2022 is upon us. With it, a slew of crudely packaged blog posts outline all the design trends you can expect to see.
I'll be honest, early in my career, I incorporated trends into designs, thinking it made me a better designer. Naivety and a lack of confidence in my creative abilities pushed me down pathways that negatively affected outcomes.
This article is divisive. Most design trends are total rubbish! Being pushed by mass-market design outlets who need to sell subscriptions to their services or hyped-up by gurus who lack insight into a designer's role.
If you're a small business owner looking the appropriate advice for design trends this is going to help.
A designer's role is to communicate effectively with your audience, based on classic design theories. Their goal is to convince someone to take action, inform the audience or introduce them to a whole new idea.
I cherry picked some design trends found online this year and coupled it with my thoughts.
There's nothing wrong with the list if you're a designer searching for inspiration for a self-initiated project. But if you're a small business owner looking for trendy brand tactics, this list is misleading.
You might wonder why Canva got on my list. Here's the divisive part. Canva made everyone a designer. It did away with expensive design tools and the steep learning curve. But it also did away with all the training.
In the hands of the right people, Canva can be a fantastic design tool. With the Pro account in particular, you can add your brands colour palette, fonts and logos, and store assets like photos and graphics.
I use Canva to design bespoke branded templates for clients, using past work or newly generated brand identity. But, if you're familiar with Canva, you will see many Instagram accounts are influenced by their templates.
My friend John from the Creator Club summed it up nicely - "if you build your brand with a Canva mindset, you're building it with the same DNA as 100,000 other people in your niche".
Design is subjective. Designers bring personal opinions into a design, including trends they'd like to see/use (for portfolio purposes). But this is wrong and is not an effective way to problem-solve. You're not designing for yourself. That's what self-initiated projects are for.
A friend in marketing revealed a fascinating insight to me. In their last role, the company they worked for rebranded. In strategy workshops, the agency gently guided the client towards characteristics they liked, rather than listening to customers, reflecting, and implementing a strategic visual design.
They had a beautiful facelift. But behind it remained the same problems.
Designing with trends sits your brand precisely where everyone else is – at the same level.
Let's clear this up with a fishing analogy – your customer is a fish, you've baited your $50 rod and cast it out to sea. You hope to catch a big snapper (see what I did). You wait. Nothing bites.
A switched-on competitor sees you struggling, repositions, dips the bait into their secret recipe gel that attracts all the big fish, and casts out behind those rocks over there. The end of the story writes itself.
If you're not elevating your brand, you're waiting for those customers to take the ordinary bait.
So, position yourself well and understand what the customer wants. They want to be lured in with the extra smelly bait.
Most professional designers work for clients and businesses – who generally have brand guidelines. Guidelines are not set to tie designers hands behind their back and limit creativity. They help keep things consistent.
Sometimes trends do break the guidelines set up. But, a trend should never overrule a companies foundations or marketing efforts. A HUGE amount of research goes into a brands visual identity, colours and images. So randomly applying trendy colours, graphic styles, and fonts go against all the previous work. You risk confusing customers.
Guidelines are to be gently twisted but not chopped into a million pieces.
Trends can hang around for 5-10 years, like the extravagant, super detailed logos and webpages we called Skeuomorphism. Then we moved on to simplified flat designs.
Trends pass and return with a twist. But alongside that, classic design principles still apply.
Think about brands like Apple, Coca Cola, McDonald's, Mastercard and Target. You can already see the logos and their colours. They have brand guidelines that feature timeless design elements, but that doesn't stop them from being fun and innovative when they need to.
Designers should explore their creativity. But carefully consider which (if any) trends can be incorporated. Do they align with your strategy? Do they break brand guidelines? Is it a benefit to your audience or confusing them? Will it be outdated quickly?
In summary, it's best to avoid trends and concentrate efforts on creating timeless basics that give you a platform for creativity. Working with a graphic designer/agency who understands your business and customers' needs/wants can help future proof your brand.