The next trends in graphic design, according to five experts

Emma Norris
Emma Norris

The design world moves rapidly—perhaps more so than any other industry. In the age of social media, aesthetic trends explode and proliferate quickly—only to disappear faster than you can say ‘marble and millennial pink.’

Nobody knows this better than design experts. Graphic, website and brand designers must always stay on the pulse of up-and-coming design trends so that they can ensure their client’s visual identity translates to a modern audience. So, we figured who better to ask about the next big trends in design than these visual pioneers themselves?

Here, we ask five design experts about the aesthetic trends to look out for—and how you can use them yourself to create bold and engaging Canva designs.

01. Gradients

Connie Holen, Digital Designer at Live Happy Magazine and Designer and Digital Strategist at Pixality Design

They’re baaaack! Once a mainstay of uber professional, corporate design in the ‘90’s, gradients are enjoying a revival in 2018 with a modern, bold twist. Look no further than Instagram’s signature purple-pink-orange logo backdrop to see gradient 2.0 in action!

Instagram underwent a logo redesign in 2018. Instead of a multi-colored image it now features a simple shape with a gradient of purple, pink and orange.

“While old school gradients often stuck to a single color fading to white, the modern gradient is all about vivid, juicy colors,” says Connie. “These two or more color blends are eye-catching and memorable, making them a fun choice for social media graphics and a favorite for website banners.”

So, apart from being striking to look at, why exactly is this corporate trend having a resurgence in the era of the start-up?

“Gradients inherently show a sense of movement—a progression between colors—that conveys the idea of transformation,” explains Connie. “That can be a powerful message for progressive brands who see themselves as an innovator in their industry.”

They also give depth and texture to designs, while maintaining a sleek feel. “Plus, they give the designer the flexibility to use a spectrum of brand colors while also creating interest with complementary colors,” says Connie.

How to use them: Gradients can be used as both vibrant backgrounds and as photo overlays. “When overlaid on photos, gradients can be a visual connection between different styles of images, helping businesses maintain a cohesive look in a variety of promotional materials,” says Connie.

Vivid gradients can also look great when paired with clean white or black type. “But remember, they are bold design elements, so keep the rest of your design simple to let those lush colors take centre stage,” advises Connie.

You can add a gradient to your image by searching for ‘gradient’ Canva, dragging it onto your design and adjusting the transparency to your preference.

Canva offers hundreds of gradient images that can be used as backgrounds, fillers, or filters on your design

02. Animated designs

Gillian Moran, Freelance Creative Lead and Graphic Designer

There’s no doubt about it—GIFs are taking over the world. You only need to scroll through your social media channels to see evidence of this. Whether it’s on our Facebook feed or in our Instagram stories, we can barely escape from dancing cats or Spongebob Squarepants GIFs.

Research from CoSchedule shows that Tweets with animated GIFs get 167% more click throughs than tweets with images.The appeal of GIFs is simple: motion stands out in a sea of static images and catches the customer’s eye. However, with GIFs being so widely used on social media these days, it can be difficult to compete for a viewer’s attention. As a result, brands are beginning to think outside the box when it comes to the placement of their GIFS.

“You can consider using GIFs as header images on your blog, elements on your website or animating an infographic,” says Gillian. “You’re only limited by your imagination, so get creative with it!”

Gillian Moran created this versatile and inclusive brand identity for the Green Globe Awards

How to use it: Canva For Work users can use the animator feature to create their own custom GIFs! To do so, you simply create your design, head to ‘Download,’ and select ‘Animated GIF/Movie’ from the dropdown menu. From there, you can choose an animation style and download it as a GIF or movie. There are six different animation styles which each give your graphic a distinct feel, so you can experiment until you find one that matches your brand identity and message.

The images below were made on Canva and downloaded as animated GIF.

03. Iconification

Kira Hyde, branding strategist and designer at Kira Hyde Creative

Think back to some of your favorite TV shows as a kid and how each cartoon could be identified based simply on the style of animation. As soon as you sat on the couch, you could tell just by the lines, shapes and colours what program you were watching. Now, unique, hand-drawn iconification is leaping off comic book pages and TV screens and making their way into graphic design.

Dropbox, Strikingly, Mailchimp and even Facebook have jumped on the custom iconification bandwagon” says Kira. “This new wave of icons and illustrations are all about breaking the typical ‘branding’ rules and creating designs that are interesting, thought-provoking, and avatar-dominated.”

Kira predicts that we’ll soon begin to see the layering of hand-drawn lines being used to create sleek, modern vectors. “We’ll also see hand-drawn icons being combined with other trends that are making a comeback, like gradients and multiple color palettes,” she says.

How to use it: The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to have the steady hand of a surgeon to pull the iconification trend off. You can simply take inspiration from hand-drawn icons and use the lines and shapes feature in Canva to experiment with layering different elements and colors

04. Unconventional color schemes

Gillian Moran, Freelance Creative Lead and Graphic Designer

Like waffles with bacon and coffee with vodka (espresso martini, anyone?) there are some strange combinations that just work. The same can be said for the design world, where unexpected color combinations are beginning to take centre stage.

