Where to Do Design Trend Research
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No matter what industry you’re in, you need to know the trends. Communication trends. Marketing trends. Industry secrets.
Luckily for us designers and makers, there aren’t too many secrets. We don’t have to download 50-page white papers or go to industry-only networking events. Or commission someone to do an extensive study (though you can if you’d like to…).
For those who design and those who curate, it’s so fun and easy to do your own trend research, we have a whole internet at our finger ripe with trend research and inspiration.
But you might be thinking, “Hey, I’m an artist. I like to make what naturally inspires me. Why do I need to follow trends?”
Because making things on trend often means making more sales.
I’m not saying to fill up your entire portfolio with trendy pieces, but it is important to show potential clients (or your patrons) that you can create beautiful things that go along with current sensibilities.
Doing your own trend research will help you become a better designer and become more marketable, whether you’re a licensing artist or looking to land a regular job.
So that’s why today’s post is dedicated to discussing the top places to do design trend research online (and off!). So read on to learn some of the best places to inspire your design work.
Do You Pin?
Pinterest is the biggest cookie jar of inspiration online, and my #1 trend research tool. I use Instagram, too, but Pinterest makes it so easy to search through countless images and save color palettes, illustration styles, home decor trends without leaving a single page.
When I’m pinning on my own, I use Tailwind (#affiliate)to schedule my posts. There's a super easy way to do this using the Tailwind Extension for Chrome. To use the extension most effectively, search for what you want. Then be sure to scroll down the page so the page loads as many images as possible. Then, click the Tailwind extension. Now you will see many, many different images to save. (If you don’t do this trick, the extension only captures the top images that loaded…)
I recently reorganized my boards because I had over 70! I’ve used Pinterest’s grouping features to create boards within boards, which hopefully makes things a little easier to find. I also create hidden boards for new project ideas and for client work.
The only drawback is that Pinterest can be a big time waster because it’s often more fun looking at inspiration than doing “work”. I usually get to a saturation point where I can’t see another image, and I just have to draw, draw, draw to get it all out! You can imagine that some of the end results look like that I’ve seen -- you just have to be careful to create in your own style, and not remake what you’ve already seen!
Follow Websites in Your Industry
This is an easy way to let others do the trend research for you.
For example, I love pattern design and I’m interested in developing my own collections. Where do I go to learn about what’s trending?
Patternbank, Pattern Curator, Spoonflower, to name a few. These websites not only create their own collections of trend reports and mood boards, but they also organize their websites so that it’s easy for you to explore popular design themes.
Some websites, such as Pattern Observer, offer their members a free subscription to popular trend forecasting service WGSN . Others, like Pattern Curator, create their own moodboards and offer trend research as a service. They also share free content through newsletters and social media, so even if you can’t afford the subscription, you can still get a peek into upcoming styles.
But don’t just stick to your niche. If you branch out to other, related professional websites, you’ll be able to make your own connections. It’s like cross-pollinating. For example, the popular packaging website The Dieline, or websites like Mindsparkle Mag help you learn what’s going on in the wider world of design.
I follow several interior design blogs, too. While I might just casually click through their emails, I’m taking in all their creativity and making a mental folder of sources for new designs.
Download Professional Trend Reports
Many of these popular websites also create their own trend reports. Some just publish them as blog posts, or keep them behind a subscription site, but others offer them as downloads, either free or paid.
These can be pricey -- sometimes hundreds of dollars -- but you can often piece together bits and pieces for free. I have a huge swipe file of creative trends that I keep adding to. I can’t even keep up with the number of mood boards that I’ve saved. They’re always nice to have on hand in case I need to round out my collections.
Also, Pantone creates color reports for several different industries. These are used by the companies who make other trend reports, so finding inspiration from Pantone is a great place to start!
Visit Artists’ Websites
I also follow artists who share industry tips and those who teach classes that I’d like to take. For example, Oksancia is a surface pattern designer who shares advice for artists on
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCadmuzGqIyYTGaDNZKDS71Q" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">her youtube channel</a>, including a video on doing trend research. I also follow @Laurenleslystudio, who put together her own trend report that you can <a href="https://www.laurenlesley.com/trend" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">download her trend report here</a>.
Is there a blog that you already love and read on a regular basis? Ask the artist where they go for inspiration? Everyone’s looking somewhere, and they might be kind enough to share some resources with you.
Use Behance and Dribbble
One thing that I like about Behance, in particular, is that you get inspiration for product mockups. So not only can you see the beautiful branding or packaging or photos, but you see how the best-rated designers present themselves. Taking notes from them will increase the value of your work immensely.
