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In a Praise of Trends

In Praise of Trends

Why do design trends happen in the first place? Armin Vit wrote in (the now defunct) Speak Up:

Where does it come from? Are designers in the various fields just tuned into the same wavelength? Is there data to be looked up that steers designers in the same direction? Do creatives look over each others shoulders in bars to see what’s developing on cocktail napkins? Or is there a “stand-out, new direction” one year that is being implemented by everyone else a year behind? Which of course could mean that the “creative” or “innovative” element in our respective fields is not that big after all.

Armin Vit is on to something here in that last sentence. The design world is so small. And the front-end world is even smaller. Between Dribbble and Twitter alone, the transmission of ideas between creatives never stops. It’s no wonder that when a web design trend starts, it spreads like a conflagration.

I would argue that getting caught up in trends can be a nasty habit to get rid of later. However, I also believe trends are great for junior designers. Juniors can get their feet wet on something “new” and can help a portfolio feel fresh and modern. It comes at a cost though, as the trend waxes and wanes away it can leave your portfolio feeling out of date. But I think the long-term advantages of selectively “breeding” trends into your portfolio is overall, a net-positive.

I don’t think all trends are bad either. Most trends in web design crop up as a response to a design problem.

Gradients for example, became a huge hit when Webkit added linear-gradients in 2008. First arriving on background‘s and then later in typography. Previously if you wanted gradients, you had to use a background-image. Eww.

An interesting emerging trend nowadays is softness and harmony in compositions. Which I have to say are not terrible things to come across on the web. Easy to come by with a triad color palette, some box-shadows and background gradients and presto!



All joking aside, trends can guide your path forward (in any line of work for that matter). While I was attending university, trends in design anchored me. I was flying blind without them. And furthermore, reading about what came before me, was even more important. It was all boring stuff — sure. Inspiring? Meh. Trends may be boring, but mastering them will keep you  employed. There’s no denying that.

I’d argue that mastering trends can lead to greater, more important self-discoveries in future work. Trends get a bad rep, but they’re pretty important to foundational skill-building.