GRAPHIC DESIGN TRENDS 2018
2018 is the year we finally take risks, in life and in graphic design. Because that’s the only way your design is going to stand out this year.
There are millions of things fighting for your audience’s very limited time right now. Bitcoin. Politics. Cats. Food.
That means that the things you did to differentiate yourself from the pack in the past aren’t going to work this year.
No more boring stock photos or minimalist graphics. 2018 calls for riskier color schemes. Riskier GIFs, even.
Without further ado, here are the biggest graphic design trends for 2018:
1. Multiple brand color schemes
Traditionally, companies have a few colors that they use across all of their branding and design work. This helps people recognize them out in the world, on social media and other places online.
But I think this design “tradition” is going to be completely upended as brands look for more ways to stand out in 2018 and beyond.
In fact, companies rebranding with a plethora of colors schemes is one of the first trends that I see really taking off.
Spotify started doing this a few years ago in all facets of their design but they were one of only a few.
Now they have such a strong visual brand that I know something came from Spotify almost instantly.
Dropbox also decided to completely ditch their old color palette in 2017 to help update their brand and reach.
Usually, a rebranding effort updates the font or graphic of a company logo, but this one was completely different.
Instead of changing their logo design, which everyone already knew, they added a ton of new official brand colors to use with it.
They built this new branding to show that great things can happen when diverse minds work together. And I hate to say it because some people were not big fans, but I kinda love the rebrand.
They already had a logo that everyone knew, but now they have a ton of new ways to use it. When you are a massive company like Dropbox that needs to appeal to almost every industry, this kind of flexibility is ideal.
I also think that this change really reflects their growth as a company from a free place to store your school paper, to something that connects the creatives of the world.
Just take a look at how they evolved their social media presence from last year:
To this year with the rebrand:
It’s almost like night and day. Who would have thought that breaking design conventions would have allowed for so much creative freedom?
However, I do think that this kind of rebrand can only work with a company that is as big and recognizable as Dropbox.
Or eBay, which actually rebranded a few months before Dropbox. In their rebrand, eBay also decided to add a ton of new colors, while keeping their recognizable logo:
If we want to compare the two rebrands, I think that eBay would win. That isn’t because I was not impressed by Dropbox’s efforts, I just think that it fits eBay’s core business and products better.
Plus, they are using the rebrand across all parts of their platform.
It’s a good idea to consider multiple brand color schemes if you want to create a perfect E-commerce website. The designers at eBay have used the color upgrade to unify millions of products across their site. Take a look at the examples below:
They may not all share the same colors, but they have the same feel. Even though it’s a mix of pastels and bold colors, the site still looks incredibly clean.
Additionally, they have found a way to inject color into a place that is usually boring and bland: the background.
This subtle boost of color makes almost everything they share on social media stand out from the rest. Are you seriously going to be able to scroll past this pastel mixer?
I think not.
If you need help picking your picking new colors, read out in-depth guide to picking color schemes.
2. Color gradients are making a comeback
Whenever I think of color transitions and gradients, I can’t help but remember the bad word art from Microsoft Word over the past 20ish years.
As kids, we thought this was the best way to make your report on dinosaurs look professional. And I think that we were on to something back then.
Because in 2018 color gradients will be literally everywhere, from websites to Twitter headers, and even presentations. Instagram, always ahead of the curve, has used it in their branding and logos for the past few years, actually:
Now the rest of the world is starting to catch up.
One of the best examples I have seen of gradients being used comes from Mixpanel, an analytics company. As you can see below, they have adopted a gradient as the main background of their site:
This is a common way for sites to keep a simple background, and add a few flourishes. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a pretty boring single-colored background.
What I haven’t seen much of is gradients being used in every piece of visual content, like Mixpanel did:
This wholehearted adoption of color gradients gives the company a lot of creative freedom, without straying too far from their brand. Because in this case, multiple color gradients is their branding.
The graphs and charts are by far my favorite use of color gradients. It adds that little something extra and helps them stand out from the noise. These principles are similar to website design must-haves.
A few other large tech brands are bringing gradients back into their designs. Like Stripe:
Polaroid, with a more subtle gradient:
And even Skype:
But my favorite way to use a gradient is by overlaying it on an image or creating a duotone. Kinda like what The Next Web did below:
It adds so much extra power to the image.
All this with a simple gradient, a design trick the internet loves to hate. But as we’ve seen in these examples, they are a great way to add a little bit of eye-catching color to your design. Plus, they can help improve any image or stock photo.
3. Better branded social media images
Last year I talked a little bit about using more authentic photos in all parts of your design and marketing strategies. This year, I really want you to focus on extending that trend to your social shares as well.
Readers and consumers use social media to distract themselves from what is happening in their life.
