The topic of style in graphic design has been cooking in my mind for some time already. I still haven't figured it out totally and perhaps that's something that I may never have a clear answer to. Nevertheless, I thought it will be good to sit down, write my thought, and share it with the world.
I guess each of us will have a different perspective on it, and that's okay. I'm still pretty early in my career in graphic design and can only speak from my experience and my observation of the people and the trends I see. While some of my favorite graphic designers, artists, or agencies have a unique style which is either reflected in the way they work and present themselves or in the aesthetics of the work they produce it is important to highlight that those people have years of experience under their belt.
Style in graphic design - One person studio
Looking at Andy J Pizza's portfolio of illustration work https://www.andyjpizza.com/ I would be blind if I'd not see that the work is created in a specific style. His playful characters are often placed in colorful scenes. What I know about the author of those beautifully crafted work is that he spend years practicing his craft and throughout those years he shifted gears from advertising to editorial to children's book illustration, which sure left an imprint on his style. I guess it's easier to maintain a specific style being a one-person business than it is running a large design agency.
Style in graphic design - A large design agency
In the next example, I'll look at work displayed in Wolff Olins's portfolio. (https://www.wolffolins.com/) The design agency with three offices across the world: London, New York, and San Francisco worked with lots of big and well-known brands such as Apple, Uber, or Sky. Do they have a particular style that unites the project together? Each of the projects is very different and responds to various briefs to meet the client's needs and to exceed expectations. If I'd have to comment in terms of a style I could say that Wolff Olins truly knows how to make things simpler and work with colors, but it's hard to say that all of the projects share the same visual aesthetics and were made by the same team.
Style in graphic design - Small design studios, students and junior graphic designers
It is very common for artists to create work with a specific style, especially when there is no client brief and feedback. It's quite normal in small design studios too, when there are only a few designers, or in an agency that has developed a particular style whether it's through the similarity of designer's styles or the vision of creative directors who is in a control of the project. A portfolio that has a variety of styles is very common for students and fresh graduates, simply because they need to try different styles to see what suits them best. Small studios that create work for many different industries can also have a wide variety of styles in the portfolio. The same goes for large agencies that put the client first and address the client's needs before they think about the style.
Speaking from my experience - Style in graphic design
Speaking from my experience I can say that it's better to don't hang up on style too yearly. When I started out learning about graphic design I wanted to make everything very geometrical and design it with simple shapes. I didn't know that there is a whole new world behind the bars I have created for myself. You can't go wrong with simple shapes in design, yet chances are you won't always have to best solution to the problem. To break free from the box I put myself to, I used the time at University to try everything I possibly could. Now having almost 5 years of experience in design (University + Work) I'm glad I made that choice to experiment more with style. I believe all of these experiences I've had and those I'm yet about to have will contribute to my style of work and will become even more visible over time.
Absorbing new experiences as a way to find your style
I think every young designer is like a sponge. Design Students, graduates, and junior designers should learn from everyone and everything around them, absorb new experiences, try to see things in new ways, and by giving time to play with those newly acquired skills. This is a great way to determine what sticks with you. It's a procedure of trials and errors. I'd call it a natural way of developing a style as a designer, rather than following what's trendy just for the sake of it. What I often see is forcing style over the brief. To me, style is not everything: it comes and goes away, it changes over time when trends change. Whether you are a designer who has developed a particular style or not I hope that style is there to guide you only, not to overtake the whole design project in terms of solving the design brief.
Questions & answers on the topic of style in graphic design
Have I developed a unique style already?
No, I'm in the process of developing it, but I did try a lot of different things and know what I want to explore more as well as what I don't want to do. I think it's equally important to know what you don't want to do and don't enjoy as well as what you want to do more of.
Is it important for a junior graphic designer to showcase projects in a portfolio that unites a similar style?
I'd say no. Whether you are applying for intern/junior designer role people expect your portfolio to have a variety of projects rather than five logofolios in your portfolio. This applies if you are looking to get a job at an agency, for freelance/contract roles it might be the opposite.
How do I create my visual style?
Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you and learn from them, expose yourself to new experiences, try lots of things, fail and fail again, and be patient. The style will eventually come to you but is not going to happen in one night, more likely is going to take years.
Is it worth to follow trends in the aim to develop a style that will be desirable by the clients & industry people?
Yes and no. It's good to be aware of the current trends and consider if you can use them to any of the work, but good design lies in knowing the fundamentals of design that don't change. When considering using something trendy now ask yourself - will it benefit the design in any way? If the answer is no, you know what to do.