Sure, it’s a generalization, but good lord is it true. Out of every field of design, Web design moves and changes the fastest. And all the while, as digital design evolves, there’s this strange tendency for creatives to jump aboard the trend train until there’s so much weight the engine dies out.
You remember all those grungy websites, right? Then there was the hyper-glossy web 2.0 trend. Now, there’s forked ribbons, faux leather, serial embossing and (as Smashing Magazine wisely notes) an obsession with skeuomorphic features like knobs, which make zero sense when they appear outside of a touchscreen.
Somehow, after hundreds of years of design tradition and history, the Internet has managed to rely on just a few concepts. Maybe this occurs because so many Web designers aren’t educated in theory, but seeing someone emulate letter-press techniques in Photoshop without learning about the actual art leads to less than impressive work.
The reality is, there’s an endless pool of inspiration from the past that’s waiting for you. And before dismissing it, keep in mind that graphic design moves in cycles just like fashion. For example, the recent, understandable obsession with Swiss design and the overuse of Helvetica isn’t anything new. That style was embraced in the corporate world during the late 50s and 60s, and was then rejected by a lot of designers in the 70s (My display lettering teacher taught us ABH, “anything but Helvetica”).
Are trends actually dangerous to your work?
By following trends you risk two things: For one, your work could end up looking overwhelmingly derivative. After a certain point, originality out-weighs making things look shiny and as you work with larger clients this will become more important. Secondly, trendy for the sake of being trendy never ages well. This is why so many designers recommend sketching and creating logos in black and white. It forces us to think about form, which leads to more timeless work.
So, if you love using snippets of 19th-century illustration in your work, then go for it, but realize that it’s what everyone is doing. Similarly, if zig zags or stitched borders get you going, don’t let me stop you, but be aware that these trends are becoming over-done as we speak, which means everyone’s bound to get tired of them eventually. For more trends, definitely check out Smashing Magazine’s thoughts on the current design trend epidemic.
New, old inspiration
We’re all influenced by our surroundings and what we see, so there’s no reason why anyone should reinvent the wheel. That said, if we’re searching for originality on the web, we all need to look beyond our industry. Packaging, print, industrial, identity, motion and type all are excellent sources of inspiration before playing with HTML and CSS.
Do you homework and then consider what’s trendy, because truly great design is timeless. The works of Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Saul Bass and Susan Kare all prove this. Get to it and make great work — something that lasts.