How to use trendy print design techniques with out being yesterday’s news

Design is not hot trends and pretty pictures. Design starts trends, uses trends and craves the next trend—  it should never be defined by trends.

Designers strive to produce creative, dynamic and cutting-edge work. To do this, many study and attempt to emulate the trends used by their favorite designers or focus on fads seen throughout the pages of popular magazines and websites. Of course this ambition is to be admired, but should also be carefully approached in order to avoid producing work that just looks like an imitation of the pros.

A word to designers: make your work appear contemporary and unique by not cheating the design process. This is one instance where the old school way of doing things has yet to be proven wrong. No matter what techniques or trends you plan on using, the following steps should be practiced on every project to build a properly targeted, strategic design:

1. Research

Start every project by pin pointing your client’s audience, memorizing their goals for the project and uncovering their inspiration for change.

2. Word Lists

Reading through content first allows you to pull out key words. This is a great way to gain inspiration for a creative art direction, theme or concept.

3. Sketches

Begin concepting with several sketches. Starting this process in a notebook rather than on a computer allows for greater diversity in ideas, which ultimately helps narrow your art direction.

The following explains how to successfully embrace the most common print media trends while still creating original work:

TEXTURE

The best way to use texture is to think of it as an accessory— something that compliments and emphasizes the most important pieces, and balances the design as a whole. The most common way to use texture incorrectly is by over-using it. Too much texture begins to muddy a design, causes the reader’s eye to jump around and makes finding the focal point on the page nearly impossible. Try not to place aesthetic appeal or personal design preferences before your client’s main goal.

DROP SHADOWS

When applying drop shadows, designers always need to be aware of where the light source is coming from, as this will change how your colors appear and where they appear (according to how the item would look in reality). Referencing black and white photography for accurate drop shadow technique is a great way to check your color values. When in doubt, refer to actual objects.

Overall, drop shadows can be a time consuming technique, but absolutely worth it if you’re attempting to take your work to the next level.

GRADIENTS

In order to use gradients correctly, designers must know which colors relate and transmit well together. We all know that gradients are used to add depth, feeling, or an atmosphere (such as 3D shapes or illusions) to designs. However, when poorly matched colors are used within a gradient scale, they usually look like bars and appear dull, muddy or dirty and appear this way more so after being printed.

I recommend using Adobe Illustrator’s palette called “color guide” to create a palette based on one color. It also gives you a breakdown of tints and values that can assist in a better gradient transition.

While they are some of the most over-used and incorrectly applied design trends, texture, drop shadows and gradients (when used appropriately) are also what sets skilled designers apart from the rest. To ensure this shines through in your professional portfolio, remember to tie in the old school techniques with the flavor of the day design trend.

Stay tuned for more advice and cautionary suggestions for using popular web design trends.

Check out the following links to learn more about texture, drop shadows and gradients:

http://dribbble.com/

http://designrfix.com/

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/

http://psd.tutsplus.com/

http://vector.tutsplus.com/