As a designer with a degree in art history, I’ve always been mindful that — at the end of the day — everything is a trend. No work of art, no design, no human-made and manufactured object can help but emerge from its prevailing cultural milieu. I’ve cautioned my clients regarding trendiness — and do promote the notion that design for logos, for example, will benefit from being as “timeless” as possible. Unless the assignment requires a specifically trendy look, I recommend creating a logo design that will have a long visual “shelf life” so as not to appear dated within a short time.
What’s Been Up (“In”) During 2022
Having taken a look at some of the design trend prognostications that came in for 2022, here are a few observations.
Retro Futurism. Did a double take on this one. At first glance it appears to be quite the oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp.” I found “Retro Futurism” defined as bringing back the appearance of how future design-expectations had been presented in the past. For example: bringing back what early Disney portrayed as the world of the future at Epcot. I’ve seen this in the reverse as well. How many costume epic films have you seen that were made in the 50s where the sets and costumes were pretty darned convincing, but the “tell” was always the hair and makeup on the leading lady? Bingo — Made in the 50s.
Soapbox Moment on Recreating History … Sort-Of
In historical films, I’ve always been teeth-on-edge when artwork looks simply “wrong.” In the 1997 film Titanic, Jack draws a portrait of Rose. The Titanic went down in 1912. Jack’s drawing (as well as the others in his sketchbook) were in the correct medium, but they all looked unconvincing as drawings which would have been from that year, in that place. There was something “off” about them. They looked too recent. It’s hard to put one’s finger on the source of such impressions, but exposure to a lot of art from different eras and cultures goes into it. People who deal in the fine and decorative arts (appraisers, curators) are constantly challenged by this when it comes to attribution, and they have certainly gotten it wrong many times. But there’s still something to be said for pure connoisseurship — the ability to detect simply by looking at a work of art that it is not of the time from which it purports to be. Forgeries are increasingly more difficult to perpetrate given the advanced forensic tools at hand. Historically, detection of forgery has been a matter of provenance and the eye of the connoisseur combined with knowledge in the history of artists’ materials. Anyway…
And We’re Back …
Returning to the topic at hand: trends and trendiness —
The 2022 trends in graphic design seemed to boil down to being closer to “do-whatever-you-want” than ever before. Which is a trend in and of itself.
Here are a few observations (in addition to the above “Retro Futurism”) from those who track and characterize trends:
- Creative Pragmatism — Bold and unconventional, yet functional, purposeful, “intentional.” Another interesting combination of words that borders on oxymoron.
- Expressive and personal, eccentric, experimental, even quirky imagery. I’m all for whatever expresses the brand and delivers the message most effectively.
- “Typography Gone Wild” with full permission to experiment. I still hold that there are circumstances where “style” should not interfere with legibility.
- BOTH geometric AND nature-derived shapes and motifs are “in.” Take your pick!
- “Flat” and 3D-look / dimensional objects mixed into the same illustration. Mix it up!
- Hand-drawn, idiosyncratic treatments for icons — “doodles” that are less polished, even naïve. As useful as they are, we’re all about as tired as we can be of icons. Yet the Internet has its own lexicon that supports usability. Running far afield of expectations in user interfaces risks confusion that defies the gold standard of usability. Most users are familiar with the behavior of dropdowns and the “Hamburger Icon,” yes?
- Radical, contrasting, even “psychedelic” colors. You can really clash in on this trend!
- Gradations are “in” once again. Their possibilities are endless. But I still hold that gradations are the refuge of scoundrels. No gradation can rehabilitate a weak logo.
“Do-whatever-you-want” is both liberating and daunting. With everything up in the air, where does the designer “come down” on posting pixels or hitting paper with ink? Both designers and clients are faced with the classic analysis paralysis. There is simply far too much to choose from. A recent thread of posts by fellow graphic designers has THEM struggling to create their OWN promotional materials because of this very effect. They — of all people — report that they are so keenly aware of all the possibilities that many of them give up on the process of designing for themselves. Arguably, designers have always been our own worst clients.
The solution is to sharpen the focus and to START with the end-goal and a clear picture of the audience you are trying to reach with the message. Once that is in place, an effective design approach which has that sharper focus can take form.
One example of the liberating effect of 2022’s trends appeared in infographics — the visual representation of quantitative information or design for the visualization of concepts. Traditionally, infographics have been irretrievably dull. The new trend is to liberate infographics so they no longer lean on boring, machine-generated, template-based pie charts and bar graphs, but instead are rendered in creative and engaging ways — as designs that are NOT “out of the box,” but rather OUTSIDE OF the box. Enter bar charts with Pez heads and pie charts with blurry edges and psychedelic-patterned fills that nearly fly off the page, rendered with animations zooming in on the eye of a lemur.
Another liberator is brand expressed with humor. This approach has been around for a long time in the form of funny or surprising and self-deprecating ads. Mid-century examples include those from VW and Benson & Hedges cigarettes (Touting their feature of being longer. “No comment” on the fact of lengthening cigarettes in shortening one’s life.) Today there is even more permission to be funny as well as emotional and controversial. Businesses no longer need to be afraid to make people laugh … or even cry … with their messages. It would be great if small businesses were more courageous with this possibility. More genuine; authentic. Funny crazy. Crazy funny. Yes, please.
Who is to say to what degree or by when these trends will assume their place in the “dated” column? And they will. But now more than ever, it’s a CHOICE. Designers can assist our clients with those choices. That’s what we’re here for.