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Where do Trends Begin?

I spent last week in Milan, Italy to visit the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, which as far as i know is the most important — if not the largest — furniture fair in the world. I have a few clients in the modern furniture/architecture field. For some of them, visiting the fair is a must and I figured what a great excuse to visit Milan for a while, during a time in which the city becomes alive and is filled with parties, receptions, showroom openings, etc. Of course, all this in the name of business…

There would be a million things to comment on, but I figured I’d throw out there the one that stood out when visiting the actual fair where thousands of vendors showcased their latest furniture.

Going from booth to booth, I realized that there was a fresh topic for Speak Up developing… I couldn’t help noticing that there were a lot of similarities between companies’ new offerings — kind of like in fashion and, to some extent, in graphic design as well. 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.

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PUBLISHED ON Apr.22.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
Paul’s comment is:

To me, field-wide trends don't say that the creative element is lacking, just that some one or some group of people have asked an aesthetic question that strikes such a chord that other people feel compelled to try answering it as well.

Very often when i see something that strikes me as radical or really interesting I will try to do a little of it to see how it feels. Observation alone won't answer the qustion, sometimes you just have to do it. Usually these kinds of things are just one-off experiments for me , but sometimes I learn something that clicks with me personally and it finds its way into my vocabulary. It may be the use of a typeface, or a kind of decorative image treatment, whatever.

If I'm one monkey out of a hundred, at least one of us is likely to do something else that's as meaningful as the thing that inspired the experimentation in the first place. I think trends are likely the extrapolation of this principle.

On Apr.23.2004 at 12:45 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

Interesting topic; I have had a recent experience with how inspiration is garnered in different ways. While filling in for a week at a design firm, I noticed that a lot of the inspiration was found in design itself; industry publications, online design websites etc. While working on a project, the team took notice of a technique used in a CD package. They reproduced this technique in a mock-up to show the client.

During some routine cutting and mounting I noticed the project and recognized the technique. Ages ago, Sagmeister was looking over the shoulder of a young student and noticed the system that was used to let the kid check math work for the correct answers. Soon enough he used that same technique to produce a couple of CD covers and later a slip cover for his book “Made You Look”. It was interesting to find the team wasn’t to familiar with Stefan’s work and only looked to that project as a new technique.

I argued the teams approach in my head for a few days and came to the conclusion that they are not stealing ideas or just copying work. Sagmeister didn’t develop that technique; he only found the inspiration in a different context.

I myself have been conditioned to look for inspiration inside our industry. I have only recently been practicing the search for inspiration outside the realm of already published graphic design. The benefit of being able to successfully translate everyday experiences into our work is that the origin is often less charted which helps to introduce innovative results.

On Apr.23.2004 at 01:50 PM
David Bean’s comment is:

I've always observed that a lot of trends start in the street with real people just doing their thing. Then the paid company watchdogs and research groups pick up on it and market it to the rest of the population.

It's a shame becuase whole underground movements are dying before they even get started now. Electroclash is one example. It was a cool underground thing, then a month later it's on runways in LA.

If punk had started now, it would never have lived more than a month before it was killed by corporate America. With TV, the internet, etc it's so hard to keep any good thing secret now.

On Apr.23.2004 at 01:58 PM
Jerry Reyes’s comment is:

I think trends in design begin with very few discovering, trying something different. If other people see and adopt it, it's usually because it's a countermovement to what is current and safe right now. At first, it is its newness that makes people execute it. After the newness wears off we just compare our individual design against an accepted, familar vocabulary (pieces similar to ours) and will readily embrace the next thing that comes along.

Yeah, we try to do something that's never been done before, but chances are that you have a deadline and life outside of work. So, being the dependable and efficient designer you are you just pull your library of skills and knowledge together to come up with your next solution. Maybe most people are just too busy to be inventors. I guess that's where design schools come in (?).

On Apr.23.2004 at 02:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

The effed up thing with trends is that sometimes you don't even notice you are following them. Since our work is a reaction of everything visual that surrounds us it is unrealistic to not let it sip through what we do. And being that trends are born from cars, fashion, street art and art in general by the time we get to it it tends to be passé. I wonder how many times graphic design has been the fire-starter of a trend that spilled unto other design disciplines? Not many, I think.

And for all the designers who abide by Academia as being a trend-starter I'm still waiting for anything close resembling the postmodernism golden years. It's been almost twenty years since that… so c'mon academics.

