Some trends last for ages while others are cyclical, but whether classic or fleeting, design trends are both inspiring and incredibly useful when it comes to your graphics work. So what’s been hot in 2016? The five styles that have dominated the year so far are outlined here to help you develop eye-catching and relevant concepts, while still staying true your unique creative vision.
We rounded up visual examples of each design trend using royalty-free stock graphics, which you can easily incorporate into your own projects. Here’s the breakdown:
1. Flat 2.0
Flat lay took the design world by storm back in 2013 with the release of Apple’s iOS 7. It was introduced as a way to draw focus to content, functionality, and clarity, and came about as a minimalist reaction to the previous trend of “skeuomorphism”—a more complicated and ornamental design concept of making items represented resemble their real-world counterparts such as wooden textures on a bookshelf and heavy use of gradients for an exaggerated 3D realistic look.
Early flat design consisted of bright and bold colors, intentional negative space, and simple typography combined with a complete lack of depth—hence the term, flat. Despite the intentions of its creators, one of the biggest complaints and drawbacks of Flat Design was the lack of clarity. Flat 2.0 is an updated, even clearer version. Though still simple in nature and bright and bold, the 2.0 design style hints at depth with subtle gradients and flat drop shadows to make interfaces more user friendly.
To utilize this trend in your designs, choose bright colors, minimal typefaces, simple shapes, and heavy uses of negative space—but don’t shy away from using subtle gradients to portray depth and light within your design. Incorporating motion into your designs can also help provide meaning and clarity for users.
2. Geometric Shapes
There is something about geometry that’s appealing to the human eye. Perhaps it’s because strong geometric lines indicate that the design is manmade. Or it could be because geometry occurs in nature everywhere. All we know is that strong geometric shapes and patterns are having a moment and it’s likely to last. Geometric patterns create bold and often dynamic designs that draw a user in. They portray heft and weight, yet still somehow indicate motion.
We’ve seen geometry in package design, branding, backgrounds, graphic elements, and more recently in web and user experience design. Geometric patterns are some of our most popular pieces in our stock graphics library and we’re expecting these to dominate the world of digital design shortly. To utilize this trend in your designs you can incorporate low-poly patterns, like this retro mosaic vector, as the background or hero image of a web page. Or consider balancing their heft with generous use of white space.
Geometric shapes also do well in logos, social media graphics, or brand collateral. Depending on the color palette you choose, you can convey playfulness or even a more serious tone with muted colors and strong use of black. Don’t be afraid of being bold—but balance is key!
3. Retro Nouveau
While a new or modern take on retro may seem like a paradox, just imagine art deco designs from the 20s or Bauhaus-inspired posters from the 60s. Nowadays, retro looks are drawing their inspiration from the late 70s through the 90s, which is why it’s important to note that this is a new kind of retro. Think nerdy nostalgia, pixelation, and colors on colors on colors.
This trend is playful, open-ended, and evokes fond memories. To imitate this trend, dig deep into your memory bank. Take something from your childhood and imagine how you can bring new life to it. Were video games your thing? Try your hand at a pixelated graphics. Was Fresh Prince of Bel-Air one of your all-time favorite shows? Incorporate funky and bold patterns into your branding. You can even do your best to encapsulate a specific feeling you associate with from one of those eras. Freedom. Rebellion. Free-spiritedness. You can revitalize your memories in modern ways to make old art feel fresh again.
Much like clothing from the 80s, many popular patterns with this Retro Nouveau twist are heavily saturated, shamelessly geometric, and warm. After all, trends tend to recycle, so it was only a matter of time before the 70s, 80s, and 90s made a comeback.
Motion in graphic design can be very useful for communicating a desired action from a user, but motion also has other uses and isn’t always indicated by dashed lines or swooshes—it can also be straightforward with actual movement. With recent boosts in technology, we experience greater capability in websites that support larger file sizes required by the movement
Digital designs can now host any number of different motion elements, including animated vectors (HTML5 is super powerful), visually striking cinemagraphs, and GIFs. With just a flicker of motion, users become more engaged without losing focus on content.
If you want to draw attention to a specific portion of your website, try adding animated vectors or SVG’s. Cinemagraphs as a hero image on your site can be a great way to capture the attention of visitors and influence them to continue scrolling or even draw greater attention an important piece of content. Small and subtle animations peak a user’s interest, without overwhelming the content.
5. Abstract Swiss
Many of the trends we’ve covered can be blended together—geometric shapes play well with retro nouveau, while Flat 2.0 and motion often go hand-in-hand in user interface design—but Abstract Swiss stands apart from these trends. Especially popular in web design and product collateral, Abstract Swiss involves the heavy use of white space, deconstructed layouts that break the rules, and a minimal color palette. It looks less structured and more abstract.
When designing in this style, harness your inner-rebel. Avoid aligning all of your design elements in a typical grid-fashion. Create intentional breaks and embrace an almost uncomfortable amount of white space. Refine your color palette to a minimal, monochromatic look and add moments of bold and black graphical elements.
Feeling inspired? Stealing like an artist is part of the process and copying design trends can help build your artistic muscles. Not entirely comfortable working with vectors? Check out our guide, try making these into your own, and exercise your creative voice.
If you’re looking for more trend-inspired creative assets, explore the royalty-free vectors and design elements in our stock graphics library.