Looking into 2011-2012 Design Trends

Trends will always be a mainstay in any artistic and creative discipline, and interestingly enough, the design disciplines seem to be especially prone to trends and their ever-expanding influence. Throw in the internet, with its countless arrays of inspiration sites such as pinterest, graphic-exchange, ffffound, site-inspire, and even etsy and you have a solid grasp on the throat of all that’s visually & conceptually current. I wanted to lay out some of the design trends I’ve been noticing lately, and while these may encompass more than just 2011-2012, these visual themes have all been concentrated pretty heavily in recent years. I’m pretty confident in labeling these Design Trends of 2010-2012, but I’m always open for discussion.

I also would love to lay down a gracious disclaimer of the work I’m featuring here, and the artists behind them. I spent a week gathering samples across multiple sites, mapping these various trends. A lot of the work has been created by a handful of individuals who has obviously crafted a look and style all their own. I mean no disrespect, and it is my whole-hearted opinion that many of these samples are solid examples of excellent design. Just because a design is heavily rooted within a current trend does not take away its validity, just its longevity. I fully understand the drive for a designer/illustrator/artist to craft a style all their own. I just am of the belief that transparency in style, and a versatility across a multitude of styles equates a stronger designer overall, which is simply one way to view the vast  field of design.  Both sides have their pluses and minuses, and all I mean to do is shed light on these collective trends. I mean no offense and I hope none is taken through the course of this article.

Trend#1: Typography overlay with an image

I have seen so much of this lately. Regardless of meaning of message and typographic tastes, the main issue I have with this trend is the lack of consideration when pairing message and image. When you deal with this sort of thing (a thing that happened to be one of the single harshest learning curves I’ve ever encountered in my life) you begin to flirt with the subject of semiotics. For very basic purposes, semiotics is the study of signs. The uses of, meanings of, and what they’re all communicating. When you start combining text and image you absolutely have to think about the sorts of signals you’re sending. Take for example the ultra trite, “every now and then I fall apart”. Pretty sure this line comes from the amazing and super dramatic song, Total Eclipse from the Heart, and it’s paired with a very straight forward image of someone hiding. Great. What is this saying? Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t cause me to think, explore, question. It’s giving me the sentence, and it’s showing me someone “falling apart”, or at least in the midst of an emotional scenario. You want your design to at least be engaging enough to be memorable. There’s a lot of stuff out there to look at,  search for something to say inside what you’re presenting on paper.

An example that’s in between pedestrian obviousness and thought-provoking, are the “Lets find some beautiful place to get lost” and “Picks and Axes” examples. These create a deeper tone by pairing an inviting and engaging statement with an ambiguous environment. Using images to create a background for the mood of the message strengthens it. By creating a framework for the message to invade your imagination,  you are invited to wander with possibility within this designed space. It’s definitely more engaging because you’re encouraging thought and emotion from the viewer.

Of all of these, the Old Brooklyn paired with the middle age men are the most intriguing to me. Who are they? What’s Old Brooklyn about? Is it for bowling balls? I have no idea, but I’ve just spent 10 seconds really thinking about it. Now I’ll never really forget what this looks like even though it’s a simple image/type juxtaposition. But it rooted a question in my brain that I have no idea I’ll ever answer; that baby’s in there forever. When you pose a question in the viewers mind, rather than deliver the answer for them, you really spark a wonderful endless universe of inspiration leading to other thoughts, questions and so on. It’s definitely challenging, but when you master pairing two separate ideas to create a solid, well rounded concept, few things are as satisfying.

In terms of the visuals of this trend, I love it. I think it’s a great way to show transparency of branding/design elements while keeping the true voice of it easily recognizable. My only thoughts are to the Fifteen Eleven example, where the placement of the text and the objects of the room were not rectified. You can hardly read what the type says, and since you can’t really spot out what’s going on in the room, it’s a smidge too ambiguous. This trend is all about the messaging, so make sure it’s all legible.

