We sat down Jamie Samman to talk about DoingCoolStuff a growing directory of small to large brand and digital product studios from around the world.
First and foremost. What inspired you to start DoingCoolStuff?
It was started by a group of us who were all working together as digital product designers and who all love visual design, branding, illustration and graphic design. We were seeing more and more studios working across the fields of brand and digital at the time, so we decided to collect the ones that were putting out cool work in a Google Doc. That document grew and grew after realising it was pure hell to navigate it, I decided to build DCS as a site.
How do you and your team go about curating and selecting which studios to feature on the site? What criteria do you use?
I get a lot of questions about this via site submissions Honestly there is not really a formula. If the studio is doing cool stuff, they get featured. Sometimes I might feature a studio that has a particularly interesting way of working or perspective, but their work has to be cool to be featured. Obviously defining 'cool' is kind of impossible — it's crazily subjective. But I'll often share studios with friends or the group that started DCS with me to get a feel if I'm unsure.
How much weight do you give to current design trends vs. a designer's unique personal style when curating studios for DoingCoolStuff?
The individual style of the studio is definitely something I like to look for when curating for DCS. I think it's pretty easy to follow trends, but if studios can establish a distinct style and identity for themselves through the work they're doing, that's really exciting. There's a tonne of studios doing this!
What exciting new design trends have emerged in the past year that you've noticed gaining traction?
Over the past year, I've seen loads of much smaller studios putting out insanely cool work. I think because of their size, they tend to work with more boutique clients who might be less risk averse than some of the larger companies that bigger studios will need to work with. That means some of the most experimental, daring and bleeding edge work is being done by (often) some of the most unheard of names. It's been nice to give a platform for these studios on DCS.
How do you stay on top of the latest design trends and innovations? What resources or processes do you use to identify rising trends early?
I'm a bit of an avid user of Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter (or X ) and I follow quite a few designers on all those platforms. There's a few people I follow who regularly share really cool studios, so I tend to pick up those when they do. I also read the brand identity blog Brand New a lot which is great for finding new studios, design inspiration and spotting rising trends.
“AI is just the baseline of creativity.”
In your opinion, which design trends seem to have real staying power versus being short-lived fads? How do you make this distinction?
It's always a tricky one to know which trends will stick. I tend to be kind of cautious of them, because following them too closely can mean you make stuff that looks and feels just like everything else. And worse yet - it feels dated after like a year. But if I was to say a trend that I think has real staying power, I would say emphasising a narrative or a story through design is way more powerful than using the colours, icons or effects are flavour of the month.
You can see this a lot in how a lot of tech products (site builders and planning tools) design their landing pages with tonnes of flashy effects - but not much substance. When a company focusses on offering a distinctive narrative though, they can really elevate themselves above the competition.
Have you noticed any reversals in design trends — things that were once out of fashion coming back in style?
God I don't want to say skeuomorphism, but skeuomorphism?! It's definitely not come back as heavily as it was (thankfully) but you can see some lovely little 3D details been introduced into apps and websites like Airbnb, Arc and even on iOS. Besides that, I've loved seeing more brutalist, utilitarian aesthetics emerge in digital and brand.
Everything all went a bit warm and 'Chobani-esque' a few years ago, and we hit the pinnacle of that with corporate Memphis, which was truly grim. Seeing stuff return to more stripped back, reductionalist design is ace - particularly in digital where this can often make things feel calmer and more usable.
What advice would you give designers for balancing current trends with timeless design principles?
Trends can be super useful at showing you what society and people in general are excited by at a given time. Tapping into that can be really powerful. That said, timeless design principles will rarely let you down I think whenever you're creating something, you should be laser focussed on what makes it valuable, different and interesting. Everything else (including trends) can be secondary. This is a big guiding principle for how I work at ustwo. How is this thing I'm making useful, but also how can it be magical, unique and fun?
Where do you see design trends heading in the next few years? Any particular styles, colours, or techniques you predict will be big?
I think (and hope) we'll see a move away from designers following the same things that have worked for other people in their industry. You can see a good example of this with the digital product Linear. They launched a dark, techy website with glows and the like. It looks swish! Fast forward 2 months later and there are about 30 other websites in the tech space that look absolutely identical.
It's such a missed opportunity to do something that stands out. I hope we'll see less of this. I'd love to see designers learn from brand studios who are always pushing themselves to make something new and groundbreaking.
“Human psychology and foundational design principles never change too fast.”
How fast do design trends seem to come and go today compared to the past? Has the pace accelerated with technology?
Yeah things definitely move faster now. Technology like generative AI is kind of reshaping industries (including the design industry) in matters of months, not years. It's pretty amazing and slightly terrifying at the same time. But that being said, human psychology and foundational design principles will never change too fast.
What has been the most impactful or unexpected design trend you've seen emerge in recent years?
Following on from what I said above, generative AI is kind of boggling the minds of everyone in the design industry at the moment (well at least mine). Not only can you get AI to create text and images, it can spit out fully designed screens now.
There's one critical thing to remember, though. In my opinion, AI is just the baseline of creativity. It generates things based on things that already exist and without the right guidance, leaves you with a bunch of unoriginal and uninspired outcomes. So anyone touting that "design is dead" because they can type "generate social networking app" and get a bunch of screens, is missing the point. It will be our job as designers to find where this baseline exists, and go way beyond it.