By: Scott Christie
More than ever before, trends are fostering a tiresome lack of originality in the creative industry. It is particularly evident in the rote web designs being sold to today’s clients.
Unique brand representation is on the decline as technology makes it easier for trends to quash creativity, and both client and designer are complicit in the problem. If this trend of following trends continues, studios risk both their profit margin and the growth of our careers. The creative studios we admire today will be nothing more than production houses, and design will become a commodity.
Technology and design-related resource sites are fuelling new trends so that they come along faster than ever before. Google the term ‘branding trends’ and it will return approximately 9.2 million results, the top links including Forbes and Landor. A ‘top website trends’ search generates over 258,000,000 results with Forbes, Awwwards and LinkedIn listicles appearing on the first page.
Visual examples of trends can be easily found on portfolio sites like FFFFound, Dribble, and Behance, where designers from around the world showcase their latest work. These examples are often clearly unified in appearance, and designers are selling these looks to their clients. If having to search these sites is too much work, designers can buy the coolest templates to fit the latest rage—just populate it and you’re off and running.
“Following Trends Will Only Leave You Behind”
Paula Scher wrote this in her book, Make It Bigger, back in 2004. It is a powerful statement for designers and clients alike. Some clients buy into trends because no brand wants to look old. But when designers sell them the latest off-the-shelf look, it is an act of complacency and insecurity—without discord we give them what they want. Instead, we must ensure clients and designers look at trends a different way. Both should encourage the other to look beyond what’s current and explore new possibilities.
Nowadays clients demand the work faster, for less money, and often control its look by pointing to examples of other projects they like. Websites are the most common victim of this approach. The complacent designer agrees to go along and is seemingly happy to stick a client’s logo on the latest website trend and call it a day. After all, this is all the budget and time frame allow for. No one wins. The client will likely pay for a redesign in one or two years, or even less, depending on what point the trend was adopted. The designer is left with no story to tell and nothing original to promote in the market. It translates into a very costly business mistake.
A website is but one customer touchpoint of a brand’s marketing plan. It is not a stand-alone project. It may very well be the only touchpoint you have been asked to contribute to, but you still need to consider the whole. Remember, every ad, website, brochure, or event is designed to support and expand on the brand representation. By definition, everything you create for your client requires originality.
Lead, Don’t Follow
By nature designers want to do things differently. They want to commit to challenges. Avoid clichés. Invent and stand apart. This is why we went to art school in the first place. We must dedicate ourselves to fostering differentiation, for the sake of our careers and for the health of our clients’ businesses. It’s about striking a balance.
We need to be business savvy, and this does include being aware of every trend. But we cannot forgo our innate creative talents. We must demonstrate to clients our unique views on current thinking. It is our responsibility to explain why producing a website or brand according to what’s en vogue is a poor investment. Knowledge is confidence—get some, educate your clients, and spend the extra time needed to create something special for them.
Whether designer or client, those that embrace the power of original design to create entertaining, unique branding ideas will see their businesses and careers soar.
The next time you see “Keep your clients happy with these top design trends” in your inbox, hit delete.