6 of the biggest graphic design trends for 2019

Trends are easy to identify a few years after they've happened. But they're notoriously difficult to spot at the time. For its new issue (#287), Computer Arts spoke to a wide range of creatives, from diverse disciplines and at different levels, at creative studios across the world, to hear their takes on the trends heading our way in 2019. 

Read on to discover some of the standout themes they picked up on. For the full article, which is packed with plenty more trends to discover, pick up a copy of Computer Arts #287 from Friday 7 December, available in our online magazine store or from any good newsagents. 

01. Smashing stereotypes

Kelly Anna's She Stole the Show

Kelly Anna's She Stole the Show exhibition celebrated women's inner champions

In illustration, there's been one standout trend in 2018: the varied ways in which women are being represented through illustration. "From gender issues to body politics, what it's like to be a woman today is being explored in a more unapologetic way than ever before," says Alex Thursby-Pelham, lead designer at Wieden+Kennedy London.

Galvanised by #MeToo and similar movements, illustrators are feeling encouraged to break away from caricature and explore more nuanced and multi-dimensional portrayals of women that confront the status quo. "Scrolling through Instagram, Matisse-inspired nudes follow politically charged illustrations of female solidarity and resistance," Thursby-Pelham enthuses. "Empowered, angry, joyful, funny, flawed, opinionated… they're all here." 

Polly Nor’s 'You don't know him like I do'

Polly Nor’s 'You don't know him like I do' – part of her searingly personal Airing my Dirty Laundry in Public show

And it's not just about what is being produced but what isn't, the designer continues. "The furore caused by the recent cartoon of Serena Williams in Melbourne's Herald Sun – deemed sexist and racist – goes to prove that in 2018, gendered stereotypes aren't met with a shrug, but with fiery backlash."

"This year feels like a time where these varying perspectives aren't just 'nice to have', but absolutely necessary," she concludes. "Fingers crossed that this trend will long outlive 2018."

02. Colour gradients

sky logo

2018 was the year of the gradient

Advancements in screen and display technology have led many to dub 2018 the 'year of the gradient'. "HTML5 enables people to code gradients rather than having to manually make graphics for them," explains Mitchell Nelson, lead creative at Jazzbones. "And this year, there's been a big focus on duotone gradients as opposed to flat colours, which are more limited. A lot of websites are now using brighter gradients with dark schemes, to give a slick, almost tech feel." 

Helen Baker, a freelance brand identity designer based in Wiltshire, concurs. "Gradients are now recognised as colours in their own right, and are seen in an increasing number of logo designs," she says. "The Brit Awards, for example, has moved from the use of flat colours in previous years to a rich 'red carpet' gradient." 

Rachel Brandon, graphic designer at PLMR, posits that this trend may be a reaction against digital design in general. "With a sense of movement and 3D to it, a gradient appears as though it has life and weight to it," she says. "As screens take over from physical, print-based mediums, the lifelike look these elements create could be one reason for their sudden surge in popularity."

03. Striving for simplicity

Anton&Anton Kioski

A pared-back look from Bond for Anton&Anton Kioski 

There's been a broad trend towards simplicity in design for some years now, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, as we live more of our lives on apps and websites, it seems only to be accelerating.

"Consumers are now used to seeing a flatter, cleaner, uncluttered design aesthetic in the apps and sites they use," says Alastair Holmes, associate creative director at This Place. "So it makes sense that companies should want to reflect this in their overall branding."

Examples abound. "Burberry recently turned heads with a bold step in typographic simplicity, cutting ties with the elegant graphic ornament of the past and adopting a timeless, grotesque approach to its new identity," notes Lee Hoddy, creative partner at Conran Design Group

04. Super-functional logos

Uber wordmark

Wolff Olins created a new wordmark for Uber in 2018

"This year has seen more and more corporates adopting the 'lowercase sans serif' model, with a reductionist, one-colour symbol floating nearby," says Michael Johnson, founder of Johnson Banks. "So now we see virtually the same typography used by everyone – from BT to the Premier League, to Airbnb, to Spotify, to Uber, to you-name-it."

He's not sure whether we've seen this trend peak. "At first this approach seemed more interesting, more stripped down, more 'less' if you like," says Johnson. "But I'm really starting to wonder quite how long this kind of corporate me-too-ism can continue." 

Chris Maclean, creative director of Wolff Olins, is among the optimists though. "We're losing those glossy sheens and skeuomorphic embellishments that are a hangover from the UI design 10 years ago," he points out. "We're witnessing a return to classic logo design, where less is more, and anything that doesn't express the core essence of the brand is discarded."

Furthermore, he believes that the simplicity of the logos themselves is being balanced out elsewhere. "While some might argue that logo design has become more conservative, exciting things are happening in the expressions that surround the logo," he argues. "More and more brands are recognising that a cohesive brand identity can be a much more expressive palette than the logo alone. This means the identity can evolve while the logo remains consistent over time."

05. Disruptive typography

Future London academy

Future London academy branding by ONY 

We're experiencing a noticeable trend towards more sophisticated typography in web design," says Alex Blattmann, senior designer at  Dalton Maag. "Serif styles are, once again, taking centre stage, after years of avoidance in the pursuit of simpler, sans serif forms."

Rick Banks, director of Face37, takes a similar view. "Last year I predicted in Computer Arts we'd see a reaction to the geometric sans-serifs that dominated 2016, and I think I've been right," he says. "Wolff Olins' Chobani rebrand is a prime example. Pentagram's Vroom and Mother's Debenhams rebrands are other highlights. I see this trend continuing over the next few years, with brands and designers wanting more personality in their type and logos."

In terms of 'more personality', there's been mini-trend for what Riccardo De Franceschi, senior designer at Dalton Maag, describes as a 'brutalist' approach. "This is where type gets compressed or expanded to the extreme, as well as being outlined or even mechanically slanted," he explains. 

A more mainstream way that designers have been adding extra personality to their typography, meanwhile, has been through the rise of custom fonts. "Brands are asking themselves: how can I be myself if I'm using the same font as a hundred other brands, especially when that other brand is a real asshole?" says Chris Harmon, art director at Loyalkaspar. "In response, more and more brands are making custom fonts that honestly feel like themselves, and no one can copy them."

06. Motion graphics in branding

2018 has seen a major change in what motion designers are being asked to produce, with a seismic shift in 2018 towards social content. Creative agency DMS has seen a 60 per cent increase in this area, reveals head of motion graphics Nico Vargas. 

"In today's world, our clients need to engage with their audiences faster," he says. "So we're using bumpers – a five-second teaser before a promotion trailer – that incorporate engaging dynamic subtitles to entice the audience to click and view the promotional content."

Designing for social means rethinking your approach, says Katie Cadwallader, senior designer at Supple Studio. "Twitter and Instagram now loop videos, encouraging our films to be more like GIFs and less like stories with a beginning and end," she says. "The length of animations is adapting too. Anything between 30 seconds and five minutes is now a no-man's land: you're either designing for likes or for a lunch break viewing." 

This is just a part of a larger trend, which is seeing motion design become better integrated into the branding mix, according to Wouter Sel, co-founder and animation director at Volstok. "More than ever, video is part of the brand instead of merely being a billboard for it," he says. "Motion design is now deeply embedded in the customer journey." 

The full version of this article, including more trends to watch out for and an in-depth look at what's on the cards in the design world, can be found in issue #287 of Computer Arts. You can buy a copy here, or subscribe to Computer Arts here.

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