Trend #2: Lightning bolts

This one completely surprised me! Originally I had grouped these in with another trend, but had to separate it when I kept seeing more and more throughout my research. Apparently we are super jazzed up in 2012, aren’t we. Easily chalked up to simply needing an extra design element (which everyone is guilty of, I may even be top of the list), these designs feel like baseball teams and 70’s rock bands to me. For the Black Keys this works beautifully. The bed bug identity needs some hierarchy work (I originally thought this was a logo for the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens), but the lightning bolts make total sense here– they are just so many of them! Not sure I want to sign up with a company who’s going to zap through my sleeping body to get the bed bugs lying underneath me, but hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.  I’m not sure what the Racing Machetes are, but I bet you they have the best ice cream parties after their home games.

Using extra elements is completely acceptable, but using restraint is also acceptable, and probably more advised.

Trend #3: Ribbons + Banners

We are waving our type high and proud lately, aren’t we! I see this as an “integration” solution. You need to make your type fit somewhere, into something, right? I get that, and using banners and ribbons is a great way to do this. This isn’t a new trend; ribbons have been making their rounds pretty heavily since back in the web 2.0 days, but I couldn’t help including it here, it just has not gone away! One thing I will say– about this trend as well as a couple of others–– emphasis needs to be paid to how you lay out and set your typography. With the ‘People talking without speaking/People hearing without listening” the words ‘without’ are the ones emphasized within a ribbon. I imagine it’s because of the double use of it, but I think emphasizing the duality of talking/speaking and hearing/listening would have been a better exploration. I suppose the lack of emphasis within those elements, having the ‘People’ elements bold creates emphasis? I can see the silver lining in any situation, trust me.

The ‘Some Things Take Time’ example irks me in the same way much of the overlay type trend does. I’m sure laying hard word floors would take time, I just don’t think about it much.

Love the IPA modern take on the ribbon just using color. Makes it feel updated Mary Blair-esque in a way. It’s clean, crisp, and fun way that’s more gender neutral than straight out masculine.

Trend #4: Retro Revival

Old is absolutely new again with this trend. Furnishing logos to look like they came straight out of the storefronts of the 1950s, this retro revival trend is actually one of my favorites. Through the use of bold typefaces, sometimes paired with equally strong scripts and a whole lot of texture, we get the feel of a loved object. These logos signify strength and a timelessness that is pretty easily manufactured through digital means, and I love how classic each ones feels. The problem comes when people try to force a look without the necessary information. Take for example the Bushwick Brooklyn lock up. The thing that irks me here is the placement of the number ‘1850’, and the curved ‘affordable since’. Maybe it’s a nitpicky detail, but reading hierarchy: as in what’s read first, is actually kind of important when designing a logo. Hell, when designing ANYTHING! The designer is in control of the information, it’s the basis for the whole profession. You are given information that you need to organize and make visually appealing; however that happens to be. You switch things around and it’s going to read funny, and this specific example has irked me ever since I saved it in my inspiration folder. Looks like all the others, but it’s laid out by an amateur.

Trend #5: Retro Revival 2: Numbers

I was originally planning on combining these two, as it really is a style of numerals that’s become very much into fashion. Old style numerals, from modern and old style serifs have been popping up lately, and I totally get why. The designs of them are so luscious. You know, for numbers anyway. Informative, bold and very editorial, this trend looks to be simply a visual celebration of the letter forms. The Algebra poster really has little else going for it other than a visualization of an obscure number sequence, so it’s just the prettiness of numbers behind this trend.

Trend #6: Seals & Stamps

Continuing on the retro revival train is the seals & stamps section. I decided to make this its own trend due to sheer amount of them that crossed my path. This trend reminds me of our economy in a weird way. Businesses are looking for ways to feel stable and secure, and using badges, crests, and seals designed to work across any medium is a great way to do it. Every single example is equally strong, giving a hard work ethic feel to everything. Things feel gritty, industrial, with a large slopping of elbow grease to push things along. Even the “Health & Beauty” seal feels as masculine as the rest of these sets.

