Did your screen seem brighter in 2022? The dopamine-spiking color palettes, the 90s nostalgia, maximalism, even elements of anti-design—it seems the response to a dark social climate was to crank up the brightness everywhere else.
It’s interesting how design is often a reflection or a riposte to the world around it. It begs the question: What’s next? At a time when design tech is outdating itself at the rate of iPhones and memes, it feels nearly impossible to predict what graphic design trends will color the next year.
Nearly impossible, if not for some looming tendencies we think will mark our 2023rd attempt at flying cars. What follows are the design trends giving us hope in the new year; inspiring us to sharpen our pencils and recharge our tablets as we dream up new worlds to lose ourselves in. Take them as market research for your forward-thinking brand; draw on them as design inspiration for your own creative graphic design; interpret them as blueprints for a flying car.
Here are the graphic design trends we expect to see a lot more of in 2023, and why they’re taking root now.
Expressive & Experimental Typography
Inclusive Design/Inclusive Visuals
Animation & Motion Graphics/Motion Design
Social Media Design
Organic Shapes & Patterns
90s and 00s (Y2K)-Inspired Design
Credit — Giallo
Expressive and experimental typography are exactly what you’d expect. Expressive typographyreflects the subject matter in the type. This is often achieved through the texture, font choice, scale, proximity and shape of the type. It takes the principles of good design (communicating ideas visually) and amplifies them by applying them to individual slices of text in a creative work.
Experimental typography, on the other hand, is rule-breaking type. It doesn’t look the way type is expected to look, and usually requires the viewer to engage with it in some way to extract its message. This can be done through varying x-heights, animation and eccentric letterforms—though, honestly, anything goes with this trend.
Credit — Spain Fashion
Expressive typography injects a brand or work’s message right into the copy. The quicker a designer can get the point across, the better a shot they’ll have at reaching their target audience as they scroll by. It’s also great fun to make.
Experimental typography does communicate something about a brand, but it’s more abstract. In a crowded digital market, more brands are presenting themselves as “disruptors”; challengers to the status quo in their industry. Having challenging type is a way to hit viewers with the message out of the gate. “We’re here to make you think about how youthink about ____”, it says.
Strong-arming viewers into a reaction may upset those for whom the message doesn’t apply, but those who need to hear it are more likely to engage with it.
Credit — Us! Superside made this one.
Fun though vector-based design is, there’s a cultural craving for a return to “the old ways”. Surrounded by hard digital edges and general sleekness, there’s something comfortingly human about illustration. You can picture a real person sketching ideas out on a notepad or tablet, enjoying the craft they’ve been honing for years. When done well, illustration conveys a level of care that other formats can appear to lack.
We’re more aware than ever that we’re being marketed to on an hourly basis, and know that those doing the marketing want our dollar more than our friendship. Design that implies a level of care is more likely to temper a consumer’s fear of submitting to the will of targeted marketing.
Credit — tubik.arts
Inclusive design offers a fuller picture of the human experience. Such visuals feature representation of groups historically ignored or outright maligned in marketing and creative works (as well as society in general). At this stage, inclusive design shows visible markers of human diversity: age, economic status, accessibility, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, cultural values, geographic location and more.
Do you want the hopeful answer, or the cynical one? Both? Okay.
Reason A: We’re living in a world in which it’s harder to ignore different experiences. Inclusive design is a small step in the direction of full representation, and with some standardization, will become the default in years to come.
Reason B: Being as broad as the human spectrum is, it makes no sense for most businesses to limit their audience. The notion that one type of person alone wields purchasing power is provably incorrect, and liable to less profit. Inclusive design opens the door to audiences that many (if not most) companies once disregarded. The wider the net, the greater the catch.
Both are true to varying degrees pending varying circumstances, but the message is clear: Design assets shouldn’t treat this guy like he’s the default setting for humans in 2023.
Animation is making still images/figures into moving ones. You know it from 90% of the TV and films you watched growing up, either making a rabbit miss his exit at Albuquerque or making an ogre explain onions.
The difference between an animation and a motion graphic is a little pedantic, but important for impressing your designer friends. Where a motion graphic is a design built to move a certain way within set parameters (typically lasting no more than a few seconds), an animation is felt to be the same thing, but much longer. Colloquially, one is seen as a graphical element meant to communicate motion, and the other a form of storytelling. It’s the difference between a blog header and a Pixar film.
This one's from Superside too!
This one’s not rocket science*. It has little to do with cultural craving, and more to do with the increasing technical capacities of modern designers. The average designer continues to branch out to learn new skills and remain competitive; the average animation software continues to become more accessible and easier to learn.
The resulting effect in either case is movement and advanced capacity for storytelling. It’s a must-have in the modern designer’s toolkit, and you’ll notice a lot more of it in your feeds in 2023.
*It’s graphic design, actually.
Serifs, whose lettering is characterized bysmall strokes attached to the end of each big stroke, make type look pretty. They exude elegance and formality, and are the kind you’re most likely to see in works like novels, papers and magazines. You know them from their ever-waging war against sans-serifs, whose plain, neutral lines permeate most modern marketing.
The neutral, humanist tone afforded by sans serifs makes them an easy choice for most businesses. For eons serifs were thought of as too stuffy and proper, and not conducive to the impression of accessibility.
