How Design Trends Emerge

By: Kate HambletNovember 16, 2017

As is true in any profession, it is important for architects to stay current on design trends.  We spend a lot of time learning about new building innovations and seeking emerging trends.  But we might not spend as much time wondering how these trends emerge.  I recently watched a webinar put on by the Houzz Innovation Series that gave a fantastic overview of how trends actually begin.  It was quite eye opening for me so I want to share with you some of the insights I gained during the webinar.

The webinar presenter was Renee Labbe, the Creative Forecast Strategist Consultant for Boral Roofing.  She began by explaining that design trends are the simple result of cause and effect.  There are three factors that create the pathway to a trend; cultural/economic influences, consumer behavior and design directives.  To explain this, she used the example of the 2008 recession.  Many people in this country took a big hit from the recession and because of this we became cautious spenders.  When someone is a cautious spender, they are more likely to buy things that will last awhile and not go out of style.  So one outcome of the recession is the emergence of a classic style.

The part of the webinar that I found to be the most fascinating was when Labbe talked about three causes that explain current design trends; Virtual Overload, Human Overload and the Recession’s Impact.

Virtual Overload

Cause:  We all know this.  We spend the majority of our day staring at a digital screen and digesting tons of information.  A UC San Diego study found that we take in about 34 gigs of information a day.  That translates to about 100,000 words per day.  Yikes.  Our minds are constantly stimulated with snippets of information, both in word and image form.

Effect: All of this digital over-load takes a toll on our mental clarity.  Our focus is constantly being disrupted and we have mental clutter.  We also know that the blue light our digital devices produce causes eye strain and can give us headaches.

Antidote: Since we are all so over-stimulated by our digital devices we want our real lives to be as calm and clutter free as possible.  That’s why we are seeing such a trend towards decluttering and simplicity.  We are also looking for clean lines and a reduced color palette in current design trends.  We are looking for an overall sensorial reduction to offset the over-stimulation of our digital lives.

Calm Living Room
Credit: Badlands

Human Overload

Cause:  City life.  Over half of the world’s population lives in cities, and the number is projected to rise to two-thirds by 2030.  That is a lot of people sharing a relatively small amount of space.

Effect:  City life offers very little privacy and connection to nature.  Loss of privacy and connection to nature undo our mental balance.  We need quiet time to ourselves to be able to reflect.  We need a connection to nature for reflection, for inner peace, for faster healing, for lower stress levels, and for more positive human interactions.

Antidote:  City dwellers feel the disconnect and want to bring nature and privacy into the city.  Labbe calls the design trend to combat human overload ‘Natural Ease’.  We are seeing trends in using vegetation to create privacy screens between balconies in apartment buildings.  Another trend is creating small vegetated courtyards within apartment buildings for individuals to reflect.  There is also a wide use of natural materials, both indoors and outdoors, and an earthy color palette.

Vertical Forest Apartment
Credit: Stefano Boeri Architetti

The Recession’s Impact

Cause:  The recession caused a lot of people serious financial hardship…

Effect:   …Which made people very cautious with their money.  People became attracted to simplicity and classic style.

Antidote:  Labbe first talked about housing design after the Great Depression to show the connection of history repeating itself.  After the Great Depression, houses were simple; single-story, little ornamentation, minimal eave overhang, and simple or no porch.  We are seeing the same characteristics in houses today.  It is referred to as Barn Vernacular or Gabled Modern.  The design has an austere presence – minimal and simple.  There is no ornamentation, minimal overhangs, and a minimal color and material palette.

Gabled Modern House
Credit: Adolf Bereuter

The webinar continues to dive deep into current design trends based on these causes and provides great examples of trend implementation.  It is well worth the watch.  You can check out the full webinar here.

I loved learning how current design trends came to be.  What trends are you loving or hating right now in the design world?

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