Breaking Down the 2018 Design Trends
Digital design has a huge impact on our lives. Between our smart phones, work, and downtime, Americans spend more waking hours in digital spaces than we do in analog. If it hardly feels like you spend 10 hours a day in front of a screen, that’s because great design is doing its job: we don’t quite notice how much time we spend with screens because the digital experience they offer us is both pleasant and engaging.
Trends are a unique phenomenon in that they achieve massive popularity but tend to go unnoticed until they are no longer relevant. From fashion to architecture to music, it can be difficult for consumers to identify elements of any current medium as a trend. This is also true for internet users: many of us don’t think particularly deeply about burgeoning digital design trends, precisely because they blend into the background of what we perceive as normal, attractive, and timely. But each trend has its roots in the conditions of the world around us, and how a trend rises to popularity can tell us a lot about the times we live in.
Our tastes and needs as consumers are constantly evolving alongside the advancing technological capabilities. In 2016, we saw digital design fully embrace the medium of the screen with an emphasis on responsive-, flat-, and mobile-friendly designs. In 2017, we saw the functional trends of previous years take on a more colorful and dynamic character with playful color palettes, gradients, and bold shapes. This year, design is pushing us even further. The design trends of 2018 use contrast to reflect the ways the real and digital worlds are continuing to merge. And in an age that is on the brink of the next era of digitalization, many of this year’s design trends seem to borrow from the aesthetics of the time when the internet still felt new.
Combining the playfully nostalgic with the ultra-futuristic, here are the 2018 digital design trends that blend different mediums to create striking contrasts:
2018 Design Trends Quick navigation:
1. Intersecting Elements
Bold typography made a huge impression in 2017, and will continue to do so in 2018. We’re beginning to notice more typography leaving the text box to interact and intersect with other design elements. And it’s not just typography that’s wandering – look out for an uptick in vectors, charts, and photographs overlaid with one another to create bold and beautiful contrasts.
We love this trend for the harmony it creates between design elements that might otherwise be seen as at odds with one another. The effect can be either chaotic and collage-like, or incredibly sleek and minimal. Furthermore, intersecting and overlapping elements make for a potent metaphor for the ever-blurring borders between real and digital.
2. Duo Tone and Double Exposure
Spotify may not have invented this trend, but they were certainly the catalyst for it being propelled to the mainstream. This is an effect that lends itself incredibly well to digital services that curate the content of others, which makes perfect sense in light of Spotify’s playlists. A two-color palette can bring aesthetic unity to images that might otherwise look like random hodgepodge.
Contrast is a defining element of duo tone and double exposure, but contrast doesn’t have to be loud. Though the Spotify aesthetic is incredibly bold with bright colors and edgy imagery, this effect can be used to achieve a much more subtle and sophisticated look as well.
3. Retro-Modern Illustrations
Since the birth of the internet, we’ve witnessed quite the evolution in generic imagery. From clip art to stock photos to flat design to montages, digital spaces to this day continue to demand this imagery for visual interest. Using this imagery tastefully, however continues to be a challenge. 2018 digital design trends point to a fresh new take on this decades-old development:
These retro-modern illustrations take the best from every generic image solution to date. Using the clean lines and changeable color palettes of flat design along side subtle shadows and elements of storytelling, these illustrations are at once focused and whimsical. We deem them retro for their frequent use of pastels and exaggerated dimensions, yet futuristic for the fact that their subject matter is often science and technology.
4. Creative Background Patterns
Tiled backgrounds were huge in the early days of blogging and online profiles, but they quickly fell out of fashion as the web began to favor minimalism and stacked web templates. But just as wall paper is reemerging as a trend in home design, 2018 will see a resurgence of background patterns, but with a much needed makeover.
Unlike the kind of background pattern you might have used to personalize your old MySpace profile, the background patterns of 2018 actually interact with the foreground, whether through thematic similarity or negative space. This interplay between the foreground and background creates a visual contrast that makes for an immersive browsing experience.
5. Bright Gradients
Gradients took over digital design in 2017. Suddenly you could see it everywhere, from logos (like Instagram’s redesign) to hero images to Snapchat filters – it was as if we were all seeing the web through rainbow-tinted glasses. Gradients aren’t going anywhere in 2018, but you can expect to see some changes.
Gradients are shifting out of the foreground that they dominated in 2017. Where the last year saw gradients as overlays, 2018 will see more gradients used to create subtle shading and depth in backgrounds and 2D imagery.
6. Thoughtful Animations
We are thrilled to see that animations are making a comeback on the web in 2018. But these thoughtful, tasteful animations are a far cry from blinking banner ads and cumbersome Flash creations from 15 years ago. 2018 design trends in animation take on more living character: they the user to interact with them and mirror user movements in a way that is incredibly gratifying.
Animations are a great strategy for services that utilize Gamification as they are truly delightful for users.
7. Isometric Design
Representing three dimensions on two-dimensional mediums is a challenge that has occupied artists for millennia. Isometric imagery in 2018 generally falls into one of two categories: hyper-realism or digital surrealism. Hyper-realism can be seen everywhere in modern advertising, making products look absolutely irresistible. As CGI capabilities advance with every year, it can become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between photographs and digitally rendered images. Such images can have a visceral effect on viewers, even when seen on a hand-held device.
Surreal 3D, on the other hand, doesn’t attempt to resemble or improve upon reality. It creates its own world filled with fantastical geometry and depictions of depth. Rather than eliciting visceral desires (like hunger, in the above images), surreal 3D incites viewers to play and explore.
But in both cases, 3D in 2018 creates an immersive experience for the user, simulating its own plane rather than letting 3D objects merely float in empty space.
8. Split-Page Design
Hero-images featured heavily in most every drag-and-drop website design tool from the last five years. 2018 is finally moving away from this overdone website design element and literally turning the concept on its head. Like the hero-image, split-page design also divvies up your screen in a way that is incredibly helpful for delivering information, but does so via vertical columns rather than horizontal blocks.
Split-page design is another design element that makes use of contrast. By placing elements side by side, they exist on the same plane and are given equal visual importance in the overall design scheme. Where the hero-image takes precedence over all other content, split page design lets all of the content on a page play off of one another. This is an excellent design strategy for presenting users with distinct scenarios or choices under one umbrella.