On Apr.23.2004 at 03:27 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Paul, I empathise completely with your experimentation approach. Just looking at a picture doesn't do the trick. Grappling with the aesthetic process allows me to understand its relevance and utility to my personal vision and thinking. Also, I try not to have specific signature style, and experimentation allows me to have a broader means of expression.

Having said this, I also really try to find inspiration in life outside of design books and magazines. Venacular or random elements within the urban or rural landscape, paintings, movies, etc. are very useful. For instance, I remember years ago being inspired visually in a dance club by the effects lighting that was swirling around the dance floor. This was incorporated into something I designed a few months later.

On the practical side, is it more important to be aesthetically innovative or conceptually germane? Ideally both would be great, and certainly this is what I frequently strive for. But I would tend to err on the side of predictabilty, if it suited the clients needs more appropriately. I think it's self-serving to be "cutting-edge" simply for its own sake. I also think it takes a special kind of trustful relationship with a client to do innovative work. But if the trust is given, go for it with gusto.

Finally, I think sometimes one has to follow the lead of others simply not to be "dated," as disfunctional as that may be. For instance, I'm redesigning my current site right now because it has a lot of funky fonts and may be perceived as being out of date. Since I'm marketing my freelance skills to other designers, I feel compelled to capitulte to the dominant visual paradigm, even though I don't whole-heartedly really believe in it.

As I think I've stated in this forum before, fads are things to indulge in, but not take too seriously because it'll be changing soon enough.

On Apr.23.2004 at 05:51 PM
Viviane ’s comment is:

I used to do a lot of trend related work, creating color and trend boards for the fashion/textile industry. Every year, we would identify the new currents and then group them in marketable ways.

Out of this experience a few conclusions presented themselves annually: if you think it's a trend and you can't find artifacts to substantiate it, it's just around the corner and you are a bit early. If you see it everywhere, it has already peaked.

Trends tend to very much cross-pollinate and are more circular than linear. In other words, while a small designer make take cues from couture, the couturier may be inspired by the street, all in the same season. Americans, Europeans and Japanese have all mused on how to reinterpret sportswear and the results are of multiple parentage.

Bringing the trend thing toward graphic design, I always think of typefaces and how they are applied as the carriers of trends, as they express the same zeitgeist as other artifacts do. In other words when we look back, we can easily identify the font that goes with the car, the furniture, the materials etc.

I also think that like air, the elements of trends are always present, it's just that the spotlight moves to different ones at a time.

Ironically, when I was working on those trend boards, furniture and car companies would send their designers over to see what was going on in textiles. It's one big carousel.

On Apr.23.2004 at 05:54 PM
MRKinLA’s comment is:

A very good book on the subject of trends and how they start (and play out) is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I'm surprised no one's mentioned it, although it's more of a marketing text than a design text. Many of its insights still apply, though, and it's an excellent read.

Increasingly, we live in a homogenized culture, with exposure to the same magazines, books, films, tv shows, news events (and how they are reported), fashions, etc. Although not a designer myself, I think it's safe to say we all have the opportunity to embrace -- or react against -- many of the same things. Working in marketing for a very well-known brand, it's interesting to me that many creatives, when presented with the opportunity to work with this brand, will execute striking similar creative to what's already been done, without ever knowing it. For example, we may continually reject an approach to advertising -- so, although it never sees the marketplace, it's pitched again and again by vastly different shops (Does this make it a natural or overly obvious approach, I wonder). This is not to suggest these designers aren't good creatives; more than that, I think it suggests that when provided the same creative stimulus -- this brand -- many designers are inspired to take similar approaches. Or, more likely, they may be attempting to appeal to a certain safety zone.

Whatever the cause, I think it suggests the present moment, with so many factors being shared, will invoke in those producing its creative products some of the same responses. This affects everyone from the hack who trips over himself to employ what he loves about the latest sci-fi blockbuster to brilliant creatives inspired by the work of others, whether in their field or completely outside of it. A good example: in attending a recent Diane Arbus retrospective, I was struck by how much of her technique Richard Avedon seemed to adopt later -- and, of course, how much inspiration Arbus took from the work of August Sander and her teacher, Lisette Model. This doesn't diminish the work of Arbus or Avedon. Seizing about what's out there -- and doing it yourself, as Paul comments -- is all part of creative evolution.

On Apr.24.2004 at 05:19 PM
graham’s comment is:

'trends' happen when a set of people either copy, attempt to 're-imagine', or rip off blind work that is both singular (doesn't have to be original or unusual-but it does need life and heart) and that is perceived to be 'successful' (in any number of ways, from the trite to the worthy). by the time the initial, singular work is recognised by the trend-pigs (after they've been told about it, never when they've found it themselves and fallen in love-they wouldn't know how), 'mood'-boarded and 'power'-pointed, it has grey dust for blood.