They don’t want to see a tenuously relevant stock photo that you picked in two seconds for the sake of having an image. That shows readers that the person who produced the content didn’t care enough about their work to find an impactful image.
If the person who created the content doesn’t care, why should you?
For example, if you were scrolling through your Twitter feed, would you click on the tweet that used this image?
Or this one from Cubeit?
Now, technically either would work for the same tweet, but the one from Cubeit is the clear winner. By a mile.
How do I know this? Because that image made me stop in my furious scrolling tracks and want to read the article.
I must sound like a broken record by now because of how often I talk about not using bad stock images in your design work. But I also believe that this is one of the easiest ways for your brand to stand out on social media.
The image will be the first thing the readers are going to see on social media, and maybe then they’ll read the text.
Your content could be great but it will never get the chance because you picked a bad featured image. Even something as simple as what Quuu did below looks a hundred times better than a stock image of a computer:
One of my favorite examples of this trend comes from Moz:
They attach a face to almost all of their tweets. Instead of a generic stock photo, you see a friendly and luminizing face, from the person who wrote the article, shining back at you.
They also use Rand Fishkin, in as many images as they can. This is not only a great branding play, it also humanizes the company as a whole.
When I think of Moz now, I don’t think of a faceless company–I think of an innovative person.
4. Unconventional colors everywhere
As we have seen so far, 2018 is the year of taking risks in your design.
One of the best places to start taking risks is in the colors that you use.
That doesn’t mean that you need completely rethink your brand’s color palettes, like some of the brands I’ve mentioned already. Instead, be ready to inject some more risky colors in your design projects this year.
Bold colors are the most common driving force that we have seen behind each of the design trends this year. I wouldn’t call any of the following colors traditional in any sense of the word:
Sticking to the traditional corporate blue palette isn’t going to cut it this year. Also, if you noticed, minimalism and neutral color schemes are on its way out.
Instead, I recommend going a little off the rails with the colors you pick–within reason.
Find a few colors that you can call your “unofficial brand colors” and use them across all your projects. This way, you can do something new and exciting but still stay close to your core values in other places.
A great example of using bold color comes from the sports world, in Bleacher Report. They are in an extremely competitive space, fighting with thousands of sports writers for your eyeballs.
But they consistently use bold, bright colors in their designs to differentiate their content from those others. Because they do it so well, you can quickly spot a Bleacher Report article or Tweet out in the world.
Another example is Fast Company, who have taken to using more non-traditional colors in their magazine covers to entice readers.
Like Bleacher Report, they’re also using bright and bold colors to stand out in a very competitive space: print journalism. With each issue, they are fighting with thousands of competitors to get the attention readers. And that isn’t an easy task.
Even online they’re using color to add something extra to their design work.
With the simple addition an interesting color–or five–they made each graphic much more captivating.
Now, I hate to bring Spotify up again, but they have effectively been disrupting the space for the past few years. You can definitely see this in their color usage lately as well:
I have talked a few times before about being to spot something from Spotify just from their non traditional color usage. Especially in their most recent Wrapped experience, which shows your listening habits for the past year:
For a few weeks after they launched this promotion, I was even able to spot other people’s lists, just based on the colors they used.
If that isn’t an effective use of color, I don’t know what is.
5. Bold & handwritten fonts dominate
What makes you a good graphic designer? Another way to add some eye-catching features to your designs is to use some bold or handwritten fonts. This is another trend that seems to come from the design world, moving away from boring minimalism as a whole.
Bold and handwritten fonts are going to stand out against the simple or overused fonts that your competitors are using. And they will help your content jump off the screen on social media–whether it’s infographics for your blog, Facebook ads, or motivational quotes on your social media.
Kinda like my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, does below:
They are definitely fans of bold fonts, however what they are not fans of is winning apparently.
Now, instead of looking at more examples who only use bold or handwritten fonts, I thought it would be interesting to find ones that effortlessly use both.
Across their site, they use bold fonts in their graphics or text, which looks great:
And when you jump over on social media, bold handwritten fonts take over:
But neither feels out of the ordinary for a brand like Adidas. Everything they create and share feels natural because they have created such a strong visual brand over the past few years.
I believe that this adoption of ultra bold and handwritten fonts coincided with their plan to become a more fashion-forward brand. That choice has helped really sell the mystique of these new type of shoes they are creating.
Another incredible example of using both bold and handwritten fonts together comes from Adobe:
With this Digital Marketing Report, they are able to seamlessly blend together both bold and handwritten fonts, in addition to using some awesome gradients, GIFs and unique colors.
In fact, Adobe seems to be embodying all of the trends I’ve mentioned so far. If the leader in design is using them, I think they’re a safe bet.
