Like so many other aspects of modern society, the design world periodically shifts between prevailing stylistic tendencies. I can remember a couple less-than-desirable trends from my own past (JNCO Jeans, bowl cuts, etc.), but that’s not to say that trends are bad; some are actually really great. As a general rule though, graphic design trends shouldn’t be adopted simply because they are trendy. The primary goal should always be the strongest design solution. The problem with following trends too closely is that you run the risk of sacrificing the timelessness of your design solution. You definitely don’t want your trendy new logo to be the next JNCO Jeans.
The following are some design trends that I’ve seen around lately, for better or worse.
Inspired by the Past
You may or may not have noticed, but retro is really hot right now, particularly in the world of graphic design. Logos, posters, websites and any other graphic environments tend to use a lot of banners or banderoles to wrap around elements or frame the typography. It’s an interesting look, but certainly one that is fairly easy to execute with today’s design software. For this reason, many of these solutions have a tendency to look the same, but a good graphic designer will be able to add some unique, vintage-inspired flare to their designs—try these tips.
Essentially what I’m referring to here is anytime more than one line of text is designed in a solid, justified block. Both the left and right lines of text are flush with each other, creating a rectangular shape. I suspect this layout was originally derived from Victorian-era wood type posters, although it is a logical layout decision, and helps when dealing with a word-heavy title or descriptor. It’s a great way to visually simplify information and if done right, can look really nice.
In an age where everyone has hundreds of fonts at their disposal, it’s nice to see a resurgence of lettering. When done by the right designer, custom, hand-drawn letters can be a beautiful thing (just don’t call it “hand-lettered typography”). It’s definitely a skill that few designers can master.
Inspired by a Different Past
Another graphic trend that has been sweeping through the branding world (and in the process making designers everywhere smile) is the departure from textured, effects-laden graphics towards flat, simple, geometrically-based graphics. Upon initial inspection it would seem that this is an entirely new style, but that’s not exactly true.
It is a much-welcomed abandonment from the “design” boom of the 1990s—the desktop-publishing era when suddenly everyone had access to Microsoft Office and became the office “designer.” Before the invention of design software though, mid-century masters of design such as Saul Bass, Paul Rand, and Massimo Vignelli were creating solid, bold, and very pure design solutions, very much reminiscent of what is happening today.
Speaking of today, one of the biggest leaders of this new graphical resurgence is none other than tech-giant Google. Recently, designers from Google published two very extensive and very comprehensible Visual Assets Guidelines (Part 1 and Part 2), which outline the reductive visual styling of everything Google, from logo lockups and product iconography, to typography, color palettes and illustrations.
Microsoft and the (relatively) new Windows 8 brand are both a part of this new, flat trend, as is Facebook’s recent (though very subtle) identity adjustment.
My advice: trend or no trend, get rid of your extraneous drop shadows, gradients, and outlines, and get back to a more pure and powerful solution. Simplify. Your audience will thank you.