Should your design follow trends?

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Whether you’re about to brand your startup, or seeking to refresh the look of your existing company, you’re going to be faced with an important design decision: Should you follow trends or opt for a more signature style? Our Head of Design Philip Sultana shares his views on the matter.

The thing about trends is that they have an expiry date and can be overused. They’re perfect if you want to fit in and blend in. But not so great if you’re after something more timeless, or if you want your brand to stand out.

But, of course, not everything has to stand out. Trends exist for a reason and knowing how to make use of them will benefit your brand. They key here is strategy.

“When choosing whether to go with a trend, keep in mind that strategy comes before design. Every design decision we make at BRND WGN is informed by sound strategic thought followed by rigorous market and brand research,” says Philip. Asking yourself these questions will guide your thinking:

1. What’s my brand about?

The starting point of a strong brand lies in having a clear purpose. So ask yourself: ‘why?’. Why was your project born? Why do you do what you do? The answer to this question goes beyond what you sell or the services you offer.

Once you dig deep and pin down your purpose, the next step is to make sure it’s communicated throughout your brand. “Defining your identity sets the foundation for any design choice, from your brand’s visual guidelines to shorter-term communication efforts. Mapping out who you are generally implies mapping out who you’re not,” adds Philip. “This will steer your team away from making design decisions you don’t identify with”.

2. What needs designing?

Deciding whether or not to opt for trends depends on what you’re designing. If you’re planning to design your entire brand identity, starting from your business logo, think of design solutions that will stand the test of time, says Philip.

There are, however, opportunities to make good use of trends. “If you’re a new business, for example, following a design trend may help people recognise your field. Also, don’t be afraid to use trends when designing campaigns, which typically have a shorter timeframe”.

3. Who does my business appeal to?

You can’t appeal to everyone. If you try, you’ll end up appealing to no one. Once you identify your target audience, choose a design that speaks to them and is true to your identity. For example, a classic design may appeal to professionals, in the 40 to 50 age bracket, expecting a premium service, while a style-conscious crowd is likely to fall in love with trendier designs.

The good news is that, if you have a clear purpose, it means your business was born to cater for that target audience. This means you most likely already have a lot in common with them in terms of design expectations.

4. Why are we designing this?

It’s important to have a clear, strategy-led idea of what you are trying to achieve through your design. Is your idea disrupting the industry? Is it so new that it would help to look similar to others in the same field? It all comes down to the very objectives you’re trying to meet.

For example, the team behind a digital product may need to present it with a design that investors are familiar with, so they can understand the concept more easily. On the other hand, if every eatery in the same area looks the same, it may help to choose a standout design for your brand.

5. When is launch date?

Branding, design and campaign planning take time. So you want to ensure that a trend-led concept is still relevant by the time you launch.

“If you know it will take some time to be open for business, opt for a stronger design choice that isn’t going to fade with time. If your design followed a trend in the first place, it’s very likely that it will look tired by the time you actually launch,” says Philip.

So what’s next?

If you’re still wondering whether design trends should or shouldn’t be followed, our answer is: “Only strategy will tell”.

This is not just about designing something cool that looks pretty. It’s about living up to your brand purpose and reflecting it in every strategic design choice you make. Only this way will you emit a genuine sense of authenticity and stand out from your competition. So, if you’re not yet sure what you stand for, it’s time to figure it out.