Graphic design is a strange thing: it’s built on constants—the inherent appeal of compositions, the complementary nature of colors—and yet it’s also always changing.
Whether because of generational shifts or new technologies, or simply what’s in the zeitgeist, each year brings fresh design trends that make pieces feel current.
So, what’s in the air this year? Which new approaches have made it to the mainstream? Here are nine big graphic design trends that every brand should be keeping a close eye on:
1. Vibrant yet mellow colors
The Pantone Color of the Year for 2019 is Living Coral, which the company describes as, “An animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”
While that description may seem like a contradiction (and a bit over the top), it’s actually apt: Living Coral is both vibrant and mellow. It serves as a good reminder for designers that certain colors can provide a bit of extra uplift without overpowering.
2. Decorative typography
Over the past few years, the Apple font aesthetic—clean, clear, sans-serif—has become dominant both online and offline. This has been a good thing for readability, but it has also meant that typography has become a little boring.
Luckily things seem to be loosening up. Designers have been increasingly using non-standard fonts to stand out. This has especially been true with top-level text, such as on splash pages, headlines, and billboards. Case in point: Apple itself used a decorative typeface to tease a product announcement.
3. Very big text
Similar to the use of decorative fonts, designers are increasingly amping up the size of text in pieces to stand out. Again, this is occurring most in areas such as splash pages, where impact takes precedence over readability.
The trend toward going big can clearly be seen in the ever-growing popularity of the Maxi font, which is well suited for sizing up.
4. Gradients, gradients, gradients
Gradients are nothing new; they were adopted widely by tech firms a few years ago and have been steadily moving into the mainstream since then.
It doesn’t look like this will be the year that their popularity finally wanes. If anything, the use of gradients seems to be expanding even more widely—past online offerings and toward print collateral and signage. Gradients are even increasingly being incorporated into functional offerings, such as this Hulu welcome screen.
5. Open composition
When Adobe surveyed the graphic design landscape to identify this year’s trends, they noticed something interesting: marketers increasingly are using open compositions—ones that flow beyond the frame rather than stay within it.
This approach stands out because it is literally outside the box. As the researchers put it, “The power of open composition is its ability to tap into the audience’s imagination and spark curiosity.”
6. Flat design + real-life objects
Here’s another trend that the Adobe team noticed: the increasing combining of flat design with real-life objects.
Each element on its own is nothing new: flat design has been big online for years and real-life objects have been part of design since, well, the beginning of design. The freshness lies in mixing the two in a way that makes two-dimensional design feel alive and almost three-dimensional.
When it comes to movement, designers often were forced to go all or nothing—either have a static page or have one dominated by a video/animation.
Luckily, that’s changing. It’s increasingly possible, and common, to add just a touch of movement—perhaps to a background or a specific element—to entice the eye without overwhelming. An example of this can be seen on the Pexels site, which, fittingly, offers free stock videos for brands to incorporate into their pages.
Iconification is exactly what it sounds like: taking something and turning it into a visual icon.
What’s great about this approach is that it bridges the real and the imaginary; it straddles the realism of photography and the creative license of drawing. A good example of iconification in action is this landing page from designer Alexa Pleiko-Izik, which stands out by only going halfway.
Finally, one of the biggest trends of 2019 is decidedly old school: illustrations.
Paradoxically, because we’re in an age of pixels, perfection, and mass engagement, the artistry, imperfection, and hand-crafted nature of illustrations make them even more powerful. That may be why some of the most of-the-moment tech companies, such as Slack, have increasingly embraced using them. Ultimately, as with everything else, when it comes to graphic design, what’s old will eventually be new again.
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Written by Anthony Del Gigante