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Style in Design: What Does It Mean?

What exactly is a design style, and why is it important in the creative process?

When it comes to following various design styles and trends, the internet is overflowing with knowledge. However, a more precise definition of design style, its applications and limits throughout the design process, and how to approach consistency or diversity in style for various design projects and settings is lacking from much of this debate. The majority of my time will be spent focused on communication design, with a concentration on technology and software interfaces.

What do you mean by the term “design style”?

Grunge in the 1990s and Russian constructivism in the 1920s are two examples of visual styles that have been defined by a specific time period, location, and purpose. Art Deco and Swiss/International style are examples of styles that are named after the era, movement, or philosophy in which they were created. Urban street art’s spontaneous, created letterforms and frequent pop-culture allusions may be identified with a given subculture (e.g.

Swiss/International style posters by Armin Hofmann, the designer. Images from of Flyer

Posters by Steve Thomas in the style of the Art Deco period. This style is known for its use of soft colour gradients and typefaces.

Buzzwords are often used to describe a “design style” in a casual setting. Grunge. Swiss. Minimalist. Skeuomorphic. Flat. These terms include a wide range of visual norms and similarities. It’s possible to use up to 10 distinct fonts on a single poster using grunge typography. While Swiss typography is known for its clarity and restraint in its typefaces, this is in direct contrast to this.

What is the definition of a design style?

To put it simply, a “design style” may be defined as a specific combination of colour schemes, fonts, and compositional techniques.

A higher level, however, design styles frequently bring with them a set of rules and methodologies on how to achieve those aims in the design process.

There are some clichéd connections here, but there are others that speak to the underlying concept of the style. Gradients and textures are used because it is felt that applying physical metaphors makes things more understandable and accessible. In response to the skeuomorphic design trend, flat design emphasises simple, flat planes of colour to remove visual clutter and enhance clarity in the design process.

Designers have a tendency to favour some aesthetics over others, and this may be seen in their work in the form of recurring patterns and clichés.

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for iOS, for example, provide standards for how menus should appear and function, how buttons should be designed, and so on. This visual language may help products stand out from the crowd.

Style has a function.

As a result, why are concepts and patterns organised into unique visual styles? Although this isn’t a full look at the subject, I’ll provide a few examples below:

Principles of the same kind may be found in both

The concepts of particular design styles may be compatible with the principles of what you’re doing or how you’re designing when you draw from them. An worldwide conglomerate, for example, may benefit from using the Swiss International style, which emphasises impartiality and readability. Because the style is based on comparable design problems or challenges, the manner in which that style appears may be the most effective for the given context.

a nod to the past

Also, if you wish to mention a certain time or ideology, you may employ a style. It is common for nostalgia-inducing advertising to use design elements from the past. Because of our shared cultural and aesthetic literacy, we perceive some visual methods as new and old-fashioned, consciously or unconsciously. Anarchist publications may use random, grungy typography to express a feeling of revolt, whereas political advertisements may use a patriotic colour scheme or particular iconography and symbols to show authority and dependability. In order to promote their eco-friendly, organic goods, cosmetics manufacturers will use nature-inspired colour schemes, typefaces, and images.

Reagan’s presidential campaign posters from 1984. By including images of the American flag and the White House, Reagan’s image is linked to national symbols of strength and patriotism. Image courtesy of Andrew van Alstyne for a report.
When utilised in a modern context to criticise or advocate for peace, motifs from WWII propaganda posters might be co-opted to condemn or parody the present state of military affairs.

Consistency in speech

Product consistency and clarity are maintained when designers use design styles to guide the construction of a specific product. It’s helpful to know what visual themes are often connected with others (such as particular fonts that are deemed fun and anticipated to be used in combination with a young and vivid colour scheme) so that you can create something that has a consistent voice and personality.

An overall design style that prescribes themes that are consistent across the whole system, such as a set of book covers or an app for Android or iOS, may serve to exhibit cohesiveness and interconnection. The familiarity and confidence users have in the iOS UI and app ecosystem may be used to make each individual application a bit nicer and more accessible by having uniform design principles and some amount of consistent visual design across all iOS applications.

That, my friends, is style. If you want to know what a design style is and why it’s important, you need to look at the definitions of what it isn’t and where it falls short in the design process.

The importance of aesthetics in the creation of a product

As practitioners of a certain style, designers often self-identify as such, and many designers go to considerable lengths to establish a distinctive style in their work. Personal style may have its place in design, but it shouldn’t be the only determinant of final results. Famous designers, for example, are generally known for their use of text, grids, and colour in extremely individualised ways.

Personal design style’s drawbacks

Author of The Design Method Eric Karjaluoto recently conducted an interview with designer and blogger David Airey. Karjaluoto answers to the question, “You claim the voice of the designer is irrelevant—what do you mean?” by saying:

I’m referring to one’s own individuality and style in this context. In our sector, design is frequently misunderstood as being akin to art, which distorts what we do. New designers, in particular, have a strong desire to include their own personal style into their work, yet this desire isn’t that significant.

