Understanding the genesis of design trends

Where do design trends come from? We designers certainly spark our fair share. And designers, in turn, are influenced by other artists, by entertainers, by fashion and music. We’re influenced by preferences and pop culture.

But the influence goes deeper. When we as people respond to Beyonce’s new video or to Apple’s new iPhone, it’s not only because the music is powerful (though it is) or because the design is beautiful (of course it is). The artists, the entertainers, the fashionistas, the brands have tapped into something that resonates with us.

To understand what that is, you have to step back from the hundreds of articles with titles like “Top 5 Design Trends of 2016” and take a look at the climates of 2016 as well as 2015. You have to look at what’s happening in the world and how that makes us feel. Then, you can begin to understand what causes certain trends to gather momentum and others to fall by the wayside.

The trends that gain traction are those that have tapped into the cultural zeitgeist. Currently, we’re living in an era of major upheavals. There’s the divisive battle among US presidential candidates and their supporters. There’s the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris and Brussels and Bamako. There’s the worries about environmental harm and its impact on our lives.

We’re living in a time of tectonic changes that leave people feeling anxious and afraid and alone. While design trends may seem trivial when compared with these critical moments in history, they have the power to not only reflect our attitudes as a culture but to soften them.

The continued rise in minimalism seen in Google’s Material Design, the influence of cozy Swiss design elements, the return to retro colors and imagery all point to a nostalgia for a simpler time (whether one ever existed or not).

Big, bold typography and vivid color palettes indicate a desire for messages that are clear and undeniable.

The integration of hand-drawn lettering and illustrations, of recycled and recyclable materials, reveal a movement towards a more homespun, sustainable mindset.

When designers successfully channel these moods and emotions, their designs provide comfort as well as a sense of unity. Like our ancestors who shared their adventures through simple cave paintings that depicted both the terrors and the victories of the hunt, thoughtful design in tune with the climate of the culture can be a balm for some of our fears and even an answer to some of our problems.

Which designers have created images and atmospheres that move you?

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