This visual essay is a personal study of contemporary graphic design with the purpose of (1) analysing how social trends behave and affect the visual identity of brands, and (2) speculating a potential path for future trends.
I would like to clarify that I support the convention that good design is timeless, and I discourage designers who follow trends blindlessly. However, in every current there is an opportunity to explore a visual language, and to try new methods that maybe you haven’t tried before as a designer. Sometimes trends just take place due to new techonological advances that provide the opportunity to design with new techniques, this is a positive chance for designers to try new tools and increase their knowledge of design.
1 · What was "cool"
I remember growing up surrounded by uninvitting websites splattered with Flash animated pop-ups and Photoshop styles with hard gradients, outer glows, drop shadows and a plethora of other digital effects that –when overused– are considered tacky by today's standards. Sadly, that was the norm back then, when graphic design wasn’t popular as a formal carreer in higher education.
During the 90's, and even in the early 2000's, with the popularisation of computers and design software, we were surrounded by unattractive design characterised by:
1 · Choice of either system fonts or (really) bad and free fantasy typefaces
2 · Colour schemes with too many tones, and hard gradients
3 · Over-use of digital effects like neon, metal textures, outer glows, drop shadows, etc.
Design has come a long way in the past few years. There’s new fields to specialise in, new tools, new concepts.
2 · What is cool
There’s no denying that design education is at an all-time-high. Thanks to the internet, and even enterteinment websites such as 9gag, more and more non-designers learn to stay away from Comic Sans and pledge allegiance to Helvetica.
Nowadays we can find websites with a suprisingly clean yet effective user interface. This “Less is more” philosophy has been around since the Staatliches Bauhaus, but only in the past few years it started being taken seriously in digital design.
Companies like Apple and Google are promoting clean user interface design. In fact, Google made available a public library of the guidelines for their visual language (Material Design) in order to encourage other designers to follow their standards.
Hand-lettered typography is on the rise as well. It’s hard for me to spend 15 minutes on facebook without being invited to a Lettering Workshop event, or Lettering online class, or new Lettering book promotion. Design clients are learning to appreciate the art of hand-drawn letters and Designers are learning to appreciate typography education in general.
Additionally, designers have been increasingly choosing to make their clients’ brands stand out by using unique typefaces designed by small type foundries or independent type designers distributed in websites like MyFonts.
Companies are also opting for visually demonstrating their services and other information with custom made icons. Usually outlined illustrations as simple as possible, yet coherent to the brand's visual identity.
1 · Hand-lettered logos
2 · Responsive websites
3 · Minimalist user interfaces
4 · “Independent” typefaces
5 · Max. 3 tones on corporate colour scheme
6 · Possible use of soft gradients
7 · Custom icons with the brand’s visual language
8 · “Less is more"
3 · What might become cool
This past few months I’ve noticed a growing tendency in the work of today’s big names in Graphic Design. There seems to be a new visual language characterized by:
1 · Single tone colour schemes with the use of either highly saturated colours, or pastel hues (or a mix of both in palettes with multiple tones)
2 · Headings with either clean geometric sans or clean geometric high contrast serifs typefaces
3 · Boxed elements
4 · Cross hatched 1 tone illustrations
5 · Single hatched 1 tone stroke-only icons
6 · More “less is more” than never before
Some other examples...
To define what is going to be the next norm in graphic design I would like to add to this list one item that, in my opinion, hasn’t been exploited to its full potential – heraldic symbols.
You see, much like in Art, or Fashion, in Graphic Design there’s a tendency of looking back and revive certain aspects of long-gone currents. This cyclical timeline of trends became obvious in the past few years when every design client wanted a cool looking vintage black and white logo.
In Typography specifically, there are plenty of type designers who make a living by designing modern revivals of old typefaces. Typographers from the past designed beautiful letterforms, but the technology at the time would not favour their designs, since the printing methods couldn’t produce sharp and detailed letters in reduced sizes. Present day type designers bring back those beautiful letterforms, and adapt them to fit the modern standards.
I believe that heraldry is the starting point of graphic design as an elaborate system to represent brands with a visual language, and it has a lot to offer. During the middle ages a herald (professional overseer of armorial bearings) could elaborate upon the detailed history of a family just by taking a quick glance at their heraldic design. Companies could benefit from the use of this heraldic code to tell their history, their values, their essence. Of course, many companies have herladic logos already, it’s not a new thing, but it’s definitely a field that isn’t being exploited to its full potential.
Heraldry already has its own visual code that is already fully developed and is not being used enough. This visual code offers an arsenal of motifs and arrangements that let you tell a story or convey a message.
One could argue that heraldic logos are too complex to work well on reduced sizes, or that it’s hard to imitate that visual language without being a skilled illustrator. Nonetheless, the current technologies and the current trends solve the necessity to design optimized alternatives for small applications and the possibility of designing a clean emblem with basic vectorial shapes.
I would like to point out that after responsive websites became mainstream, a couple of designers have been crafting responsive logos. With variations or tweaks to make them more legible at different sizes. Responsive logo design is brilliant! An element often overlooked in graphic design, even though nowadays it's considered an indispensable practice in web development. Responsive logos as an ever-present norm have to be the future of design.
Taking the previous key aspects into consideration, I decided to conduct an experiment. I designed a visual identity for my family’s brand.
A little background:
The Hrncic family has financial involvement in different industries. The creation of a unique visual identity would help in promoting the companies and projects developed by the family, as well as supply more brand credibility and a recognizable emblem for the family members to feel represented. Aside from the commercial facet, the creation of a solid brand provides the opportunity to communicate the story of this small family with such a rich history.
The overall project represents what I speculate might (or, in my opinion, should) become a trend in a near future.
1 · Single tone colour scheme with a highly saturated colour
2 · Headings with clean geometric sans
3 · Boxed elements
4 · Single hatched 1 tone stroke-only icons
5 · The omnipresent “less is more” rule
6 · Heraldic emblem
7 · Responsive logos
You can see the full branding process in the behance project.
Wow! Thanks for reading all that. I applaud you.
I would like to remark that graphic design is affected by other unpredictable cultural events and currents. The result of this study is merely a personal opinion about the potential of heraldic symbols in present day times.
In case you were wondering; My fascination of heraldry comes from my first trip to Europe. Since in Argentina and the US I was used to seeing simple city emblems without much history to offer compared to the ones I found in the Old Continent.
Tell me your thoughts @borishrncic