So, you want to make the most of trends in logo design?
First off, I think it’s important to establish what we’re talking about and what language we’re using. When we talk about trends in logo design, are we talking about a true trend or a fad?
Trends vs. Fads
According to Wikipedia: “Though the term trend may be used interchangeably with fad, a fad is generally considered a fleeting behavior whereas a trend is considered to be a behavior that evolves into a relatively permanent change.”
Our design vernacular is always changing and being informed by new information and experiences. What people are usually asking when they want to know about trends though is the latest fad that people are chasing because of its novelty and currency, as opposed to how our visual language is evolving over time, which is much more important, and potentially more powerful and useful.
Tracking Trends Over Time
I find the most helpful information to be looking at trends over time, which is really the more accurate definition of a trend anyway. One of the better tools for doing this is LogoLounge.com’s annual retrospective trend report by Bill Gardner. Rather than predicting the next year’s “hot trends for logos this year” (Really? No. It’s just someone plaigerizing Bill’s last retrospective) he looks at both the prevalent and emerging patterns he’s seen in the last year’s submissions to Logo Lounge’s growing logo database/archive.
The most interesting use of this trend report, though, in my experience is to backtrack and cycle through multiple years looking at the progressions as the more faddish ideas and elements evolve into longer-term trends or what I think of as branding and design trajectories or arcs.
In fact, typically you can see where any given year’s current trends were born and how they’ve evolved simply from scrolling through the two or three years prior. As you look at the current iteration and its historical “parents,” you can start to see the uniting ideas, feelings, or concepts beneath them, even if the visual expressions, character, or treatments have drastically altered (or maybe just reiterated.) They are frequently variations on a theme, ergo a trend has emerged that unites, consolidates, or explains various fads.
How to Avoid Logo Fads
Design aficionados sometimes brag that they “avoid the trends.” Really? How, if this is the way that our visual language is evolving? We deal in a pattern language and trends inform and subtly alter the pattern going forward. Yes, you can avoid taking a “treatment” and re-executing your new logo in someone else’s logo form. But the truth is it’s virtually impossible to design any creative new logo that doesn’t touch on some trend from the last ten years, no matter how lightly.
They’re most likely not actually avoiding trends; they’re just not giving into what they see as faddish.
The better question is, how does a trend inform the meaning, and is it central to communicating the concept? You can easily steer clear of the trend-of-the-minute like the current fascination with the “3D peel” (think DC Comics recent rebrand), but if you’re a removable and repositionable decal company and that concept lends valid and deep meaning, what then?
Is It Crafting a “Look” or Crafting Meaning?
A good example of looking at the interplay of meaning vs. stylization is the current trend for “craft” logos. These are the digitally “handcrafted” marks that reference the signs, labels, and wordmarks of yesteryear. We see them in every business and industry category including those that seem far removed from handcraft, like web design firms. We can’t seem to get enough of manipulating vectors and pixels into vintage distressed texture, wood grain, historical and retro typefaces, and woodcut- or engraved-looking illustrated elements. And in Portland you can take this particular trend (plus “put a bird on it”) to the 10th power.
I can completely understand the fascination; the backlash against digital, or at the very least trying to make digital feel more personal. Nostalgia. Self expression. Part of it is the thrill of the trick itself; “handcrafting” something that’s by it’s very nature digital in its DNA. It’s a little tricky and tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes it’s our pure envy of the physical “makers” that are still literally crafting by hand. And sometimes…well, only occasionally…it’s truly representing a craft: a leather goods maker or an artisan bakery.
The issue for me is: Is “craft” relevant and meaningful to the brand and story? Is it true? Is it appropriate and necessary? Will it stand the test of time or simply feel stylized and faddish in a couple years?
What’s the Rationale for Tapping the Trend?
That’s the true test. “Cute” probably isn’t enough of an argument. The interesting conundrum here is that the goal is likely to “stand out” from the norm, but it’s increasingly difficult when everyone else is jumping on the same stylized train, no matter the rationale.
Does this mean I’d never design a craft logo? No. I would just reserve it for the right client and right brand where it was meaningful. The cloud services company probably isn’t one of them. Is the trend toward craft overused? Frequently. Just like most other fads. But irrelevant or unjustified? Not necessarily.
Just about the time I think something is so overused and cliché as to be stomach-turning, I run into an instance where someone created something in that particular vein that actually works and is truly beautiful; that is infinitely meaningful and appropriate for their business. It’s just unfortunate that it has to compete with the distraction of a busy field of pure stylization for stylization’s sake.
What Stands the Test?
I think a lot of people look to trends for the wrong reasons. Somehow they think that without a trend report, they’ll lose their opportunity or their edge, when the fact of the matter is they just need to keep their eyes open. Most likely, they already know the answer. The significant movements will be recognizable and sustainable.
Others are quite literally looking for something to plagiarize.
Even when clearly referencing a trend, I think good logo design remains meaningful, simple, clean, smart, and distilled. In fact, the props I give to good logo design happen when the solution is a little unique and a little tricky, but the solution couldn’t be more simple, or more powerful. It’s truly been distilled to its essence.
So what are the current and lasting trends to watch that go beyond the short-term fads? Next up, we’ll talk about 7 longer-term significant trajectories in logo design.
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