As we all know, we live in a fast-paced, intensely visual age, which means that images are one of the most important ways brands connect with consumers. That’s the reason visual fluency – the ability to predict visual trends and understand what they mean to consumers – is so important. And it's the purpose behind Adobe Stock’s annual Visual Trends.
"Our trend reports help the creative community spot trends as they’re evolving, understand what they mean to consumers, and build on them for maximum impact," says Brenda Millis of Adobe. "In 2019, our visual landscape will reflect far more than fleeting fads, likes, and shares. We’ll be surrounded by images that capture passionate, beautiful, contentious, messy cultural conversations about values, how we express our individuality and experiences, and how we find refuge in tumultuous times."
For this year's report, the Adobe Stock team looked around the world, from fashion runways and art galleries to the business world, pop culture, and social media – all with the goal of uncovering the major visual trends that will shape the year. Here’s an early peek at the trends they're forecasting for 2019, as described by Adobe's Brenda Millis.
As technology increases in our lives and more of our days are spent in the digital realm, we’re feeling increasingly distant from the physical world. This steady shift is leading more people to consciously (or subconsciously) seek balance through nature. Artists like Adobe Stock Premium contributor Archan Nair are part of a movement of creatives taking inspiration from the mysteries of the natural world. Archan’s illustrations bring together surrealism, mysticism, and organic forms, to explore the interconnectedness between humans and the planet.
This desire to connect with nature is shaping consumer behaviour, too. For example, according to NPD Group, nearly half of U.S. consumers now actively seek natural ingredients in the products they choose. Beyond contents, consumers are also tuned into how ingredients are sourced and how brands communicate. The Global Wellness Institute reports that the fastest growing portion of the $999 billion wellness and beauty industry is "clean beauty" – products that are ethical, sustainable, and transparent. Major retailers from Nordstrom and Barney’s to Sephora are responding, giving more of their space over to natural brands.
Along with this desire for a natural refuge, consumers are also looking for brands to satisfy their spiritual needs. Retailers are responding with spaces that include natural elements for a serene shopping aesthetic. Spiritual wellness events, such as LA’s monthly Conscious Family Dinners are selling out. And companies, like Moon Bath and Zephorium, blur the lines between beauty, healing, and spirituality, offering products that promise all of the above.
In the visual world, designers are focusing on aspirational images with natural elements and celebrations of physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
We’re no longer waiting for creatives to shape our visual worlds—instead, people are using technology to elevate and share their own unpolished, raw, authentic moments in full, vivid colour. Each day, 95 million photos are uploaded to Instagram and people watch 100 million hours of video content on Facebook. Gen Z and Millennials are leading the charge but all ages are in on it, powered by mobile-first platforms that allow on-the-go content and live streams on social media.
Brands are finding clever ways to harness our desire to create our own images. For example, clothing company American Eagle launched its #aeriereal campaign, asking women to post unretouched photos of themselves and celebrate body positivity. And furniture companies from West Elm to Wayfair invite users to post photos of their new products, letting consumers see how they look in a real home.
Tools and communities are emerging to embrace this new creative impulse too, like our partners at GoPro and Adobe’s own Premiere Rush CC, which gives creatives of all generations the opportunity to create, edit, and share videos, across devices.
Diversity rules in Creative Democracy, both in front of the lens and behind it. Visually, creative democracy is all about unstudied images, bright colours, diverse subjects and video that moves people.
People are ready to have their voices heard. Whether it’s in creative play or fierce political resistance, images of extreme self-expression resonate. Our social feeds are full of marching protesters and impromptu political speeches. Brands are tapping into the energy, borrowing the visual language of protest for shop windows and clothing lines. And the moment feels so significant that galleries, from the Museum of the City of New York to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, are collecting protest signs for future exhibits.
Even when there’s no political agenda, the new self-expression is all about inclusive, unapologetic, eye-catching visuals that cut through the noise. The images range from haunting and hypnotising, like luxury fashion house Balenciaga’s jaw-droppingly bendable models, to shiny and playful, like the boom of Instagram posts bedazzled with the KiraKira app.
In the visual context, "disruptive expression" means embracing a wide range of identities, celebrating fearless individuality, and forgoing the light touch in favour of power and intensity.
Consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, want more from brands than just products – they’re giving their loyalty to companies with stated values and a commitment to transparency. A recent study found that nearly half of Millennials think CEOs themselves ought to take stands on social issues.
Some brands are taking headline-grabbing action to show their values. Consider Patagonia’s lawsuit against the president, which seeks to protect national monuments or the companies that joined a legal fight against North Carolina’s bathroom bill.
Other brands are helping consumers become more ethically aware themselves. The innovative financial firm Aspiration, for example, created a program to help consumers match their day-to-day spending to their ethical beliefs.
To keep up with this trend, brands will need to communicate a meaningful, coherent social purpose around big issues such as social justice and conservation. In the visual realm, this means that stunning, powerful representations of causes and popular issues on a global scale will have a big impact on viewers.
In fact, for some, the activism is in the imagery itself. The Ocean Agency’s collection on Adobe Stock, for example, invites viewers to experience the rarely-seen beauty in the underwater world. "Ninety-nine per cent of people don’t dive – and probably never will," shares the company’s founder, Richard Vevers. "That’s why imagery is so important when it comes to ocean conservation. Our job is to take imagery that excites the world, to engage people with the most magical part of our planet, our underwater world, and through imagery get them supporting the fight to save it."
Throughout the year, Adobe Stock will zoom in on each of these emerging trends, tracing their roots, exploring how they touch our everyday lives, and giving designers and brands the context they need to make the trends their own. Follow their insights at blogs.adobe.com.