The Cyclical Nature of Design Trends

Sam DeMastrie

January 21, 2014

This past weekend I went to see Spike Jonze’s her, a film about a man who, recently-separated from his wife, falls in love with his newly purchased operating system—OS1. Technically a science-fiction film, her takes place sometime in the future (although not so far as to be unrecognizable), where advanced technology and artificial intelligence are a part of every day life.

If you haven’t seen the film and you’re trying to imagine what it looks like, you might picture flying cars and smooth, button-less fashion wear. The truth is that her isn’t so unfamiliar. Spike Jonze made interesting directorial choices and avoided those futuristic clichés. In fact, the characters’ fashion styling seemed to come from the 1970s.

This got me thinking about the way design trends come and go—and then come again.

Mid-century graphic design, crafted by the likes of Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli, was bold, concise, and free of extraneous or distracting elements. It was more pure. After a period of design ugliness spurred on by the rise of desktop publishing, late modern design aesthetics are coming back in the form of “flat design,” which I talked about in an earlier post.

Sidebar: Aaron Draplin is a passionate graphic designer who longs for the design craftsmanship of the past. Watch this video of Draplin expressing his love for his favorite old signs in Portland, Oregon, and gain a new respect for past design aesthetics (language warning).

What’s hot right now, you ask? For the younger, pop-culture-oriented folks, the bright neon and loud graphics of the 1980s are in. If you’re a 20- or 30-something year old fashion-inclined male, your hair and clothes style are probably influenced by the styles of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Like the changing seasons, styles come and go. Hopefully, though, the 90s won’t ever come back.

Will the next “new” thing always come from the past? Not necessarily. Recently, Creature, a Seattle—and London—based creative agency, unveiled their new identity. The logo features an apparent mistake or glitch in the typography, a problem/solution derived purely from the pitfalls of modern technology. It looks like a corrupt file or a scan gone wrong, but it’s beautiful and fits with their new positioning.