5 leading graphic design trends to check before your next design project

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Design is just like fashion: almost every month, new trends from the depths.

What once was creative, abstract and cutting edge is now boring, outdated and yesterday’s news.

Keeping up with new emerging trends and staying on top of ones that phase out is a full-time job.

But it’s necessary to keep up with if you want better engagement with your graphics.

Here are the top five leading graphic design trends to check before starting your next design project.

Color gradients are back with a vengeance

Color gradients, otherwise known as color ramps or color progressions, are graphics that transition between multiple closely shaded colors. For instance, a slight and smooth transition between blue, purple and red:

Linear color gradient 

Color gradients can come in multiple different formats. For instance, the image above is an example of an axial / linear gradient where colors change linearly in a single, specific direction. Another popular format is radial gradients, where the gradient starts as a center-focused circle.

While they come in many different formats, just five years ago they were almost nonexistent on most top online sites and big named brands. As of lately, they’ve been making a huge resurgence.

For instance, if you’ve ever used Hulu’s platform to watch content, you’ll likely notice that it’s built upon stunningly simple gradients:

Hulu website welcome page

The website itself has gradient design integrated into call-to-action buttons and their in-app images. Hulu’s latest updates included a massive shift into gradient focused design:

Hulu Live TV

Every single screen from content to loading and searching is built with gradients in the background. Why? Gradients are great for turning boring, simple colors into dynamic elements that look beautiful. Gradients have the ability to create a flowing effect that stand alone that static colors can’t. And they have the added benefit of being able to input clean, clear-cut text on them for a simple, crystal clear feel.

Hulu isn’t the only company taking advantage of gradients for design. Canva uses gradients on the “Create a design” screen:

Create a design page in Canva

Standalone colors are great, but they are often too simple and boring. Adding a simple gradient can spice up your design to look more detailed even with such a simple color change.

HubSpot uses gradients on their newly updated and designed website too:

Hubspot website

While standard colors are often limited in their ability and quantity, gradients are infinitely customizable, giving you unlimited ways to create a vibrant and shifting color scheme. And if we’re being honest, they just look great!

A big trend with color gradients is using them with a solid white font on top. HubSpot, Hulu and Canva do it.

On top of that, Lyft has started to take advantage of gradients and white text:

Lyft website

Gradients help to provide a beautiful contrast of light and dark without using boring black and white background and text functions.

Spotify recently conducted a whole brand asset overhaul, shifting their design from a green and black dominant color palette to a vibrant gradient mix of dozens of different colors depending on each page you land on.

Spotify website

Similarly, Pandora has taken a gradient approach in their latest brand overhaul:

Pandora's website

Gradients are the perfect balance between beauty and simplicity. They enable brands to focus on their product and messaging without a plain, boring background. Want to get started with gradients in your next design project?

On Canva, use the selection of gradient templates to craft stunningly simple designs for any project in your queue. Try this Pink Blue Gradient Quinceanera Facebook Event Cover Photo.

Pink Blue Gradient Quinceanera Facebook Event Cover Photo

Animated / Dynamic Graphics

Animated gifs have taken the internet by storm in the last few years. According to Lifewire, gifs have been around for over 25 years, yet only resurfaced with extreme popularity in the last five years. The New York Times believes that animated graphics and gifs found their revival amongst nostalgic millennials remembering experiences from the clip-art days.

So how does this translate back to design and graphics in particular?

Animation design can help communicate and showcase information like a video without disrupting the overall design or requiring a full restructure of the page. For instance, Gusto uses animated design to perfectly mirror their headline and value proposition:

Gusto website

It’s time to tame the chaos of payroll, benefits, and HR. Subsequently, the animated design highlights those untamed aspects being condensed into a single platform on the subject’s computer.

The design communicates the perfect use of the platform without the need for video or dozens of separate digital graphics.

Lifewire puts it this way:

“Videos on YouTube or Vimeo take some time to watch – a couple minutes at the very least. They also produce sound. GIFs offer a much more convenient, faster and totally silent way to express something. It’s the perfect combination of image and video that really captures our attention.”

Simply put, animated designs and gifs allow you to digest information from design without spending the time to interpret an image or watch an entire video. It’s a shortcut to communication that’s proving to be a critical element of design in 2018 and beyond.

Discord uses animated design in a slightly different way to help combat their generally flat design icons:

Discord website

By animated the icons, the flat feeling disappears and creates a more dynamic appearance. It now looks like the animation was meant to be there, rather than a stock, illustrated graphic thrown onto the page to take up space.

Pay per click marketing agency Klientboost even uses animated graphics on their blog in the same way that Discord does, to mitigate flat appearance:

Klientboost website

On top of that, animated design is fun. It’s engaging and catches your eye, giving you an experience that you normally don’t see on most websites and graphic design projects. They explore with creativity deeper than a static graphic can.

Animated design is becoming more and more popular when done right. Now is the time to start looking into animated graphics and gifs.