Trend #7: Mixed fonts

I absolutely loved this trend, when it was done in the late 1800’s in the flutter of excitement that was the fledgling printing industry. With these iterations of the “mixed font” trend,  it feels like a watered down ignorant attempt at what people don’t understand. When you mix fonts, you begin to create a strong emphasis in the typefaces that you choose, which ones you change, and how it affects what’s being said/typeset. When I look at “Nothing in the past or future ever will feel like today”, I see a slew of missed opportunities for typographic emphasis. I love the layout of “Nothing in the past/or”, but you lose me when you start to block out all of the “ever will feel like”. Come to think of it, how come there’s an arrow shooting through “Today”? At the risk of sounding like a total kook, let the typography breathe as if it’s being spoken on the page. Read it out loud, and space it as you would read it. People will, more often than not, read it as you would. Mixing fonts is a fantastic way to have a lot of fun with expressive typography, but I think the key word is “expressive”. What is the typography saying in the “OH Baby You you got what I need” example? Do you need a trip to the circus? A circus intervention ? The ornamentation is clear, but it’s also so precisely “big top” that I have to wonder if that’s an intentional association to the message. You may not like it, but there are connotations associated with typefaces whether you want to address them or not.

Trend #8: Homespun

Much like the mixed font trend, I’ve been seeing a lot of hand done typography set to a heart warming message. It reminds me something an adolescent girl would make for her friends for support, or just for fun.  There’s definitely a charm to this trend, and I love its quirkiness and warm-hearted feeling. To be totally honest, there’s not much negative stuff to say here. I love that people are exploring with stylization and decoration with sayings that make them feel good. It’s not trying to be something it’s not, and maybe that’s why I can respect this trend for what it is. A happy, playful decorative typography experiment of a happy, inspirational sentence.

Trend #9: Extruded Type

I think of this trend as another variation on the ‘old is new’ retro revival trend. Another iteration of ‘industrial’, the extruded type trend is an exploration of type in a more structure, tangible realm. I believe it speaks to the designer’s need to feel stable, secure and strong within an industry that can––let’s be honest– be a bit flaky. Creating type that lives on the page in a way that shows it sitting OFF the page creates another presence all its own, and one that’s being used quite effectively through the use of this trend.

Trend #10: The X

Call it a criss cross, an X or whatever else you’d like, but make no mistakes about it, this baby is a HUGE trend right now. It’s very emblem based, clean and minimal, but it also has its inklings of underground rebellion. Because the numerals, and what they’re representing isn’t inherently clear, these marks can quickly become more cryptic than logotype. Used in conjunction with a full logo, or established long form within the X like the Flash Furry Recordings, the meaning is succinct and clear. Used on its own, it’s a string of letters that becomes challenging to connect. The LOVE T-shirt would read better if the X started with the L on the top and rotated clockwise from there, but I suspect the designer felt it was too expected.

Trend Extra Credit: Hellenic Wide

Even though I’ve divided up these trends into 10 separate categories, some overlap has definitely creeped through! Stop me if you noticed already, but a trend within a hundred trends lies the repetition of certain typefaces across the board. Yes there are overlaps with a few typefaces (specifically  Brothers, Neutraface, Gotham and what looks to be Trade Gothic Condensed, thank you very much), but the main offending culprit has to be Hellenic Wide. This font has been so ubiquitous as of late that even Helvetica looks at Hellenic Wide and says “Sheesh, maybe you should tone it down a bit, huh?” It’s been going on for quite some time, touching records, posters, sites, ads, name it, Hellenic Wide has been on it, typeset it, been there DONE THAT. So haven’t we already, been there, and therefore, done that? I say it’s time to put this western revival face back in its cubby, taken out and revisited when we want to look through days of trends gone by.

2 thoughts on “Looking into 2011-2012 Design Trends

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