There is a certain responsibility that comes with being a designer. We want to create things that people love. We do this by making sure that our designs are both functional and beautiful. In the context of digital design, this loosely translates as to user interface and user experience, two separate disciplines that play off each other.
Trends occur in each, and I've found that the cycle of a trend on the web tends to be shorter than the trends in the worlds of art or music. Perhaps this is due to the “instant” nature of the web. It’s also probably due to the fact that we consume digital design in the same environment we create it in.
Because of our exposure to the work of others, the cycle of influence flows a lot faster than “physical” products such as a fashion collection, art show or song on the radio. However, I wouldn't say each cycle is unrelated. You can often see where a trend is “going” based on where it has been. This allows us to “skate to where the puck is going”.
I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. — Wayne Gretzky
In the sociological model known as the technology adoption lifecycle these categories are split into innovators, early-adopters, early-majority, late-majority and laggards. The innovators drive the early adopters, the early-adopters drive the early-majority and so on.
It is well known that this model also applies to ideas. In the design community, these ideas are present in our minds and in our work. We use them and recycle them where appropriate. There are often trends in the adoption of these ideas. In our case, what I'm referring to is design trends.
The Two Kinds of Trends in Design
Trends around changes in technology and new experiences
We study common patterns and abide by them and build upon them. We learn from how people are using our products in the real world.
I think the great thing about being able to measure something is that it makes it much easier to improve upon it. We can objectively say what does or does not work. Some examples could be responsive design, pixel agnostic design (Retina displays) or accessibility. We know that in some cases these can all be great things.
Trends around retaliations to aesthetics of the past
The influence of aesthetic design escapes the scope of digital design, and is largely dictated by the taste of the design community, our colleagues and our users.
If designers see other designers delighting their users, they might assume that the aesthetic they present is a big part of it. Taste never seems to change too quickly. In fact it’s only when you glance back 4-5 years that you really start to see a massive difference.
It seems to me like aesthetic trends come to life much more sporadically than measured trends. This may be because it’s easy for us to get bored of the way things look but we don't always notice how things feel.
Usability is a part of design, and should always be well considered, but it is in the colours, shapes and words that the magic happens.
Follow me on Twitter if you like, I post stuff like this all the time.