Fads, Trends & Innovation in Design

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As a designer, it’s absolutely crucial that I stay up-to-date on the latest fads, trends and innovations. There’s always something new to be fascinated by, but the trick is figuring out what has longevity and what doesn’t. A few months ago, I found a lot to be fascinated by at Creative Pro Week, whereby Daniel Dejan, Creative Director at Sappi, gave a presentation on fads, trends and disruptive innovation in design.


Fads are a short-lived, widely-shared burst of enthusiasm for something (Fun Fact: The word “fad” comes from “fiddle-faddle,” a word that dates back to the 1600’s and means “nonsense” or “trivial”).Skeuomorphic vs. flat design

Fads in brands are easy to spot but hard to avoid. They suck you in with the newness (I’ve definitely fallen for it). Brands need to be aware of fads in order to take advantage of them, but also need to know when to step back and move on. Brands are permanent; fads are by definition, not. Using a design fad as part of your brand identity will almost guarantee that your brand will fade along with the fad.

Current (as of yesterday) examples of fads are Pokemon Go, cronuts, rainbow bagels and fidget spinners. In the design world, there’s the “grunge” design fad I took part in when I first started designing, and the skeuomorphic (glossy) icons and buttons of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. They were meant to imitate the look of buttons in the “real” world, but since then, they’ve been replaced by less fussy flat design styles.


Trends are what we all need to be aware of because unlike fads, they tend to have sticking power, evolving after months or years into something bigger and better (rather than fading in just weeks).

Design trends go hand-in-hand with technological advances. Trends are where you want your company to be: at the edge of development and change.

Remember the iPod? Of course you do, because it evolved into the iPhone, and then millions of different media and music apps. How about QR codes? They started in the early 90’s over in Asia and Europe. Once they migrated to the U.S., we ran them into the ground by slapping them on everything. But just like birds are the unlikely descendants of dinosaurs, QR codes are the extinct ancestors of more user-friendly hashtags.

Spotify branding

The drop shadow design trend helped usher in hard edge shadows and flat design. The current trend for hand-drawn illustration merges flat design with sketching. Spotify’s branding successfully incorporates two other current design trends, duotones and big bold typography.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovations are on a whole other level than trends and fads. They disrupt existing markets and change systems. Think how telephones disrupted the telegram industry and how television completely unsettled the film industry. And the fact that today, both those original disruptors are being disrupted by mobile devices.

MIT's "smart tattoo"Today, 3D printing is already decentralizing and customizing manufacturing and product design. Microsoft’s Hololens and others are attempting to change how we work and learn through augmented or “mixed” reality. MIT is developing (temporary) “smart tattoos” that let you control technology just by touching your skin.