Simple design (with lots of white space) and bolded typeface

Being concise and simple in your design seems counter-intuitive sometimes. The whole point of design is to express passions, emotions and value. To showcase your creativity and ability. So why on earth would you dumb it down and create something utterly simple?

Because it works! Infamous marketer Neil Patel put this to the test finding that simplifying the design for Crazy Egg with less text and fewer images resulted in a 13% increase in conversions.

Crazyegg website

Using simple design changes like a computer displaying video, arrows pointing to the content and a clear bold headline, conversions started to pile up.

Now, leading companies online are implementing simple design utilizing white space and bolded fonts. For instance, Evernote is a prime example of white space and bolded headlines:

Evernote website

White space allows the user to focus on the most important aspects of your page. It provides direction and specificity where abstract and crowded designs can’t. Looking directly at Evernote’s homepage, your eyes instantly focus on their headline:

Meet Evernote, your second brain.

Also providing more white space, your next move is filling out a sign-up form on the right-hand side. By reducing the amount of clutter on their page, the order and alignment are easily recognizable.

Just like Evernote, Slack keeps it simple, providing ample white space, bolded slogans and clean cut design.

Slack website

Uber follows the same trend, bolding their most important text and using white space to provide structure:

Uber website

Directive Consulting is a perfect example of using simple design to highlight their most important messaging:

Directive Consulting website

Bolded text works to draw attention immediately. Used sparingly, it can have big impacts on what the audience of your graphics hones in on first.

In the text section of the Canva editor, take advantage of simple, bolded fonts that contrast well on a dark or light background.

Use these premade font templates to create simple designs that utilize white space and focus your design on the meat and potatoes.

Try this White Condominium Photo Realty Facebook Cover template on Canva.

Photographic Realty Facebook Cover

Lots and lots of icons

Icons, like animated and dynamic graphics, can help communicate meaning with ease. Instead of relying on text as descriptive elements of design, icons can communicate the same meaning with color and creativity.

When it comes to design for social media posts, products being sold online or anything in between, icons serve as an addition to text, working to solidify its meaning.

Icons help to break up complex design and blocks of text, too. For instance, Box uses icons to break up key features of their product, providing much needed structure:

Box website

Adobe uses icons to describe each key feature that their software offers potential customers:

Adobe website

Zapier does the same approach, using custom made icons to illustrate three key steps in their product process:

Zapier website

These icons clearly showcase the three stages of using Zapier: integrating your applications, automating them and innovating new ways for them to work together.

Social media posts can highly benefit from the use of icon-style graphics:

Melonie social media post
Twitter post shared by Melonie Dodaro

In a post about video creation, the icon perfectly matches the goal, helping users to interpret the title and gain interest.

On the Canva icon marketplace, you can search for icons in any industry or niche:

Canva icons

For instance, if you are blogging about SEO and websites, you can filter by those icons sets, pulling up tons of icons for any subject you write about.

Icons can be great for developing infographics, too. Try these templates on Canva: Illustrative Best Health Apps Infographic and Tree Planting Infographic.

Helping to communicate information like statistics and data with a single icon can save you room and capture interest.

Want more icons? Check out Canva’s 60 free outline icon sets that are perfect for contemporary designs.

Ditching stock photos for real employees and customers

When creating a new design, one of the most common places to turn for materials is a stock photo website. They are easy to locate and utilize for just about any project. Plus, most of them are free!

While it seems like a great idea to save time and money on expensive photography equipment or hiring a photographer, you might want to think twice about it. Studies have shown that the average person can easily detect stock photos and that they actually negative impact the user experience with your graphics.

Tests from Marketing Experiments show that replacing stock photos with photos of you, your brand, your employees, customers or product / service in use can skyrocket your success. Replacing generic stock images with real people resulted in a 34.7% increase in conversions during a test.

Tests from Marketing Experiments

This design trend has just recently started to become mainstream. You will rarely see stock photos being used on most popular websites now. While still used on social media, best practices are to use custom images.

For instance, Drift showcases their own employees directly on their homepage instead of stock photos or boring product shots:

Drift Website

Email marketing platform Constant Contact does the same, showcasing memorable faces:

Constant Contact website

Insightly showcases their team directly on the homepage too:

Insightly website

Social proof is a critical driver of success when it comes to everything from design to sales. People trust other people, reviews and the experiences of employees.

Before starting your next design project, be sure to plan for photographs and images of real people pertaining to your design project. If you’re designing a new social media graphic, try incorporating your own photography. If you’re designing an infographic, include real customer photos.

Stock photos simply don’t perform as well.

Conclusion

Design trends seem to change every year or even every few months. And using the wrong, outdated styles can greatly impact the success of your projects. While these trends might not be around a year from now, the current state of graphic design revolves around five specific trends:

  1. Gradients
  2. Animation
  3. Simplicity via white space and bolded font
  4. Icons
  5. Real photos instead of stock

Before you start your next graphic design project, consider adding these elements into your design to appeal to the biggest audience and get the biggest “bang for your buck.”

They can make huge impacts on your design credibility and are expert tools to add to your arsenal.

With Canva, you can add these design elements into your next project with ease.