On Apr.25.2004 at 02:14 AM
graham’s comment is:

oh yeah . . . sorry . . . forgot one thing; trends BEGIN WITH US. we're designers, makers-we decide, what we do makes things, makes things alive, rich, present-what we see and hear, think about, believe, hate, all these things contribute not to mere experiement but to living work that goes into the world and is of the world with a life of it's own. this is the job requirements. who gives even one single fucking shit about waiting in line, following, tipping points, being dated, more circular than linear-what do you do? what do you do? wait to be told it's all o.k. then tremulously peer above the parapet in the meagre hope that the coast is clear?

again-one answer-where do trends begin? with us. or did you all forget?

On Apr.25.2004 at 02:26 AM
mellowyellow’s comment is:

Designers are influenced by their environment. The environment includes advances in technology, economic trends, sociopolitical trends, the natural world, etc. and visual paradigms we have created. All these components of the environment (among others) contribute to current design culture. Designers digest current environmental trends and the result is VOILA! design trends. Which then influence the current environment.

Changes in technology converging with changes in the economy have influenced what we design and how we design by changing what we see daily. In the 80’s, a big thing to do was to attend the Aspen Conference where the bigwigs showed up and others tried to rub elbows — and in its heyday, that conference was educational and inspiring in its variety. Now, the design community seems more evident online, like this wonderful forum, where participation is more democratic, cheaper and just as inspiring and just as educational. I didn’t have this back in 1985. ....yikes — I date myself - :o/

Who hasn’t experienced a certain synchronicity when opening an annual and seeing a very similar solution to one of ours staring back at us on the page? I flatter myself to think maybe one of my pieces did the same thing to someone else. But I think it’s by sharing the same culture, we tap into the same roots of the time, as has been mentioned elsewhere.

But I also agree that whether a designer chooses to err on the side of safety (follow a trend) or not depends on one’s own stomach, whether one has a great

idea that doesn’t seem to follow a trend, and on the nature and trust of the client. Exercising an unusual solution can be risky, and the risk probably needs to be calculated unless you are willing to lose the client and/or the money, in which case, go to it! Or if your gut tells you, the solution somehow feels right, and that it will succeed.

We can be loners but we still are social beings. The communicative strength of our work depends on our ability to sense current cultural shifts. Anticipating a trend successfully is viewed as "creating a new trend", when I think what happens is that the designer saw the next wave before others, and got on it at the right time, and had the talent to use the wave to "surf it", i.e. bring our individuality to bear on that wave to create a visual solution as a result.

(hope I haven't overdone the metaphors here)

On Apr.25.2004 at 09:43 AM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

Graham, is your definition of 'trend' different in each post above? Did you mean "blindly rip off work" or "rip off blind work"? Your first post seems to have a lot to do with recent discussions (around my blog) of co-option, the emptying of styles, and the possibility or impossibility of a visual language that can retain its original power instead of being re-invested with alien powers. Why would we want to start trends (as you seem to be saying in your second post) in the negative light of what you said in your first?

On Apr.25.2004 at 09:49 AM
graham’s comment is:

tom-both, and . . .

the second post is more against a certain sense of willing ignorance that i read here (and that seems . . . cuturally pervasive), both in terms of people observing all of these things as if they were the tide, coming in and going out inexorably, as if we're powerless in the face of it.

the things we make can become, can initiate trends. then, it's a question of the nature of the trend-a scientific trend, for example, could mean a general leaning in research towards agreement on a certain hypothesis: a design equivalent may be, for example, the trend towards being more aware of the use of materials and their affect on the environment.

there is a contradiction-absolutely. there is also the sense of 'trend' in which the co-option of singular pieces of work by the design and advertising industries is a history of theft. the visibility and relative successes of these stolen things are also labeled trends and so the circle turns . . .

i don't think it's a question of necessarily wanting to start trends (that would be oxymoronic almost), but it's more to do with the lack of recognition here that what we work at/as is responsible for it's fair share of them: and, again, the impression that a lot of designers are waiting for the next trend to rear up and slap them in the face so they can actually feel a little bit less scared to make something. the initiating and sustaining of trends (especially the second part) can be our fault, but we can get on and make work we're committed to without following-it's actually far easier and usually far more fulfilling not to follow. to make anything with the desire to initiate or become part of a 'trend' in the blind sense is in the first place near impossible and in the second place pathetic.

i don't know if this is any clearer. my writing gets worse.