(It’s my goal to one day get a feature… a lofty one, perhaps?)
See What’s Selling on Marketplaces
If you design digital goods, it’s really easy to create something on-trend with a quick turn around (providing that you’re both inspired and have the time to do it!)
I like to search (and sell on) Creative market, but there are many other design marketplaces popping up now.
Even though there are thousands (or millions?) of sellers competing for attention, there’s always room for you to create your own take on a current theme. Not everyone wants to use the same graphics for their projects, so maybe you can improve upon what’s already out there. Or create something similar for a different audience.
If you’re going this route, though, it’s better to act fast so that your work can start its own trends instead of getting lost on page 10. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled on an idea while doing market research. Soon, I see another artist put out something similar. If you’re doing your trend research, this will happen. So don’t let things simmer in your notebooks forever!
Another place to look is Society6, an artists' marketplace with an active community that consistently posts new work. Society6 regularly curates collections to promote their work, and they have regular features about new themes. They also collab with big brands, giving you an extra eye into what might be selling now. And like Creative Market, Society6 also publishes a monthly newsletter to help artists key-in on what’s trending.
Go to Trade Shows and Markets
Get off of your couch (or out of the coffee shop) and attend local and national trade shows and markets.
If a ticket to those shows is too pricey, you can still check out local markets and craft fairs, or organize your own! Any attention is good attention, and you can make some great connections and learn a lot from others in similar markets.
Go to Target … Or Another Store Where your Ideal Buyers Might Hang Out!
Or another favorite store where your ideal buyers might hang out! Target is a great example because when I was young (I know I’m dating myself), there wasn’t that much difference between Target and Walmart. But somewhere along the way, Target did its trend research and revamped stores to target Millenials. The result is the Target that you see now, and it’s not an embarrassment to say, “I found that at Target”.
The same story was true of Free People which was still an unknown, lower-end brand when I was growing up. Only now I know that it’s part of the Anthro family (along with Urban Outfitters), and it’s grow into its own well-fringed boots.
The point is that all of these brands are doing trend research for their own kind, so if your target market shops there, go find some inspiration! Keep in mind, though,that what you see what conceived of several months in advance. So keeping up with trends won’t be enough, unless you’re doing research for immediate products or packaging design, or something with a similar quick turn-around time.
Visit Stock Websites
Stock websites are no longer full of cheesy graphics and half-rate clip art. Well, actually, they still are (there’s a market for everyone, right?) -- but, many amazing artists sell patterns, photos, and illustrations on stock websites, too.
It’s an extra source of passive income, and you can find some beautiful designs there. Sites like Adobe Stock even curate Premium collections of on-trend graphics, and these are great to look at for inspiration. They also create monthly trend reports to help their “contributors” (aka artists) develop marketable work.
It’s an extra source of passive income, and you can find some beautiful designs there. Sites like Adobe even curate Premium collections of on-trend graphics, and these are great to look at for inspiration. They also create monthly trend reports to help their “contributors” (aka artists) develop marketable work.
To find what’s really selling, just click on the different categories on the homepage. You’ll instantly see what’s trending in your category (and probably for your area… thanks, cookies!) Scroll through a few pages and see how your style might fit in there.
Hire Someone to Do Your Research For You
I mentioned earlier in this post that many studios and individuals offer trend research as a stand-alone service. I can’t recommend one because I’ve never gone this route. So find one whose style and experience could be a match for your needs. Just make sure that they’ve worked in your industry before, and see some examples of their work. And the references.
Ask other designers where they go
Designers might be a tight-lipped bunch in some respects (like which print on demand service you use!), but many of us are also happy to share our insights and help others. After all, that’s how we got to be where we are now.. By learning from others! #collaborationovercompetition
(Pssst… that’s why next week I’m going to share a blog post with you on my top design trends of summer -- most which you can expect to last well into the new year, too!)
Wrapping it up
Even if you purchase paid trend reports or you’re part of a collective, there’s immense value in doing your own trend research. Being able to think on your own, make connections between styles and industries, and learning what’s selling will help you find out what people really want -- which is key to becoming a successful designer.
The trick is to find the trends, then to adapt them into your own style.
I put together this blog post to give you some prompts on where to look while doing your own design trend research. It’s not an exhaustive list and there are so many new blogs and industry sites that create great quality reports every year.
If you know of any other sites and would like to add to this list, please leave a comment below!