6 visual trends for 2016

We live in a world where very few aspects of our lives are not influenced by technology. One dramatic result is a visual revolution. Images are no longer confined to traditional media or art, but are so integrated in everyday life that imagery can now be considered a global language.

The changes in the visual landscape, driven largely by social media, have meant an overwhelming mix of visual styles. With a smartphone containing photo apps practically in every pocket, this new visual aesthetic is having an unquestionable impact on advertising, branding and design.

At photography websites including my stock art site Getty Images we continually monitor this visual landscape, analyzing customer buying trends and search behavior from the 2.35 billion searches and 400 million downloads at site gettyimages.com annually. Combined with our research into the visuals influencing the connected worlds of advertising, entertainment and social media we are uniquely placed to forecast the next big trends in imagery. In 2016, be prepared for extremes.

Here are the six trends we see as having the most influence on visual communications this year.

01. Outsider in

Non-conformity is the order of the day

Non-conformity is the order of the day

Bring in the anti-hero. What was once marginalized is now becoming mainstream as audiences embrace the non-conformist. As we become ever more inundated with mass replicated imagery and aggregated articles, our appetite for unique and standout visuals increases with each and every share. Everyone wants to be a rebel now.

We're seeing the idea of irreverence and audaciousness really being celebrated in entertainment. Outspoken celebrities such as Vivienne Westwood, Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Trump are getting more airtime. Colour clashes, loud patterns and experimental design are front and center. Fashion labels – long-time fans of pushing the envelope, such Ethel & Frank, send a bold message as evidenced in their recent campaign which celebrates age and self-expression.

Even traditionally conservative banks are getting in on the act. House of Fraser also got in on the act with their Christmas ad last year, celebrating individual expression with a 'Your Christmas, Your Rules' tagline. Normal is getting a new attitude.

02. Extended human

The blending of human and technnology

The blending of human and technnology

Technology can expand our capacities and our notion of what it is to be human. Extended Human explores and celebrates our evolving relationship with technology.

Visually, the trend blurs the lines between human and machine; humanizing technology and robotizing people. Wearable technology is now an extension of ourselves, measuring everything our heartbeat, sleep patterns, where we've travelled and how many steps it took to get there.

Conversely, technology is now becoming more human, as in the case of Biologic, the company that created clothing that 'breathes' when you sweat. Extended Human looks at these developments and other examples of the blurring lines between humans and their machines.

03. Divine living

Spirituality is a trend that is likely to be big in 2016

Spirituality is a trend that is likely to be big in 2016

Divine Living really springs from the double meaning of the word divine; marrying spirituality with idea of luxury. Driven by savvy consumers who are looking beneath the surface of a brand to its core values, this trend sees visuals engage on a higher level.

Our human search for meaning has birthed a consumer drive for mindful purchase. Visually, this can be represented by people in repose or contemplation with soft, celestial lighting, capturing a sense of wonder or higher connection. Alternatively, it offers a god's eye view of the world – images that show a breakthrough from the everyday to be mindful of the bigger picture.

Visuals are our new religion. Established brands such as UBS with their Life's Questions campaign, are also starting to tap into this mindfulness and are offering value through substance. We are eye-minded beings in a continual process of becoming and seeing, so it's no wonder we're longing for imagery that will uplift and offer reflection and revelation. Established brands are recognizing this.

04. Messthetics

Jackson Pollock had an idea after the chain broke on his bike...

Jackson Pollock had an idea after the chain broke on his bike...

A backlash against the digitally perfect, Messthetics comes from our desire to break away from the sanitation and predictability of everyday life and be more human.

The visual cues of Messthetics are all physical, the messy, grimy, sweaty and visceral. We want to be surprised, shocked, jolted out of the everyday, seeking out extremes to make us feel more alive. The impact of mess and ugliness does just that. It breaks through the glossy advertisements to shock the senses and impel a reaction. It is the aftermath of the action shot, the imperfect or the unfiltered.

This aesthetic revels in an extreme, intense, comfort-free, primeval state of being. Reebok's 'Be More Human' campaign does just this, exploring and celebrating the physicality of humanity.

05. Silence vs noise

This image combines silence and noise with a bit of the surreal

This image combines silence and noise with a bit of the surreal

We are seeing big contrasts and contradictions in styles and Silence and Noise can really be seen as a counterpoint to Messthetics. The imagery is simple and minimalistic providing an opportunity for customers to create similar messages that are succinct, uncomplicated but beautifully executed, to stand out against imagery that's more frenetic.

Visually it says 'less is more' in both composition and colour. The pictures are often quiet and restrained but will often contain a visual punchline. In many ways it is a return to the craft of photography where composition and the visual artifacts of the image can be used to create a message.

Perhaps this style is even more effective in an increasingly visually overstimulated world where this kind of calm approach creates a welcome contrast. John Lewis featured this trend in their print ads late last year, opting for clever visual puns to tell the message against clean backgrounds.

06. Surreality

Dream-like imagery is a growing trend

Dream-like imagery is a growing trend

Photographers are using many new photo manipulation techniques to create very playful and often surreal imagery that people love.
Sometimes looking like a 21st century version of '60s psychedelia, this trend is clearly influenced by dreams, the subconscious, and of course the original surrealist movement of the last century. Swatch's recent 'Great Times' advertising campaign, is a great example that focuses on surreal graphic imagery, playing with ideas of infinity and repetition.

Again we seem to be going beyond authenticity. After more than a decade where the visual landscape has been dominated by a drive towards realism, perhaps we have now developed an appetite for the surreal and the pleasure we experience from the unexpected.

Words: Paul Foster

Paul Foster is Senior Director of Creative Content at Getty Images. He leads a global team of art directors and editors who source, create and curate video, photos and illustration in partnership with photographers and videographers across Europe, America and Asia, working across Getty Images' brand portfolio, including iStock by Getty Images.

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