It's nigh-on impossible to ignore creative trends, however you choose to interpret and act on them. Living in a visual society means constantly being surrounded by influences. So how do you sift through new aesthetics, styles and technologies? And just how important, and useful, are they?
To find out, we've spoken to 20 creatives with a broad range of views on finding and following trends. Unsurprisingly, many are contradictory - some advocate soaking them up and cherry-picking the elements that best fit your style, while others actively shun fashionable concepts. We've also collected plenty of practical tips, from implementing new colour palettes to seeking out other creative fields that are driving developments in the design world.
Whatever your take on the purpose and value of creative trends, turn over for everything you need to know about identifying and reacting to them yourself.
How to spot a trend
Stay well ahead of the game with our insider advice
Do Appreciate your contemporaries
Trends are just a medium to add to your visual toolbox. I'm inspired by everything around me, but I don't need to copy. I enjoy a lot of illustrators' work and try to identify with it, but then push it aside and say, "What am I going to do for myself?"
Don't Be paranoid
Illustrators are half artists and half designers. We have a duty to relate to a specific audience. People worry that on some subconscious level they might end up copying, but it's just a matter of taking inspiration and not trying to be someone else, because nobody wants to see the same thing over and over.
Do Enjoy trends
I like to follow trends, just because they're fun and interesting. Trends open up communication and give people new ideas. Street art is big in the illustration world and you should watch Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop - the issue of trends comes up and slaps you in the face.
Don't Just look forward
I like to look at past trends. Some of these are really coming back now, like the art of Russian film posters from the 1920s and 30s - those are absolutely beautiful. So that's a different way to think about trends that gives me tons of ideas. A simple change can be really positive.
Do Follow other industries
If something is emerging within the fashion or music world, there is a strong chance it will be mirrored in the design world. Get off the internet and look elsewhere at how fashion is developing, what exhibitions are becoming popular and what's happening in film.
Don't Get blogged down
Keeping up with design blogs helps you to remain informed and on the ball, but try not to become too restricted by what you see on them. After all, if something has been featured on blogs over and over again, it's most likely not the trend any more. Always look at what is happening, rather than what's already happened.
Graphic designer and illustrator
Do Absorb your surroundings
I'm constantly aware of everything visual around me, and can sometimes spot trends subconsciously without analysing. It helps to be involved in all things cultural. Trends in graphic design often match fashion, especially print textile designs. Keep up-to-date with new music, check out related blogs and keep an eye on what major players are doing.
Don't Expect a comeback
Trends are styles that gradually become more widespread until they're overdone, unoriginal and often boring. Graphic trends come in cycles, like fashion, but tend to take longer to come back and do so in different ways. For example, an aspect of the 1980s colour scheme is back, but some trends from the 1980s will never return.
David Y. Chun
Art director, National Television
Do Stay up-to-date
I don't think anybody likes to admit they follow trends. In the creative industry, people want to believe they're trend-starters, not followers. But it's hard not to see what's going on in the creative world. I probably spend an hour every morning looking at design blogs and fashion websites to see what people are posting about, and what techniques are being used.
Don't Get hung up on one trend
Trends can be really inspiring, but it's important not to get hung up on one particular trend or following. Your job is really to be able to please as many different people as you can. I think it's easier for graphic designers, who take on different styles and techniques, whereas illustrators can spend years developing a unique style.
Johanna Lundberg and Elin Svensson
Multi-disciplinary designers, Ah Studio
Do See beyond trends
It's tricky, because you could potentially become very successful working with a certain popular method for a long time. But as soon as that trend is over, you might end up having to reinvent yourself and the way you work. We always get the most excited about projects that are a bit weird and wonderful, and stand out without necessarily following any rules or trends.
Don't Assume they're commercial
When a new trend is being set, it's probably not a safe and commercial route, but feels forward-thinking - pushing something current into a new direction that more and more designers quickly start to follow. When you see that same style being used everywhere and exploited within the creative industry, it probably means the trend will soon be over.
Designer and illustrator
Do Look around you
How to define a trend? When a lot of people create similar things or keep to similar themes. When something goes mainstream, you know the trend has really taken off. Spot them in print advertising, shop displays, magazines, design and craft markets, on the street, at art shows and in film - movies in particular can have a great influence on creative trends.
Don't Stick with tired trends
Trends help give an era an identity and help designers gauge what people want - usually the consumer loves a trend, so it helps designers to create things they know will sell or appeal. But when a trend becomes over-saturated, the appeal dies off. People like to be different. If everyone is doing something, you don't want it any more.
Do Watch the web
I look out for trends out of interest more than anything. I just keep an eye on Flickr and design and illustration blogs for a few weeks, and I'll regularly see trends emerging. I think something becomes a trend when you start to see it on products, in advertising and on CD covers.
Don't Expect trends to last
People can find it very tempting to work with trends because it provides a kind of instant gratification. But, while I think it's good to keep an eye on what is currently popular and fashionable, you also need to remember that trends are, by their very definition, short-lived.
Creative director, Stylorouge
Do Follow fine art
I try to get out to galleries - for me, looking at fine art is just as important. Magazines are also a good showcase. I particularly like looking at work by amateurs and enthusiasts, whose craft is often mind-bogglingly proficient, but so divorced from market forces that they often come from the wildest places conceptually.
Don't Go round in circles
Sometimes clients think of a project in the same bracket as something else, so you're asked to compare what you're doing to what's been done before. They look at what has previously succeeded and think if they follow that route, they can't go wrong - when the reality is they'd be branded copyists.
Nate Van Dyke
Artist and illustrator
Do Stay one step ahead
A lot of people duplicate what they see others doing. If you follow what's trendy at the time, you'll get left behind pretty quickly - by the time you grasp it, the trend setters are already onto the next thing. I've always admired people who take something current and turn it upside-down.
