As an industry, graphic design is extremely susceptive to trends. At It’s Nice That, we naturally evaluate the comings and goings of in vogue iconographies; recording the waves of progression across the industry as time goes by. Meanwhile, on the other side of the UK in Glasgow, Graphic Design Festival Scotland (GDFS) similarly sees the visual trends of the year through its annual international poster exhibition. The current edition, now showing at The Lighthouse until 6 January 2019, showcases some of the best contemporary poster design from around the world, and can also be seen in the GDFS International Poster Book 2018.
The festival is hosted by the Glasgow-based Warriors Studio, founded by James Gilchrist, Beth Wilson, Victoria Donnelly and Mitchell Gillies. Running since 2014, GDFS has welcomed over 150,000 participants through its array of events that promote differing forms of creativity. After receiving hundreds of poster submissions, founding member James tells It’s Nice That about the overarching visual and conceptual trends that have infiltrated the creative communities this year. Below, James discusses the “visually chaotic” year of poster design, seeing very few “classic, flat, two-dimensional” works and how “even fewer were generous with whitespace.”
It’s Nice That: What are the main visual and conceptual trends that you saw in this year’s poster design submissions?
James Gilchrist: The main visual trend we saw was a heavily digitalised artificial aesthetic. Chaotic combinations of layered colours, gradients, software effects like bevels, shadows and highlights. Lots of Rudnik-inspired, sci-fi-esque typography and Jonathan Castro and Metahaven-inspired aesthetics. Think pop-sci-fi. We saw a lot of similar typography on posters too. Block letters with sharp, custom, alien logotypes placed on top with drop shadows, each filled with multi-coloured gradients. Hundreds of them.
In terms of concept, there were dozens of pieces relating to Trump, although fewer than in 2017. We’re considering doing a Trump-focused exhibition or project as there are literally dozens of interesting, sad and downright funny pieces of work inspired by Donald Trump. The simple bin bag in the shape of Trump’s head has been very popular with visitors. Simple, concise and makes a clear statement without text.
Other concepts which have shone through this year include themes around technology, social media and gender. The “School” poster which uses the format and colours of the Google logotype is interesting. There were a lot of posters which focus on our unhealthy obsession with social media and others that contribute to our ongoing discussions around gender.
INT: What is the most enjoyable experience that you encounter as curators of the exhibition?
JG: The most gratifying thing is discovering weird and wonderful ways that we can communicate with one another. Seeing new, original and inventive angles to approach graphic design is absolutely inspiring and even more so when it comes from someone on the other side of the world that you’ve never heard of and may never have encountered if it weren’t for the competition.
INT: What were the biggest challenges for yourselves as curators and judges during the competition?
JG: There are many difficulties. Particularly when so many people follow the competition and there are multiple partners involved, each with different expectations. There are also a lot of people who are emotionally invested in the festival through submitting their work and attending the events.
One of the main challenges is remaining objective and articulating the values and relevance of one piece of work against another. It’s a huge challenge to be able to articulate exactly why one design is more successful than another, or why it has a higher quality and more worthy of consideration. Especially when we’re dealing with sensitive work which can be highly emotive. The poster submission criteria offer a baseline for comparing work against each other but it’s incredibly hard when you have a strong gut feeling towards something, first impressions can have a strong influence on a viewpoint.
Another complication involved questioning the views of everybody else on the judging panel. Challenging each other when you may have never met before and don’t know one another very well creates an interesting dynamic. Examining our views is absolutely essential, otherwise, there would be no debate, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Everyone’s opinion is then scrutinised to explain why, how, and where these views come from, or we are opened up to new beliefs. It’s brilliant.
INT: What do you predict that you’ll see in the poster competition next year?
JG: Physicality. There has been a focus on physicality peeking through over the last couple of years but it’s never really become a focus. With more and more posters becoming digital, existing purely online with an aesthetic that is influenced by the tools it is created with (digital software, computers, digital spaces). It’s only a matter of time before this aesthetic becomes over saturated and rejected by the majority. The existence of design in a physical form is becoming a luxury, so a focus on this physicality in poster designs could well be the centre point for 2019.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.