Brands are best served when made for specific people. For years, I've been encouraging founders to focus on building a brand for one person.
In reading the Lean Startup, there was a moment of clarity: the person you build a brand for is the early adopter. Prior to reading this, I'd be referring to this persona as the ideal customer, but that isn't as objective as early adopter. Here's why:
Early adopters seek out uniqueness and difference, they are very particular with good taste, they have strong tribal associations, and they are willing to go out on a limb to try something new. Furthermore, they are the first dominoes to buy into a product that will eventually spill over into the early majority and late majority. You cannot impress the majorities if you have not impressed early adopters.
Build a product for your ideal early adopter. Not the average or ideal customer.
Be seen as a replaceable commodity.
Look and feel incoherent and unworthy of success.
Aimlessness. Without defining your purpose, vision, and mission, your actions will fall by the wayside.
Can you afford to be brandless?
We are approaching the end of 2020, so there will be an inevitable slew of posts and articles titled "Design Trends 2021." This punch is for the faces of these articles.
Why am I against design trends? Three reasons:
1. They aren't really trends (mostly)
A trend is an upward, macro progression. They shift societies as a whole and alter what we perceive to be the norm. For example, data transparency, responsive design, artificial intelligence, public health (thanks COVID), or E-commerce are trends. Trends are movements that you either get on board with or your company becomes irrelevant. Design trends, therefore, do not fit the criteria... mostly. So let's play a game, which of these three seems like a genuine trend: gradient color swatches, serif typography, accessibility.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Accessibility is the only true trend within that trio. Why? Because your company is not going to be put into jeopardy if you do not adopt gradient color swatches or use serif typography, but it will suffer if it doesn't take into account user accessibility. Remember, trends are macro movements, not subjective, fad design practices.
2. You will have to change it eventually
Expectedly, if you shift with the design trends, you will be shifting a lot. Stand firm on your voice once you find it. Which brings me to my last point:
3. Trends pull away from your story
I'm a firm believer in stealing your identity. Meaning, you have a story to tell, there are things that have influenced you and you can use language, visuals, and other assets from those muses to cohesively fuel your brand. More importantly, you can do so in a way that is impactful and different. Rather than focusing on trends, focus on what you want people to feel. Find things that help foster that feeling and use them in your branding.
Design "trends" are shiny objects. Screw 'em.