Why you shouldn’t follow design trends

Trends vs appropriate design

Design Trends

Think about all of the things you look at everyday: websites, movies, billboards, menus, youtube videos… Your eyes and brain are constantly absorbing information. All of this visual content is influencing your frame of reference. Some streams of images are more powerful and persistent than others. Take for example your computer, you could easily have looked at the same UI for the past 5 years.

This constant exposure has an impact in your familiarity with design patterns like modals, scrolling, shadows, and tabs. This full immersion could help to explain why Mac and PC users don’t mix. They have totally different visual frames of reference. Ok I know what you’re thinking… What does this have to do with responsive web design? Well, I think it is important for every designer to know and understand design trends and how they can shift over night.

The most recent example of this is the release of ios7. Instantly shifting from skeuomorphism to flat design and bright gradients.

Influence

But why was the shift so drastic and widespread? Because Apple had the ability to send a push notification to millions of people to update their phone. Within days people’s visual frame of reference changed. At first some resisted the change but overtime it became familiar and appealing. Visuals are now judged through a whole new frame of reference. Apple is just one source of influence. The internet hands the keys of influence to those with the largest following or user base. Instantly code updates can change your Facebook wall. Or if a new music album comes out the artwork is pushed to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube influencing your frame of reference because it is everywhere you look.

Below are some major influencers

  • Websites (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.)
  • Media (music artwork, books, movies, magazines, etc.)
  • Operating systems (iOs, Android, Windows, etc.)
  • Web platforms and frameworks (WordPress, Bootstrap CSS, Foundation)
“ The themes in WordPress drive a lot of design trends. You make a theme, and suddenly it’s on hundreds and thousands of sites.”
-
Matt Mullenweg

The reason I tell you this is because you could spend a ton of time to complete a website that your client or boss loves. Then 3 months down the road they ask for a re-design because they want something “fresh”. This is the danger of trends. They can come and go so fast. For some, this is ok because the redesign is more work and more revenue. But I believe it dilutes your expertise as a designer to know what is appropriate for your client’s business. The last thing you want is the decision maker to drive your design. You want them to trust your eye because you understand the important role visuals play… in telling a story.

I believe it is good to be aware of trends but use them when appropriate. The last thing you want to do is use a trend just because it looks good. Every design element should have some rationale for using it. If someone asks you, “Why did you use X?” You should have a strong reason to back it up. This demonstrates your thinking and deep concern for their business.

Appropriate Design

The best way to reach an appropriate design is to ask a lot of questions. Each question you ask yourself will push you to dig deeper and consider all options. Before I present any wireframes or designs to a client I always have them review and sign off on a design strategy. The strategy brief is a few short paragraphs outlining the best approach to achieve the business goals and effectively serve the site visitors. You first outline the criteria or things you will consider when coming up with your solution. Then after you think through your research you write a short paragraph outlining your design solution. The things you considered when coming up with your design strategy.

Below are some questions you could ask in your research.

  • What are my site visitors current visual frame of reference?
  • What can influence them the most?
  • What websites and operating systems do they use?
  • What do my competitor sites look like?
  • Any patterns?
  • What do my site visitors expect to see?
  • What will throw them off?
  • How do I want them to feel when they use the site or app?
  • What is their primary goal visiting the site? What do they want to know or do?

A design strategy is nothing more than a summary of what you plan to do. Taking in all of your research and what you know about the business, design constraints, user goals, etc. If something in your design is ornament for ornament sake… ask yourself is it really necessary? Is it appropriate for my client and customer? Will they miss it if it’s gone?

Conclusion

As you can see the internet has changed design trends forever. With a push a button a brand or application can force people to relearn what is cool and considered good design. It all comes from trust. We trust brands to show us what should be followed. Awareness of this influence will force designers to provide strong reasons why a design element is used. Otherwise their trendy design could become the next re-design.

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Originally posted on BootstrapCreative