Have you ever wondered how designers develop new ideas? They’re probably wondering, too. The part they do know about is the input—interviews, research, data, word association, sketching, and so on. But just like I don’t know how the chemistry of baking a cake works, I don’t really know how a brain makes something new and novel from all those ingredients.
One additional input can be a survey of what else is going on in the surrounding design landscape. This is when they might stumble upon a design trend report.
That’s so trendy!
A design trend report assembles a series of notable visual trends, typically organized by year (“The hottest design trends of 2023") or by practice ("Top trends in brand design!"). This article is, in fact, a design trend report. Looking at the hottest current trends (if they’re any good) can be visually engaging. And they can serve as a springboard for idea generation. But there are risks in using trends as solutions.
A visual solution that mirrors the trendy aesthetics of the day might feel right and safe in the moment. But does that choice align with the needs of the business and the project? What happens when (not if) the trend has run its course? What if the trend you follow doesn’t resonate with your audience?
Understanding the risks, there is value in knowing what’s happening in the design world. Trends can prompt great ideas and great questions. Why is this a trend right now with a particular audience? What are the underlying reasons? If for no other reason, keeping up on design trends lets us avoid unwittingly hopping aboard the latest bandwagon.
Here is what we’re seeing.
Let's save you a bit of time and give you a quick rundown of what we’ve seen so far this year.
Geometry, simple layouts, strong contrast, bright colors, and a bit of nostalgia. This style pulls from Brutalist architecture in its focus on functionality over form, and splashes in some familiar shapes and forms from the 80s and 90s. The simplicity and straightforwardness of this aesthetic can at times make it appear almost un-designed.
Where brutalism focuses on function, anti-design is more about expression and subversion. Like the grunge movement best demonstrated by Raygun and David Carson in the 90s, this approach stretches standard design tools and conventions to create unpredictable and chaotic forms. It challenges contemporary focuses on simplicity, marketability, and ease of understanding.
Rooted in organic forms, sinuous lines, asymmetric layouts, and nature just like The Art Nouveau movement of the late 1800s, this resurgent style places emphasis on beauty for beauty's sake. Typography and layouts may be visually complex, challenging viewers to understand what is being communicated. Unlike its predecessor, work utilizing this aesthetic today is much more vivid and colorful, bringing in an almost psychedelic feel at times.
Nostalgia, warmth, and friendliness are on the forefront of some brands who embrace this aesthetic. Primarily leaning on the softness of classic typefaces like Cooper Black and similar typefaces, this approach feels like a warm hug, a sort of visual comfort food. Bold, rounded typographic forms ask viewers to look back, to remember when, and associate those warm, fuzzy feelings with the brands using them.
A connective thread we see running through the above trends is nostalgia. Many people romanticize the past as a time with more cultural and political stability (that’s debatable), and it’s easy to understand why the design world might be doing the same.
An additional undercurrent we detect in Anti-design and The New Nouveau is potentially a pushback against generative AI. Both trends place high value on subjective, human expression. This isn’t to say that AI can’t make work like this, but we may see more work like this that emphasizes being human-made.
Keep your eyes open. Notice what catches your eye. Wonder why it did, and if you’re the intended audience. Doing so will sharpen your design awareness.
But remember, resist the urge to go all in on the latest trend with your branding and design projects. Trends can spark ideas, but they are not a solution on their own. Your project's success lies in creative decisions rooted in a robust brand strategy that aligns with your business goals and the needs of your audience.