Aaron Shotwell

Fundamentals of Design, Nancy Means


Trends in Design Relativity

To be an effective designer in any specific field of practice is to generally understand and embrace both sides of a paradoxical and ironic profession. On one hand, we have the need for creativity, originality, individualistic expression and innovation through the exploration of possibilities; open-mindedness and willingness to explore are the keys to create beauty. However, they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is true, but it is also true that the elements of familiarity and popular acceptance haze and manipulate the concept of beauty to any individual. So, it is the self-contradictory job of a designer to use creativity and open-minded exploration to create images that will be used by a client to either start a trend, or stay within the "comfort zone" of a previously conceived trend.

Alternation and rebirth in peaks of new interest and valleys of familiarity and common acceptance fuel all fields of design. While it is ideal for a designer to think outside of the box and conjure an idea that no one has thought of before, it is also his or her professional responsibility to understand and acknowledge truth in the forms of both popular acceptance and universal fact. A trend, in its literal and general definition, is a popularly accepted concept or theme discovered by the observation of a statistic common denominator. In order to create something new and exciting, one must understand what is popular by current standards and why.

The trends in the field of Media Arts and Animation can be seen clearly shifting and changing in both the art form itself and in the demand of the market of its appeal, and the two are of a cause and effect relationship. In the beginning, people have a need for entertainment, an escape from harsh reality, and this is the greatest pull for the visual and plot trends of the art form, notably in its earliest form, the cartoon.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, movie theaters were a common form of that sought escape. People would drown the sorrows of their reality in the fantasy and romanticism of motion pictures. The earliest form of popularly viewed cartoons were those that were played in primary reels alongside sensational newscasts intended to "wet the appetite" before the main feature. Humor was necessary in those grim times, and so people were led to follow the bubbly, highly dynamic and lively character designs of the hilarious Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, designed for extreme physical comedy and general silliness that would become the industry clichés of today. Cartoons would weave in with cultural trends of the day with reoccurring references to popular icons and celebrities, depicted in charicature and through commonly known catchphrases, all in order to relate to the audience on a personal and familiar level.

It would be years before cartoons would become a popular pastime beyond just association with the greater sought motion pictures of the day, but those were the times in celebration of the art form, as it united nearly all markets in innovation and general entertainment. No one market was exclusively aimed for because it was meant to ease the minds of any and all people whom suffered the effects of the Depression. In contrast, when these sort of dire needs fade into history, so too do the trends caused by them. In the lack of a need, a want takes precedence in the marketability of an idea, and everything becomes ruled by statistically separated tastes rather than a unified emotion.

So, today, we have many cartoons separate and distinct from motion pictures, given independence by the invention of the television set. Each of these cartoons is designed with a less intricate animation, character models and environments in order to be more easily produced and distributed. Each one has its own distinct and consistent moods and themes, meant to appeal to separate groups of people, age and personality all in consideration. The clean, sinless humor, vibrant colors and ridiculous story of Cartoon Network's "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" is meant to appeal to a younger audience, those still in close relation to the show's childish hijinks and concepts. In contrast, the macabre color schemes of dark blacks, intense reds and faded greens, and the dark humor, disturbing themes and images of Jhonen Vasquez's "Invader Zim" are meant to appeal to the jaded natures, cynicism and morbid sense of humor of older teens and young adults.

As with televised cartoons, the market for motion pictures is still monitored, usually ruled by popular demand, occasionally ruled by a widespread emotional need. After the events of 9-11, the motion pictures market witnessed an explosion of the comedy genre, driven by and servicing that same need from the Great Depression all those decades ago. As those wounds slowly began to heal, the influence of productions returned to the statistic demand acquired from the common adaptation of cynicism, and horror movies and epics became the greater norm.