6. More custom illustrations
Over the past year or so I have seen designers move away from cookie-cutter graphics to more custom icons and illustrations. And I could not be happier.
This movement started to take form last year with the rise of hand-drawn illustrations and icons.
But these illustrations and icons will become even more unique in 2018, as brands look to differentiate themselves even more. I mean, look at how Strikingly has used the illustrations to make their blog headers look amazing:
No one else is going to be able to replicate that, especially with a stock image.
So instead of using a boring photo, I would recommend creating some custom graphics. Like Discord has done below:
As a tech company that caters to gamers and techies, those icons fit them perfectly. I mean just take a look at their homepage:
That is a well thought out brand!
Also, I believe that this trend is another rejection of the overly clean and somewhat boring design “rules” that dominated the past decade.
Now, instead of following those rules, designers are making their own. If you need help there are also many free online graphic design courses available. There’s also Microawesome, a design service aimed towards providing short-term design work at low costs. You can clearly see this with the rise of custom illustrations and icons being used across the spectrum.
From the simple hand-drawn icons that MailChimp uses:
To the one-of-a-kind illustrated images in InVision blog posts:
And all the places in between, like in this year-end report from First Round Capital:
If you are looking for something that looks a little more like art, I would check out the examples from Slack below:
These are incredibly interesting designs to look at, and they will stand out from the riff-raff of social media. This also fits their almost laid back “making work better” vibe that they use in all of their marketing and product materials.
Additionally, when someone takes this much time and effort to create a featured image, you know the content is going to be good. They are able to use the image to make a first impression with their audience almost instantly.
That’s why I’m pushing for more graphics like this in 2018 and beyond!
People are looking for more authenticity in all parts of their digital life and this is a great way to appeal to that. Instead of using a bad stock image, use an awesome illustration or icon.
7. Better GIFs, less reactions
One of my favorite things to come out of the internet–maybe ever–are GIFs.
I use them on a daily basis to communicate with my friends and coworkers. They are perfect little ways to show how you are feeling. For me, it’s usually this one:
They are also used by your favorite hip brand to show they are still cool.
Using reaction GIFs and such are great to send on Slack or Tweet to your friends. But in 2018 your GIF usage as a brand or company needs to be taken to the next level.
Most people would also recognize a GIF as the reaction ones we are all so fond of. But they can be used for so much more.
Like as infographics that actually add to your share or article in a meaningful way. One of the best examples of using GIFs in this manner comes from the sports world, actually.
My hometown Kansas City Chiefs are big users of GIFs on game days and it truly adds to the experience.
Now, I usually don’t have time to watch a whole game, but I love that I can quickly scroll through my Twitter feed and get an update.
It helps foster a conversation with their audience and that should be one of your goals when using GIFs this year. Don’t just slap a reaction GIF on a share or article, because someone will laugh and move on with their day.
Another way to use GIFs this year is to replace your featured images and blog headers. Like in this one from Axios about nuclear tax credits:
That will definitely grab someone’s attention, no matter the platform.
But just because I’m recommending that you upgrade your GIFs, doesn’t mean they all have to be bland or serious. They can still have that element of silliness that GIFs are known for.
To see what I’m talking about, check out this GIF from Muz.li:
And here is another similar one from UX Planet:
It’s simple, well designed and relatable. Plus, it will stand out from all the other static images in someone’s feed.
If you can create and share GIFs that marry those three ideas together nicely, you will be set in 2018.
8. Cinemagraphs are gaining more traction
After talking about GIFs, it’s time to talk about their more refined cousins: cinemagraphs.
Cinemagraphs are basically GIFs or videos that have been completely frozen, except for a tiny area of subtle movement. Here is one of my favorite examples:
I’m guessing you have more experience with GIFs. But cinemagraphs are going to continue to gain ground in 2018.
Especially with more design and tech-focused companies in the world. Like my friend’s podcast, the Pitch, which has a large audience of tech and startup aficionados:
The subtle changes in the stars may not seem like much, but they definitely add a little something that people will stop and take a look at.
Cinemagraphs are less obtuse than a GIF or a video, and can still be used in all parts of your marketing or design work.
Because of that somewhat subtle movement, I believe that they are more eye-catching than a video or static image. Plus they can be little works of art that bring customers to your post or share.
Design that fights back
The driving force behind this year’s graphic design trends is the rebellion of designers against the plain, white color schemes and sparse aesthetics that the titans in the tech industry have pushed for the past few years.
Now we will see designer take a whole new approach. It will be intense, innovative and beautiful. I mean, look at this year’s explosion of colors!
As we have seen in previous years, most of the innovating will be done by the top tech companies. They are the ones that have the bandwidth, money and talent to test a bunch of ideas to see what works best.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t implement some of these in your design. Remember, 2018 is all about taking risks!