Surface Design Trends: Developing Your Own Idea Library

Since the beginning of my career, being aware of trends has always been in the back of my mind and something I took note of while designing and illustrating. Eventually, I came to realize that it was key to making sure my work was relevant and fresh.

Surface Design Trends: Developing Your Own Idea Library | Sketch Design Repeat

As an art buyer, knowing trends was an important aspect of my job. I was always on the lookout for up and coming trends at the trade shows I attended each year. I would pick out patterns that I would see popping up as I walked down the aisles and viewed artist’s work in their booths. I would use this information to anticipate if the trends would translate well to products.

I was also able to compare notes with the current artists I worked with so they could use the trend information to inform art they created, or to see if they had something in their existing portfolio that they could format for products I acquired art for down the line.

Being aware of trends also helped me identify artists to potentially onboard to work with since I could see that they created compatible art that was currently on trend.

All this aside, why is it good for surface pattern designers to keep track of trends?
  • It is, in essence, another way of developing your own library of ideas to draw from when you are stuck on what to create.
  • If you catch a trend when it’s first starting to get popular, this can give you an edge when you pitch to clients. This is particularly true if the company you want to pitch to doesn’t have any products with the trending art currently available for sale. Furthermore, you can leverage your art more easily to different markets and make more money.
  • Finally, it helps you to better understand your audience and know what appeals to them when you create and show your art. Anyone who knows me well, knows I’m really into organization and developing efficient systems of working. I’m constantly tweaking and evaluating how I work. After watching Cat Coquillette’s Trend Forecasting for Visual Creatives class on Skillshare (which I highly recommend watching if you have an account) I was inspired to figure out a structured way of tracking trends.
Surface Design Trends: Developing Your Own Idea Library | Sketch Design Repeat

So how do you keep track of trends?

Be aware and observant of repeating content types from industry leaders and brands you follow and identify similarities between their content and products they produce.

I use Airtable for my database but you could easily set this up in any spreadsheet software. Good content I recommend keeping track of when setting up your design trend database are style, color, motif, products, pattern, texture and typography.

Related Course: Airtable for Artists

To help you recognize trends and patterns, follow other brands, bloggers, and creatives on social media to keep a pulse on what’s currently being talked about and posted. Pinterest and Instagram are both great for following trend leaders on social media but newsletters, publications, and blogs are also excellent resources.

In addition, tracking other horizontal industry markets such as graphic design, interior design, fashion, home decor, art, photography, etc. is also good for anticipating trends that might spill over into surface pattern design markets. It’s also good to keep an eye out for trends across other industries outside your own such as tech, entertainment, and business in case it’s something that could be relevant to the surface pattern design industry as well.

Surface Design Trends: Developing Your Own Idea Library | Sketch Design Repeat

Analyzing trends and integrating them into your portfolio

Keeping track of trends in your database will help identify repeating content patterns and can help inform the art you create for your portfolio.

Is there a motif that keeps popping up? What about a certain style? Color? Type of pattern, texture, typography, or lettering style? If so, list it in your database. Some additional items I like to note are the source of where I noticed the trend, a link to it (if possible), a column to attach an image, and any additional notes. I also have a field I can check to indicate if it’s a holiday-based trend.

Before creating art based on your library of ideas, ask yourself: do you think that trend or idea can be utilized in the art for the market you are targeting or want to bulk up your portfolio for? Do you think the trend will translate well to your market? For example, if you create patterns for the baby apparel market, a psychedelic abstract pattern with neon colors trend that you noticed probably won’t translate well.

Surface Design Trends: Developing Your Own Idea Library | Sketch Design Repeat

Pulling existing portfolio work and updating for trends

To make sure your portfolio stays up to date, it’s a good practice to occasionally look at it and see if there are any pieces that can be refreshed. Having your trend library is a great resource to utilize for this task. It can be as simple as switching up the color palette or integrating a texture that’s really popular.

For example, you could replace certain colors with the current Pantone color of the year. Pantone and home paint companies such as Sherwin Williams and Behr all have color trends for the year that they announce annually. These are also great resources to follow and take note of in your database.

Related Article: Repurposing Old Work in Your Surface Design Portfolio

Also, if you have a print on demand store, subscribe to their newsletters or follow their blogs. Society6, Creative Market, and Zazzle all regularly keep track of the trends on their website and give that information to their sellers.

Even if you don’t use your trend library to try to get ahead of trends, at the very least it’s a great way to have ideas for creating new art whenever you have the need. Ultimately, if you’re good at noticing the patterns around you, whether online or out at shops, it will also help prevent your work from becoming stale so you can make sure your portfolio is always fresh and relevant.

Feel free to use my Airtable Trends template so you can start your own idea library today!

Cody Moore
Written by Cody Alice Moore

Instagram: @codyalicemoore

Cody is an artist, illustrator, and surface pattern designer with over 15 years of experience. Cody discovered surface design while working for four years as an art buyer for a national photo lab. Since 2019, she has been creating art full-time for her budding portfolio and growing collection of licensed designs.

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