Looking back at the evolution of graphic design is like browsing through old photo albums.
You might think: Was it really necessary to wear acid-wash jeans with a turtleneck and oversized flannel shirt in 1994? Or, What was I thinking with that fluffy 80s hair? And just like the questionable fashion choices of our past, some design trends are simply products of their time (and better left there).
But others aren’t necessarily good or bad in and of themselves. Many just get overused or misused. If you’ve checked out our list of graphic design trends to watch in 2016, now it’s time to look at the flip side — the trends that are on their way out.
01. Ultra-detailed / Complex
Over the past few years, you may have noticed a design style that features ornate details and complex compositions. This is partly due to the popularity of vintage designs.
If you look at advertising, sign-painting, and illustrations from around the late 1800s to about the 1920s, there’s an impressive attention to detail and sense of craftsmanship that many designers have found inspiring.
For instance, the following hand-drawn pieces by Tobias Saul are clearly inspired by the kind of ornate typographic illustrations common to advertising and branding in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
(For some authentic examples, see this vintage typography found on city maps of the same time period.)
As another example, Lorenzo Petrantoni’s signature style combines authentic vintage illustrations, custom imagery, and sometimes photography for highly detailed, collage-like compositions that clearly draw on the past, but in a new and modern way.
Lastly, Brian Steely’s detailed, linear designs are contemporary with a slightly Art Deco feel.
While vintage and retro styles will continue to be popular, they’re shifting toward more recent decades — a style that some trend forecasters are calling “modern retro,” for the late 1970s to 1990s.
Another reason for this shift is the rise of material design, Google’s visual language that really took off among designers in 2015.
And where the big brands go, others will follow. That means that material design’s key features—simplicity; bold, intentional typography; vibrant colors—are showing up style of the moment. One more indication that minimalism is in and embellishment is out.
02. Muted, natural color schemes
Every year, Shutterstock looks at color trends by analyzing the types of photos and graphics that people have downloaded. In both the 2014 and 2015 reports (see images below), blues and greens were dominant, like in designs that follow.
This mood board from Salted Ink Digital Design Co. features the type of organic, muted color scheme that is a good example of this trend:
Lauren Ledbetter’s branding for a health and nutrition coach takes a similar approach to color that emphasizes natural, healthful qualities:
And the leafy greens in Ashley Jankowski’s print designs give the branding package a fresh yet sophisticated mood:
But now, instead of nature-inspired, often more muted color palettes, you’ll start to see brighter, more saturated selections thanks to the rising popularity of both material design and 80/90s-inspired visual trends.
For design examples featuring minimalism and vibrant color schemes (in contrast to the previous two trends), make sure to check out The 9 Graphic Design Trends You Need to Be Aware of in 2016.
03. Mixed typography
The mix-and-match approach to combining fonts has been widespread. You’d see it on websites and social media, in logos and branding, on book covers and posters — you name it.
Combining fonts can be tough, and sometimes this trend is done sloppily, with little attention to picking fonts that work well together. Or it can be done effectively, where the typefaces blend together to create a visually dynamic whole.
Like how these labels by Good South combine complementary sans-serif and script typefaces in different weights and styles for a cohesive design:
And this website design from Fuzzco uses one typeface for the majority of the copy to ground the design, with others for accents:
Jaymie McAmmond’s infographic-style mural for Starbucks features many different fonts, but the structure of the design and the way the arrangement of the typefaces complements the illustrations keep the combination from looking messy.
(By the way, the chalkboard style — which has been a popular one to pair with mixed typography — is another trend that has probably seen its day.)
Lastly, this letterpress poster from the folks at Something’s Hiding in Here shows the roots of this trend.
Back when printing with wood and metal type was the norm, printers would mix whatever pieces of type they had on hand to set all their copy. The result was often an eclectic mix of typographic styles—a look that saw a resurgence in the last few years.
Although by all indications, this trend has been giving way to a more restrained (but still visually striking) approach to typography, with large-scale, high-impact type in a single font.
Logos & Branding
Logos tend to be most reflective of trending styles, but designers need to be cautious about using current trends when designing any branding element. Clients want visual identities that will last a good long while, and many trends won’t have a lot of staying power.
So let’s look at a few logo trends that are past their prime.
Monoline logos — the kind where graphic elements are illustrated in single line weight — were all the rage for a while, and still show up pretty frequently. This versatile style can be adapted to be minimal or complex, vintage or modern, fancy or casual.
But despite (or perhaps because of) its versatility, this trend turned up a little too often and is getting tired.
