delivering what the client brief requires. There are many automatic hidden processes ‘below the surface’ a competent designer has in the arsenal that aid a successful result. Through training, education and experience the designer can deliver a sustainable and successful visual / product communication solution that follows, compliments or enhances current trends. 

Focusing messages 

Mood board imageryTrend messaging or products appear to start with highly creative, sometimes impactive and bizarre or diverse focusing on specific areas (special interest design). These are then reported upon, experienced and shared, and if successful can then gain momentum towards the popular mainstream. They are then re-produced and mimicked by other designers or design houses. This in turn magnifies the styles and trends, automatically gaining even more velocity towards becoming mainstream. 

However focused a message needs to be, free thought and concentration of the mind enable creative solutions from the designer. This is relevant in all the forms of design, including; communication design, information design, fashion design, product design, environmental design, in both their broadest and specialist forms. 

Sharing experiences and creating and commenting on trends in a community as a community 

Technology in the modern world has a massive influence on how we socialise and connect with others, and can offer huge coverage of trends, particularly when it comes to the use of social media. The ability to share instantly and widely amongst social groups, allows for trends to develop and grow at an astonishing rate, sometimes taking on ‘viral’ status. 

Social media is simple to access virtually anywhere, fast to use, and awash with the thoughts and musings of both immediate contemporaries as well as experts and thought-leaders. Comments can be published instantaneously for all to see, share, and influence others. With so much information at our fingertips we are at leisure to digest, filter and assimilate this in our own way.

Nottingham Trent University MA Design Show 2010Many of the new trends in design are influenced in small part, or even larger chunks, from previous design trends throughout history, countries and cultures. With diverse people and cultures from around the world interacting in school, college, work and social environments, alternative viewpoints and ideas are shared. Feeding off each other the fusing, linking and developing of multifaceted ideas produce some great and unique creative styles. For example I have seen some cross-cultural creative thinking, unique design styles and innovative techniques across all design disciplines at Nottingham Trent University in the UK over the last 5-6 years of visiting student shows. Also don’t forget, as trends are changing and developing in and around the UK they are also very much linked and progressing around the world too. Trends and trending can be very fluid and have global impact.

Treating human attention as a scare commodity

Polaroid instant cameraFaster moving trends such as the now ubiquitous viral video, can create a ‘short term grab’ culture in certain areas of the economy in business, commerce and industry. This can be apparent in some attempts by businesses to make money, driving design briefing styles in order to raise their own profile, and push certain service and product types. This can wittingly or unwittingly reveal what their perceptions of what is trendy or trending and how they are being influenced. Of course, timing being everything, this can also lead to dramatic ‘fails’, when an untimely response shows a brand to be behind the curve of current fashion. For instance, one of the more known examples in the digital world being Polaroid maintaining a belief in hard copy whilst the world moved further and further towards the convenience and share-ability of digital photography. 

Responsible outcomes and sustainability 

We want to try and be green and save our planet from global warming and its consequences, don’t we? 

Creating designs requires the use of resources; whether it is using a sheet of paper and a pencil or electrical power in a 3D printer when shaping and intricately cutting ABS plastic or PLA polymide for a concept idea or product. It all takes energy which has to be generated using core resources from our planet. 

The pursuit of design excellence still requires a success and excellence in user-focused design and experience to create the required result, but we are all sharing a finite limit of resources in the pursuit of this. 

Tesla Electric Car

‘Green’ and ‘energy saving’ focus are already influencing market and ultimately design trends, and I have no doubt will continue to grow in importance. Just look at the latest Tesla electric sports car, and the forthcoming roll-out of smart energy meters.

Public, political, industrial and business forces are, in the main, slowly coming to terms with the challenges of working with limited resources. Designers are at the forefront of creating trends and therefore should lead and try to understand and then educate people into why they should ‘go green’ when creating design projects or briefs for designers.

The future of design and creativity therefore bears the responsibility of producing things through the advancement of technology in a sustainable way with the resources we have. 

“Responsible outcomes integrate ethical issues, social needs, worldwide necessities and the important inclusion of design thinking.”