What Miranda Priestly Teaches Us About Trend-Driven Design

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 8 min read

Remember this scene in The Devil Wears Prada? When Miranda Priestly schooled Andy Sachs about the difference between two nearly identical belts?

Miranda was able to explain exactly how a new trend had a domino effect of influence and inspiration to fellow designers, fashion houses, and socialites all the way down to the customer at a local department store.

Long story, short; while Andy Sachs thought she was immune to fashion trends, her wardrobe was essentially hand selected by a room full of people asking how fashion design can evoke ALL THE FEELS.

I find the same concept popping up in visual design. The first time I noticed outside macro trends influencing new design elements was on the Dribbble homepage. Whether it was seen in shared work, real-world projects, or spec pieces for fun, the Dribbble community shares a plethora of visual inspiration to get the creative juices flowing.

Dribbble has acted as the hub for displaying the latest and greatest trends in design and helping designers answer their toughest questions; what’s the current trend on color gradients? How are designers currently using whitespace?

Dribbble’s homepage helps catalyze graphic designers’ creative brains, allowing  them to explore and evolve the latest in branding, illutstrations, interactions, UX, and more. This community is all about sharing and inspiring through visual communication.

What you might not know is that these designs are more than pieces of inspirational art. They all (intentionally or sometimes unintentionally) evoke common feelings within us that relate back to a larger market trend – the rise of the experience economy….just like that lumpy blue sweater.

Today’s consumer is shifting away from purchasing material products and re-investing their money and time with brands that offer experiences. The reason for this is because when brands offer us an “experience,” the majority of us might also be subconsciously fulfilling an unmet need — to interact. The growth in technology, use of devices, and social isolation has led to both positive impacts and harmful impacts on human beings. We are social creatures and at our core we want to part of something, to interact, and to be acknowledged of our existence.

At least one of the following design elements — curved edges, motion, and 3D — can be found somewhere on the Dribbble homepage. What’s harder to see is that these design elements connect with deeper psychological aspects to purposefully evoke different feelings within us. Curved edges makes us feel comfortable, motion allows us to process faster making us feel more relatable, and 3D allows us to feel more human. When we think about what might be causing the larger macro-trend, the rise of the experience economy, we can chalk it up to a couple different hypotheses based on these elements.

1. Finding comfort in curved edges.

Rounded corners are easier on our eyes because we have adapted to the environment around us. Whether we were raised in the city, suburbs, or the middle of nowhere, we’ve all grown up surrounded by nature. What’s unique about nature is that it’s not perfect in shape and typically takes on natural oval or circular shapes – leaves, hills, rivers, and rocks for example. Since we’ve adapted to this shape, our eyes find comfort when we see it take form in other ways. Sharp corners in general psychologically give off a sense of “brightness,” which tends to be harder for our eyes to adjust to. Curved edges evoke a feeling of comfort and with that comfort we are more likely to trust and find ways to relate to what we see. From a macro trend perspective, we see consumers yearning for that feeling of relatability and trust with everything around them.

What’s predicted for brands in 2018 are extreme acts of honesty and humanization. For example, 19 Crimes augmented reality app takes humanization to another level. After downloading the free app, simply hold it up to the wine bottle’s label and watch the animated story unfold. This AR experience may delight wine drinkers but it also adds a unique element of humanization that creates trust between the brand and the consumer.

2. Motion gives us patience when time can’t.

Visual communication targets our brains in ways that allow us to process information instantly. Through this instant moment of processing we are able to extract and understand the information quicker and more easily. Motion graphics allow us to extract faster so we can make sense of it, and making sense of information faster generally gives us a positive feeling (i.e greater confidence in our ability to know).

Besides feeling more intellectual, why do we need to understand faster?

Why might images without motion be harder to understand?

A larger macro trend is driving our need to “know” faster, and holds the answer to these questions. In a world of multi-screens and instant communication, our perception of time has been warped. As consumers soak themselves in technology and become inundated with information, they have lost total patience. This lack of patience has resulted in people finding happiness when they do have a moment to understand what they are seeing, reading, experiencing. Motion allows people to pause, absorb, and understand.

3. Discovering the self through 3D.

3D graphics create another dimension of space, and that idea of sharing a space with another object evokes a unique feeling in us. It makes the image we are looking at more relatable to our environment and therefore seemingly more real.

And as humans we crave that feeling.

In a world consumed by media we are looking harder to better understand ourselves and relate to the things we see. The 2018 Trendwatching report notes that with the rise of a superficial society comes a great need to escape, an escape from the digitally-saturated world fueled by anxiety and a deeper exploration of our inner self. From AI to AR experiences, consumers are embracing new ways of self discovery. 3D elements meet that psychological need. It allows the viewer to feel that what they are seeing is part of their own reality.

We all want to experience something that’s memorable and that’s derived from our increasing need for comfort, trust, and self discovery, all of which are driving companies to offer memorable experiences to their consumers.

While these designs have psychological effects related to macro trends feeding the experience economy, how might they be truly creating an “experience?”

Within the three design elements lies atmosphere — the prevailing tone or mood of a place, situation, or work of art. Curved edges, motion, and 3D are within the sensory dimension of our brain, which digests these elements as aesthetics. For years, companies have been attempting to evoke the right senses to make consumers feel a certain way. For example, since the 1990s there has been a clear trend across various industries to target consumers’ senses. For example, supermarkets creating the illusion of daylight through spell lightning, or casinos purposely designed with no windows or clocks to keep time unknown and visitors in.

The awakening and targeting of these senses essentially creates a space in the design. This space is called atmosphere and fulfills the needs of experiencing something. To create an experience that resonates with people means that the right senses need to be evoked. By understanding macro trends in the consumer behavior market and the micro trends that are driving them, designers can strategically choose the design elements that help to evoke the senses needed for the viewer to have a truly resonating experience.

The next time you’re exploring Dribbble or any design related site for inspiration, remember trends can have a domino effect of influence and inspiration. Instead of asking what popular designs consumers are attracted to, start asking questions like, “Why are people reacting a certain way to to these designs?” Or, ““What are these designs telling us about the consumer? Society? The world at large?”

Have any thought provoking examples? Share them with us!