Why Styles Are Continuously Changing

I was recently looking through some screenshots of apps from earlier versions of iOS. It had me thinking about where design is headed over the next five to 10 years, why we continue to iterate on style, and whether design is really getting better or simply changing in a long-term cycle for the sake of change. Is design progressive or cyclical?

In the case of digital design, there is a constant desire to see and create new styles. I’d liken it to the iPhone, for example. The style of the design is difficult to fault, yet we constantly crave a radical redesign at every year’s keynote event. The style might be different but often it’s very difficult to argue it is in fact better. The iPhone 6/7 might look different compared to the 5, but does it grip in your hand as well? Does it rest on the table flat? It’s a classic case of constant desire for change that does not always yield a better product. The same concept can be applied to digital design. We love seeing new things, experiencing new things, and design is no different.

Creatives are differentiating styles in order to maintain a unique selling point for services. Again, it’s not changing styles because they are better and help the user — it’s change as a byproduct of boredom, competition and the requirement to stand out.

Companies are always looking for ways to differentiate through design. When one company creates a design direction that draws great appeal, others follow. As such, the style no longer differentiates, and as with fashion, this can serve as a catalyst for change

Take the above example of Instagram and imagine switching the style onto the current app feature set. I’d argue that while it may not align with what we’re now used to, it would exhibit a far greater deal of individuality, and even a better user experience — the contrast between elements is extremely clear and easy to understand. Buttons actually look like buttons rather than text labels, and the overall visual communication is clearer.

This all poses the question of whether design is really improving. Will we simply come to realize the benefit of not stripping back an interface to its stylistic bones? If so, is design nothing more than a way of keeping users and creatives interested and engaged over 5- 10- or 15-year cycles?