Don't Let trends rule you
People want to label everything: this is a trend, that band is a sell-out, and so on. It's important not to get caught up in what everyone else thinks. Be aware of trends, but don't be ruled by them. If you just copy what's already out there, others will notice and write you off.
How to react to trends
Inject new life into your designs without being a sheep.
Graphic designer and illustrator
Do Stay up-to-date
I follow illustration and design websites such as Illustrationmundo, FormFiftyFive, Drawn and Thunder Chunky. I like to stay up-to-date - because I think you need to know what's going on - but the most important thing is to find your own personal style and develop it. Trends come and go.
Don't Follow every trend
If certain trendy elements fit your style, you can always take the ideas you like and adapt them to your work using your own language. But if everyone adapted their work to every trend, everyone's portfolios would look the same. It's very important to show your own style - that's basically what clients look for when they hire you.
Visual artist and Designer
Do Be a leader
Finding your own voice should supersede any attempt to incorporate creative trends into personal work, unless it is specifically requested by a client. This is the key difference, really, between being a follower and being a leader. Personal evolution should be your first priority - that's what separates the good from the great.
Don't Be fake
Don't just try to adapt what you create to whatever is hip at the moment. Designers should think for themselves no matter what. Otherwise, it's like changing your personality in high school in the hope that the popular kids will like you.
Designer and Artist
Do Address clients' concerns
If a client comes to you, chances are they liked something about your own style. If they're particularly concerned with new trends, that's the way to go. Find ways to communicate meaningfully with clients and you'll discover what they really want and what will impress them.
Don't Try to be someone else
I think we all do a bit of cherry-picking from creative trends, even if it's unconscious, but we should focus on the reasons behind it. One of the most important things is to try to be authentic to yourself. It can be very stressful, even in your work, to try to be somebody else.
Do Stay fresh, but timeless
I try to keep my designs fairly timeless so the work has a longer shelf life and a broader appeal. This doesn't mean it has to look unfashionable. There are dozens of classic fonts that never lose their visual appeal. Helvetica, Bodoni, Franklin Gothic and Garamond (to name but a few) always look great in the right context.
Don't Just follow the pack
Standing out from your peers is a challenge, and you won't achieve it by always following the latest trends. Students are usually the worst offenders: they're still finding their style, they have a design comfort zone and there can be a bit of a pack mentality. If you're following design trends, make sure you put your own spin on them.
Graphic designer and Illustrator, Ahoythere
Do Try new colour palettes
Use trends to push your work in new directions and produce more novel ideas. Using specific on-trend colour palettes is a quick way to improve and update your work. Also look closely at the mediums being used. Other style areas to take inspiration from and investigate include composition, shapes, application, finish and type treatment.
Don't Be a copycat
Design trends are just popular commercial styles of work by particular artists that inspire and fashion other artists' work, so plagiarism is a big concern. Being too much of a copycat will only leave you with a less distinctive, uninspiring portfolio. Trends can easily become overplayed and commonplace.
Justin Thomas Kay
Creative director, Fader magazine
Do Consider the context
Fader focuses on emerging music. When dealing with trends, I have to stay on top of understanding the place a visual trend would have in reflecting these younger bands and new music. Music and design have a very wide intersection, and I spend a lot of time seeing what bands are doing to represent themselves.
Don't Get overwhelmed
When you're starting out, you only have the things that are around you and inspire you to draw on. You don't have the life experience or work experience. It's a gruelling process trying to wade through all the amazing things you see around you, but you make your best work when you stay honest to yourself.
Do Sit back and observe
New cultures, groundbreaking styles and young designers keep the industry moving, but continually trying to keep up could be detrimental. If you fit into a trend, run with it and flourish as a professional creative. If it doesn't suit you, sit back and enjoy it as a fan of art and design.
Don't Rehash tired ideas
With trends, illustrators and designers can end up creating things that have already been created in a very similar way. A recent example is the infographic and the rehashing or mocking-up of retro/vintage printing techniques. People like the look of it, so they're still rolling it along, and it's not really going anywhere exciting or interesting any more.
Illustrator and Print Designer
Do Know where you fit in
Know your audience and potential clients, understand how your work differs from others' and use that as a selling point. To be aware of these things, it's important to be aware of your contemporaries' work. While it's essential to have an individual style, there's nothing wrong with following trends if it suits you to do so.
Don't Disconnect from your peers
It's all too easy to become isolated from other creatives and ignore the work they produce. I put time aside to see what's going on and connect to others. I look on sites such as Print & Pattern, Imaginative Bloom and Feed Me Cool Shit, but sheer speed makes Twitter the best source of links to new work.
Art director and Graphic Designer
Do Look for inspiration
I'm always trying to mix various influences, from op art/1960s design to what could be new trends. I try not to create things you see everywhere. I get some inspiration from websites such as FFFFOUND, where you can discover a lot of different art - some trendy and some not.
Don't Bore or be bored
Should you change your style if it becomes trendy? It depends if it's really trendy, or just a little bit. I'll often try out new things because I don't want to be known for just one kind of visual. My first aim is also not to be bored, and not to be boring. Styles you see everywhere can get boring.
Designer and Illustrator
Do Be curious
You have to be confident in your own instincts, but it's essential you're aware of what's going on around you - not just in your own discipline but in product design, fashion and architecture, for example. Curiosity and an openness to new things are the key to remaining relevant.
Don't Go stale
I think the best way to keep your work up-to-date is almost by avoiding trends. If you're a slave to a certain style, then you're putting yourself in a position where you could potentially go out of fashion. You should know your own voice, but you also need to know how to evolve it.