Five design trends set to visually shape 2022
From gooey blobs in 3D art to posters and album covers drenched in intense, eye-searing colours, some trends had a big 2021. Here, we explore how they might change and evolve in 2022 and shed some layers that will (probably) get left behind.
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In the realm of design, trends can often surpass their reputation as momentary, snazzy fads, only to reveal the ideas and styles holding the collective attention of the design world in a moment in time. They often have a lot to say. Remember the ubiquitous gleam of liquid metal chrometypes and their stylistic rebellion against the pared-back, purist aesthetic of minimalism? Then came the surge of chiseled fonts that hinted at a yearning for imperfect, handcrafted humanism. The recent rise (and critique) of Corporate Memphis – that intended to inject colour and personality into flat 2D illustrations through spindly-armed characters who’re always skipping, dancing or gardening – is also indicative of shifts in the creative industry that outline the changing sentiments of our times.
Whether they appear as slow-burners, gently brewing along the fringes until they suddenly erupt into view, or as an immediate, visceral reaction that raises a stylistic middle finger to the prevalent notions of a time, trends – and the design world, at large – offer a reflection of our society and the ideas that drive us. 2021 was a wild ride. So what were the trends that had us hooked last year? What do they say about the way we’ve lived since the pandemic, and how we’ve coped with the chaotic, restless energy of a lingering pandemic? Which of these trends can we expect to see more of in 2022, amidst the visual renaissance that possibly awaits us this year? We asked some leading creatives to weigh in, so wonder no more.
Set In Motion
While motion design has been gradually seeping into branding and identity systems for a few years now, the role that movement and kinetics can play in conveying the personality and the spirit of a brand is becoming increasingly evident. We’ve been seeing it everywhere: flickering typography swooshes that mutates until it comes together to form the name of a brand that wants to reflect its dynamism; squishy shapes wiggle and buoyant logos bob to hint at a devil-may-care, cheerful personality.
The time is ripe for studios to create a distinct, “ownable choreography” that becomes synonymous with a brand, thinks Mitch Paone, partner and creative director of DIA Studio, which recently refreshed the identity of Mailchimp. While Mitch has observed the surging popularity in the use of motion in crafting brand narratives, he’s also noticed a significant delineation between the projects that use animation to bring static assets to life, versus those that genuinely use motion to create personality and the identity itself.
How designers tackle this divide is going to be key to how this movement evolves in the future. “The creative process of developing an identity through motion requires a unique combination of skills that I would compare to a choreographer creating a dance routine,” says Mitch, adding: “To do this correctly, the designer needs to develop a motion-based system first, and then generate the work from there.” In 2022, motion cannot be an afterthought. Instead, it will become the centrepiece of a project, a lens through which designers start viewing the infinite possibilities of crafting a brand story which is far more dynamic than static images designed to warp and move.
The 90s Are Back
For a while now, our feeds have been swimming in grainy, soft-focus images, with the edges of shapes blurring into a surreal, foggy haze, and perhaps a crease running through the centre of the photograph. An obsession with lo-fi 90s aesthetics, punctuated with techniques like light leaks and over-exposure, has definitely taken over the world of photography. “There’s something pleasurable about creating modern art that looks like it’s from the 90s. It’s a rewarding feeling,” says photographer Jack Bridgland.
In a sense, this trend points at an understated intention of moving away from the hi-def, ‘perfect’ image, a sentiment that perhaps is rooted in the recent renaissance of film photography. “I think in our generation, this style feels new although it’s old,” says Jack. “This drive to create an imperfect image definitely has something to do with the slow revival of film, the very feel of the medium which is frankly unmatchable, and the space it creates for honest mistakes.”
While specific details like light leaks and fish-eye lenses might be left behind, the broader trend itself is “highly adaptable, and will stand the test of time,” says Jack. How it unfolds in 2022 is going to depend on “the ways photographers dip into different techniques from that era”, to create images that are at once reminiscent of the 90s and immediately refreshing.
“How do you create your own vocabulary? Are you emulating something you’ve already seen? Or are you bringing something of your own worldview to it?”Ines Alpha
Gooey Blobs and Liquids in 3D Art
There is something about amorphous, squidgy blobs and shiny liquids in 3D and digital art that seemed very on-trend over the past year. Sugar-coloured, cushiony structures popped up on magazine covers, and hypnotic, elastic-band-like liquids shimmered and pulsated in a kind of tranced rhythm. Leaning on a sense of randomness and abstraction, these fluid and glinting organic shapes – with no sharp angles or edges in sight – shift and move like aquatic creatures, in ways that defy logic and any notions of gravity.