This piece Bryan B. Butler is a good example of the trend, with the monoline look applied to both graphics and text:
Brain Athey’s logo concept uses the style more as an accent, to make the main figure or mascot in his logo stand out:
Here’s a more minimal take on the trend from Paul Macgregor. Notice how the illustration really complements the company’s name:
Lastly, the patterns and detail in Brian Steely’s line work for this badge-style logo make this example stand out.
And speaking of badges, let’s look at our next trend…
02. Badges & crests
This partially or fully enclosed style of logo design can be found everywhere. You can even buy templates where you plug in your own text and voila — instant badge logo that looks just like everyone else’s.
For instance, do these look familiar? It’s just one of many similar ready-made logo sets available for download or purchase.
Although a self-contained logo can be a nice, compact branding solution, unless you’re bringing something new to the style, this is probably a trend to avoid if only because it’s so commonplace.
Allan Peters’ series of badges go a little outside the box with smooth, colorful shapes and interesting text treatments:
More typographic badges from Nick Slater:
03. Shaped typography
Our last logo style ties into the consistently popular hand-lettering trend. This particular application features typography arranged as a shape or within a shape (whether something simple like a circle, or more complex like the silhouette of an animal).
Falling into the handcrafted, “hipster” approach to branding, this illustrative style can be fun, but isn’t broadly applicable to a wide variety businesses and clients.
Plus, as you’ll see in the examples below, many of these types of typographic illustrations end up looking vaguely similar — not really want you want when trying to create a distinctive visual identity.
Here’s an example from BMD Design that was created for a French watch manufacturer:
Another interpretation of the trend from Adam Trageser, developed as branding for a bluegrass band:
And one more vintage-style logo concept by Jon Contino:
Lastly, Beth Dowd’s typographic packaging designs create a consistent look across multiple products:
In this last category, instead of looking at lackluster web designs as examples (since I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those), we’ll study some websites that have shaken off the following list of tired trends to try some new and interesting design techniques.
01. Traditional stock imagery & generic typography
The World Wide Web hasn’t been around that long, but websites have come a long way. After years of choosing from overused stock photography and limited web fonts, designers now have the resources and technology to get a lot more creative with their web work.
And due to the availability of more natural-looking stock photography (Unsplash is a popular free resource) and the increasing trend of illustrating websites — along with web font sources like Google Fonts and Typekit — designers don’t have an excuse for turning out generic-looking websites anymore.
So first up are designs that avoid bad stock photography and dull typography to embrace more creative approaches.
By pairing the illustrations with bright colors and typography that has personality (but doesn’t comes across as too loud or flashy, like many display typefaces), this website doesn’t have to worry about looking run-of-the-mill.
Rally Interactive’s design for Epicurrence pairs stark background photography (not your usual picture-perfect landscape scene) with bits of illustration and bold, non-traditional typography for an overall design that’s anything but boring:
Finally, the friendly type and simple illustrations against a vibrant background on Solo’s website combine to create a refreshingly simple style:
02. Static graphics
In addition to distinctive imagery, many web designers are increasingly including moving graphics — from video to animation — as significant elements in their designs.
When we’re all used to seeing still images and static backgrounds, a little bit of movement can catch visitors’ attention and keep their interest a little bit longer. Let’s look at a few examples.
This website for a French filmmaker features whimsical illustrations with bold colors and patterns that move across the page (pay a visit to see them in action). It was designed by Femme Fatale Studio.
SFCD has opted to go with the best of both worlds for their website: a combination of what looks like time-lapse video, along with simple animations.
03. Cookie-cutter layouts
Partly due to the prevalence of website themes and templates, and partly just because designers get ideas from each other, there are a lot of similar-looking websites out there.
Some common layout trends include image sliders (also known as a carousel) on the homepage, or a hero image with three columns of content below, as Dave Ellis of NoVolume highlights with this graphic:
But let’s look at some websites that don’t follow the crowd. First up, Pier-Luc Cossette’s portfolio website for a woodworker still features large images but does so in an atypical way, layering photos and blocks of colors almost like a collage for a unique, modular layout:
Next, Virgil Pana’s design for a restaurant website also keeps the hero images, but mixes up the content below them by presenting it in a checkerboard pattern:
Finally, this concept from Ben Schade takes a unique approach with a radially oriented design:
Over to you
As a designer, it’s smart to be aware of trends in your industry, both rising ones as well as ones that may be falling out of favor — if only to avoid using either category in your projects.
So how about you? Do you follow the trends? Are there any you’d like to say goodbye to in 2016? Or maybe ones you look back on and wish you wouldn’t have used? Let us know in the comments. And, as always, happy designing!