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Digital Design Trends to Watch in 2018

By Charles Purdy

For designers and other visual creatives working in the digital realm, change is constant, and being prepared for what’s coming next is a must. While the tools we use evolve ever more rapidly, so do tastes and the needs of clients. We asked some experts and creatives in a variety of disciplines to think about the coming year and tell us what trends they are planning for, expecting, and excited to see emerge. 

A BROADER ROLE FOR UX DESIGNERS

UX has long been a discipline that overlaps with and extends into many others—and in 2018, UX specialist and blogger Nick Babich says the role of UX designers is about to expand again: “Being a UX designer in 2018 will be less about ‘doing all of the stuff yourself’ and more about ‘connecting people together.’ This will put the focus on collaboration, fast prototyping, and automation in some steps of the UX process that previously were manual, such as the design handoff.”

(Read more of Babich’s UX trends for 2018.) 

ART THAT CREATES NEW REALITIES

Image by Adobe Stock contributor wolterke

Unsettled moments always leave their mark on the art world, and today’s environment will affect tastes and trends in editorial illustration, stock imagery, and beyond, says Brenda Milis, Principal of Creative Services and Visual Trends at Adobe: “We’re living in a time when there’s so much uncertainty, so much is in flux. Many people are becoming politically active, but there’s also a type of creativity that envisions escape.” [I’m] seeing idealized, alternate worlds—they’re lush, tropical, almost utopic. There’s a reverence for the natural world, but with an intensity, an almost psychedelic twist. These artists are asking us to consider what is beautiful, and what is alive.”

(Read more 2018 trends for stock imagery.)

STAYING POSITIVE—IN A REALITY-BASED WAY

This lettering illustration is from Kurtz’s book Pick Me Up—via his very lively Instagram feed

Designer, artist, and author Adam J. Kurtz says that after a difficult year, people will be turning to creative work for positivity and encouragement: “Those themes aren’t going anywhere,” he says. “But in light of everything, empty fluff isn’t going to cut it. Optimism falls flat if it’s broad to the point of complicity. Designers and especially lettering artists who work in quotes and aphorisms need to make sure their words are filled not just with honesty, but also with truth. Also, stop using handwriting fonts. Cheers to 2018!”

NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN TYPE

Adobe Type Senior Manager Dan Rhatigan says that 2018 will see some shifts not necessarily in the typefaces we use, but in how we use them: “The potential of what people can do with typefaces is changing pretty markedly for the first time in about 20 years,” he says. “The underlying technology is seeing a pretty major update right now.”

He points to visual search in Adobe Typekit, which helps people look for and discover new typefaces in an organic way, as one example. 

Rhatigan is also thinks that support for OpenType variable fonts will fundamentally alter the type landscape: these fonts allows users to customize styles within a typeface design, effectively giving designers an entire family of fonts in a single file. 

The Acumin Variable Pro typeface allows you to adjust weight, width, and even the slant angle, combining all of Acumin Pro’s 90 variants in a single dynamic font file.

(Read more about OpenType variable fonts and their support in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.) 

And he predicts an increased use of OpenType-SVG fonts—a font format in which all or some of a font’s glyphs are represented as SVG (scalable vector graphics) artwork. This allows the display of multiple colors and gradients in a single glyph. He explains, “As support for that grows, I think more and more people will realize how much potential that brings to creative work, being able to use typefaces that can have the full visual impact of images.“

(Read more about OpenType-SVG color fonts.) 

PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE

Photographer and Adobe Creative Resident Aundre Larrow foresees a rise in “hybrid creatives,” driven by the waning of Instagram and by brands needing more video. He explains, “More hybrid creatives that execute better than they market themselves, people that can create intelligent and fun motion as well as standard brand content.”

He adds, “I also think we are actually going to see a growth in portraiture’s success, as we’ve all experienced landscape and travel photography fatigue.”

Photo by Aundre Larrow. To see more of his photography and learn how he works, check out some of his tips for photographing people with darker skin

DESIGNS WITH A HUMAN TOUCH

Illustrator Von Glitschka foresees a “more visually oriented humanity”—an artfully imperfect look and feel that will be seen as more engaging than sharp-edged clean graphics. He explains, “The aesthetic of the design world for the last seven years has been driven by the tech industry. It's a clean, iconic, and precise styling. In 2018, I am seeing a humanization of design becoming more popular—taking the ‘graphic’ out of ‘graphic design.’”

ON AN ULTRA VIOLET WAVELENGTH

Pantone has nominated its color of 2018: Ultra Violet, and illustrator Maria Grønlund says she has already been seeing the color used in exciting ways: “It’s not just Pantone’s color of the year; it has been gaining popularity during 2017, often accompanied by hot pink, bright blue, and cyan. There’s no doubt we’ll see a lot of graphic design in 2018 where a sparkling ultra violet is the dominant color.” Grønlund continues, “It’s remarkable to see this color, that has been one of the least popular colors in Europe and America—especially disliked by men—getting such a strong revival. A European survey recently showed that only three percent of people rated it as their favorite color, but this is probably going to change in the new year.”