“Most digital artists like creating things that don’t and can’t exist on our physical planet. When you’re making these elements on a piece of software, you create your own physics, and that’s incredibly fascinating, which is why we see so many designers experimenting with it,” says Paris-based 3D artist Ines Alpha. But in our hyper-digital, always-switched-on world, it’s easy for visual ideas to be reappropriated without relevant context, which often blurs the original intent of a piece of work.
Which is why Ines thinks that bringing one’s signature to their work is going to define this trend in 2022. “It’s true, we’ve seen a lot of it. So if you’re working with it now, how do you create your own vocabulary? Are you emulating something that you’ve already seen? Or are you bringing something of your own worldview to it? What do you have to say? I think this trend has incredible potential, especially if artists are creating from a place of honesty and authenticity.”
A Nostalgic Resurgence
The cyclical nature of trends has become even more apparent lately. Techniques and ideas born in the 1890s, and seen again in the heady years of the late 90s, became recurring themes across commercial and personal projects. Who could have missed the resurgence of airbrushed illustrations and the psychedelic, punchy typefaces – reminiscent of the summer of love – that were suddenly everywhere?
“Airbrushing has been gathering momentum for a while, but it’s definitely peaked lately,” says Kentucky-based graphic designer, artist and musician Robert Beatty. With misty gradients and grainy, tactile textures, the aesthetic pull of the medium was hard to escape: one cursory scroll on Instagram and it pops up in posters, album covers and endless editorial illustrations.
“It was no coincidence that we felt the need to go full-tilt bright this year in some of our colour choices.”Jason Little
This callback has been manifesting elsewhere too. An upswing of typefaces that reference the ornamental flourishes of the Jugendstil movement, blending them with svelte, sharp tapers that brings them right up to date points at a shift in the profession; the type designer is now more of a craftsperson. Legibility is incidental, while expression and the mood of a typeface take centre stage.
This year, these trends will become more personal. “The complexity of these typefaces draws on the beauty of the eccentric graphics of the 60s and 70s, and its contemporary update, which makes it more than just a revival,” says Gustavo Eandi, who designed the lettering of Lorde’s Solar Power. And that’s where its potential lies. “It will move beyond just being a nostalgic pull, and evolve into a style of its own and its own time.” When it comes to airbrushing, Robert agrees: “As a medium it’s so versatile. It can convey humour, movement, life”. This trend will be shaped by the many ways in which designers tweak that potential to create unique designs that mess with the rules.
Intense, Retina-searing Colours
If there ever was a visual riposte to uncertain, challenging times that manifested through the reflective microcosm that is the world of design, then the recent rise in the use of dramatic, eye-searing colours was definitely it. Intense gradients and blazing hues showed up across advertising campaigns, album and book covers, identity systems and editorial design that made it almost impossible for the viewer to look away.
“It was no coincidence that we felt the need to go full-tilt bright last year in some of our colour choices. Hope and optimism go a long way, and colour as a visual identifier of this sentiment seems like a choice many people and organisations will continue to make,” says Jason Little, co-founder and executive creative director of For The People, who designed the identity for the Sydney Film Festival 2021. “It’s like there’s all this pent up energy waiting to be released, and this is definitely an avenue to express it.”
“We can’t wait to be safe and free again, so we pour that intention, that hope into our work and the colour choices,” says Zuzanna Rogatty, senior designer at Collins. In a way, this ballsy use of colours also points towards a clear intention “to make brands unignorable,” Zuzanna explains. “I hope it is actually a movement, a characteristic of the zeitgeist, a colour uprising, and not only a trend.”
The use of provocative, complex hues is definitely here to stay. “There’s always a long tail to these things, right?” says Jason. While it’s been brewing gently for a while, lately, colours have become emblematic of the current, get-up-and-go creative landscape, and it promises to be something we’ll see a lot of in 2022. Jason adds: “And maybe the late majority and big tech will be right in this space by 2024, who knows.”
About the Author
Ritupriya is a writer and self-confessed “design maniac” based in India. She has written for Platform Magazine, Sofa, Eye on Design and Intern Magazine, driven to tell the stories of the people, projects and ideas that deserve to be heard.