In order to meet the demands of clients, designers must create designs that reflect the beliefs and objectives of their respective organisations. First and first, designers need to put the demands of their customers ahead of their own.

However, even though this is a rhetorical allusion to client work, it may easily be extended to any design job aimed at a broader audience. It’s possible that sticking to a single “design style” might harm the work you do, whether for yourself or a client, if you let your own tastes and habits take precedence over the demands of the project and the message you need to convey.

Lack of context may lead to design solutions that are unsuitable for the medium, the content’s voice and speaker’s style, as well as for what is delivered in terms of information.

Absent from context, style

A design style is an excellent way to convey what the design is or what it aspires to be while discussing design. As a means of communicating, “I don’t want superfluous aesthetic features to distract from this, I want the substance to be front and centre.” The names you employ are usually translated to the concepts they represent.

While it’s simple to mistake a design style for its appearance rather than its function when using a verbal shortcut, it’s far more difficult to unlearn this mistake. We begin to think of a design style as a coat of paint rather than a collection of problem-solving skills. Whitespace, monochromatic, and scant visual features are all examples of the term “minimal” in design. The principles of minimalism, which are crucial in deciding whether or not a minimalist style is suitable or successful, are abandoned.

We trivialise design when we think of style as a set of rules for how things should appear rather than a set of creative solutions. We must keep in mind that design is a process, not simply a product, so that we may see various design approaches as tools to be used to achieve a specific goal, rather than as a set of rules to follow when creating anything new. A design style is a collection of tools we might use, not a belief system to which we must subscribe in wholeheartedly.

The skeuomorphic vs. flat design argument is a fantastic illustration of the dangers of design-style-as-ideology. There has been a lot of talk about the fall of skeuomorphism and the growth of a flat design style with the introduction of Windows Metro’s chromatically bright and visually daring design style and the iOS redesign that did away with many skeuomorphic oddities. However, it also serves as a useful illustration of the limits of our current terminology for discussing design style and its application.

Yesterday it was skeuomorphism, now it’s flat

In digital interface design, skeuomorphism refers to mimicking real-world effects and metaphors and a 3D-like appearance. Applications that replicated the pebbled-leather bindings of real calendars, as well as reading apps that simulated the flipping of digital blocks of text, were significantly responsible for popularising the concept of a “flipped” reading experience.

iCal’s skeuomorphic design includes a pebbled texture for the programme chrome, simulated stitching, and a page rip effect that mimics a real-life calendar.. This image may be found on the Apple help page.
Skeuomorphic design relied on the use of real-world analogies in order to improve usability and familiarity. You may interact with me by pressing buttons that seem 3D. I’ll come up with a plan. I’ll get back to you. Skeuomorphic designs’ flaws were in the metaphors they used, which were introduced without a clear purpose. What if you had to “flip” through the pages of a book-like navigation device? The question is whether or not emulating a book is useful in this situation. How much more successful are pixels pretending to be pages than simple forward and return arrows? Is that analogy appropriate in this context?

Skeuomorphism’s excesses and flaws have led to the rise of flat design. Digital design patterns are eschewed in favour of abstract abstractions. That is to say that the physical metaphors of leather and wood have been replaced by the digital paradigms of flat, brilliant colours and unhinged type. And it’s too easy to concentrate on the what rather than the why when discussing the widespread rejection of skeuomorphism and the embrace of flat design in several user interfaces.

Windows 8’s flat design style has huge icons on flat colour. Image courtesy of Doug Holland’s MSDN blog.
The what—the appearance of your buttons, navigation bars, and colour scheme are all important considerations. These are simple questions that have simple solutions. But the whys make things more complicated. What was the problem with the skeuomorphic-style buttons? Flat design paradigms are more usable because of this. What’s the point of eschewing analogue alternatives like corkboards and notepads in favour of wholly digital ones? What new capabilities have we added to our designs? What has been taken away?

You may easily get the impression that skeuomorphism has been completely disavowed as a dated and ineffective design method by reading design blogs and the tech press. This trend, on the other hand, doesn’t need renouncing one style in favour of another.

A well-designed programme still has the same basic needs, despite the evolution of software design from strong skeuomorphic metaphors to flat design. According to a Smashing Magazine article titled “Flat and Thin Are In,” flat design is gaining popularity, but its explanation of the best practises underlying flat design end up being best practises for all designers. Pay attention to the text, utilise grids to establish hierarchy, and use colour and font sparingly. Does this sound familiar to you?

It’s possible that the new iOS 7 interface’s visual style may be seen as a break from skeuomorphism; yet, skeuomorphism concepts are still there in a more subtle form. An outstanding write-up by tech writer Rene Ritchie on iOS 7’s enhanced interactions and effects highlights the improved physics of minor interactions and motions. A new application of skeuomorphism has been applied to the interface.

iOS 7’s App Switcher interface. iMore’s article on the subject.

Skeuomorphism had a reason, and it continues to serve a function now. There are both merits and limitations to flat design, and finding out how far to lean in either direction—or which features to steal from one or both styles—requires a deeper grasp of how design works. Use a visual style to elegantly satisfy the criteria of a created product after determining what it needs to be.

