Is Design Seasonal?

Our thoughts on seasonal design

Design

Lori Ludwig

Many industries change design to align with seasonal shifts (although we’re not really sure if residents in sunny L.A. take much notice).

Spring weddings come with blush pinks and cream rose hues. Summer interior design tips suggest a move to bright-white-light decor. Fall fashion, according to Elle, might include chocolate brown or “Russian doll vibes” (because that’s not terrifying at all, is it?).

So, what happens when companies make their designs seasonal? How can they meld their brand standards with trendy color palettes and patterns? How do they present on-brand messages without getting too caught up in the fickle fluctuations of seasonal design?

We asked these questions and more to our design team, and here’s what they had to say.

How can companies incorporate seasonal design into their marketing efforts?

Jess 

One of the easiest ways is to create social graphics or digital ads with seasonal design elements (e.g., West Elm and other online retailers do a lot of seasonal sales and promotional emails). I think B2C companies may have more opportunities for this kind of design. 

Suz

It can be as small as incorporating seasonal imagery within your website or promotional pieces. For example, an electrical company offering tips on how to keep your house warm during the colder months would benefit from showing imagery of a cozy living room with snow falling outside. This might evoke certain emotions — thoughts of warmth and comfort — from an audience. Companies can even go as far as changing the color of their products or packaging based on the season. Starbucks is a prime example of this with their ubiquitous red cups during the Christmas season.

What should companies be careful about when including seasonal design elements into brand messaging?

Jess 

I think it’s important not to make it too tacky — tacky being either the obvious route or a style that’s just too busy. If you’re designing an email for Christmas, for example, don’t go for a 100% Christmas design (ornaments, a Christmas tree, reindeer, red, green, gold, flowing script text, Santa, snowflakes, presents . . . ). Maybe stylize only the copy and use a holiday color or two, but avoid going over the top; you might find that your brand gets buried beneath the clutter if you overdo it.

Lori

Companies should be sure they’re staying true to who they are as a brand by ensuring everything they do fits within their values and brand guidelines. Don’t try to hop on a seasonal bandwagon just because other companies are doing that. It's important to note that this isn't just a visual brand question—it's a brand essence question, too, one that really takes into account the core of a company's values. 

Suz

Seasonal branding and design shouldn't become a complete brand makeover; it’s a modification or addition to a company’s identity. As an example, in addition to TrendyMinds' main color palette, we have a red that we use only around the holidays. It’s unique to the holiday season but consistent with the rest of our brand.

How can companies differentiate their communications during the holiday season?

Jess

There are things I see all the time around the holiday — ornaments, trees, snow, etc. Check out what’s out there so you make sure you’re not just ripping off an existing idea. We all find inspiration somewhere, so a certain amount of imitation in marketing is fine, but being a direct copycat can get stale.

Suz

Ask yourself: “Why are we creating this? What is the purpose? Is this beneficial for our clients/customers?” That should help drive the initial conversation when thinking through ideas. Let the “why” drive the design, not seasonal trends. Lori mentioned earlier that companies need to reflect on their brand values, and in this situation, I think that holds true.

How do you approach design when the seasons change? Are there certain times of year (i.e., certain holidays) that seem to impact design more than others?

Jess

What I’m drawn to changes (e.g., summer = vibrant, colorful, loud). When it’s colder, I prefer muted tones. For example, when I worked on a recent magazine design refresh, I suggested that we use a deep plum/burgundy color for the cover during the winter, a color that was already in their color palette. I looked at what already existed in the client's brand and used it to signal a certain time of year, which didn't require me to retrofit their brand to have seasonal colors.

Lori

It seems like more of a shift that happens in the background for me but nothing that really takes center stage in my approach. Because I tend to work on a lot of B2B company designs, I don’t necessarily focus too much on seasonal design changes. For consumer product companies, I could see my approach changing a lot more, especially if I designed for e-commerce.

Suz

I think the biggest seasons that stand out to me when I see changes in design are spring to summer and autumn to winter. There’s a lull after the holidays where the fast-paced nature of the buying season slows down, and everyone is sick of seeing STUFF. People are ready to get their years started and their resolutions going, so it’s almost like we see a break in seasonal design, especially in advertising (which is great for me!). It’s not until the weather starts to warm up where it makes more sense to start using brighter colors, changing up imagery and rethinking messaging.

What is your favorite holiday color or pattern? Why?

Jess

I prefer more neutral colors. One I recently found is kind of like a sage green; I actually add a lot of greenery to home decor during the fall, so I love using this color.

Photo courtesy of Branden Etheridge: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bmeeee/15043064757/
Photo courtesy of Branden Etheridge: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bmeeee/15043064757/

Lori 

I love burnt oranges because they remind me of leaves changing colors and the transition into the holiday season. And how cold and dreary winter makes me feel . . . 

Suz

My favorite fall or winter color this year is a warm burgundy color. My favorite pattern involves more natural elements like spruce tree branches, holly, berries and natural wreaths.

While there are certain elements of design, such as spacing techniques, that can enhance marketing collateral, seasonal design often relies on subjectivity and personal style preferences. To make sure seasonal design efforts are successful, always consider how they fit into existing brand guidelines and values.

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