We were recently asked to define what Zeitgeist meant to us as designers.

 

The definition that we produced (without thinking too deeply), is that it is the dominant school of thought at any given moment. Afterwards we realised we could have produced something a little better than that.

 

Social circumstances dictate our actions. Grand fashion movements which sweep us along are, to a large extent, dictated by circumstances (and technical limitations) themselves. Designers are more exposed than most to Zeitgeist as our product is generally viewed, understood and culturally shared/shelved quickly by the consumer. Brand related design work very rarely sits outside the Zeitgeist, no matter how revolutionary it seems at the time.

 

We don’t see it as a negative though. It is, after all, human nature to want to fit into a group. To be on the inside. To be, from the perspective of a brand; on the same side as the customer. What is more, operating with the knowledge that your design sits within the popular current allows you to, carefully, step outside of it to make an impact. We can produce work that works because we understand the Zeitgeist and what would stand outside of it. We are able to do this because we interact with the Zeitgeist.

 

Kurt Lewin is the known as the father of modern Social Psychology and his most famous equation has value for the self-aware designer. Behavior (for which we can read, design) is a function of the person and his environment. Your design agency is no different. They produce work that expresses themselves and wider trends. The self-aware design agency is aware of this tension and can manipulate it to better serve the clients needs.

 

Not that, at the risk of getting nothing done, should you over-think everything. But the ability to occasionally take stock, to separate your own input from the Zeitgeist, will result in work that works as an expression of individuality and culturally makes sense.