On Apr.25.2004 at 11:27 AM
Jerry Reyes’s comment is:

Trends in graphic design exist; they may start with us and end with us. They may also be elements that we appropriate from outside of design, and apply it in some way to our work.

Trends seem to seep over from non-design culture, not the other way around. How many times do you hear of non-designers such as high-school students talk about (much less produce anything in reaction to) things that they've seen graphic designers produce? Chances are slim. (I chose HS students because they, if anyone would be the group that has the highest sensitivity to our work — the group most likely to be trendy.) They may wear and absorb our work, but chances are that the trend isn't because of the inherent quality, or even content of our work, but loyalty to a certain product or movement. For example, Ecko Clothing could have had a totally different logo, and still been as successful. Look at the Von Dutch craze: a rather typographically imperfect logo, yet young people gladly dish out a premium for nothing but clothing that all bear the same, unaltered line-art logotype. Again, could've been another form and still been worn by many.

You do however; have many articles and dialogue in our circles about subjects like the vernacular (is that term pedantic?): street graphics, the punk look, or even the recent articles on faux �science’, etc. (all appropriated from the outside). It is the design world's collective eye taking stock of the world around us, observing, critiquing, and borrowing. The rest of the world however, is not equipped to analyze the how and why of certain phenomena such as trends, graphic design and the interaction of both.

On Apr.25.2004 at 03:32 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

And for all the designers who abide by Academia as being a trend-starter I'm still waiting for anything close resembling the postmodernism golden years. It's been almost twenty years since that… so c'mon academics.

Armin, I think the most important trend in academia lately has been a more non-visual approach to graphic design, stressing the thought behind the work and its context. Postmodernism by many accounts was a horribly applied theory, and it's kind of sad to me that the "postmodern" style is seen as academia's greatest work. Not because I don't sometimes like it, but because academia doesn't exist to pump out new styles for non-academics to use. That is (hopefully) not the intention. A quick visual trend came from the postmodern turn, but more importantly it is turning academia, in the long run, toward a reconsideration of design thinking, and that's the current trend, I think, if I'm not actually in my own little world.

It's sad to me that design "trends" are assumed to be about the visually recognizeable. I personally would like to see a trend that isn't superficial.

On Apr.25.2004 at 06:22 PM
Ryan Pescatore Frisk’s comment is:

Sometimes, your words (concepts) become so bloated that they seem to affect your vision.

NOT the other way around.

If so, in the morning give your head a good SLap, then open your eyes.

NOT the other way around.

On Apr.25.2004 at 07:00 PM
justin powell’s comment is:

its crazy how fast trends/design elements spread across channels these days. take for instance the famous paint drip;

it moved from graph to web to broadcast in an instant. its all over the place;comedy central, mtv, vh1, etc. just the other day i was looking over the new shrek 2 style guide. it has great textures and is well put together... but, it has every street cliche/paint drip effect out there. its nuts.

i understand following trends/style in advertising in marketing to boost sales. but, seriously where do we draw the line? shouldn't design communicate the material not the trend?

i really don't know where trends start exactly. lately it seems what was once labeled art is becoming more design.

On Apr.25.2004 at 11:23 PM
Stephanie’s comment is:

i think music greatly affects the trends. especially through fashion and slang.

On Nov.01.2005 at 11:15 AM
NO!!?? trends are bad?’s comment is:

Exactly.. Graham it's funny how we instantly distance ourselves from the very thing we feed into and i say that with pleasure not disdain you can be a leader in the game not take the follower route which seems to be the one everyone is leaning to..sad!. if anyone here started a "trend" I'm sure there would be alot of backslapping and high fiving I doubt people would be so "down" on it (i dread the “who came up with it first” blog). as a matter of fact this very act of "blogging" is a trend and it wasn't "invented" by anyone here. the idea that we (or at least most people here) view trends as “less” of and idea or “concept” is pretty sad. you guys need to get out more. by dismissing what you think are trends your literally closing yourself off to..pop culture how can anyone do that? put this in the binder under: stop being sheep.

On Nov.02.2005 at 11:04 AM
trendoffice’s comment is:

It is true that trends are something that 'floats' in the air and we - the people passionate in design feel it, but it is also true that there is also a purposeful decision by some influential figure to impose a certain trend. A recent example is the revitalisation of the chandeliers fashion in interiors - Swarowski has a lot to do with this one.

On Jan.05.2006 at 02:43 PM