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Truth Before Trend
Designers loyal to ideals believe in truth before trend. Content and concept drive their creative direction. Style and surface come second. Each of us defines our truths based on a moral barometer, and we’re pushed one direction or another based on experience, education, professional loyalties, bias, or even culture.

Call it subjective. Label it personal. Designers will stand up for those truths and argue from an objective point of view. Already, we’ve discussed these belief systems to an almost exhausted level.

In that belief system, defining oneself through negation demonstrates your limitations and exclusions. I’m not this. I don’t do that. I refuse to believe this. I hate it. Visual trends are one thing that come up a lot during this negation. The word trend leaves a yucky taste on most designers’ tongues. Our distaste for a trend can help define who we are by stating what we won’t do or don’t believe. Through negation, we’re telling others that we have limitations and they’re worthy of categorizing. Telling designers that, “I absolutely will not put type on a curve. It’s so Cranbrook. All gimmick,” could label you a Swiss Modernist or East Coast Modernist who’s loyalty lies in the grid with its x y coordinates never compromised.

But why despise trends? Why limit oneself? Trends become popular. Trends gain you attention. Trends make you money. Trends appeal to wide audiences. Trends are temporary. They die out, and become memories that we long for through nostalgia. Trends do have a purpose, but how can we spot design trends before they die a horrible death?

While one could argue that a trend only becomes so after its death, we can spot trends while they’re created. As graham commented in a past post (Where Do Trends Begin?),
“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.”
When we see work out there designed by others with a life of its own, how do you tell if it’s a trend? Why choose to hate it and what does it say about you?
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PUBLISHED ON Jun.07.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Frank Lin’s comment is:

To me, a trend is a new typeface everybody is using or a new photoshop technique or a new application of technique (ex. realistic illustrations done in flat vector shapes) or people who design in the "techno/futuristic" style...

My design professor told me once:

She said, one designer did something and it looked really fresh, so people started copying the technique/style without the original intentions or motivations.

I think when people start doing something because it looks "fresh" or "cool" without the design concept in mind, it becomes eye candy--it becomes a piece of shit that will eventually drive people away because of its smell.

I definately think one can spot a trend as its becoming popular but I also think one has the responsibility of being cautious of it and critical of it; the instances in which that particular trend/style/technique is truly appropriate for your design is rare and even when it is, wouldn't you want to deviate from it and start your own trend?

On Jun.07.2004 at 12:16 PM
BA’s comment is:

I find that there are trends in concepts and approaches to various design problems... not just trends in aesthetics.

Also that 'Style and surface' are not always just second step add-ons, but often have their own conceptual meaning. So while one may say that the visual trend is morally inferior to strong concept, I think often what is really in question is the concept of what is being seen and how it applies to that particular situation, not how it looks or how we associate it with other designs and then group it as a trend.

On Jun.07.2004 at 01:04 PM
Frank Lin’s comment is:

good points BA! I had overlooked the conceptual side in my previous post..with that said, would it be accurate for me to say that alot of young designers are guilty of "surface" trends while veteran designers can be guilty at times of "conceptual trends"?

On Jun.07.2004 at 01:12 PM
BA’s comment is:

Without getting into a youth vs experience discussion, I wouldn't agree that one could generalize either as being more susceptible to one of those types of trends... mostly because I don't think 'surface trends' can be separated from 'conceptual trends' since once something becomes a trend it is being repeated for a reason - whether fickle or appropriate. Reason/Concept.

I also think of the way that student work tends to represent how their school approaches the design/concept process when you see the similarities of various works at a given school. Often these are similarities in how they conceptually solve a problem, say for advertising or identity or whatever. And then there may be elements of youth culture that are misinterpreted by older designers. These just as examples of a scenario opposite of what Frank proposed: not uncommon.

But, going backwards, I do see that trends travel so far from their original purpose that they seem out of place - or what we could call inappropriately 'applied'

On Jun.07.2004 at 02:00 PM
BA’s comment is:

What I meant to say was:

...'I do see that trends _can_ travel so far'...

which is the point at which I start to dislike trends. I also think that once this point is reached/breached the more original/appropriate use becomes weakened/oversaturated. A shame, but I think that is how trends 'die' and we then look back upon them negatively.

On Jun.07.2004 at 02:17 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

In my opinion:

Trends are a result of a well-defined solution to a well-researched problem i.e. camouflage patterned combat trousers. I would say it’s partially correct to point out that trends begin with us. The initial creation or manifestation of an idea that becomes a trend starts with research and ends with a solution, however, the term trend, can’t be tagged onto that idea/creation until it has been used several times outside of its original context. Disliking a trend is not about hating something that’s played out. It’s about understanding the context from which it came and admiring it for the solution it provides. What becomes a trend was once the absolute solution to a problem.

On Jun.07.2004 at 03:43 PM
billy baumann’s comment is:

I think it's nice and easy to talk about "trend" as some sort of general defenition that can be applied to every part of the creative process from concept to execution but we shouldn't confuse trend with MO or thought process. I think trend should be looked at merely from the standpoint of the finished product not creative process. So if we could pinpoint and examine specific trends, such as, hand-drawn "string" type, ala http://www.gigposters.com/posters.php?poster=25764 , and how they are being incorporated into the designer lexicon then we might actually get somewhere with this conversation.

