Occasionally, I am asked where I go for inspiration in order to stay on top of current design trends. In those moments, I tend to feel like Sarah Palin being grilled by Katie Couric.
C: “I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read … to stay informed and to understand the world?”
P: “I’ve read most of them … um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.”
In addition to being able to recall political bloopers from eight years ago, I try to stay alert and perceptive in all areas of my life.
As a designer, the only thing you really need to do in order to stay on top of ‘trends’ is to keep your eyes open. Because, well… design is everywhere.
Below are some tips on how to keep your eyes open for design in your daily life without needing to bookmark hip design blogs on your browser.
Unless of course, you are looking to score some cool points at your local espresso bar. In that case, order a cortado, sit with your back to the patrons, and thoughtfully scroll through a minimalist design blog. For extra bonus points: take notes in a weathered moleskin notebook.
In all seriousness, here are some tips:
The next time you pick up your iPhone and mindlessly scroll through Twitter, actually look at the images your magical device is displaying. Even if you are woefully behind the times, like me, and possess the humble iPhone 6, you are holding one of the most beautifully crafted machines of all time. The color, the resolution, and the ergonomics are breathtaking if you recall the flip-phones of the last decade. Every application icon on your phone screen has been crafted by a designer. Iteration after meeting after iteration went into the gradient and logo of the Instagram icon your thumb mashes twenty times a day. Every time Apple updates the OS on your phone, endless hours of design time went into every font variation and color.
The next time you are shopping on Amazon, or any other popular e-commerce website, pay attention to the look and feel. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of design work went into making you feel the undeniable urge to spend your paycheck. Make a reservation at the new hip cafe in town. Odds are, their website and marketing are going to be cutting edge. Have a favorite clothing designer or car manufacturer? Go to their website and pay attention to why you are drawn to their brand.
The next time you are in your car, driving from point A to B, do more than fumble with your radio and look at the billboards, the yard signs, and the vehicle wraps around you. Can you tell the difference between a national brand and the local small business design elements? Most people won’t be able to articulate why a brand feels ‘big’ or ‘trustworthy’, but they can certainly tell when it doesn’t feel that way. The typical used car lot or pawn shop won’t be leading the way in typography or website UX – and the organization usually will be a continuation of that first impression.
The next time you are grabbing a perfectly crafted burrito from Chipotle, notice the simplicity of their branding and menu. Notice the way the photography and colors make you feel as you eat in their dining room. What does the simplicity of the paper bags or brown napkins communicate? Walk across the food court in the mall and into an Apple store and you’ll immediately feel smarter, cleaner, and inexplicably ashamed of the outdated phone in your pocket and the dingy iMac on your desk at home.
To be mindful of design must be an intentional act; it’s designed to be that way. Great design doesn’t scream for your attention; rather, it produces a feeling that is subconscious. A well-executed collection of fonts, images, and colors can make you feel ‘safe’, ‘beautiful’, or ‘stylish’ just by being arranged effectively.
Practice ‘design mindfulness’ this week. You may be surprised by what you notice all around you.