Should I be trendy?

over 8 years ago from , UX Designer

A client told me he hates all the flat design out there today. He wanted something with depth, texture, translucency and reflection. He thinks his app is reimagining an industry and wants it to "wow." (Yea, he said all the right things, right?) He sent me samples of UI he liked that were the trends from 2 to 6 years ago. All the current trends are flat, minimalist, and fun. He likes skeuomorphic and glass.

So - do I try to push him on the new stuff? Or just respect that trends are trends, and give him what he wants, and maybe he can be successful even by sticking with the old styles? I'm thinking he won't, since people will see it and think it's old and stuffy.

What do you think?


  • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 8 years ago

    Design for the project! What does the project need and require to be successful.

    Sometimes a client does... well, suck. If that happens, make the best of it and do what you can. Merge "what the client likes" and, not current trends but, timeless design.

    Trends are always fleeting, but hey, design is ephemeral too!

    53 points
    • Bryant HughesBryant Hughes, over 8 years ago

      Yep nicely said.

      Also, you should be able to explain to the client why his preferred aesthetic is a bad decision for the project (if it is), and why something more "trendy" or modern is the better choice. If you can't articulate why, then your choice is just as unsubstantiated as the clients.

      If you are able to articulate and they still throw a fit, it's either dump the client, or do the work and make a sacrifice on the output (which sucks), but is definitely a reality in a client services industry.

      Good luck!

      11 points
    • Ian GoodeIan Goode, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )


      Being aware of trends is good but you can't go into every (any) project having already decided you have to follow current trends. That's working with two hands behind your back.

      Trends are not necessarily an indicator of what's good or what works. They're self-feeding cycles where something gets distilled and drained until it's so shallow that people get bored and look for something new. If that's your starting point then you're already behind.

      2 points
      • Tevi Hirschhorn, over 8 years ago

        Totally agree - some good comments here.

        It's not that I want to necessarily throw all the current trends in. This project needs to show that it's modern and new to be taken seriously. If it looks 5 years old, it will fail. Miserably. Photoshop grain, drop shadows and chrome are so dead.

        I tried explaining that to the client, but he insisted...

        I guess I'm just going to have to make the best of it.

        0 points
        • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 8 years ago

          It's also worth noting that most digital designs only live 1-2 years before being redesigned. So, even though this goes against what I said earlier, sometimes current trends are good, as long as you are also attempting to forecast the next two years.

          Unfortunately sometimes a project is a project and you simply do it to get paid :( but I still suggest doing whatever you can to help educate the client and properly provide a solid solution for the problem at hand. Even showing other, current designs as a comparison to what the client is referencing (hint: you don't have to show other sites/apps in the same field, for example banks and universities always have sucky design, so if designing for a bank why would you inspect what other banks are doing? Check out and reference similar industries that are doing it well!)

          Good luck!

          1 point
    • Bryce DriesengaBryce Driesenga, over 8 years ago

      I definitely see what you're getting it. But I think timeless design is tricky when it comes to app designs. I feel like phone apps are inherently not timeless. But creating something that will look good for as long as possible should definitely be something to strive for.

      I like Frank Chimero's thoughts on timeless design -- http://frankchimero.com/blog/lets-talk-about-timeless-design/

      4 points
      • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 8 years ago

        Sure, saying timeless design is a bit vague, and maybe that's good and maybe it's bad. But I think what should be said is that timeless design isn't about drop shadows, border radii, or pairing the colors salmon and teal.

        Timeless Design isn't about techniques, but elements. Timeless Design is a way of thinking. Timeless Design is focusing on content first, hierarchy, typography, rhythm, and function.

        I'm making all this up as I go, so it's probably partly true and partly false :)

        1 point
        • Bryce DriesengaBryce Driesenga, over 8 years ago

          True! Timeless design is tricky to define, I think. But I'd say focusing on the thinking and process aspect is the right track to be on.

          0 points
  • M. AppelmanM. Appelman, over 8 years ago


    30 points
  • Ryan MurphyRyan Murphy, over 8 years ago

    You're meant to be the professional here.

