9 Ways That Design Trends Are Holding You Back

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Paul Rand : http://www.paul-rand.com

Every single great designer was a trendsetter. Assuming you want to be more than just another average designer whose designs are unidentifiable, you need to move beyond the trends.

In a recent article I wrote, “Why you are not a famous designer“, I outlined some of the ways in which the famous designers we all know and love separated themselves from the crowd. Some key points from that article include tapping into your personality and being unafraid to be a revolutionary thinker. Think like a design trendsetter!

1. Design needs a way to evolve

Robins & Sadler Leather Belting  label
Internet Archive Book Images (via Flickr)

Without trendsetters, design has no way to grow. When stuck in a trend, graphic design becomes a dog chasing its tail – never going anywhere. This thought is saddening when evolution brings change, which is refreshing and exciting. For me, the constant process of changing and evolving is really what makes it all worth it. It’s like breathing fresh air.

Without evolution, design would still look exactly like it did in the late 1800s (featured above). While these early designs are amazing in their own right, they have no place in design today and I’m certainly glad design has moved on. It’s nice to think that every day brings forth new and exciting looks.

Don’t be afraid to exist on the frontier of design evolution!

2. Following trends isn’t much fun

6 Hipster buttons
Free hipster badges (via xoo.me)

When following trends, you are essentially a computer operator – a person who executes computer commands without true creative thought. While this certainly might count as a career, it is not improvisational. It is not innovative and, most importantly, it is not all that fun.

Take the hipster logo trend, for example. If your job was to insert company names into the templates featured above, that would get boring pretty quick. For example, take how designer Tim Delger created the wildly popular 2013 The Hipster Logo Design Guide. Delger highlights the fact that there is no artistic integrity in creating hipster logos – it’s simply a formula. Following the same formula over and over is not fun.

Design is a medium that embraces creativity and welcomes wild artistic exploration. It’s in that creative and wild exploration that design actually becomes fun. Set it free!

3. Setting yourself apart can bring more clients

Saul Bass Book design
Childrens’ Book Design: Saul Bass

When seeking design work, clients are faced with thousands of options. If you don’t set yourself apart in one way or another, there’s no way you will be commissioned or even inquired about.

Clients need a style and a personality to latch onto during their often expansive search for designers. Think about really letting your unique qualities shine through in both your work and the way you communicate, so that you can catch the eye of potential clients.

4. Design doesn’t need to be competitive

5 World
Design: Bradbury Thompson

A world of trendy designers is a competitive one. By following trends, everyone is doing very similar things. This can increase competition and cause tension between designers in the quest for clients and work.

But this tension doesn’t need to exist. Let clients who like your style hire you for what you provide. If it’s not for them, that is OK. Let them go. There’s always more clients that might specifically need your help.

Designer Bradbury Thompson (featured above) was completely in his own world with the way he used color. There was no competition for him because there was no other work to compare it to at the time. He did not offer hipster logos or trendy looks to his clients because they did not come to him for trendy looks. They came to him for his unique approach to design and color.

5. Keeping up with trends is exhausting and time-consuming

Designs by Josef Muller-Brockmann
Designs: Josef Muller-Brockmann

Sure, you can look up a blog post of trend predictions. This might help you better understand where you sit in the design world, for example. However, truly keeping up with trends and the nuances of popular design involves constantly scanning the internet for new design companies and work, then parsing through additional research to formulate popular trends. This is a huge time commitment that could otherwise be spent on your own creative work and explorations.

If Josef Muller-Brockmann (featured above) spent his time scouring the internet for trends, he would have never had time to perfect his own work, which clearly was extremely time-consuming!

6. The things that are inspiring about design are not trendy

6 shigeo
Poster Designs: Shigeo Fukuda

Think about what got you into design in the first place. Hopefully your answer to this question is something like:

  • making beautiful things
  • seeing inspiring shapes, gazing at exciting typefaces
  • seeing wonderfully displayed information or
  • creating the way the world around us looks

Now think about how none of these things can be done by following the trends set by someone else. Don’t get caught up in the trends. Get back to the reasons you started design in the first place. Do these Shigeo Fukuda posters featured above not inspire you to get creative and push the limits?

7. “Good ideas rarely come in bunches”

6 shigeo
Photo from Paul Rand exhibit. catherinecronin (via Flickr)

This famous Paul Rand quote is perfectly relevant here. Good ideas come from a magic place – they can’t be picked apart and turned into a formula for good ideas. Don’t think that you will create good ideas by following trends. If you want to create truly good ideas you need to explore the unknown.

8. Design for the right reasons

8 penguin
Designs: Jan Tchichold

Design is an art form and should be respected as such. It should not be abused as a way to make easy money. That approach only propagates the following of trends. Design should only be engaged out of sincere interest in the medium, which promotes inspiration and creativity.

9. Every human has the potential to be an individual

Design: Paul Rand

It’s nice to think of a design community working towards a diverse and individualized state. One where everyone brings their own unique style and is respected and utilized for what they have to offer. I believe every single person has within them one-of-a-kind tendencies, tastes and styles that (unfortunately) often get suppressed by trends and pressure to design a certain way.

Take a second to ask yourself if you’ve given your true self a chance to surface. Are you a freak? Cool! Are you soft spoken and gentle? That’s great! Are you rigid and contained? That works too! Don’t fear judgment towards who you are. Know that I have respect for any designer that makes their own path and lets their true identity take form.

Paul Rand (featured above) is yet again a perfect example in the design world of an incomparable individual.


Don’t get caught up in the trends! So many beautiful things will come out of self-exploration, individualism and free creative exploration. Not only that but true expressions of self will get you further in the design world than following trends ever will!

Have another way to become a design trendsetter? Share in the comments!

Republished with permission from the 99designs Designer Blog

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workerbee is a self taught designer from the east coast with a relentless curiosity in all realms of life. 99designs profile: workerbee.

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