“In 2018, the rule book has been discarded and we’re getting much more adventurous with color combinations,” says Gillian. “Khaki and pink, turquoise and forest green, terracotta and mauve: the bolder the better!” You only need to look at eBay’s rebrand to see a high profile example of this trend in action. While once, yellow and green or navy and teal would have been considered too close on the color wheel, eBay’s pairing of these shades shows that the ‘anything goes’ approach can create a bold, modern aesthetic.

eBay rebranded its logo to carry on different colors for a bold, modern aesthetic

Teal and orange is another unconventional color scheme that has been popping up everywhere lately — particularly on the Instagram feeds of bloggers and influencers. While in theory, these two colors appear to be like chalk and cheese, when combined they strike the perfect balance between warm and cool.

How to use it: “What the greatest and most memorable brands do best is strike the magical balance between the consistent and familiar, the new and the evolving,” says Gillian.. This can be seen in the example of eBay, as while they’ve introduced four new color treatments, they’ve maintained the same typography their customers know and love.

“Want to broaden your color palette to a dozen colours? Go for it!” Gillian says. “Just keep the other foundation elements of your design (including typefaces, photography and layout) tight so your brand still has a sense of familiarity for your audience.”

Don't be afraid to mix colors while keeping other design elements like type and layout light

05. Bold colors

India Yasmeen, Brand Designer, Content Developer and Social Media Manager

Move over minimalism, because 2018 is all about being bright, bold and brave! Forget about your ‘safe’ pastels, because vibrant color choices are going to rule the roost in the design world.

Sphynx is a brand that's not afraid of exploring bold colors

“When a consumer first sees a brand, they see its color,” says India. “Introducing bright, bold colors into your brand’s identity immediately grabs their attention.”

You only need to look at powerhouse streaming service Spotify’s rebrand to see an example of how bright colors can make your brand more user-friendly, relatable and less intimidating to consumers.

“Their goal was to create an identity that would signal to their millennial audience that Spotify is as rich and lively as the music culture it showcased, and not just a technology service,” says India.

How to use it: If you’re not quite ready to move from millennial pink to punchy primaries, a great gateway shade to experiment with is Pantone’s 2018 color of the year, Ultra Violet.

“Described as ‘inventive’, ‘imaginative’, and a ‘blue-based purple’ that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level, ultra violet can be expected to be seen everywhere, from new brands, logos, interiors and even on the runway!” says India. You can play with the mesmerising hue in Canva by using the HEX code ‘5F4B8B’ as the background fill for your designs.

Using the Pantone Color of the Year 2018 on a Canva design. Pantone provides the corresponding HEX code from their website

06. Drop shadows

Gillian Moran, Freelance Creative Lead and Graphic Designer

Have you ever looked at a design with text and ever felt like it just needed a little something extra to make it ‘pop’? A growing number of brands are using drop shadows (layering items with shadow over text) to create a sense of depth and add some extra interest to their designs.

“Used with a light touch, adding realistic shadows to the items in your design can create an interesting visual interplay between foreground, middleground and background,” says Gillian. Drop shadows also come in handy when it comes to creating greater contrast between your text and the background.

How to use it: Gillian stresses that less is more when it comes to this trend — you don’t want to be adding drop shadows to every element in your designs. “Keep it minimal for best results and combine with dynamic type to really create a sense of energy in your next creation,” she says. You can do this in Canva by creating a duplicate of your text layer, then changing the color. Place one layer over the other, adjust the transparency of the bottom layer and be sure to leave some space between the edges so they’re not directly on top of eachother.

07. Consistency

Nick Clark, graphic and website designer at Nick Clark Design

Consistency is easily the least sexy entry to this list. In fact, your eyes probably glazed over just reading the headline. “Just give me some cool font pairings and a fresh color palette!” you say, after double checking that you did actually just read the ‘word consistency’ in a design trends article.

“I get it, I really do, but stay with me for a second here,” says Nick. “Think of a couple of your all-time favourite brands, what do they all have in common? What makes them recognisable?” Nick gives Australian beauty brand Frank Body as an example. “Their style is instantly recognisable with their soft pink, black and white colour scheme, typewriter style font and their signature zig-zag line patterns.”

Frank Body's color palette, fonts and patterns used on their website make them instantly recognizable

“These things all contribute to Frank’s visual identity but the reason it’s so recognisable is that they have their particular style and they stick to it consistently over time and across everything that they produce,” says Nick. “ If every time they had a new creative asset to make, they just jumped on that latest cool font, their visual identity would be all over the place.” It’s the consistency of their visuals (as well as their tone of voice) that makes their brand identity so strong and striking.

How to use it: So, what does this mean for you? “There is huge power in developing a style guide and staying true to it across everything that you do,” says Nick. “Large businesses spend big money on getting this done for them, but that doesn’t mean you have to."

Your style guide can be as simple as choosing one or two fonts that you like (ideally keeping the size used consistent), picking a couple of colors that work well together and creating or choosing some pre-made templates for your work. This might take some playing around initially but once you’ve got a formula that work, stick with it. Over time, your customers will become accustomed to your look and style. The result will be much more professional looking work and improved brand recognition. After all, consistency never goes out of style!

Canva For Work makes it easy to set up your brand kit by allowing you to save your color palettes and fonts for easy access later.

At the end of the day, trends fade—so it’s important not to be a slave to them. The last thing you want is for your branding to be so dated that it’s unusable in a year or two. However, it can be useful to take inspiration from the tools and techniques that design innovators are using, so you can keep your brand looking fresh, modern and engaging. Don’t be afraid to put your own spin or trends, so that they’re suitable for your individual brand and audience. Who knows? You may even end up starting a trend of your own!