It is quite beneficial to have a design style to guide you through the whole design process. However, the usage of style should extend beyond a strict set of norms and restrictions. By focusing on practical problem-solving rather than fad-driven dogma, a more careful approach to design may be taken, leading to the production of more nuanced and successful work.

The design style is no longer enough.

Remember that a style is only one way of looking at the world and the many design solutions that are out there, and not the only one. Consider not just how a style appears, but how it functions, when making a decision on its suitability for your project. Use themes from a variety of styles to your advantage. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of various design options. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using one style over another? Which connotations are elicited more readily by a certain aesthetic?

Frank Chimero, a designer, writer, and educator, provides the most succinct description of the dangers of being too reliant on a single aesthetic. The following is his counsel to a graphic design student, as given in answer to the question—

The only things that last are ideas, not aesthetics.

Minimalism may be dangerous if it’s used as an aesthetic choice without a purpose.

Design is a means of expressing oneself. Be able to explain to yourself why you choose the visual style you did.

Be prepared for the fact that your style will change over time—for the purpose, for changes in trends and preferences, for various stages of your profession and life. Rosscott, a webcomic writer and designer, counsels aspiring designers.

In other words, having a style is a way of stating that you’re boring.

Think beyond the box and come up with new ideas. You may be surprised. Surprise the people around you. In order to have a successful product, your design must be able to change and respond to the circumstances. Make use of several design styles, but only in ways that improve your work’s expressiveness and effectiveness.

How do I find my graphic design style?

A graphic designer’s unique style has to be flexible enough to fit within a client’s brand standards, but it shouldn’t be completely absent from the work that you create. It is possible, however, to attract more of your preferred customers and the types of projects you are really thrilled about by developing your own personal style.

It is far more likely that a prospective customer is interested in working with you if they see a consistent style in your portfolio rather than a mix of styles and designs that have no apparent identity.

Step 1: Consider who you want to serve as a customer.

A unique design aesthetic is only useful if it’s in sync with the kind of projects your target customers are looking for. You’ll have a hard time obtaining clients if your design style is brutalist and edgy yet your desired clientele are spas and wellness practitioners.

Consider what you like and don’t like about the websites of the clients you’d want to work with. What can you do better? Why do you think that would be the case?

Take a peek at what’s happening in related industry as well as the customers you want to reach. What if you’ve always wanted to work with people in the medical industry? If you’re interested in health, fitness, and well-being in general, there are plenty of resources online. Explore nutrition and holistic health websites as possible resources.
The sectors that are in direct opposition to your target customers should also be examined. To get a sense of the types of sites you should steer clear of, consider looking at the medical business and looking at sites that promote unproven “cures” for all kinds of maladies.

As a creative professional, you don’t want to replicate anyone’s style since that would not be your own. However, you must consider the desires and requirements of your clientele. To put it another way, since at the end of the day, it’s all about helping your customers and their audiences.

Consider your competitors in this step.

Look at what your rivals are doing while building your own design style. Seeing what has been done before might provide you insight into what you like and dislike.

You can’t expect to be successful with your design style if you create it in a vacuum. What has been done and where there is space for improvement must be examined. Make a list of things you enjoy and things you don’t like about your current situation.

“What a smart artist realises is that nothing emerges from nothing,” writes Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like an Artist. Every piece of creative work builds on the work that has gone before it in some way. There’s no such thing as a unique idea.” Instead than focusing just on what a few other designers are doing, it’s important to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources and transform it into something uniquely your own.

You may get ideas from other industries as well.

When it comes to online and graphic design, inspiration comes from other web and graphic artists. On the surface, it seems reasonable; why wouldn’t you look at other websites for inspiration while developing a website?

It’s true that there are numerous other places to go for creative ideas. Find inspiration in different fields of design, such as fashion, industrial and architectural. However, don’t forget to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. For inspiration, have a look at art and photography. Take a look about you, whether it’s in nature or any other setting.

Keep a collection of images that inspire you and use them as inspiration for your own design style. You should keep adding photos that suit or enhance your own personal style.

Bend the rules in step four.

The rules, concepts, and conventions of excellent design should be learned by every designer. You should devote some time to learning these skills so that you can use them without thinking.

After learning all of the rules and foundations, you may begin to bend them. Perhaps you’ll play around with colour schemes that are out of the ordinary and don’t follow the norm. Alternatively, you may have a unique manner of blending typefaces.

Consider this: You must be aware of all of the rules before bending them. Once you’ve figured out what they’re for and how they do it, you may go on to figuring out how you can accomplish the same result in a different way.

Using more than two colours isn’t a “law,” but it is a popular design practise. Other methods to break the rules include to use large typography with an unusual hierarchy, or to use regular components in unexpected ways.

Step 5: Be open-minded about your design aesthetic.

Having a distinct design style is essential to establishing your own identity and attracting the proper clientele, but you must be able to adapt it to new situations. In order to best serve your customer, you may need to stray from your usual approach from time to time.

If you aren’t prepared to stray from your trademark style, then be very selective about the clients you accept. Check to see whether you can meet their demands within the parameters you’ve laid down before you start.