    You shouldn't be designing to trends.

    He shouldn't be designing.

    10 points
  • Yakim van ZuijlenYakim van Zuijlen, over 8 years ago

    You should explain to him why it needs to be flat. You can’t just say that because it looks nicer to you. For example: think about consistency within a system or OS. And really, if it’s better to make it look more skeuomorphic, why not?

    No really, why not? Ask yourself that question!

    9 points
  • Chris NewtonChris Newton, over 8 years ago

    There are two kinds of fools: one says, “This is old, therefore it is good”; the other says, “This is new, therefore it is better.”

    — William Ralph Inge

    6 points
    • Tevi Hirschhorn, over 8 years ago

      obviously that's not what I'm getting at here - there are current standards, and there are dated standards (that have been proven ineffective, or simply run their course).

      0 points
      • Chris NewtonChris Newton, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

        That may be so, but I don’t accept the premise that flat, minimalist design is a current standard, or at least not a good one.

        The current trend for flat design is a triumph of mediocrity. It is what happens when using more varied styles and original graphics and designing to match the content becomes too difficult, time-consuming or expensive. This could be because of having less than ideal graphics software or formats available. It could be because modern sites and apps often need to support a wide range of output displays. Frankly, I think a lot of it is simply laziness or incompetence.

        Whatever the motivation, designs started getting dumbed down to what you could do trivially with CSS, and often even further to what you could do trivially with someone else’s CSS framework. It’s all rectangular blocks, and straight lines and circles done with borders and transforms, and web fonts, and monochrome icons implemented using web fonts, and maybe a bit of animation. But that means everything flat is the same: bland, no brand distinctiveness, and often with glaring usability problems. After a while mobile apps and mobile operating systems jumped on the bandwagon too.

        The absurdity may have finally reached its logical conclusion, though. I actually read an article the other day — a serious one, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was published by The Onion — where someone from a big name firm made the insightful observation that having a drop shadow on a button could make it easier for users to identify it than... just using completely plain text. Truly a remarkable discovery, and a radical step forward in UI design that brings us right up to... the 1980s. ;-)

        As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m not a fan. IMNSHO, flat design is the worst trend we’ve had for as long as I can remember, and not just because I happen not to like it as a trend, but for objective reasons like the difficulty in being distinctive and the poor affordance of interactive elements. You mention dated standards that have proven ineffective, but take a look at the comments on iOS 7/8 and Windows 8 and then tell me with a straight face that Flat Design is effective.

        So if your client wants to do something in a style that is dated and seems unlikely to get good results, as a professional I think it’s fine for you to diplomatically point that out and suggest alternatives. But please don’t just suggest flat design instead because it’s trendy, particularly if your client has made it clear that they don’t like it. Trendy and good are two very different things, and as professionals we should do better for our clients than what their thirteen-year-old kids can whip up in ten minutes with Bootstrap.

        0 points
  • Account deleted over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I'm gonna answer this from a slightly different angle...

    I think if you're gonna hate working on that kind of stuff and then not be able to really show it off afterwards (because it looks so dated), you should think about walking away.

    In the end, it's what you hope to get out of the project. If you just need $$$ and it doesn't matter to you if it's a success or not... then rock whatever he wants and make some cheddar. If you're hoping that this will be a portfolio project for you, something you can put your stamp on... then walk. If you're not gonna be happy... the work will suffer, the client relationship will suffer, etc.

    I still do PPT work for clients on the side every year... and I HATE PPT. I look at those jobs as money and networking (CEO B sees CEO A's PPT and asks who did it) and that's it. I don't need to show off the work - and never will. I have other projects where I'm intensely passionate about things...

    Just look at what this project is to you.

    5 points
    • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 8 years ago

      Walking away is always an option for bad clients, if you don't mind going hungry for a day or two or possibly sleeping on a bench outside.

      I hear a lot of designers talk about dropping bad clients, but does anyone actually do it? (Not trying to start a flame war, honestly interested to know). For example, I work for an agency, and I actually do have a hand in choosing clients, but when clients go bad I have zero say in getting rid of the client and would probably say that's the situation the majority of designers find themselves in.

