Chevron Madness :: Design Trends v. Traditions

With the winter holidays right around the corner, and the season’s decorations already in place, as a designer, I can’t help but notice trends and patterns everywhere I go. Yes, design infiltrates most of my personal habits and activities as well. This season, in packaging, greeting cards, store decorations, gifts and more, one theme I am seeing is one that I love, but fear I will soon detest.

Charlie Brown called, and this year for Christmas, all he wants is his shirt back…

Over the past two years “chevron madness” has been growing, and the holiday season is no exception for the craze. Let me pause to say that I am 100% guilty of chevron-fever. The chevron pattern (also commonly referred to as “zig-zag”) is VERY in right now, and like any other trend in the hands of the larger consumer population, is often over- and misused.

Why are we all drooling over chevron? It’s not like it’s some new evolution in design; in fact, the chevron pattern can be dated back as far as 1800 B.C. in modern-day Greece, particularly in pottery and rock carvings. The chevron insignia has also been used for decades to indicate rank in the military (specifically the English Arms). So is the chevron print just good design resurfacing, or a passing craze fueled by our constant quest for “cool”? To answer this question, I want to take a look at trends (how they start, and where they come from) versus traditions (standards and principles that prevail), by further examining the chevron pattern.

Trend v. Tradition

TRENDS
Trending is a social process in which the tastes and styles of individuals and groups of people change collectively. Trends are the current state of tastes and styles, while fads refer to shorter-term trends that generally reach fewer people. Trends usually begin through acceptance of trendsetters (usually artists, designers, celebrities, or young people). True trendsetters, characteristically, are creative, curious innovators who enjoy standing out, appreciate the art in style and constantly yearn for change.

TRADITIONS
Traditions are long-established, inherited ways of thinking and acting, or customary and characteristic manners and methods. For design, traditions relate to principles and standards of good design and design practices. Good brands are built on traditions, not trends… and the best brands become traditions.

Where are We Seeing Chevron?

The short answer- everywhere. Chevron pattern has become so popular that it appears across multiple industries and economic markets. You’ll notice chevron making its mark in interior design, fashion, architecture, culinary arts, web design, advertising, packaging, and even branding. The growing popularity of chevron has made it available in high-end luxury markets and low-cost consumer markets, as well as the subject of many do-it-yourself (DIY) blogs. Here are just a few examples of chevron patterns found in a quick Google search.

Why are We Seeing Chevron (in sudden, vast array)?

As I mentioned earlier, the chevron pattern has been a design element for centuries, so why now with the influx? Well it goes back to traditions and trendsetters. Particularly in the fashion industry, where many trends begin, Missoni has been heralded has the chevron master. Missoni was founded in 1953 by Ottavio “Tai” Missoni and wife, Rosita. They presented their first collection, “Milano-Simpathy,” in Milan in 1958, and reached the apex of influence on the fashion world in the early seventies. Missoni became most well known for its knitwear marked by brilliant colors and geometric patterns, most notably, the chevron pattern. Prior to the past few years, if you were to see the infamous zig zag pattern, it was often a good indicator that the piece was Missoni.

What has changed is that Missoni is no longer holding a monopoly, so to speak, over the cherished pattern, and I believe this can be attributed, largely, to their decision to launch a low-cost Missoni line for Target, in September 2011. Once Missoni made its products (or variation thereof) available to the larger consumer population, a larger audience became aware of the pattern and its “cool” factor, thus the style becomes the trend. Essentially, I think our inclination to follow trends stems from a desire to “be cool” or have “the best.” Missoni for Target allowed consumers to have “good taste” at an affordable price. Of course you have elitists who will argue that these off-lines are not “real” Missoni, but these are the people who find value in the “luxury effect” rather than the art/design anyway. The Missoni for Target line completely sold out within 24 hours in stores and on-line, crashing Target’s website repeatedly. Seeing this overwhelming demand for the zig-zagged products spurred the wave of “chevron madness,” that began with other mass-consumer retailers, such as Forever 21, and has since spread into a myriad of applications beyond fashion.

Will the Chevron-Fever Ebb?

The golden question- is the chevron pattern simply a passing trend or is it a design staple here to stay? It’s like hearing your favorite song on the radio…. twenty times a day. At first you are super jazzed and can’t get enough of it, but eventually when you hear those first few chords, you’re quicker than a bat out of hell to switch the station. Does this make it any less “good” of a song? No, I don’t think so at all… and perhaps, all we need is a little time for our favorite radio jockeys to stop pressing repeat, so that we can fall in love with it again. Likewise, is it bad to use the chevron pattern because everyone and their mother is using it right now? No, not at all, but use it sparingly and with purpose…. and don’t use it thinking you will own it like Missoni- accept that Missoni has pretty much claimed stake on the pattern, and thus avoid building a brand around our favorite pattern. Rather, use the chevron to accent and enhance… on the off chance your love for chevron fades as the “madness” subsides.

Final Thoughts

  • The chevron pattern is both a trend and a tradition- what I mean is that it is a bold and beautiful design element, that when used properly and sparingly can have a dramatically wonderful aesthetic appeal that will never go out of style (just check out good old Chuck’s shirt). Simultaneously, it is wildly popular and overused trend right now, which may go “out” of style as quickly as it came “in”.
  • The chevron pattern became the Missoni tradition, meaning that the brand became known for the pattern and the pattern for the brand. This kind of success doesn’t come quickly or easily, so when building a brand and brand recognition, don’t expect it to… and try to build your brand around traditional design elements rather than trending design elements.
  • Like I have said a million times, design with INTENT, not IN-TREND. Creating a design that best represents the characteristics of your business is going to be your best bet for creating a brand with lasting style and possibly even becoming a design tradition.
  • Last, but not least… I love Charlie Brown Christmas- my holiday tradition, and I love the chevron pattern-my guilty-pleasure trend.

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What do you think?