And also, at what point does a specific trend become simply a part of the general conscienceness. For example, using fucked up and photocopied type and photos for a punk rock "look". That trend has obviously moved from trend to defining asthtetic - it means something. So when do trends mean something and which trends do you see becoming a part of culture - no longer trend.

On Jun.07.2004 at 04:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

It's really becoming a trend to slam trends.

Hey, everything's been done in our business. Nothing is really new. No one does work that's 100% original.

"Culture" is defined as a common set of trait, beliefs, and products that is adopted by a community. "Trend" is defined as a general tendency, action, or style adopted by a community.

So trend is something very closely related to culture — which at the end of the day, is something pivotal to what we do as a profession. Is it not?

So why all this continued trend-hatred? What are you all afraid of — that if you acknowledged that trends are important after all, that you'll lose all ability to be original?

Why does graphic design have to be so polarized? Not all trends are bad.

On Jun.07.2004 at 04:37 PM
billy baumann’s comment is:

I don't think there's any real trend bashing going on. I think the original idea was stating that if trends are followed blindling without concern for the needs of the project then it's not good. So, if everybodys using that new House font with the monkeys and shit and Joe Designer thinks it's really cool and wants to use it too but he ends up using it for a funeral home it might not be appropriate and it's probably not good design not mater how "cool" it looks. That's pretty much the basis of this discussion isn't it?

On Jun.07.2004 at 04:54 PM
John Gordon’s comment is:

Yes, to me that is the basis of the discussion. Did you think while you were designing or did you just put something together because it was easy and you saw it in last months CA.

I would like to pose an continuation to this post though, because in my work I find that design without thinking is just what the client ordered. How does the client fit into the discussion on trend?

I have a couple of thoughts. One, it is clients that are responsible for the proliferation of trend. They ask for it, so we give it to them. I don't think they even know if there is a difference between form that has a purpose in communicating the message and form that communicates someone elses message because it is a trend and therefor carries cultural meaning.

That leads me to my other thought. If the designer is in tune with culture (as I believe he or she should be) he can use trend to communicate meaning without having to start fresh for each communication. In this case trend is not only the friend of the designer, but the friend of the client who gets a more meaningful message because of the designers appropriate use of trend.

The discussion on trend os more of a discussion of the designers cultural education and the ability of the designer to adopt cultural trends to communicate effectively the message the client wants.

Let me just add a little personal bit on to the end here. While I think that trend communicates meaning, the appropriation and modification of trend is what will really transform meaning and make it original. I don't think that all client work deserves this level of communication, but I do believe that it creates the best design, and design that can elevate itself beyond an value add to a commodity, and become a cultural message.

On Jun.07.2004 at 05:22 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

John Said:

The discussion on trend is more of a discussion of the designers cultural education and the ability of the designer to adopt cultural trends to communicate effectively the message the client wants.

Daniel Says:

What a great observation. Well said.

On Jun.07.2004 at 06:45 PM
Jason’s comment is:

While I'm enjoying the direction things have gone, I'd like to redirect the conversation. Tell us what trend(s) you despise and how this negation defines you as a designer.

And to the question of polarity c/o Tan (Why does graphic design have to be so polarized?), for the purpose of creating discussion, setting up opposites allows others to comment on what lies in between the north and south, black and white, good and evil, etc.

On Jun.07.2004 at 08:49 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Tell us what trend(s) you despise and how this negation defines you as a designer.

Oh boy… The first version of Speak Up (I can't believe I'm actually linking this) was pretty much born of my utter hatred for the 3d polygon explosion shit of 1999-2001. I even had an "End of Web" entry that started to detail my anger. I then did a second version of The End of Web which was more comprehensive (it included the propensity to use graphically cool maps to indicate useless hipness or whatever) but I can't seem to find the archive.

Anyway, that is the single trend I most hate. It was when all the "cool" kids like WWFT, Juxt, Jemma Gura, that Brazilian kid… Nando Costa I think . And all the eye-candy-linking-under-the-guise-of-design "design portals" like K10K, Surfstation, DiK, ThreeOh, etc. started sprawning.

Man, I can't believe I still get all riled up with that stuff. And there I thought I had repressed it… Thanks Jason, thank you very much.

On Jun.07.2004 at 09:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Oh, and how does that define me as a designer? Well, it's pretty clear I think. I'm not that.

On Jun.07.2004 at 09:22 PM
Danielle’s comment is:

“I absolutely will not put type on a curve. It’s so Cranbrook. All gimmick,”

I just want to say... I came from Cranbrook and would never be caught dead using type on a curve! That is soooo Eighties!


On Jun.07.2004 at 09:45 PM
Jason’s comment is:

That explains why my older faculty always tried getting us to do that. It's the decade they came from.

On Jun.07.2004 at 10:06 PM
kev’s comment is:

In a certain sense, you can't get away from trends.

If you were the ultimate innovator, you would design a new typeface for every project. As it is, you use helvetica neue or whatever.