But as with all things, time has its way. As nearly every major logo (and by necessity, its respective branding) is sans serif, a serif is now a pleasant surprise. The perceived stuffiness is now luxury, and a welcome reprieve from the cold stare of the sans serif.
Social media design applies the logic of graphic design to the format of social media platforms. Today’s designer can’t create an asset without thinking of how it’ll appear on Instagram, and generally builds assets to fit several potential uses.
It’s now common for designers to create materials specifically for social media, treating the formatting of the given platform as margins for the whole asset.
Social media is where “trending” comes from, friend. It’s the altar before which modern marketing kneels, as it’s where most prospects first see, review and even comment on its efforts. If you built it, bring it to their front door.
Facebook advertising, for instance, is the single best- performing type of eCommerce ad, with the highest return on ad spend for several years in a row. Businesses continue to recognize the raw value of social media, and they’re getting their designers to cater to it with assets that flatter its format.
Credit — Yuliya Bakulina
Further responding to the hard edges of vector-based media, organic shapes and patterns are hand drawn images with a rounder, frayed feel that leaves a “natural” impression. They’re often shaped to resemble natural elements or natural actions, with many such graphics literally looking like fruit, vegetables or smudges.
They’re becoming popular in the food, beverage and wellness industries—those who benefit most from an organic appearance.
Like illustration, these organic stylings offer a playful comfort. But where illustration feels distinctly human, organic patterns feel more earthly: They remind us of our natural origins at a time when all valuable information is delivered through screens. In a chrome-plated world, the single green leaf is king.
Credit — Visual Capitalist
The world of corporate design still holds sway over the design world, and it comes through in the prevalence of data-driven design/infographics. Data visualization is any graphical depiction of a data set, and it’s critical for distilling large amounts of information into a digestible graphic.
There’s a reason you can’t go one meeting without seeing a graph or pie chart. It’s the single best way to get everyone on the same page without strolling through mountains and valleys of semi-relevant data. Beyond rallying your own team, they also perform exceedingly well on social media—generating not only feedback and shares, but spreading comprehension of complex or misunderstood subjects.
Designers are putting their hands in the data pool more frequently for this reason; whether of their own volition or at the behest of senior leadership. It’s a massive resume boost for the average designer, too. The more fragmented the industry becomes, the more valuable it is to be a jack of all trades.
The healthcare industry has also juiced the infographic craze out of pure necessity: How many data visualizations have you seen explaining the pandemic to you in the past year? It's quite easy to work with data as a designer if you know how to use data visualization software
Credit — Aiyari
It’s old-fashioned, home-grown, pure-as-Nickelodeon nostalgia. The bold type, neon palettes and cyber-psychedelic feel of 90sdesign has been on the upswing for some time now, with no signs of stopping as millennials start to yearn for the tie-dye cocoons they emerged from.
In an unusual trend, it’s rising concurrently with its little sister: The metallic, pseudo-futuristic glitter of 2000s design (Y2K for short).
Modern anthropology dictates that nostalgia waves set in between 30-40 years after the decade in question. We got started early with the 90s by romanticizing them in the mid-2010s, and we’re starting even earlier on the 2000s, a mere 20 years later.
The reason for this isn’t so much to do with the innate creativity of the eras (though there’s plenty to go around), but what we’ll call “internet math”. Understanding internet math is a bit like understanding dog years or the movie Inception, in that time passes more quickly on the internet. The difference is the degree of acceleration: What’s new can become old in less than a year, and what’s old can be repurposed to appear new the following year.
Why does this matter to designers? It can put you ahead of the curve to ask yourself what design styles/tools are seen as outdated or verboten now, and think of how they can be reimagined to stand out from current trends.
Credit — firstloveprintable
Icons are what keeps the digital train running on schedule. Understood in a microsecond, they’re shorthand for every facet of our online lives: the red play button means it’s time to watch, the green circle with audio waves means it’s time to listen, the little blue bird means it’s time for opinions.
Especially at creative services, designers are increasingly tasked with creating colorful and/or brand-consistent icons for any client with a digital presence or service. They demonstrate the values and vibe of the brand while making key functions clear to users.
In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, this internet thing isn’t going away any time soon. Anything that succinctly marries a brand’s personality with its functionality is a prized asset, making design trends like icons a treasure trove for user stickiness.
Personality is a big win here. Not every brand sells hoverboards to physicists; most sell management software to accounting firms. Both are important in their own right, but the average business benefits from a little charisma injection.
The creative graphic designs above are testaments to the cleverness of the design world, and they’re as fun to dissect as they are to look at. Yet, the market doesn’t favor any one style above another. Making your mark as a brand hinges on your capacity forvariety. It’s dependent on your design team’s ability to spark interest wherever a viewer might find you; scrolling through Instagram aimlessly, browsing LinkedIn purposefully, watching a YouTube ad scornfully.
This is, historically, a difficult pull for most design teams. They’re juggling marketing requests as it is, and can’t be expected to cover every base. It’s why more and more ambitious brands are maximizing their design output with dedicated design teams. The wealth of experience and capabilities they bring means that whatever the market calls for, these brands have competitive assets that respond unequivocally—without adding so much as a head to their own teams.
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