Design Trends

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Today’s design trends are a bit of a surprise to me. Although they feel right and make sense, they’re just not what I would have predicted 10 years ago. That’s probably a good thing.

Trending fonts are more conservative. The economic downturn triggered a fallout in the use of ultra-thin, euro, extended, graffiti and “hip” fonts. They implied a level of self indulgence that just didn’t play anymore. Today we see classic serifs and contemporary slab fonts in a fresh new light. There are many remarkable new san-serifs that are restrained, or just minor variations on old favorites. Like when things got rough, the old friends who stuck it out became that much more dear.

I don’t think there’s really a color trend I can identify. Metallics, pastels, mineral tones, fluorescents, complex neutrals, ultra-brights, greyscale and even camo—anything goes. Well, maybe not jewel tones, they do smell a little bit “off.”

Stock imagery has always been tricky. Very obvious, faux lifestyle images have felt cheesy for the last decade, and they still do. Candids are much better; average people not necessarily looking their best but having the right body language or expressions are far more effective than perfect lighting and makeup. Also inspiring are ultra-produced, high fashion and avant-garde photographs. They’re alluring, dreamlike and readily engage our eyes and minds. I’ve noticed an interesting uptrend in the use of “unique people” in advertising across all markets. Watch TV today and you might notice a lot of ads featuring amputees, tattoos and atypical body types. Classic models are getting a long overdue run for the money.

When you watched Madmen, did you ever wonder why the copywriters are in charge, telling the designers, photographers and even clients what to do? I don’t think it was as obvious to me before, but it’s true. The message is everything. Here’s the thing: the average American sees 5,000 ads a day, every single day. That makes us involuntary experts in filtering out bullshit. A message either works, or it falls flat on its face—there’s very little room between those two extremes. Some examples:

Coca-Cola: Open happiness.
Puh-leez. Talk about a bridge too far…

Subway: Eat Fresh.
Damn. This really kinda works. I’m feeling crunchy textures between my teeth and healthy flavors in my mouth.

Nike: Just do it.
Still works.

Burger King: Have it your way.
Fail. I just don’t believe they care.

Pizza Hut: Taste freedom.
Are you kidding me? Fire your ad agency.

Motel 6: We’ll leave a light on for you.
Aww. That’s so sweet it makes me actually want to stay in your boring hotel.

Subaru: Think. Feel. Drive.
Stop. Doing. That.

I could keep going, but you probably get the point. Heads-up business owners, customers need to believe what you’re saying. Lie to them at your own peril. Over-promise and fail. Speak platitudes and disappear into the background noise. Make them smile and get a second date, or say something smart to gain their respect—it’s all about connection.