Graphic design trends to look for (and avoid), courtesy of Trend List
Michal Sloboda, one of the founders of the graphic design trend-spotting website, assesses what the future might hold for five ubiquitous crazes.
Michal Sloboda is a UX and branding designer based in Silicon Valley. He founded Trend List together with Ondřej Zita in 2011. In recent years he’s been working on projects where food and design connect people in real life.
In 2011, while still in college, I founded Trend List together with Ondřej Zita. At that time, we believed that form had lost its function and internet technology had accelerated a formalistic, copycat approach within design. Trend List was a reaction to ever-present formalism and the repetitive visual language in the works that we saw online.
Today’s world is visual and works of art and graphic design are displayed without relevant context. We wanted to catalogue this to see if there are patterns in visual trends and how those evolve over time. In the early days, we received hate emails and requests of removal, but it soon changed. Over the years Trend List became a benchmark, a reference database and a source of inspiration for up-and-coming designers. Now there are designers submitting their own creations to Trend List daily.
But Trend List is also subjective. We are continuously collecting the images that carry the same visual style or language. It is only once they hit the critical mass that we publish it as a new trend category. We also decided to exclude some trends for various reasons – for instance, if they exist because of the production tools that we all create with, or they only apply to a very specific subcategory of graphic design.
It’s Nice That invited us to comment on which trends we found were particularly pertinent this past year, and the ones we believe should (maybe) be left behind…
A frequent trend we’ve spotted in recent years is how illustration used in graphic design has become more abstract and seemingly unintentional. Liquid abstraction, in particular, has become a dominant element of visuals and expression has overtaken logic. Ugly elements remain beautiful, with randomness becoming a clear intention of designers. For instance, we’ve seen shapes losing their borders and geometric structures melting like butter. 3D renders of metal textures mixing with bold colours have also risen in popularity, as well as childlike drawings swaying in a kind of LSD rhythm, where vectors blend with pixels.
Photoshop’s Liquify filter, it appears, has become the industry’s new friend again. If you’re unfamiliar with this trend appearing, imagine Matisse cut outs. On mushrooms. I believe this trend will only get more personal in 2020. If this element of abstraction also carries the signature of the author, we will see more unique designs coming out of this trend.
Brands won’t become polarising in 2020. If anything, they’re just becoming more and more lookalike, especially as the marketplace has become saturated with minimalist branding, following the precedence of design-driven brands like Apple and Uniqlo.
This trend has seen companies trying to push the product to the fore, giving graphic design a secondary to non-existent role. The usual layout is a visual dominated by a carefully arranged still life, with a polished product placed in the middle. Surrounding it will be a monotone background, a sterile typographic clone of Helvetica or Futura, and one accent colour. These are the proven ingredients we expect for branding in 2020. It’s a recipe that can be replicated, even when blindfolded.
Being minimal is great, but I believe infusing wit or emotion can add more character and convey the unique story of a brand. Brands that steer away from the formula get a chance to create their own visual language. Look at the examples of Supreme, the Jewish Museum NYC or Happy Socks. Their unique visual styles helped to distinguish them in a saturated market and become memorable.
Back in 2016, I suggested that graphic design would become more punk. At the time, we were seeing letters dispersing all around, flying on loose strings resembling overcooked spaghetti. Words were becoming infinitely repeated, like those on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo cover. Typography was deformed too, constantly, by scanners.
This introduced a time of breaking very basic rules. At first, this was more subtle, with intentionally bad kerning coming into play, full with alignment unevenly spreading the words in sentences. This grew and grew, and too much visual noise made catching the attention of a viewer more important than meaning or readability. Stretched typography, however, crowns it all, a more purposeful iteration of its scanning predecessor.
What we were first taught not to do, we now do by intention. We’ve raised the middle finger to the previous generation. It will be interesting to see how this trend evolves in 2020. There are many more rules to be broken and by doing so we can come across something seemingly bizarre, but also unique or beautiful.
Zero Negative Space
When my classmate noted in an argument with our tutor that “More can sometimes be more!” we all laughed. Nobody laughs now. More is trendy! Space in graphic design has become filled to the edges like a Jackson Pollock painting. There is no place for your eye to pause, no space to breathe.
There are signature works by established designers whose work embodies this trend, such as Richard Niessen and Esther de Vries, or Paula Scher. On the one hand, this graphic approach can be calming and obedient, or in other instances claustrophobic and cryptic. In either case the repetition creates eye-pleasing visuals, a maze full of secret treasures.
This trend has been around for a while and it comes back periodically. In 2020, however, designers should be more careful about what they want to convey by filling the last empty space and how the final visual feels. It can be pleasing, provocative, abstract or full of information – as long as it’s constructed with an intention.
In recent years, subtle tertiary colours have featured heavily across various areas of graphic design. We saw this in the eye-candy corporate illustrations by Facebook, Slack, Airbnb and Dropbox and around the web in backgrounds with low contrast for highly legible typography. These are safe combinations that don’t annoy anyone. However, I believe those soothing muted colours will soon be replaced by bold, primary colours.
This will offer a dramatic contrast to the purist white layouts and black typography. We’ll see the whole range, from subtle accent drops to large screaming fields of complementary combinations. If I had to bet on one single colour to take the lead, it would be process red, a pure combination of magenta and yellow, CMYK 0/100/100/0. Clean and bright, but a bit more subtle than its RGB brother.
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