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Understanding trends and which design elements are hot and not

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The Eternal Table of Design Elements by Christine Boland

Each season certain design characteristics come and go. In order to help understand which ‘elements’ play the leading roles and how they alternate with each other per season (and to subsequently translate them into your business), trend analyst Christine Boland has developed an innovative tabular display, which at a glance gives a smart overview of what’s hot and what’s not.

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“Design is a language; the expression of the zeitgeist in shapes, colours and materials. In order to 'understand' and be able to use that language, it is essential to understand the spirit of the times and its consequential sources of inspiration”, the trend analyst explains. After years of analysing and watching trends arise, evolve and disappear, Christine Boland noticed that, in design language, certain sources of inspiration - a.k.a ‘elements’ - kept recurring in one form or another. It inspired her and her team to make an inventory of all these elements and arrange them accordingly in a tabular display, just as the iconic ‘Periodic Table of Elements’ widely used in science. The result: The Eternal Table of Design Elements.

The Eternal Table of Design Elements creates a clear way to understand what happens each season and which sources of inspiration - under the influence of the zeitgeist - are predominant. “Similar to a chemical process, the essential elements are mixed and remixed into different recipes, every time in varying combinations and proportions. Via these merging elements a new alchemy is created; so-called ‘alchemy of the times to come’”, according to Boland. “Although at the base you have these immutable eternal elements, it is how they are combined (for example Historic with Alien or Historic with Poetic) which results in a totally new and different design language.”

To clarify which design elements are leading for the season, Boland makes the dominant influences dark in colour, the more subtle influences lighter and the non-existing ones stay white. Comparing the tables of two seasons, now, at a glance, you not only see which elements are predominant, but also which ones come, stay or go. Making it a must-have and indispensable tool, and guideline (when designing) for your business.

For SS22 Boland sees various elements combine and merge; heritage and science, protest and craft, real and surreal; often interlaced with a trace of another element. When put together and amalgamated this generates a new visual vocabulary. “The season’s essence is all about the balance between recognition and surprise. The analysis will reveal the focal point for this season. Depending on your sector, this will express itself quite differently.”


Functional: utility design, uniforms and workwear in pure and simple materials such as cotton, linnen, denim, leather, stripes and household linen inspired patterns.
Comfort: soft and comfortable shapes and materials, hairy and padded surfaces, plaid checks, blanket stripes, gradients and border patterns.
Minimal: Scandinavian design, simplified minimal imagery and geometrics in techno & synthetic fabrics, polished effects, abstracted figuratives and colour blocking.
Nature: biology, natural sciences, organic shapes in natural or natural-appearing materials, new and renewable resources, wood, stone, algae, hides with marbled effects, camouflage, leaves, flowers and animal prints.
Science: physics, [bio]chemistry, mathematical and AI inspired design in hightech, polished and ultralight, high performance materials and as for patterns; grids, code & web language and cosmic effects.
Alien: futuristic, science fiction, fantasy shapes without reference in hightech, lightweight, glossy and holographic, 3-D printed materials with galaxy patterns, dots, neon effects and mystical symbols.
Heritage: timeless traditionals, tailor made suits, British iconoclassics, outdoor (sports) evergreens in traditional, conservative classic materials and patterns such as tweeds, lambswool, argyle, pied de poule, herringbone and pin stripes.
Historic: Renaissance, Romantic, Baroque and Rococo influences, parade uniforms, sculptural silhouettes, volants, ruffles andcorsettery in rich, opulent materials, lace, brocades and (old) silver, jacquards, wallpaper patterns and heraldry.
Poetic: stereotypical female shapes and details such as pussybows, ruffles, voile lace, silk and pleats with refined flower patterns, nostalgic imagery and pen drawings.
Powerful: sculptural and bold design, sensual & sexy, outspoken silhouettes, high heels, waist accents, pronounced shoulderlines with fluid and/or sturdy materials, leather, lacquer and uniform qualities, graphic and abstract stripes and checks.
Sensual: elegance, femininity, bodyconscious shapes, drapery, ruffles, frills, seductive silhouettes in satin, silk, suède and openworked materials with shimmer, florals, water-colour paintings and refined drawings.
Girlish: childish and innocent design such as school uniforms, A-line, babydoll, tiny bows, ruffles and ribbons in clean, crispy fresh materials with stripes and badges, childish prints and innocent figuratives.
Crafted: handmade, arts & crafts, reworked and recycled in knotted, crochet, hand woven patchwork materials with fringes, cross stitchings, hand-painted patterns.
Folklore: traditional folk art and ethnic expressions, blankets, wool, suède, leather, cotton and linen. As for patterns: folksy, hand painted, flowers and weave stripes.
Spirited: mythology, spirituality, philosophy and shamanism, rich, fluid or sturdy natural materials with mythical symbols and words, astrology, charms, amulets and hieroglyphics.
Sport: (active) sports, performance wear, yoga in functional, technical materials such as lycra, jerseys, fleece, softshell, neoprene and all weather materials with graphic patterns, club striping, colour blocking, emblems, flags and logos.
Surreal: surrealism, dream and reality, rendered reality, smooth and/or structured materials,.natural or hightech with uncommon imagery, plants and other figurative and surrealist art
Expressive: handmade, artistic expressions, 2-D, 3-D in functional and urban materials such as denims, cotton, fleece, T-shirting and photorealistic, figurative, abstract or written patterns.

Especially for FashionUnited readers, Christine Boland will be giving a live introduction of her method during a webinar on September 22nd. The unique online event about her way of working will be concluded with a live Q&A. Click here to register for the webinar.

Christine Boland
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