Trends

Do you really need to keep up with design trends?

As the web continues to evolve, web design itself has become more refined. There are usability standards and best practices which help guide us to create websites that are both well-designed and functional.

That has led to a lot of designers (myself included) who have come to think of web design as a repeatable process. We have our favorite tools, code snippets, themes and plugins to get us started. From there, it’s often a matter of further refining the look of the site to match the identity of the organization we’re working with.

While in many ways that’s great for ensuring quality and efficiency – sometimes it means we can get a little bit stuck in our ways. That can lead to falling behind on things like the latest design trends.

But, do you really need to follow trends? Isn’t the tried-and-true the better way to go? Let’s take a deeper look and find some answers.

Not All Trends are Worthwhile

Over the history of mankind, there have been a whole lot of trends. Certainly, we can’t point to all of them as having been good. The history of web design has been no different. Any profession that gave us the Flash intro, well, you know.

Taking the example of Flash: it was quite a big thing for a number of years. But with the famous words of Steve Jobs and the unstoppable rise of the mobile web, Flash faded away into the night. But, even before its demise, many designers saw the writing on the wall and decided not to utilize it.

flashchart
from The Rise and Fall of a Multimillion Dollar Flash Marketplace in One Chart.

It’s healthy to look at a design trend with a bit of skepticism. After all, how many times have we been promised this or that as being the “next big thing” – only to watch it fall flat after the initial buzz? How many times have we turned on the radio to hear what someone proclaims to be “the next Beatles”? Good luck with that!

The point is that we need to look at each trend individually. Ask yourself these questions and then make an informed decision:

  • Does this design trend cause or fix a particular problem?
  • Will it hurt or help usability?
  • Are there any websites out there successfully using it?
  • How does it fit in with what you’re already doing?

By answering those questions, you’ll develop a good feel for whether or not to adopt that trend. And, if you’re working with clients who request its use, you’ll be better able to explain the pros and cons.

Just because something is popular at the moment doesn’t mean that you have to jump on the bandwagon. Performing your own analysis and using your best judgement will make you a trustworthy source of information for clients (not to mention a better designer).

Staying Fresh and Original

Now that we’ve figured out that not all trends are necessarily good ones, let’s tackle the next part of the equation. Simply put, keeping your design skills fresh is an essential part of being a successful web designer. That’s a nearly impossible task without taking a look at what’s going on in the world around you. This is why you need to at least make yourself aware of the latest design trends.

Is duotone a trend that's here to stay? (Featured image: out00)
Is duotone a trend that’s here to stay? (Original image: out00)

Let’s be clear: Your goal in researching trends is not to simply copy them. The goal is to really to let yourself be inspired by what others are doing. Perhaps you’ll see something another designer has created and develop your own ideas on how to add to or improve upon it. Or, it may even inspire you to go in a completely different direction.

Your goal in researching trends is not to simply copy them. The goal is to really to let yourself be inspired by what others are doing

It can be a great feeling to make something that’s uniquely yours. Doing so can make you into more of a trendsetter instead of a follower. At that point, you may just start inspiring others as much as they inspire you.

Incorporating New Trends into Your Style

As noted above, one of the questions we should ask ourselves about a new design trend is whether or not it fits in with what we do. That can be a complicated question.

The longer you’ve been a designer, the more time you’ve had to create your own signature style. You know what you’re doing and how you want to do it. Because of that, sometimes we are apt to do the things we’re comfortable with and not as willing to take risks. It can be easy to simply dismiss something new as not fitting in with your style.

Related post: A Deeper Look into the Flat Web Design Trend

This is where those other questions above might be useful. If you can truly see the benefits of a new layout technique or style of typography then maybe it’s worth your time to explore – even if you aren’t sold on it right away. Don’t be afraid to give a new idea some time to sink in. It might be just the thing you need in the future.

For example, maybe your clientele tends to require a more buttoned-down, corporate look. Obviously, not every new trend will mesh well with that. But perhaps down the road you’ll book a project that is more open to something different, like a website that caters to children. That may be a perfect opportunity to travel a little bit out of your comfort zone and have some fun.

You may find that getting to do a different kind of project can really open you up to new ideas.

Keeping Up is Worth the Effort

Web design, more than just about any other profession, is constantly changing. Whether it’s the software we rely on, the content on our websites or the design techniques we use. Everything’s in a constant state of flux and part of our job is to keep an eye on it all.

At times, it can all seem overwhelming. Making the effort to look around for the latest and greatest designs may be at the bottom of your to-do list. But it’s still an important step in keeping your creative juices flowing and continuing to improve your skillset.

Thankfully, there’s no need to latch on to every new trend that comes along. It’s just a matter of finding the ones that speak to you, and to figure out what allows you to create something better.


About the Author Eric Karkovack

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with well over a decade of experience. You can visit his business site here. In July 2013, Eric released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88.