Visual trends in the field of cinematic animation have been entirely ruled by the dissolving of technological limits, and the observation of Gestalt Psychology; color schemes, camera angles, special effects and computer animation techniques are determined by genre and the intended message. The "cyber punk" genre is mainly dominated by dark, metallic, almost monochromatic environments contrasted by bright neon, often with a blue or green tinted or foggy overlay. The Matrix is a fine example of this, shot in tight close-ups and claustrophobic environments for the feeling of entrapment, costume designs dominated by blacks, and grays, environments by dull metallic, lead based coloring, all leading to the display of an emotional receding of hope. The movie "Ray" depicts an experience of a personal journey through the trudges of reality. Images of Ray's childhood were in bright wheat fields, fields of vibrant, green grass and blue skies, and focused light through colored glass symbolic of innocence and reinforcing the tragedy of blindness. Scenes of his music career were depicted almost entirely at night, light sources mainly florescent and pale, surrounded by dimly lit, gritty earth tones in the image of a fading morality.

None of this is to say that all attempts at new trends have gone without blundering execution; people who notice a statistically common interest and seek to exploit it are as responsible for a trend as its demand. Oftentimes, one media source will attempt to adopt the trends of another in order to expand their market, but to no avail or in responsibility of downfall. Cartoon Network's "Powerpuff Girls" and "Teen Titans" attempted to grasp the attention of anime fans by implementing the ideas of large eyes, giant monsters, and J-pop theme songs. After their failure, they made another attempt with the more direct approach to the traits of the genre in "Hi! Hi! Puffy Ami Yumi!" Despite these miserable failures, they prove one very clear fact: all trends in all fields of design can be traced back to the same basic patterns of conception because the human hand that seeks positive attention guides them.

The most obvious connection to the trends of Media Arts and Animation are those of Graphic Design, connected by the universal facts of Gestalt Psychology. Colors effect emotion, values and intensities effect depth and impact, grouping and association reinforce implied lines and shapes. As these basic principles are used to effect the form of 2D animation and the emotional environment of cinema and 3D animation, so too are they used to effect the visual impact to memory, iconic symbolism and emotional influence of logo design. Careful balance of the positive and negative space in a composition make the "droplets" trend of Graphic Design, wherein two shapes seem to merge over space into one unified form, an effective tool. The same balance in cinema can effect the impact of a close-up of an actor's visage. The "slinky" and "natural spirals" trends use hue, value and scale to instill the illusion of depth and perspective the same way that those traits displayed over wide-panning camera angles do in cinema.

The trends of appeal and demand between the market and designers most similar to those of Media Arts and Animation are those of Industrial Design. Designers of both fields must know how to identify a want or a need, identify how to address that want or need effectively, and know how to pitch the idea to investors in a way that will convince them that the idea can, in fact, address that want or need, or convince people of a want or need they didn't know that had. These are all elements of marketing an industrial design the same as they are elements of marketing the appeal of a media proposition. Cartoon Network realized that they had established a market in children's entertainment and continue to make episodes because of it the same way that T-Mobile's "Sidekick" had established a market in icons of vanity and social status, so the patent continued to produce variants to maximize profits.

The realization that well executed simplicity can be far more effective than self-insistent complexity was a gold mine for all designers, notably those of Animation and Web Design. Central orientation, maximized white space, and subtle, soft background colors behind large, dark, bold text, simple page "furniture" and a color scheme based on variation in values and intensities rather than hues are the elements of simple web design. This approach proved to be an absolute profit, a more effective and attractive solution at a far smaller expense to time. Similarly, the sacrifice of detail and intricacy in character models, color schemes and storyboard layouts in most animated productions was a negative effect to the appeal of more experienced and knowledgeable connoisseurs. However, it was an even greater gain in the more focused appeal to specific markets, and an exponential increase in volume. Volume increased just that much more when a program was created to calculate motion in dominant forms between frames, allowing for a smooth animation at the cost of less manually composed frames.

In the field of animation, such an approach can be damaging to the nature of the art. That computer program allows for a smooth animation at a lesser cost of time and frames, but it is also too smooth. The results feel robotic, mechanical and inhuman. The nature of the art is in the effort and humanistic expression. Nevertheless, trends define action in pursuit of profit and marketability.

