Making Art for Current Retail Trends.. The Pros and Cons of Designing for Trends

image shows a collage of trending pattern designs with the words, "Designing Patters and Art for Current Retail Trends"

Ahh,  the artist’s dream come true.. Designing for retail design trends… 

I know, I know, I hear your art heart crying a little tear of defeat.. Following current retail trends can feel like you’re betraying your most wild inner artist.

But dry your artist eyes, my colorful friend. Following fashion and retail industry trends is not necessarily a requirement even if you’re making art for products. There are many artists who create what they love to create and still sell or license their art commercially. Breathe out… 

Still, as I’m currently putting together some surface pattern portfolios, these questions loom over me and my art process even though I have spent a lot of time turning my back on them: 

Do I follow current retail trends and drill into popular pattern trends as I plan out new collections or reorganize completed collections?

Or do I follow my cactus loving heart down my own original sunny paths lined with cholla and chaparral?

Have I wandered into a space where both things work together?

I think there’s almost always a way to adapt artwork to fit into more broad and marketable trend categories. But why would this benefit me?

Let’s jump into some pros and cons of following along with current retail trends.


The PROS of Designing for Retail Design Trends:

Sometimes having a few trending themes in your portfolio can catch the eye of someone new, since many art buyers or licensors are seeking that on-trend or evergreen-trending art

Standing out is hard when you’re pitching cold to new contacts. But sometimes your work will speak louder if you have some “trend staples” designed in your unique style.  

To start, think of those “evergreen” designs that show up on so many products you see in the world: florals, stripes, dots, holiday prints, cute fruits, suns, moons, stars, tropical plants, animals, hand lettered quotes and phrases – this list of motifs that are always on trend can get pretty long. If you like making art in these categories, let it work for you and build some collections around them.

Art that follows trends is generally more marketable because there’s a higher demand – constantly

Whether you’re pitching to a new or existing contact, trending art is just going to be more marketable than more unique designs. There will always be a market for holiday art (ps: if you’re pitching holiday art, start pitching that six months ahead of the holidays). 

Trending art can still be created in your unique style

If you’re leaning into the logic of designing toward current retail trends but also feel like your work will just blend in with everyone else’s, take heart, my friend of art! 

You really can design collections inspired by current retail trends and still have so much room for your own flavor of creativity and style. 

Sometimes the trend is just a specific color palette (this is often the case with holiday art). So you can create your own style of art and motifs following some of these trending colors and see if your art seems to be more marketable. 

Be sure to check out the Pantone color of the year if this is the path you’re taking – there are a lot of trends and product lines inspired by this yearly color. And this year’s color is Peach Fuzz – cuuuute! I’m glad we’re only in Q2, there’s still time for me to jump on this color trend!


The CONS of Designing for Current Retail Trends

Your original collection story may not fit into a current trend

Do you design artwork or collections based on a story? For example, I’m working on a few ideas for a floral woodsy collection in honor of my daughter’s upcoming wedding. I’ll incorporate a pretty red barn, some towering pines, and plenty of flowers and greens. 

But will this collection fit into a current retail trend? Hmmm. Maybe? And maybe not. You may have a collection story that you want to tell, and it may not really follow any trend. And it may turn out to be one of your most popular and sold-out collections anyway.

So, trends don’t guarantee success and they’re not necessary for success. 

Your body of work or signature style may not need trends to thrive

Lucky you! Having a signature style or body of work that stands out and speaks for itself is such a gift. So many of us practice and practice seeking to find that creative flow that blends with design goodness to produce work that is uniquely ours and also uniquely marketable. 

But some artists just capture something so very original and powerful it would be a shame to try to stuff it into a trend box. So if this is you, think long and hard about whether you want to follow trends and if they allow you to remain authentic in your process. If there’s already a demand for your work and you’re not making trending art, it sounds like you’ve found your path.

If it feels inauthentic, that may come out in your work

You know the kind of work I’m referring to. There’s a sense of “forced” art when you’re forcing yourself to do art you don’t want to do – go figure! I’ve been here, and I keep finding myself here from time to time. Making collections for the demand rather than making collections I really want to be designing.

I can get into the spirit of designing for the sake of retail design trends, but if I don’t have a larger collection story or thread of inspiration to connect my pieces, and my whole organizing feature is “this is trending,” then I feel like that’s when my motifs don’t really fit together and I get off track. It takes so long to wrangle these collections back into something cohesive.

Sooooo… there’s my take on designing for the sake of current retail trends vs ditching the trends.

I don’t think I’m alone in weighing out these pros and cons.. Though there are artists whose art seems to just be marketable and desirable from day one (these artists are usually really great business people too), there are plenty of us who need a lot of time to flesh out our design style.. to find our artistic voice.. to explore which trends fit into our sense of authenticity and our brand or style..

Ultimately, it’s your creative choice. I think the main point is that there are some very understandable reasons that artists design in the spirit of current retail trends, and those reasons may be enough for you to sprinkle some stripes, florals and stars into your own portfolio. There may be some real value in having some design staples. 

And you may not want to. See what works for you. If what you’re doing is getting you the results you want, that’s the best data you can get. Your version of success is different from everyone else’s – so be sure to assess your own version of success, and if you feel like you want a different kind of success, you might give some of these trends a try. 

Wishing you much inspiration, whether that inspo comes straight from your heart, or from your kiddo’s watercolor, or from a current retail trend 😉

This post was all about creating art and design collections to fit into current retail trends. 

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