9 Steps in the Lifecycle of a Design Trend

Trends are important for designers because they help keep us from doing too much work. We love to act the part of creative savants, but deep down, we’re all just lazy artists who chose design because it promised to pay better.


Someone’s probably written more scientific analyses of trends, but who needs science? Let’s take a humorous look at how design trends rise, peak, and fall in today’s design community.

Illustration by Nash N.

The Rise

The birth of a trend starts with someone bold enough to try it. In all seriousness, these designers are extremely valuable to the community because as I mentioned above, most of us designers are lazy and need creative people to push us forward.

1. An obscure agency showcases a new site utilizing a technique you’ve never seen before

This is how trends start. An upstart designer or agency does something kooky and you have no idea how to take it. It’s not as kooky as a Sagmeister and Walsh posting nude photos of themselves (google that one yourself), but its something that upon first glance looks ugly, weird, distasteful or bad.

Website by Cory Andres

2. It gets mocked on DesignerNews or Brand New.

This is where a good trend starts. If it lights a fire under other designers then you can be sure you’re witnessing the beginning of the trend. 2017’s Dropbox is a great example. It got some support from the craziest of the crazy designers but mostly, it received negative feedback. Fast forward to a year later and every company seems to have some version of a grotesk font and bizarre color palette.

Illustration by Justin Tran

3. It shows up in a UX Power Tools trend article

I think we’re somewhere right ahead of mass adoption. Luckily we are not a major record label, so nobody is really listening to us. Even worse, some of the trends we cover aren’t in fact trends but just the convergence of a few sites we might have noticed during a mood-boarding bender. Using trends we call out is a risk; you won’t lose your edgy design card, but you also could be totally wrong. We’re here to help!

Design by Dennis Kats

The Peak

The trend is now starting to creep into the “acceptable” zone. These are the stages where the trend will become more acceptable to use but you will also start to feel your first pangs of self-doubt because it’s getting too popular. It’s like finding out your favorite indie band was on Gray’s Anatomy.

4. It shows up in a UI Kit

And not just any kit. No, this kit has a logo and a name like Väpœr. And whatever the trend is, this kit dials it up by 10x. Was it a drop shadow treatment? Try a 100px spread. Was it using shapes? Now shapes are floating all over the screen like so much confetti. This is the point where a good, decent trend starts to get ruined. And while it’s still ok to use, just know that you run the risk of someone saying, “Hey I saw that in a UI kit the other day. I really like that!”

Design by UX Power Tools

5. Someone on Designer News sarcastically asks, “Is anyone else tired of this trend?”

Now, you are in a safe community of cutting edge designers who will notice this first. But what this person has just done is created animosity for this trend. Whether the trend was barely give a chance to fly, or whether it was just a downright good trend, a line in the sand is drawn. And the ensuing internet battle that will get waged in the comments section cannot win the war. Everyone walks away from that battle a loser; with the trend forever sullied in their minds.

Illustration by Gal Shir

6. It gets a 40,000 word criticism by Eli Schiff

This is when the trend has reached a fever pitch. If you were frustrated by that rando on DesignerNews, you’re about to have an aneurism when you see how much detail and research Eli will put into tearing down the trend you’re dying to use. As you read every piercing word, remember that it’s also validation that the trend is worthy. We love you, Eli.

Twitter on a Grid by Eli Schiff

And when you thought it couldn’t get worse…

7. It gets recommended by product manager

This is the first sign the trend is “jumping the shark.” When an outsider is recommending it to a savvy, in-the-know designer like yourself, then you must proceed using this trend with caution. Even if you still like the trend, just beware of the social ramifications. Like when you still blasted Coldplay well after X&Y came out.

Illustration by Hurca™

The fall

This is where you need to jump off. In fact, if the trend starts to make it to this point, you might start considering going back through your old designs and removing any evidence that you ever used it. Kidding not kidding.

8. It shows up in a “Trends for Next Year” article

Honestly if you’re using this trend at this point, then you might want to have a seriously long look in the mirror. I mean, really long. Like long enough to start wondering if you are having an out-of-body experience and the degree you thought you got in design was actually a long con and you never really got a degree in design to begin with. The people who write these articles are usually 3–5 years behind and list the same trends every year. Now, to be fair, the trends are usually so vague that they’re not necessarily trends: “Big hero images!” or “Bold type!” But still, not ok.

Design by Stian Sandsgaard for Unfold

9. It shows up in a political campaign

If it shows up in a political campaign while you’re using it in a design, then you need to redo everything immediately. If you’re close to launching, then sabotage your teams’s source code.

Literally do whatever it takes to change your design.

If all else fails, fake your death and come back with a different Dribbble username.

Be Best.

Design by Melania Trump