In conclusion, for better or worse, the industry of design in its entirety is directed by the trends of the day. Design can only stand on its own two feet and speak with a voice of originality if it is fed by the funding of the markets that keep coming back for more, and they keep coming back for more because of a comfortable sense of familiarity. To be successful in any field of design is to take on the responsibility of being knowledgeable in both creativity and commonly accepted trends that not only apply to one's own field, but philosophically to all fields dealing with the manipulation of human desire.




Graphic design --

Most trends in graphic design can be described metaphorically, described as more generalized concepts to a common visual occurrence in professional design that is pleasing to the eye. In other words, these trends are discovered by way of careful observation of Gestalt Theory, and its application.


The "droplets" trend, wherein shapes that can be seen as clear, separate and distinct seem to merge because of positioning, or good balance and cooperation of positive and negative space. Sometimes the shapes are literally joined into one, but it is always clear that the shape you immediately see can be easily broken down into equally distinct parts.

The "animorphic" trend, wherein animal icons are used in logos in representation and/or metaphor of a company's name and/or service.

These types of trends are left more up to familiarity and replication than originality.



Effectiveness is in simplicity, minimal decorative additives beyond signature logos and where needed to draw attention to important information, well organized navigation bars, good color coordination, highly legible text and contrasting backgrounds make for an attractive and efficient web site.

Simple layout: 1 - 2 columns most common, generally accepted that simple designs are more functional. Keeps the eye from skipping around, keeps the reader's gaze focused for a calmer and more solid browsing experience. (A1)

Centered Orientation: Balance is key in a good design, this is a universal truth. A web design based around a central axis is far more common than left-orientation and full width "liquid" layouts. Former common trend had it that keeping as much information as possible "above the fold" was ideal, i.e. conveying a message with as little scrolling as possible. Nowadays, more people are comfortable with scrolling, and the "above the fold" approach can be sacrificed for a tighter, cleaner look and increased white space. (A2)

Design in content: Background design has taken a distant back seat in priority to the content layout. Ergo, the contents take precedence over the container, the composition takes precedence over the canvas. The current trend is in paying more attention to the content itself rather than the permanent, unchanging background elements. Common effects are seen in less boxed-in page layouts, softer and simpler page "furniture," stronger color schemes and organization given to content (especially labeling and logos). Overall, focus is given more to making the subject attractive rather than the site and the designer. (A3)

Contrast: Softness and neutrality in background colors in contrast to large, bold, dark and intense text makes a site easier on the eyes, easier to read, and consequently, more attractive. Maximizing the white space is essential in creating focus on the content. (A4)

Modesty: Modesty is a necessity in an effective design, and web design is no exception. Efficiency and functionality are wounded when a web design insists upon itself with cute, over-elaborate icons and dominating 3D effects. Used sparingly and in effective balance with the rest of the design, they can be a strength, but sparingly is the key word. (A5)



An upcoming feature and possible popular trend will be a series of DVDs that will let the viewers participate in the storytelling, wherein the stories were told with the viewers assuming the main character role. Those story lines will branch depending on the reader's choice of actions and provide different story results. (Frankly, I believe this is a ridiculous idea. A story is as artistic and representational as the writer intends; it is not intended to be an interactive situation. Actually, that's what video games were invented for. Let's keep entirely interactive with entirely scripted separate and distinct, shall we? I'd like to watch the artistic expression of the writer unfold, not feel like I'm thumbing through an adult children's picture book. (B1)

The filmmaker's art form is much more encouraged in recent years through more portable camera designs, cameras built into recent cell phones, and huge online caches of content shot and posted by amateur users who seek an audience. This is clear enthusiasm for the industry, VERY healthy and bountiful grounds for experimentation, and a huge revolution in filmmaking. The Renaissance has proven that an art form does not prosper over the years because of the elite few prodigies, but the collective enthusiasm brought about by encouragement. (B2)

Typography in design -- Observations and opinions on this particular trend have changed dramatically ever since the introduction of computers. Different fonts, different colors, different angles and orientation, and the introduction of digital design influence allowing effects like text transparency, layering and more intricate light ambiance have made for a much, much larger palette to work from, many more possibilities, and many more ways to appeal to many different markets. Alice Rawsthorn, director of London's Design Museum, believes that Typography is now as versatile as fashion design. (B3)

Television Advertisement -- Statistically, it is common belief that traditional advertising is significantly less effective now than it was two years ago. Quoted by the results of the survey, the common opinion is that digital video recorders and video-on-demand will reduce or destroy the effectiveness of the traditional 30-second TV spot. Because of this, new strategies are being implemented to integrate advertisement into the actual programming itself. Strong examples of this are branded entertainment, sponsorships, interactive advertising and product placement.