      If I worked as a contractor and wasn't independently wealthy (because I'm not), mostly likely I wouldn't be able to fire any client at will because the cash flow would be necessary to survive. I would guess that's the situation most contracting designers also find themselves in.

      Thoughts? Experiences?

      1 point
      • Gabe KelleyGabe Kelley, over 8 years ago

        I once had a client that was under the impression that he owned 100% of my time because he was paying me. We talked schedules several times before he emailed me with a request and then seven minutes later an email asking where the update was. After I explained it would take some time, he demanded the work be completed right then. At that time I told him that I would complete the work but it will be the last thing I do for him.

        It is totally OK to drop bad clients and people should. Bad/mean/demeaning clients take up time dealing with their bad-ness, and that isn't time you need to waste.

        1 point
        • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 8 years ago

          Thanks for the low-down. Have you ever seen an agency truly fire a client?

          0 points
          • Kai HuangKai Huang, over 8 years ago

            I currently work at an agency and we actually fired a client a couple months ago.

            It got to the point where the client would spontaneously show up at our office and wanted to sit with us while we did the design to direct it.

            Needless to say, it never got to this point.

            0 points
          • Derek FoggeDerek Fogge, over 8 years ago

            Yes, I have.

            It took a few months of planning and finding clients to replace them (they made up a large percentage of the bottom line), but it does happen.

            0 points
          • Keaton TaylorKeaton Taylor, over 8 years ago

            We fired a massive client based in NYC because they approved design and about halfway through development came back and asked us with screen shots to update the site to look like another site. We told them we could do design updates on the condition that we would: 1. Not "make it look like" the other site (heavy gradients and ugly colors) & 2. That it's a change after approval and would cost them.

            They pushed back on both those things and withheld a scheduled payment so we called them to resolve - which did not end well. We ended up informing them that per our contract we would be stopping all work, downloading all their files to a thumb drive and invoicing them for our project termination fee + the scheduled payment and would mail the thumb drive once payment was remitted.

            They ended up paying and apologizing for the whole fiasco.

            0 points
      • Account deleted over 8 years ago

        All good points. I think that's why it's important to always evaluate what the project really is to you. If it's a money project, you just gotta check your opinions at the door sometimes and look at that project as exactly what it is - revenue. If you can't stomach that.. learn to quickly or don't take the gig. Sometimes you have to remember... a month on a project you hate might help keep the lights on the next month you're working on something personal.

        I have moved on from clients before, but the couple times I have... I handled it as professionally as possible. Usually there is a reasonable reason to part ways (in one case, they could never stick to a plan... turning a quick project into a long, drawn-out affair... which was never part of the initial agreement). In those cases, I went out of my way to find other contractors to help them continue on.

        Even as a FT contractor (or PT one too), everything boils down to communication... and setting up an agreement before work is even started. Discuss time expectations, your general working hours and style, etc. Outline and detail the project itself and what's expected. If you do these things in the initial call/meeting and represent yourself accurately, you'll rarely have a client issue.

        These days I simply ask what they need and I tell them how I generally work, how I communicate and keep them up to date, how long it will take me and how much I'm gonna cost. If they don't like ANY of it, I'm out... before it even started.

        The key is being honest with what you really can deliver on. I've learned long ago over-promising a delivery is a disaster. When you're honest and push back (even when they tell you something is needed by X)... they almost always back down when you tell them it's Y or you can't touch it.

        There will be some clients that take your ideas and opinions as gospel... and others that simply need execution. Just be aware of the need - and your role in it from the start - and then rock it.

        1 point
  • Nicolas GirardNicolas Girard, over 8 years ago

    All you are talking about is skin. If you work from a well designed wireframe and with a good UX designer, it shouldn't matter if the final look of the buttons is flat colors, fake leather, glass or chest hair. don't confuse design with style.

    3 points
  • Nathan NNathan N, over 8 years ago

    People don't really care what the shit we make looks like as long as it is easy to use and it works. Aesthetics don't really matter all that much to be honest.