Pantone’s Leatrice Eiseman says that Ultra Violet “lights the way to what is yet to come.” Artist Bram Vanhaeren recently shared a series of color palettes (one of them shown here); many include shades close to Ultra Violet, on Behance.  

CALMING WITH CUTENESS

Top illustration by Maria Grønlund; bottom illustration by Jenny Yu

Grønlund is seeing another emerging—and endearing—trend: intimate illustrations of solitary characters. She says, “The illustrations are usually personal projects with a biographic feel. They are a bit like private diaries you get small sneak peeks of…. One of the trends Facebook thinks will go mainstream in 2018 is ‘Calming Everything.’ And both the violet hues and these small illustrations seem to capture this quality very well.” 

PUSHING THE BORDERS OF PERCEPTION WITH VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY

Adobe recently announced the inclusion of immersive VR editing in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, which allows you to edit 360 degree video and VR using a headset—you’ll be able to review your video in the format it will be displayed in and make edits without having to switch between a headset view and the computer screen. And new features in Adobe After Effects CC also make working with augmented reality more intuitive; new tools will enable you to seamlessly display your content in a fully immersive environment. You can bring the viewer into your world, and with enhanced editing abilities, you won’t have to worry that a flaw in the design will ruin the effect.

Adobe Senior Research Engineer Bhautik Joshi says, “New capture devices and display technology are fueling the current boom in VR and AR. Immersive media represents an exciting new canvas for artists, but we have a real chicken and egg problem—artists can’t create for this medium until tools are available, and the tools themselves need to be informed by what artists do with them. This kind of problem is exactly what Adobe [Research] loves to tackle, and we’re working closely with creative professionals to help create the future.”

Multidisciplinary designer Luke Choice is also seeing an increased interest in virtual and augmented reality: “When it comes to new technology, I’m always pretty slow to catch on, but I think the movement into AR/VR will need a lot more of my attention this year…. I have already begun to work with a number of clients to create assets, such as complete 3D typographic alphabets for use on their platforms. With a number of easy access tools out there to create your own AR content, I think that will begin to see that grow as more creatives begin exploring it.”

MORE MOVEMENT

Marlena Torzecka, of the illustration agency Marlena Agency, is seeing more demand for GIFs: “We get assignments, even for newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, where artists are asked either to do their own GIF from an illustration or somebody inside the paper does GIF from the illustration. The overall trend is more animations and videos on the Internet.”

GIF illustration by Olimpia Zagnoli

(Learn how to make an animated GIF in Photoshop.) 

MORE COMPASSION

Art director and co-president of ICON: The Illustration Conference Len Small sees a convergence of politics and compassion: “Now that the shock of the changing political field is wearing off, we are likely to see more reactions of anger and frustration. I am eager to watch how artists might use digital platforms for protest art and graphics. I was fortunate to see Milton Glaser speak at Cooper Union toward the end of last year; he talked about how one of the greatest weapons we have against a bullish political climate is compassion, caring, and understanding. A kind pen is a mighty sword.”

GENDER NEUE

Small also sees a move away from binary assumptions about gender: “Over the past few years, audiences have been challenged on assumptions of gender as a binary identity,” he says. “This will start to reflect in how artists depict figures in illustration and photography, spinning off assumptions of cis-gendered portraiture. David Bowie would be proud.”

Illustrations by Andrew Colin Beck

MORE APPLICATIONS FOR 3D DESIGN—INCLUDING IN PACKAGE DESIGN

Designer John Godfrey has found that typically, when a packaging job is finished, the client goes about things on their own, which doesn’t guarantee great product photos for a portfolio. So he has tried to make mockups in Photoshop for future display. “For someone with limited 3D design knowledge like me, I find Photoshop is only useful when stuff is super flat and boxy,” Godfrey says. “When you start dealing with bottles and anything round—items where you have distortion around the edges—it becomes difficult to get a realistic look.”

Godfrey says, “Queen’s Hot Sauce was a project of mine that had recently ended, so it was something I knew I really wanted to get in our portfolio. It was the first thing I completed in Dimension.” 

This means that sometimes packaging simply didn’t make it into his and his partner’s portfolio. But this has changed, thanks to Adobe Dimension CC. Godfrey decided to try Dimension out of sheer curiosity when it popped up in his Creative Cloud apps.“By the end of the day, I had a grasp on what it is and how I can utilize it working with camera, lights, image-based lighting, and fooling around with materials,” he says. “The very first time I used the tool, I had something I could use in a day.”

WORK COMMISSIONED SOLELY FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

Jon Cockley, a cofounder of the illustration agency Handsome Frank, says, “One the most interesting shifts we've noticed this year, and expect to continue, is illustrated work being specifically commissioned for social media. Social has long been part of the media mix, but we’re now seeing lots of bespoke campaigns created solely for social platforms. What's interesting for us is the freedom that gives for brands and clients to try things that they wouldn’t necessarily do in a traditional ATL campaign. Illustrators are being encouraged to be more spontaneous and reactionary, and given more of a license to have fun, and I think that’s leading to some really innovative work.”