When you work as a graphic designer, your stock-in-trade focuses on the details. That kerning has to be spot-on. Graphics need to be pixel-perfect. Everything has to align to the grid precisely. Focus on the small things, in short, and the whole thing will come together perfectly.
Well, up to a point anyway. While precision and accuracy in your design work are important, they're only part of the story. You also need originality, a fresh approach and a point of view. And yet, even if you tick all these boxes, you may still fall short. Because, like it or not, your designs have to exist in the real world and reflect the visual themes of the age. Otherwise, it will stand out like a sore thumb and feel awkward and dated.
With the creative world moving so quickly, though, that can be a challenge – particularly when there are big gaps between the initial concept stage and final production and rollout. So, you essentially need to be ten steps ahead, with one eye on the present and another on the near future.
With that in mind, we wanted to know the big visual themes of 2024. So we turned to the award-winning design agency JDO and its team. At the cutting edge of brand design and innovation, they have a keen sense of what's around the corner. This article shares six visual themes that promise to dominate design in the coming year.
Firstly, let's address the obvious. Globally speaking, this is a time of uncertainty and global challenges, and the visual landscape in 2024 will reflect that.
"In the face of a pending global recession, continued cost of living, divisive politics and discourse, climate crisis accompanied by Stop Oil protests, continuing war in Europe and mounting conflict and uncertainty in the Middle East, there's a growing sense of doom and gloom ahead," says Ed Silk, global head of strategy at JDO. "We're feeling untethered from each other, and the UK collectively has a resounding feeling of worry, hopelessness and that no one is in control."
In this environment, individuals will naturally seek a visual refuge that provides a sense of stability and permanence. "People will be seeking a sense of protection," says Ed. "They want stability with a feeling of control and permeance in an ever-changing, chaotic world." And they expect two visual themes to emerge as a result.
This visual theme conveys a sense of tradition and stability, making people feel reassured and comforted in tumultuous times. It's about embracing firmly established and unwavering elements, evoking a sense of timelessness, and focusing on craftsmanship that withstands the test of time.
"The heraldry theme often involves 'cues of protection'; symbols such as shields and armour that make the viewer feel protected and comforted," says Sylwia Wydra, senior designer at JDO. "Burberry is a past master at incorporating this kind of symbolism into its designs, in a way that's stylish and subtle yet ultimately effective."
What JDO calls 'brutal naivety' is all about embracing the basics with brutal simplicity. In other words, it's all about a return to simpler times.
"This trend often involves using handcrafted elements and avoiding computer or AI-generated designs," notes Sylwia. "Common elements include the use of crude, naive illustrations and typefaces. Ultimately, this visual theme is about embracing aesthetics that feel uncrafted and 'undesigned' in their authenticity."
Contrasting away from the gloom, the 'Uplift me' trend aims to transport individuals to a happier, safer place. "This direction takes you to a happier, safer place, depicting a world that allows us to be cocooned and enveloped into a feeling of warm, uplifting positivity," explains Ed. Again, JDO expects two visual themes to emerge as a result.
This trend summons the spirit of 1950s Americana. "Think Cadillacs, Barbie pink, Palm Springs and timeless charm," says Ed. "Colour palettes incorporate candy-sweet hues that evoke positivity, and there's an always-sunny aesthetic, portraying a world where the sun is perpetually shining. For examples of this look, check out the Barbie movie and Wes Anderson's Asteroid City."
While the Candy Sweet Nostalgia theme is defiantly in-your-face, the Cocoon visual theme is more laid-back. "Voluminous and curvaceous, it's about creating a sense of comfort with cloud-like and soft design elements," says Rachael Skingle, junior strategist at JDO. "It's also grounded and homely, an effect achieved by utilising natural tones of creams, naturals, stones and woods. In short, it's a visual representation of a safe haven, exuding a sense of calmness and serenity. Skincare brand Salt & Stone offers a great example of this theme in action."
Our final set of themes responds to the need for escape. "With a need to escape and transcend this world, people will embrace the capabilities of technology," predicts Rachael. "With AI now seen as a creative enabler rather than a job-stealer, people will seek to go places full of potential, abound with progress and newness. We expect two visual themes to emerge as a result."
This visual theme is about placing the viewer in an alternative, hyperreal world, literally or figuratively. "In the case of the former, it's about integrating augmented reality to provide viewers with fresh, new and often surreal ways to experience the world around us," says Sylwia. "In the case of the latter, it's about harnessing vibrant colours and eclectic design elements to create saturated and eclectic aesthetics, embracing shiny, happy people, and creating a glossy and glamorous aesthetic."
Our final theme will be familiar to anyone who's enjoyed the Matrix movies, and visual representations of code and new technologies are coming back into vogue today, most notably in the visual designs for U2's shows at Las Vegas Sphere.
Slywia explains there are a few different directions to go in. "One is simple and primitive: embracing a retro computer aesthetic with binary elements," she says. "Another is pixelated design, using pixels, dots, and dashes for a nostalgic touch. And a third is the friendly and accessible approach, of making technology visually approachable."
Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly