Design Trends for 2017

In Design
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As an opening caveat I will note that I have no Magic 8-Ball into the future of design trends, although if I did it would probably always say “Don’t Count on It.”


Nor am I by any means a trendsetter, as my inimitable fashion sense would no doubt make clear to any one. To be fair, through, I don’t wear socks with sandals.

I mean, my sandals are way too tight for that…

However, it’s always fun to try and predict what is just around the bend and then exult in the euphoria of accidentally stumbling upon something that everyone else is doing in lemming-like fashion. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on design trends for 2017.

1. Vibrant Colors/Accents and Natural Colors

Vibrant colors are used every year in different contexts, of course, but I suspect 2017 will have a surge in the use of vibrant colors. For the past 3-5 years a design trend has to give images, designs, footage, etc., a sort of vintage fade or washed out look, but that look has already begun to wane and vibrancy has come far more into play. I expect this to continue into 2017 and beyond.

It should also be noted that Pantone’s fiat color for 2017 is Greenery, and in many of their fashion palettes for Spring 2017 one sees lots of vibrant yet natural colors in play.

Pantone is in a fun position in that they can deem a color to be the color of the year, and then everyone in the design worlds says “OK” and uses that color all year. I only wish I had a fraction of that kind of power, so I could shamelessly and frequently utilize towards my own ends.

2. Focus on the Content

It;s always tempting to a designer to add way to much too a piece in an attempt to dress it up, give it more visual interest, or just because one thinks that if it’s too minimalistic, the client will assume one didn’t spend enough (billable) hours on it.

The danger in this is that the content that needs to be communicated can get lost in the woods, hidden behind layers of eye-catching yet distracting artwork.

2017 I believe will see a return to placing a more considered focus on the content. I don’t think this entails everything will be minimalistic, but rather that the cohesiveness of the entire piece will receive more consideration, with everything pulling focus back to the main idea to be communicated.

3. Strong and Expressive Typography

As a corollary to the previous point, 2017 will likely see typography used more extensively in bolder and more prominent ways. The type will continue to be used a way of artistically expressing the idea to be communicated, as well as a way to create an eye-catching visual. For designers: be on the lookout for strong typefaces that are expressive and grab your attention. Most will likely not be niche decorative fonts, but rather have strong lines, great readability and a well-balanced presence.

4. Art and Type

Expect a stronger integration between art and type, in what I call a “collision.” Instead of designing spaces for type to fit into, I predict that the artwork and type will interact more extensively in ways like intersection, overlap and the like. Look for more pieces where a strong typeface sits on top of minimal visuals to increase contrast and intersection, which draws the eye to the intersections and creates great visual interest.

5. Patterns

Patterns are always tricky, because in the past they haven’t always been 1. good or 2. well-utilized. However, in recent years better (and more!) patterns have come along, giving designers far more options to use patterns tastefully. I expect subtle and tasteful use of patterns in a minimalist setting to draw attention to strong typography yet still provide a little extra visual punch.

6. Multi-Platform/Modular

This is probably a no-brainer of a prediction, but with more and more people consuming their digital content apart from the traditional computer (in fact, mobile consumption has likely already overtaken the “traditional” model), getting visual pieces into multiple formats is more important than ever. However, even more crucial is making sure that the content feels “right” for every place it is accessed. Look for design to operate more and more in this multi-platform reality, in which a design doesn’t start for desktop or projection and then get ported to mobile, but is created with all destinations in mind.

7. Drones Everywhere!

It used to be that getting great aerial footage was an expensive undertaking. But now with really high quality drones in the sub-$1000 range, getting amazing aerial footage is more accessible than ever. It also provides angles and perspectives that were until recently largely confined to larger budgets.

Expect to see even more drone footage in every kind of video production, and filmmakers and photographers using them in unique and creative ways. I suspect that having a drone in 2017 will move into the must-have category for those making their living in video production and photography.

8. Type and Photos

Except an even stronger integration between really strong typography and expressive photography that has a minimalist structure but that creates great contrast and vivid visual interest.

9. Fonts

Given my prediction for strong typography, I expect that sans and to some extent slab fonts will have a renewed presence in 2017. Serif fonts are always great for expressive typography, but I’m looking out for ones that have strong contrast within the characters themselves.

Brush and script fonts will still hang around, but I expect will see less utilization, having had their 3 year run.

10. Neutrals and Subdued Naturals

While vibrant colors will likely take center stage in noticeability, I predict that 2017 will also see lots of neutrals and subdued natural tones. These will likely be used in conjunction with the vibrant colors, creating a good amount of contrast and the “pop” that clients are always clamoring for.  A Greenery on top of a neutral practically screams “hey, pay attention to me!”

On a similar note, I think that 2017 will still see quite a lot of natural textures, backgrounds and “scenes,” within which all these colors will work nicely.

11. Geometry In, Geometry Out

Geometry is always a workable design element, but it has grown a bit long in the tooth over the past 5 years. Expect to see less overt geometry employed in designs. However, I expect geometry to transition into having a strong impact on how content is laid out, with traditional designers taking a cue from web designers and structuring designs in a more systematic way that uses geometry to define the layout, as well as make a design more extensible (see #6).

12. Animation

Animation has always been a great way to highlight and accentuate a design, and while it is implemented in many ways on the web and mobile devices, it still is in many ways an art form in its infancy. I predict that animation will grow up a little bit, but in ways that serve to accentuate UI, to accentuate transitions, etc., rather than being for show as they often are. Google Material is a great example of showing how animation can be used to signal inputs and other such things, while also providing visual interest that exists for a purpose, using timing, movement, rotation and such to make using the device more accessible and meaningful.

13. Designer/Developers

In many ways the lines between designers and developers has blurred somewhat in recent years, although the disciplines are still quite distinct, and in many ways for good reason. That being said, I expect that the intersection of design and development to continue to expand.

14. Pseudo-Minimalism

Sometimes as designers we tend to cover up a not-well-thought-out-design with the term “minimalism,” as if a lack of content in and of itself is a virtue. It’s not.

Actual minimalism can be a powerful medium in that when it is done correctly it can draw the viewers eye in immediately and leave no doubt as to the massage of the design.

I predict somewhat of a resurge in minimalism, but not in the mid 2006 to late 2010 Apple-esque minimalism, but rather in the sense that a design is intentionally created with “less-is-more” in mind, where every piece is necessary to the whole in order to make it cohesive, rather than force-fit together. This will naturally tie-in to strong typography, in which the overall design in its sparsity does the heavy lifting of messaging.

15. Bright and Vivid

With devices increasingly having bright high-density pixel displays, bright and vivid content is a good match as it can really look great on these types of devices. Look for designers to take vibrant colors and utilize them within bright designs overall.

16. AR and VR

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are intriguing concepts that have had some interesting applications, but all in all the industry as a whole still feels fairly gimmicky, both in currently available application and in the technology itself. However, both offer glimpses into some potentially useful tech, and so expect greater in-roads and development made into AR and VR in 2017, with a greater push towards practical everyday applicability.

17. Honesty

With the rise of the terror of “fake news,” I expect that 2017 will be interesting in that this notion of credibility in all types of media will trickle out into the design and video world. I expect many designers and filmmakers to strive to be “honest” and “not-fake” in the pieces they create and how it is presented, whether they succeed or not.

18. Themes

Given much of the tumult that has gripped various places in the world over 2016, I expect that many designers will opt to create pieces that focus around the themes of hope, overcoming obstacles, making a difference around you, improving diversity, and other such ideas/ideals. The colors that look to be popular this year would certain crowd around those themes.

Conversely, designers can often be a cynical bunch, so get ready for some pretty dark stuff too.

19. Silent Movies

If you’ve been on Facebook within the last year or so, you’ve no doubt watched your share of videos without any sound. And you’ve even gotten into the habit of reading captions. This is becoming more and more of a trend across all platforms, and will continue even more into 2017.

Over the past 75 years or so, audio has been just as important to a video as the actual visuals. But increasingly people are watching videos without sound, and while captions can be implemented fairly easily, many videos are being built specifically for this use case. That means that videos increasingly need to be strong enough and cohesive enough in the visuals that they can work without audio.

While videos will still be made for a computer screen or projector based use and then ported over to social media, this is becoming less and less the case. Videos are increasingly being built with the understanding that audio may not be involved.

Look for strong typography to make its presence felt here, with greater integration between visuals and on screen typography. And if you are a designer or filmmaker, be sure to recognize that your video needs to work as a silent movie.

It’s interesting- recently I watching the 1927 classic Metropolis, which is a “silent” movie, in that they is no audible dialogue, but just text slates every once in awhile. (To be fair, there is an orchestral audio background, which I thought was great, and definitely added to the flavor of the movie.) The challenge of the silent movie is that every scene and every interaction needs to have enough visual and emotional heft to make up for a near absence of story or plot delivered through text or dialogue. In Metropolis, I found it curious at how few text slates there were, but then I realized that another challenge of that art form was that every time you have to read a text slate to get the story, it breaks up the flow of  the actual story. Thus, there’s a fine line to walk.

But what I found most fascinating and enjoyable was how even though I didn’t get the plot shoved in my face through dialogue or text, I still knew exactly what was going on. The scenes were that well constructed and cohesive that the few cues I did get were sufficient. Even without that extra information I still found myself engrossed in the story and eager to see what came next. I think the lack of audible or textual information forced my to supple the plot with my own imagination, which means that Metropolis ultimately is not just “one” plot, since every viewer must add there own experiences and interpretations to it.


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