For many designers, the word 'trend' has a negative connotation, tarred with images of blind imitation of whatever's hot at any given time, rather than genuine innovation and independent creative thought.
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So rather than serving you up seasonal, flash-in-the-pan trends that you'd frankly be a fool to follow, here we've provided an essential overview of 20 longer-lasting styles and movements that have genuine impact on creative professionals.
Notable in 2012 is the trend for pared-back minimalism, which cuts through the noise with considered use of white space, clean type, bold, simple shapes and limited colour palettes, rather than ladling on special treatments and effects – and we've covered several applications of this here. Likewise, the current consumer desire for authentic, unique products that give a sense of heritage rather than bland mass-production manifests itself in several smaller ways too. You'll find a few wildcards in there, too – so read on for your snapshot overview of the design trends from 2012.
Back to basics
Reacting against a modern-day existence in which we’re overloaded with information, data and constant updates about the world around us, this trend for refined, ultra-simplified design boils communication down to its bare bones, stripping out unnecessary fuss and complications to leave graphic artwork in its purest form. It takes confidence and skill to design in this pared-back way – there’s nothing to hide behind – and the few elements need to work extra hard.
Build your own type
DIY type systems’ basically enable you to compile your own letterforms using so-called ‘modular construction kits’, and then test and play around with the resulting alphabet for interesting results. Many such kits come in hybrid forms, combining multiple elements in various ways for true versatility. Christine Gertsch’s Modono project, for instance, provides a series of horizontal, vertical, diagonal and corner components that can be used to make monospaced characters of different weights and colours.
In order for a new brand identity to stand out in an already densely populated marketplace, it needs to be timeless, clean and communicate clearly. Many consumers are embracing global brands that demonstrate a truly international aesthetic – designers are often achieving this by looking to how great brands of the past for inspired use of bold colour stripes and simple fonts, similar to examples of now-iconic airline branding that has really stood the test of time.
With polished digital perfection everywhere, the raw, flawed product of the human hand is becoming increasingly appealing, especially in contrast to overly slick digital design that’s too clean and crisp to have a soul of its own. Starting in reaction to the homogenisation of type in emails, texts and tweets – where the personality of handwriting is stripped away – hand-written type adds a real sense of authenticity to a piece of design, as well as a whimsical edge.
Type from objects
Pushing the idea of DIY type systems a little further, some designers are manipulating everyday objects into playful, spontaneous typographic designs. Compiled from any number of gathered, scavenged and collected objects, these alphabets are truly unique and individual. One example is Jonas Buntenbruch’s provocatively titled ‘Fuck Experimental Type’ piece, which utilises ‘found’ objects from his workspace to create the phrase – including pens, coins, scissors and a banana.
The incomplete look
Some typographic branding work has been pared back beyond its core elements, stripping out parts of letterforms for a more subtle, sophisticated approach that communicates using the least information possible. When the right balance is struck, missing elements in logos leave the viewer to fill in the blanks as the brain automatically solves the puzzle. Anagrama’s work for architectural firm MTLL, for instance, strips out the lines from the ‘M’ to help convey its dedication to finding simple solutions.
Back to Bauhaus
This particular trend is characterised by simple, strong, graphic patterns that chime with the Bauhaus aesthetic: it’s all about straight edges, angular shapes and bold colours. Triangles, circles and hexagons replace more ornate patterns for a real sense of clarity, purity and authority – enhanced by widespread use of saturated primary colours. In some cases, shapes are also layered into abstract typography in a style that blends classic Bauhaus Modernism with 1980s graphic design.
Old school calligraphy
Pushing against the ubiquity of particular typefaces, this trend develops the trend for rough, hand-drawn lettering even further. Rather than settle for the unnatural smoothness of standard off-the-shelf script fonts, designers are developing their own type using calligraphic techniques, imitating the authenticity of hand-inked lettering. This kind of unique craftsmanship is particularly in vogue, and the visual style of a hand-written personal letter suggests that time, effort and skill have been invested in a piece of graphic design.
Comprising two or more grid-like patterns that are overlapped to create a simple optical illusion, moiré techniques are being used extensively in branding work in particular – providing an engaging, eye-catching way to attract consumers’ attention. From simple black-and-white effects to bold uses of stripes and bright primary colours, such as Here Design’s branding work for music and sound design company Barbershop, moiré designs make simple shapes and colours work doubly hard.
With giant multinational brands dominating the high street and efficient mass-production stripping any sense of variation out of the products they sell, consumers are consciously seeking out an independent, artisan aesthetic for a refreshing change. For designers, it pays to make the effort to communicate the heritage of a brand – as well as reveal the ‘craft story’ behind a product – to tap into this widespread desire for a genuine connection with the process by which things are made.