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The top 20 graphic design trends of 2012

Generative type

Graphic Design Trends: Craig Ward

Graphic Design Trends: The Bulk of Reality by Craig Ward

The rise and rise of generative art – particularly tools such as Processing – has spread to typography, with new abstract letterforms being created in an organic (yet still wholly digital) way. Although manipulating the code can control various factors, the randomness of the final output can also have a similarly raw, unique appeal to handcrafted work. New York-based typographic illustrator and designer Craig Ward has produced various generative art experiments, with often-unexpected results.

Silhouetted shapes

Graphic Design Trends: Daniel Carlsten and Jonas Jansson

Graphic Design Trends: Acne packaging by Daniel Carlsten and Jonas Jansson

Taking cues from street signs and other simple graphic systems that rely on basic shapes, designers are working with silhouette-like patterns and stark black-and-white palettes, playing with positive and negative space with striking consequences. Swedish art director Daniel Carlsten adopted this style for a packaging brief for fashion brand Acne, combining shapes into a series of patterns that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Feminine elegance

Graphic Design Trends: Ruiz and company

Graphic Design Trends: Gemma by Ruiz and company

Continuing the trend for clean, simple design that’s free from fussy embellishments, this particular aesthetic brings an elegant, feminine touch to the table. Combining subtle textures with soft, pastel colour palettes, the resulting design work exudes quiet confidence without the need to shout. Bold photography is juxtaposed with blocks of dusky pink, pale aqua and pigeon grey for a feeling of calm, often combined with Didot-inspired fonts for that extra touch of sophistication.

Three-dimensional effects

Graphic Design Trends: Schaffter Sahil

Graphic Design Trends: Vila Bernasconi Apparition by Schaffter Sahil

3D is the talk of the movie industry, and the distinctive aesthetic is fast spreading into graphic design work as well – with RGB layering, stereoscopic techniques and various 3D-inspired print effects shaping a unique middle ground between digital and analogue. Swiss design studio Schaffter Sahli, for instance, used an eye-catching 3D optical effect on a poster to promote Villa Bernasconi arts centre – while other projects take this a step further, requiring 3D glasses to fully appreciate them.

Rough sketches

Graphic Design Trends: Demian Conrad

Graphic Design Trends: Brand Identity for Almighty by Demian Conrad

Instead of making use of clean photography, polished illustration and crisp typography, some designers prefer a more rough-and-ready, spontaneous approach, utilising basic sketching techniques to explore the diversity, depth and personality of particular brands. Blending traditional ink, paper and pencil skills with modern production methods, the resulting designs are quick to produce and can exude a certain carefree charm. The process isn’t always simple, however: Demian Conrad’s branding for Almighty, for instance, makes use of the Japanese art of Suminagashi marbling.

So bad, it's good

Graphic Design Trends: Travis Stearns

Graphic Design Trends: Flyer by Travis Stearns

There’s a strong design movement to celebrate glitches, failures, errors and mistakes – deliberately encouraging them to take place for aesthetic reasons in many cases. Where once designers would avoid them like the plague, tools such as WordArt and ClipArt are enjoying an unlikely resurgence in work that’s intentionally chaotic and confusing. This trend is driven partly by nostalgia, and partly by the influx of amateur Photoshop users who no longer see bevels, drop shadows and rainbow gradients as cardinal sins.

Shake and distort

Graphic Design Trends: Toko

Graphic Design Trends: Agda Extra Bold Extended by Toko

This belief in the value of mistakes as part of the creative process has had a particular impact on the use of typography. Harking back to the pre-digital days when mistakes were regularly made in the printing process – particularly in DIY cut-and-paste zines – this trend explores the unique effects that resulted, including jumbled, stretched, distorted and often illegible text, to the chagrin of dyed-in-the-wool type traditionalists and advocates of the pure Swiss style.

Crack the code

Graphic Design Trends: HORT

Graphic Design Trends: TEMAConsults by HORT

Designers are also breaking up individual words in a design in order to construct simple codes or puzzles – splitting, cutting, inverting or removing elements. Seen primarily on corporate identity and packaging work, type is often aligned along horizontal, vertical or diagonal grid lines, further emphasising the ‘wordsearch’ feel. Hort’s work for TEMAConsults, for instance, varies the branding across its many applications – placing letters randomly on different surfaces so the logo is never displayed in the same way twice.

Brutally simple packaging

Graphic Design Trends: Inhousedesign

Graphic Design Trends: Caravan Drinks by Inhousedesign

Weary of too much choice on the shelves, many consumers are turning to packaging that cuts through the noise with simple, black-and-white communication that combine bold type with plenty of white space – the IKEA approach made famous by Stockholm Design Lab. The implication is that the product is of sufficient quality to speak for itself, without the need for ornamentation to sell it too hard. It’s minimalism at its most brutal, but effective.

Didot typography

Graphic Design Trends: DesignUnit

Graphic Design Trends: Kilsgaard Eyewear by DesignUnit

Named after the French family of type-designers and printers who created it, Didot is an elegant neoclassical typeface that was popular in the late 18th century – and is enjoying another revival, having been last popular in the New York design scene in the 60s and 70s. Best-known for the strong contrast between stroke weights, and especially their ultra-thin hairlines, Didot fonts are most effective used at large display sizes.

Words: Nick Carson

For a more in-depth exploration of the aesthetic movements that are pushing clients' buttons, check out the regular Trend Report in Computer Arts Collection, compiled by pro trend forecasting agency FranklinTill

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