Design trends don’t occur out of nowhere. They are recurring decisions made by millions of people, often shaped by mutual experiences. When these patterns catch our eye, we start to seek them out intentionally—and a trend is born.
2021 has been a turbulent year, and creatives around the world have reacted in many incredible ways. Following emerging design trends is a great way to trace this story.
It’s important to understand the conversation that goes into a trend before you interact with it, so we’ve put together some background on three trends we’re excited to watch in 2022.
More Is More 2.0
Meet the opposite of beige tones and polite, blank layouts: Maximalism is divisive, passionate, and a lot—for good reason. At its heart is a challenge for individuality and self-expression.
In the wake of the pandemic’s isolation, people want unabashed, genuine connection, and maximalist design is a natural extension of that demand.
As a design space shaped by unique and often deeply personal experiences, it’s impossible to narrowly define such a trend. Still, there are some standout characteristics. Look for rule breaking; bright, clashing colors; bold patterns; opulence; and experimental and deconstructed typography.
If you’re getting worried about committing a design crime, remember that modern maximalism doesn’t come at the cost of function. Whether it appears on a website or in an indie zine, it is grounded in important UX principles, such as clear signposting and useability.
Edge of Tomorrow
Tomorrow is coming, and this is what it looks like: crisp 3D renders, glossy textures, and precise, looping movements.
You may find these graphics familiar or even nostalgic, and that would make perfect sense. There’s some overlap with skeuomorphism—think of those shiny, metallic UI icons in old iPhones and Windows XP buttons.
In their modern rebirth, though, 3D graphics in design are less about replicating reality and more about enhancing a narrative in eye-catching ways.
The boom in popularity is no doubt happening, in part, because of increasing accessibility. As 3D modeling tools have become widely available (think Blender and Cinema 4D), 3D graphics have re-emerged as a way to add dimensionality and texture to online spaces.
We think there’s more to their resurgence, though. The ability of 3D visuals to feel physically present, even on a flat display screen, can be incredible for engaging audiences digitally.
This weight is especially helpful given our increased dependence on virtual means of communication. Creating a physical presence through 3D can be a game changer for brands that operate online exclusively and those that can’t roll out in-person events.
But back to the shiny graphics. The rise of 3D visuals with our current capabilities also mean new ways of thinking about animation and interaction. For example, check out this amazing logo from Block:
Excited to add 3D elements to your next project? It helps to pay close attention to super-clean grid layouts and readable, web-friendly type. These go hand in hand with letting these assets shine.
AI-powered design tools have actually been a big part of design for a long time (just look at the Content Aware Fill in Adobe Photoshop), but it’s exciting to see them becoming more visible, experimental, and open-access in the mainstream.
The use of neural networks to “dream” new images has seen incredible popularity. You’ve probably seen generated creations with varying levels of success floating around social media.
Bots can generate mesmerizing artwork, translate sketches into layouts, and make font recommendations. (Seriously, check out FontJoy the next time you’re struggling with pairing fonts.) There’s even an AI that managed to trick clients into thinking it was a human graphic designer for a year. Meet Ironov:
What’s really interesting about this trend is how it stands in contrast to the current demand for authenticity and human connection we explored above in maximalism. In fact, there seems to be no human behind these designs.
But that assumption leaves out the entire process behind building and maintaining an AI, all of which is painstakingly handled by humans: devising complicated rules, composing datasets for machine learning, and deciding which output to use.
It’s tempting to portray these advances as a post-human Brave New World, but it’s more realistic to recognize that these are tools that regular people like us can use to craft experiences that resonate with our audiences—other regular people. In that way, we keep the human touch at the forefront of creative storytelling.
But let’s be honest. AI-generated design does sound cool! And as designers who are always looking for new ways to improve our craft, it’s exciting to think about what advances we’ll see in this space in 2022