By their very nature, most trends are fleeting. Ideally, their influence would be just as fleeting. If an organization depends too much on things outside itself for relevance—e.g., seasonal or market trends—that relevance may be short lived. Occasionally, however, a novel idea sparks a revolution. The filters that a designer develops over time can help to recognize this tipping point.
Creating a new graphic identity can be an expensive endeavor. When organizations commit to such an investment, they typically don’t see it as fleeting or frivolous. Nevertheless, one can’t discount the influence of trends—from the worlds of art, fashion, technology, etc.—on identity design.
New companies have the luxury of starting with a blank piece of paper, crafting from scratch an identity that reflects current sensibilities, from typefaces to colors. This can put pressure on firms with a longer history, which could feel pressure to update an established graphic identity to appear more current.
Trends come from trendsetters. Keep this in mind. Would you rather be Nike or one of the countless other companies that felt compelled to add a “swoosh” to their logos during the 1980s? Because trends are fleeting, copying a trendsetter is ill advised—unless being a fast follower is part of an organization’s explicit strategy.
Since identity programs change with some frequency, they can reflect popular culture more easily than graphic identities. It’s generally not a good idea to change either one too frequently, but refreshed graphics, colors, and other program elements can keep an identity program relevant.
Program designers do their work in a big, diverse world. For example, macro trends sparked by new production techniques or the mainstreaming of sustainability undeniably influence that work. When designing an identity program, you have a choice: Either recognize the impact of current macro trends on the industry and respond in a carefully measured way, or follow in lock step. Choose the latter, and the result may be a lack of consistency in the program over time.
Allowing a program the flexibility to react to seasonal or market trends starts with a clear understanding of what remains constant about the organization’s brand identity. Following trends too closely might diminish what you’ve built. Being recognizable and unique usually delivers greater brand equity than being trendy. Brands that are explicitly focused on trend provide the exception, but these organizations are also more likely to be trendsetters rather than followers.
Macro trends in brand identity are tied to trends in business models and lifestyles.
Consider the rise of the McDonald’s brand and the value proposition of easily accessible, inexpensive fast food. Beginning with its founding in 1948, McDonald’s developed a breakthrough business model that many other restaurant chains copied. As such, it helped define a category.
McDonald’s brand identity remained successful for decades, but has been challenged in recent years by industry rivals such as Subway, which built a new brand around healthier lifestyle trends. Similarly, the rise of Starbucks Coffee Company reflects a set of brand characteristics that center on food quality and a sense of community. Neither Subway nor Starbucks could have existed without McDonald’s before them. Likewise, from menu variety to store design, the experience of a McDonald’s restaurant anywhere in the world today has been shaped in part by macro trends that Subway and Starbucks capitalized on first.
All living brands react to macro trends—and yes, no reaction is a type of reaction. The most effective brands translate these trends into meaning and deliver more meaningful experiences to customers as a result.