    2 points
    • Tevi Hirschhorn, over 8 years ago

      Uhh, then you shouldn't be a designer...

      0 points
      • Nathan NNathan N, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

        Uhh, then you shouldn't be a designer...

        Lmao who are you to tell me what I can or cannot do. Please argue your case for form over function or leave the room.

        edit: The question your raising in this thread and your complaint against this client IMO is trivial. Anyone who calls himself an expert in design can create any look for the client that they want. It really shouldn't bother you so much that your client doesn't want flat design.

        0 points
  • Rick KhannaRick Khanna, over 8 years ago

    You should take this as a challenge. Everyone is doing flat design and it's getting predictable. I think it would be fun to create a more crafted design. There's definitely a way you could do this without it looking "old and stuffy".

    2 points
    • Tevi Hirschhorn, over 8 years ago

      That was the attitude I decided to take a few days ago. But now it's turning into a nightmare.

      I guess this all started because I ignored the initial red flag. Turns out, there are more red flags...

      0 points
  • Tori ZTori Z, over 8 years ago

    check this designer's work: https://dribbble.com/owltastic Might be the "trend" you are looking for.

    2 points
  • Mason LawlorMason Lawlor, over 8 years ago

    I agree with people saying that you should be able to find a design that isn't trendy, yet looks good and accomplishes everyone's needs. But there's a fine line between compromise, and digging yourself into a hole. I've found you can usually spot the red flags immediately by asking yourself, "Does this client trust me?" If not, there's no amount of compromise is going to work out in the end. Most of my best clients have had great confidence in me from the get-go.

    1 point
  • Bevan StephensBevan Stephens, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Do a little research and choose a visual style that will appeal whoever the website is aimed at.

    Start by choosing the most appropriate typeface, then work on a colour scheme and imagery. Does the site have competitors that it needs to stand out from?

    It can be detrimental if a site looks dated, but if your target market aren't made up of designers, then it's probably not as big a deal as you imagine.

    Essentially, it doesn't matter if neither you or your client like the particular visual style as long as it is right for your users. It's also your job to explain this to the client (which can be tough sometimes).

    0 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, over 8 years ago

    Perhaps try to steer the conversation away from trends and surface concerns, and instead towards what the high level objectives of the project are. From there you can derive your target audience and try to understand their domain, and hopefully agree on a visual language that serves their wants / needs, rather than the client's whims.

    0 points
  • Chris NewtonChris Newton, over 8 years ago

    If this is a professional gig, then IMHO your first priority is to make your client happy. It is not to have fun on their dollar. It is not to improve your portfolio on their dollar. It is to produce work that meets their needs.

    So, if they have explicit requirements for the project, then that is your spec. By all means offer sound professional advice, and privately hope they accept your recommendations because you think the results will be better for them in the end. But as long as they are paying the bill, they get the final word.

    If you aren’t happy to work for them on those terms, I think you should politely decline the gig, and ideally recommend someone else they could approach instead who might be a better partner for them to work with on the project.

    0 points
  • Christopher Mansfield, over 8 years ago

    The clients subjective opinion on the design is irrelevant unless he is the sole user of the solution.

    Every designer wants to design something they think is pretty and want to share with the design community however it is our responsibility to think logically and make strategic design decisions.


    An argument for flat design could be: The users have a deep understanding of conventional device interaction. Therefore we have an opportunity create a clean styled app together and efficiently emphasize the core tasks.

    An argument for skeuomorphic could be: The users are not familiar conventional device interaction, adopting a skeuomorphic philosophy will help design interactive elements that look similar to recognizable real life objects.

    0 points
    • Tevi Hirschhorn, over 8 years ago

      Absolutely. But he was asking for specific design elements which break flow, hinder navigation, add visual clutter and hurt overall usability. (I won't get into the details here.) He wasn't taking any of my advice. I wasn't even arguing for flat design, specifically; simply that the things he was asking for are no longer done for the reasons I mentioned above.

      0 points
  • Brian Garcia, over 8 years ago

    Maybe a little of both? No gradients, but abstract blurred backgrounds, and drop shadows. shrugs

    0 points