Or perhaps you would design new words or images for every project. Build it all from the ground up. Establish new rules for every time you communicate.

But they you couldn't communicate, because no one would know the rules. So there must be some sort of common ground.

Black text on a white background. This is a longstanding trend. Using computers to do layouts. Etc.

But obviously this is not simply a trend. There's a point of utility. Example: using the CMYK system for printing. Does anyone work at creating new printing systems anymore? I'm sure some people do, but, for most of us, we accept it and use it.

Where does utility end and a trend begin?

On Jun.08.2004 at 12:22 AM
Jason’s comment is:

I suppose we use a trend when we have a communication goal in mind. To me, that's known as inherited style or trend. It inherits or uses the content, context, or communication objective to solve a formal problem---in contrast to applied trend. An applied trend is inauthentic chic, applied for the sake of itself and for the sake of trend. More specifically, it's applied for self-serving ends. Sometimes we incorporate a trend in order to be included, "Weingart and Greiman did all that neato pixelated stuff, why don't I give it a try so I can make something like their work because I like it so much." That's an instance of using trend to align oneself with something or somebody, and moreover, it's used by the designer for their own curiosity. But when do we denounce a trend in order to state a position? Or are designers comfortable being all inclusive, weilding styles and trends based on their formal biases or alliances? Ready to take on any problem by pulling any trick from their bag, or somebody else's?

On Jun.08.2004 at 11:26 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> But when do we denounce a trend in order to state a position?

The problem is that denouncing a trend in graphic design doesn't quite state any sort of position, other than denouncing a trend.

Or is it that if I said "I denounce modernsim" that would make a postmodernist? Not really. You can denounce one thing but abide by many others. It's a little like what Tan was trying to say, this is not such a polarized situation, where saying I denounce black would automatically make me white.

On Jun.08.2004 at 12:32 PM
John Gordon’s comment is:

I agree, I doubt the ability to denounce a trend even really exists. Rather I would call it adopting another trend, or founding one if you are very avant guard.

I used to be against modernism in all of its forms, most of that position was based in my ignorance of what modernism was. Since then I have become a strong proponent of it, but remain as opposed as ever to the same things I hated before. How can that be? Is this some kind of circular argument without a center?


It is the adoption of modernist forms without the understanding that I hate. The philosophy of modernism gives life to the forms and without it the design is hollow and soulless. Modernism itself, and the forms it has produced, remain valuable and beautiful as well as current and meaningful. Is it a trend? I suppose so, but the forms arent the trend the philosohy is the trend. Maybe that is what separates the trends that are valuable from the ones that aren't. The trends add something more than a new computer technique.

I'm with Armin on this one, 3d is over the top.

On Jun.08.2004 at 03:36 PM
BA’s comment is:

I'd like to say that I don't think that the reasons designers choose to use / abuse / ignore / hate trends affects the way design is viewed by a general audience. Just because a designer saw something a bunch of places and thought it was cool and decided to Appropriate it into their own work (from Weingart or whomever), doesn't mean that that designer is absolutely just trying to 'align' themselves with any supposed original designer - and if they were, what would the general audience know of it anyways! Even if you feel that you know another designer's reason for appropriating trends (proximity, inspiration, lack of originality, tight deadline), that reasoning is still not 'common knowledge' and shouldn't bear on whether that trend has been Appropriated appropriately. And any project can find a multitude of similar past designs from which to 'inherit' qualities from. Ultimately it does just come down to a subjective response to a trend/style - a self-serving response, whether by the designer, client, or whatever decision maker.

On Jun.09.2004 at 03:06 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Okay, I will admit that some of the 3D stuff may be over-used in certain places, but I still like it. I haven't seen a lot of that look out here on the West Coast. And in an appropriate context, it still may have pertinent meaning. So for me, it still looks compelling and somewhat new. Of course this brings up the whole subject of regional style to the meaning of trend, not to mention context.

I would agree with others that sometimes it's interesting to "try on" a style or trend just to see how it affects one's design sensibilities. This is a knowledge that has to be experienced in a direct and personal way, not just by looking at someone else's work in a book or Web site. Moreover, I think it's very important to adapt to the aesthetic sea changes in a vibrant creative life. For me, that's the sign of an active, questioning mind, willing to experiment. For instance, Piccaso went through many stylistic changes during the course of his life (and no one ever called him an asshole [while driving down the street in his Eldorado]). (obscure song reference)

With regards to what Jason was mentioning as the negative aspect of trends, I think that designers that denegrate style or trends assume that they are somehow above the carnal desires of the visual eye-candy of the day. They are driven solely by the conceptual nature of things. Trend is a dirty word, used to imply that classical timelessness, linear process, and logic and reason must always be triumphant. But that's just denial, in my book. We are all vulnerable and addicted to the appeal of the current zeitgeist, in one form or another. In fact, I think it's currently very trendy to not be trendy, even if that in fact is being trendy.

But hey, trends are like waves on the beach. Ride them as long as they're fun and meaningful; but know that there will always be more to catch.

On Jun.11.2004 at 04:59 PM