Discover new trends in character-based pattern design

Pattern design can often get overlooked in graphic design and illustration – but once you start looking for them, you’ll spot cool examples of pattern design everywhere, from bedclothes to bus seats, wrapping paper to notebooks. And of course, as our tastes shift and change, so do trends in pattern design.

Above: Pretty Pretty Elephants by Lotta Bruhn Below: Pitter Patter by Jinjerup

Possibly because patterns are so often used in domestic settings – curtains, carpets, wallpaper, crockery – pattern design has long seemed a rather feminine field, dominated by florals or generic checks and swirls. Right now, though, the trend is towards bringing characters – frequently insects and animals – and a sense of fun into pattern designs.

It’s easy to see why: in the past decade popular tastes have embraced the rule of the quirky, handmade and characterful. Individualism – or at least, things that are offbeat and fun enough to seem individual – and nostalgia have taken over.

This is one reason why animals – with their echoes of childhood and the freedom of youth – are currently such a huge trend in pattern design.

Flicking through Marie Perkins’ forthcoming book Print & Pattern, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re judging the results of a zoo’s drawing competition: alongside new-look, 21st-century florals, elephants and giraffes vie for attention with rabbits, bees, dinosaurs and countless birds.

Print & Pattern features profiles of dozens of international pattern designers currently at work, their styles ranging from oil painting to collage, vector artwork to etching. The book demonstrates that while floral designs – particularly quirky, handmade-looking ones – are enduringly popular, animal designs of all kinds are shaping up to be a major direction.

Above: Forest Conversation by Helen Dardik Below: Secret Garden by Nadia Fower

Sometimes they’re gracefully intertwined with foliage and flowers, transforming the surface into a woodland scene. Other times they become the entire pattern, organised into geometric blocks or scattered whimsically and apparently at random.

For designers, animal shapes are hugely appealing: they offer the scope to design characters, and a choice of personalities – off-the-wall or shy, cute or elegant, exuberant or deadpan – can completely change the tone of a piece.

Each creature comes with a wealth of cultural connotations, which the designer can choose to use or invert – so creatives can tap into elephants as a way of symbolising strength and durability, or of evoking Africa or Asia. It’s all in the presentation. Similarly, bees can symbolise hard work and community, the sweetness of honey, or an English country garden.

Floral designs aren’t going anywhere soon, then. But to add a twist of fun to your designs, you could do worse than to add a beast or two.

Print & Pattern is published by Laurence King and costs £19.95.

Bees by Amanda Dilworth

Elephant Bird by Quyen Do

Owl Toss by Amy Schimler

Audubons Aviary by Sann Annukka

Owl Repeat by Caroline Pratt

Owls by Carolyn Gavin

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