Also, as broadband connections become more popular, advertisements played before streaming videos are gaining massive momentum. Because of this, knowledge of digital media is in much greater demand than in preceding years. Online content can be more extensive, more interactive, and more demonstrative. In truth, greater value of the online advertisement method over the traditional 30-second spot is the most popular current trend. (B4)



Industrial design is all about appealing to the consumer, identifying a need or a want, refining a current standing convenience, taking step B out of an ABC process just to make things take that much less effort, and easier on the customer. Convenience is to provide one more service or the same service more effectively for the same price, at a lower price, or at a price solely attractive based on what is offered. It's all about having a marketable edge, one-upping the current standard and making a bigger, better deal. That being said, trends are changing all throughout consumer based markets.

Nowadays, nothing makes a greater impact on a consumer's patronage than the design of the product they are buying. With that in mind, the wants, needs, and collective tastes of the customers buying them determine trends in industrial design. The trends are the effect of demand in the market. What looks enticing? What looks functional? What sparks that "gotta have it" reaction? These are the questions that determine the trends of the day. (C1)

Communications and consumer electronics -- As technological limits are pushed and broken, visual design and combined innovation become the dominant factor in a product's marketability. As decadent as the idea is, the marketability of cell phones, bluetooh and the peripherals thereof, iPODs and portable electronics move from the shelves into the hands of their prospective buyers based on their number of functions and their appearance. More often than not, these products will sell because of their appeal to the consumer as an icon of social status rather than the convenience of their function.

Medical Products -- Industrial design in the field of medicine applies strictly to needs and necessities, and the function of a design is the determining factor of its application and marketability. One could certainly say that since it does not appeal to social status, taste or overall pleasant appearance, it is a much more honest market with a much more practical sense of application. The factors to be considered about a design when determining its marketability are its purpose of remedy, its method of application, its precision and speed, and the probability of negative effects from that application versus the size of surgical wounds and time of recovery. Function is valued far more than appearance. Size, weight and portability are secondary, the borderline between appearance and function, as they are aspects that can be considered elements of both.

Household appliance -- Appearance has an effect on emotion in the surroundings of the home. Though providing the same, traditional function, basic household appliances have been visually redesigned time and time again, often in sets with other common appliances for a sense of unity and modernism. From time to time, blades will be sharpened and made of tougher material for a cleaner, easier cut, handles and buttons will be redesigned for a more comfortable grip, monitors and displays will be made sharper, brighter and more pleasing to the eye, but the overall function remains the same. Household appliances are redesigned visually to influence emotion and the conception of a modern look, and aesthetically for comfort, but only rarely for additional function, and when they are, designers often seek to change the appearance at their discretion. If you're going to imply the function of future tools, why not set the standard for a futuristic look?

Real solutions/practicality/investments –

Trends change because of the fact that one need becomes obsolete, a service that is no longer needed, and another rises prominently to take its place. A new need that reveals itself not in words of complaint, but in the adaptation to inevitable change, seeing how one adapts to that change, and asking yourself, "How can this be easier?" So, in the wake of an idea, smart money makes money, and a design becomes as important, if not more so, to appealing to the faith of investors as it is to appealing to that need. What do investors want to know? What do they need to hear that will spark their faith in a design's marketability? It then becomes imperative to show that a design and idea will either provide a real solution to a standing problem, be able to be practically assimilated into the rest of common, day to day life. On top of that, it has to be able to communicate directly to the market that most direly needs the solution to that problem on a level that they will understand. Investors need to be convinced that a design can tell consumers what it is that they want without waiting for them to realize for themselves that they want it.