Lessons Web Designers Can Draw From the Fashion Industry
Fashion is a reflection of the times, and by definition, it is constantly changing. Social events, technological advances, and political movements all shape the spirit of our times. Designers from across the various creative industries try to capture the mood of our times through their creations.
- Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
— Coco Chanel
How important is it to be fashionable, or trendy, in web design? I would argue that it is of great importance. The look and feel of a web page or mobile app directly affects how users perceive your brand. Keeping a web page looking fresh and updated is key to maintaining the customer’s interest and attention; instilling in the user a sense of credibility and trustworthiness; and letting the professional world know that you’re at the top of your game. Consequently, as a web designer it is important to move with the times, to continually push yourself and maintain a forward-thinking and fresh style.
With the continuous stream of technological advances and changes in society, as a web designer, how do you go about staying fashionable? Nowhere is the desire to capture the spirit of our times, and express it through the creation of a product, more apparent than in the volatile clothing industry. It is here that I look to for lessons that can be applied to web design.
What is hot, and what is not
In fashion, one day you’re in, the next day you’re out. But who actually determines what is hot, and what is not? The clothing industry has always paid attention to the creators, the early adopters, and the media to drive trends in fashion. Fashion houses such as Gucci and Prada show their collections on the runway to fashion journalists and buyers who then make a selection of what will be displayed in the magazines and what will be sold in the stores. The styles that eventually make it to the streets are the ones that become the season’s hottest trends. Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of the customer.
On the web, as new design approaches and techniques emerge and are adopted by more and more designers, new trends are set. And these in turn spur the next round of innovation. Big brands such as Apple and Google, also act as trendsetters. Advances in technology influence which trends die quickly and which ones have a longer shelf life. But, as in the fashion world, it is the user who in the end decides what becomes popular.
What web designers can take away from this: Trends may be fun, but when designing a web page or a web application, the user and their needs should be at the forefront of the design process.
Keeping up with the tools of the trade
Just as innovations in new materials and production processes allow clothing designers to push the boundaries of clothing fashion, web technological advances allow web designers to push the envelop in web design.
The web has come a long way since its beginnings when every page was hard-coded and content and format were fixed. Advances in browser technology allowed the use of an external CSS file, making it easier to change the format of content. The emergence of content management systems meant that content could now be changed and shared by a collaborative group of people. With more and more people using the web, and with an increase in the demand for digital products, changes on the web are rapidly accelerating.
To make the most of the technology that is available, developers and designers need to keep up with the tools of their trade, i.e. new media forms, new developments in coding techniques, or new typography. This does not mean that you have to become an expert at everything, that would be impossible. But you do need to be aware of the tools that are at your disposal, and when needed, collaborate or consult with an expert in an area that is not your expertise. A good example is the collaboration between flash developers and graphic designers.
What web designers can take away from this: The more tools you have at your disposal, the more room and freedom you have to create and explore new avenues.
Sources of inspiration
Clothing designers and stylists act as cultural mediators, looking for inspiration in what happens socially, culturally, and politically around them. In the fashion industry it is not uncommon for clothing designers to take inspiration from other’s designs, and by doing so, they further contribute to establishing clothing trends. Consumers buy into the trends, which in a large part explains the success of the fashion industry. Some even argue that the near-absence of copyright protection is the reason why there is so much innovation in the fashion industry.
Another important source of inspiration for the fashion designer is the wearer of their clothes. When designing a garment, the fashion designer has the needs and interests of his client in mind. Often you will hear a designer using the words: “young and sexy” or “strong and confident” to describe a collection. When designing, the fashion designer is in fact thinking of how they want their client to feel when they are wearing their garment.
Like the clothing designer, the successful web designer is a cultural mediator, and does not limit their avenues of inspiration to the current trends in the industry, but looks to what’s happening outside for inspiration. If you want to stand out as a designer, you need to break away from the mold. You should be able to comment on, improve upon, or contradict existing trends. When designing, you should have the user’s interests, needs, and heart in mind. How do you want the user to feel when they are using your product? What emotions do you want your design to evoke?
What web designers can take away from this: To connect with a user you need to be able to anticipate and satisfy new needs, not only on a functional level, but also on an emotional level.
Society forces us to have an opinion about what goes on around us, either as individuals, as professionals, as an organisation, or as a brand. As individuals, we use clothing and fashion to express who we are and what our ideological position is. The same goes for a brand. The fashion that is used to portray a brand will influence the way the brand is perceived and experienced by the consumer.
As a web designer you need to anticipate and satisfy the needs of the user, and in order to do so, you need to be aware of how fashion affects you and your surroundings.
Fashion is in everything. Though the intensity with which fashion influences the different creative areas varies immensely, there is no denying that fashion affects everything around us, including web design.