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Who are the real trend setters of the design world?

Even if you are not involved in some area of design through your job, you will be affected by design every day of your life.

From the moment you are born you interact with products, buildings, clothing and advertising that has all been created by a designer, architect or artist. Each of these disciplines seem at first to be quite separate and distinct both in their craft and end goals, but underlining all these professions is a cross pollination of ideas, trends and even clichés. For designers these influences can manifest themselves either consciously or subconsciously in their work and are often what distinguishes true trend setters from the design sheep who follow in their wake.

From my own perspective as a graphic designer, my own specialism can often feel like a poor relative in this designed world. Because of software tools like Photoshop Elements, Powerpoint and even Instagram, everyone can create imagery that has a moderate level of competence in it’s appearance. For fashion designers or architects this isn’t so often the case – who else but a trained professional would have the faintest idea how to design a new skyscraper or design a fashion collection that enhances women’s ‘best bits’ with the simplest cut? Fashion Designers in particular are often left to their own devices to deliver their own ‘vision’ with customers either buying into or rejecting that vision once it has been delivered. It’s a way of working that leaves their creative minds free to explore new techniques and materials almost yearly as the previous season’s styles are washed away by the fashionista’s desire to consume new trends.

So am I saying that Fashion designers are the only trend setters of the design world? – certainly not.  As I said before, we live in world of ideas that mutate and grow as they spread to different areas of design.

Graffiti inspired prints by Manish Arora - creative director for Paco Rabanne

Graffiti inspired prints by Manish Arora – creative director for Paco Rabanne

This mutation of  ideas is less obvious than the straight recycling of clothing fashions that our parents wore in the seventies. It does exist however, and fashion designers are no-less immune to its influence than a web designer in the noughties who created websites with ‘glass like’ buttons, inspired by the transparent cases of the iMac and clam shell iBook.

Break the mould and set your own trends

As consumers we all know what we like when it comes to design (whether we consider ourselves creative or not), but if you are a marketing professional it’s important to assess whether a relatively established design style will work for you, or if now is the best time to create something new and exciting. Obviously you can push the boundaries of something you know your customers understand and like, but if all your competitors are starting from the same baseline your efforts will just get lost in the slow vicissitude of change, with little chance of really standing out.

Instead of just pulling out the same old template for each new project, or going to the same competitor websites for inspiration, why not try something new if time permits. You may even find that adopting a new design style or technical approach doesn’t cost as much as you thought and the end result could well be a trend setting campaign where you can ride the wave and watch as others try to catch up.

Things you can do to make your designs stand out from your competitors:

  1. If you run an e-commerce fashion store, don’t just look at your direct competitors for inspiration. By understanding the demographic of your customers (age, sex, wealth, etc) you can get an idea of the other products or services they might be purchasing regularly and therefore the types of websites they might be visiting. If your customers are trendy 20-30 somethings with a reasonable disposable income, they may be interested in products like the Apple iPhone or cars like the Fiat 500. Visit these company’s websites and take inspiration from the language they use and the quality of the photography or illustrations (these guys have big marketing budgets, and they spend a huge proportion of that money on understanding their customers). By not following the clichés or well trodden paths of your market vertical, whilst still appealing to your target audience, you’ll stand out from your competition.
  2. Don’t go for the obvious when it comes to your website colours and layout – there are ‘established’ colours, which consumers associate with different products or services, but don’t go overboard and use only one colour. Instead, you should build on the ‘palette’ for your industry with complimentary colours, which enhance the user journey and make navigation easier.  Memorable sites also promote greater social media sharing and viral growth. BUT BE CONSISTENT – make sure you coordinate your new image across all media channels, otherwise your audience could be confused if they venture into your bricks and mortar store and find a shopping experience that bears no resemblance to what they’ve seen online.
  3. Use the same approach when creating your in-store displays and zoning. If you’ve got various fashion models on your website using iPhones whilst walking done the street, then complete the circle and use replica iPhones in your window displays. By creating a whole ‘lifestyle’ in your window displays, you can convert aspirational window shoppers into customers that will purchase more than one item as they strive to complete the ‘look’ that has lodged in their heads.
  4. If you are a graphic designer, use the whole world as your muse – look at the world around you with the same fresh eyes as a 3 year old…  if you’d never seen or heard of a product before would you understand what it is or what it does, based solely on the design in front of you? –  take this same step back from your own designs and see if they still work.
  5. No matter what area of design, fashion or architecture you are involved in, take inspiration from things you see outside of your direct circle of work and friends. Even if you don’t have an immediate project in mind, make notes of an idea and maybe even compile a mood board using images and text from the campaign that grabbed your attention.  Sometimes, it’s the re-interpretation of an idea that is more successful than the original concept – often because it is executed better and more suited to it’s new target audience. This happens time and time again in music, films and fashion – e.g. the current craze for tablet computing is just a better timed, better executed implementation of an idea that start over 10 years ago with devices like the the Toshiba Portege 3500.
  6. Don’t be afraid to be different!  – but don’t alienate your existing customers.
    Harvey Nichols - try to contain your excitement

    Harvey Nichols – try to contain your excitement

    In a recent campaign, London fashion store Harvey Nichols sparked outrage from some existing customers as they dared to show how different they are. They created a campaign that suggested you might wet yourself with excitement at the thought of their latest collection. It’s a campaign that has obviously brought great attention to the brand, but whether it’s the ‘right’ kind of attention only Harvey Nichols knows and if it puts off shoppers we’ll soon see when they release their sales figures. However, I would predict that maybe in 3 or 4 months time we’ll see a similarly divisive campaign from a more ‘traditionally trendy’ company, that will have greater success even without the extra media coverage.

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