Even for those who aren’t so familiar with design and architecture, most can name a few major eras of style. From Gothic to Modernism, design has mostly followed a succession of defining movements shaping the way we build and use spaces. But what do we call the eclectic mix of influences we are swimming in today? While schools like the Bauhaus still have considerable influence, the design landscape seems to be awaiting its next revolution with baited breath. Although aesthetics such as postmodernism once tried to push things in a new direction, it’ll take another step to truly break away from the shadow of modernism.
To dig a little deeper into current design trends — and determine whether they still exist at all — we’ve talked to some of the brightest minds in architecture and interior design. Our investigation led us to London, where we attended the MADE Talent Lab launch to talk trends with Ruth Wassermann, head of design for MADE.COM. The Design Junction fair in London further allowed us to meet with Jan Hendzel from the Jan Hendzel Studio, which specialises in sustainable woodworking, and Chrissa Amuah, director of the exhibition platform, Africa by Design, which showcases the best of Africa’s design talent and creates commercial opportunities for its featured designers. Finally, back in Berlin, we listened to the eighth edition of bathroom and kitchen designer Dornbracht’s “Conversations,” with editor-in-chief of design magazine Dezeen, Marcus Fairs, Chinese architect duo Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu from Neri & Hu, and American architect Rafael de Cárdenas from Architecture at Large.
So what is the next big trend going to be? Both architects and marketers are eagerly hoping to identify where we’re heading — and what we’re selling. Undoubtedly the greatest change in the world of design in recent decades is the rise of the internet, and particularly social media. The latter might already have been absorbed by the youngest generations as the default way to communicate, but has forced established architects and designers born without an Instagram account to take a sharp turn in their approach to trends. While these used to be defined by a relatively select group of tastemakers and experts, social media has enabled a democratisation of tastes. Trends can be initiated anywhere and die as quickly as they are born, leading to an endless, constantly renewed array of choices at our disposal.
As Wassermann puts it, social media “has enabled a constant refreshing feed of micro trends that respond quite specifically to what people want right now at any time of the year, and not just twice a year a few months in advance.” In fact, people don’t want singular trends — for Wassermann, “a well curated eclectic mix reflects far more accurately how people’s homes actually are, as we rarely create our interiors in one go.” That means our style and taste are much more malleable. There’s no need to rethink your entire home when the annual furniture catalogue hits your doormat. Instead, we simply add objects, which become absorbed into an ever-changing palette. Scandinavian cosiness is in? Add a fuzzy pillow! You self-identify as a millennial? Paint that wall a soft shade of pink! Today, interior design is a matter of progression and endless combinations.
The constant addition of elements to our interiors and closets might appear to be overwhelming at first, but for de Cárdenas, it doesn’t mean trends are over. “There just more voices and subsets, so more possibilities.” Add to that our ongoing obsession with customization, allowing us to tweak anything to our liking, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like there’s currently a need for a new drastic movement to lead the way. Customers can not only express what they want, but also get it made. Micro trends are akin to a payment system in rates, where dream homes are financed in many small purchases instead of one big investment. It’s perfect for brands, too, since ultimately we’re spending more than we would be if every item in our home was meant to last forever.
But for all the comfort that comes with the ability to choose and shape our tastes as we go, the dilution of trends raises two significant issues: expertise and sustainability. As we drown ourselves in scented candles, marble-pattern phone covers and mugs printed with ironic messages, we obviously produce significant waste. Hendzel points out that fast furniture, just like fast fashion, is “great for making your place look fresh and cool but not so great in a couple years when things become defunct through cheap manufacturing.”
By forgoing lasting designs and more timeless style, we also encourage a cycle of production where items can be made at a smaller risk, which in turn means that less expertise is required to create. It’s the double edged sword of social media: while selling online allows makers to reach levels of exposure that would have never been imaginable in pre-internet times, the fact that anyone can initiate new styles also means that — well, that there is a lot of crap out there. As we become accustomed to cheaply produced items, handmade designs are starting to appear ridiculously unaffordable. Could it be that we’re slowly forgetting how to properly identify value? Being able to buy anything and everything considerably reduces the number of times we have to ask ourselves the fateful question: “Do I really need this?”
“The real sustainable alternative is to invest in things that last. The more you need to buy, the more you use up the world’s products,” says Hendzel. A sentiment echoed by Amuah, who feels like “current trends have abandoned the value of craft and handmade, something which doesn’t easily comply with cyclical trends.” In a way, the hodgepodge of micro trends we’re following can divert us from quality. In the fast furniture cycle, purchases are based more on immediate desire than an investment, which hurts businesses whose products might seem more expensive but have more value in the long term.
Brands like Dornbracht focus on the sustainability of their products by opting for a “transitional” style, which blends in traditional influences with a modern approach for a design you’ll still be happy to see in your home in 10 years. Plenty of current designs rely on a mix of influences, reinterpreting familiar patterns that used to shape our tastes so distinctively. Combining styles is an efficient way to make products more timeless and thus more sustainable, yet it might not feel new enough for some. For a true revolution in design to happen, we not only have to adjust our attitude to consumption to the reality of a world limited in resources, we might simply need more time to fully appreciate the impact of social media on our culture. As Neri puts it, “we are so connected with social media that we need time to digest.” If there is a Next Big Movement on the horizon, it’ll hopefully focus both on how we can expand the possibilities of design through technology, and on what we should do before we’re all out of materials.