5 design trends for 2017

Where will the art and technologies of design take us this year?

Stepping outside the subjectivity of determining the merits of good or bad design, there are objectively measurable trends in graphic design, some inspired by technological challenges, others purely by fashion, that will almost certainly appear in greater measure in the coming year. If you’re ready to swim a few laps in the au courant, read on.

Responsive logos

If you’re the kind of marketer who prefers pictures, skip this entire paragraph, fire up a desktop browser and click here. For the more literary-minded who’ve kept reading, responsive logos present a decreasing level of detail the smaller the presentation screen. So, the full-width desktop experience may present the fullest presentation of your logo, perhaps with a tagline lockup. And, as the presentation window scales down, say from a tablet to 5.6” phablet, you drop the tagline. Decrease the display size to a 4” handset and the user sees something more similar to a favicon. It saves space and reduces visual clutter in space-limited interfaces.

The return of ornamentation

Modernists frequently invoke architect Louis Sullivan’s adage, “form follows function,” as justification for designating any ornamentation without specific purpose as superfluous. Ironically, as anyone who knows Sullivan’s work—there is plenty in our (and Sullivan’s) hometown of Chicago—knows his facades would frequently erupt with Art Nouveau or Celtic Revival flourishes fashioned in wrought iron or terra cotta. Why? Because the technology of his day allowed for the relatively inexpensive addition of those flourishes in a manner that would not impede the desired function, be that ease or low cost of construction. Similarly today, the coding frameworks and techniques necessary to handle responsive design are becoming less time intensive and less costly. Combined with the ubiquity of high-speed mobile broadband and the increasing power of the devices used to consume those experiences, we expect to see reductions in required time and resources, both on the creation and consumption end. Ultimately, we predict the emergence of more sites aligned with Sullivan’s admitted inspiration, Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who declared design should exhibit “firmitas, utilitas, venustas,” (solid, useful, beautiful). Sure, we all just figured out Google’s stripped down Material UI standards, but, in some cases, when it comes to graphic and UX design, more is actually more.

Motion with meaning

Ask any animator, and they will confirm, motion is emotion. Changes in any object’s physical state alerts the user to its importance. A misty flash of red. A disconfirming horizontal shake. A joyful confirming bounce. Even subtle state changes in small UX elements can convey an incredible amount of story and forward the user’s actions. Further, motion can help convey connections between elements as well as provide that, “follow the bouncing ball,” confirmation and assistance as a user moves along a task. For all of the technological reasons listed in the previous paragraph, we will likely see an increased use of motion in UX design. Further, the ubiquity of detailed analytics available to designers is a great roadmap to find all of a site’s micro-interactions that are causing drop-offs, whether due to lack of clarity or lack of appeal. Adding motion cues to underperforming interface elements can potentially enhance the user’s understanding and improve utility and overall stickiness. Transforming motion from the purely ornamental to the functional.

Saturated color

If trends in fashion and home décor are any indication (and when are they not?) we should see a return to more bold uses of bright, deep color. Out are the post-apocalyptic, log-video-style mix of low-contrast grays, as is the expected high-contrast black and white. In are bold, electric greens blues and oranges. From print, to the web and mobile, broad swaths of bright colors, or in some cases, even colorful mixed patterns, all leaning more closely to their dominant hues.

Authenticity

It seems the idea of authenticity has been trending for years. It is perhaps more accurate to say the idea is slowly infiltrating every aspect of branding, marketing, and design. First, we saw the rise of craft brands, from lip balm to beer, because they were perceived as more authentic and “real” than their corporate counterparts—though many have been subsequently acquired by those aforementioned counterparts. That same mindset has begun to emerge more fully in graphic design in a number of forms. First, we are starting to see a distinct movement away from the use of stock photography, or even highly-polished photographic imagery. Likely influenced by the perceived lower costs and the massive influx of user-generated imagery through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, “real” photography presents an original image that is at once, anecdotal and accessible. Further, we are seeing an increase in the use of hand-drawn graphics and icons. When everyone has access to the same collection of web fonts and stock photos, the only way to create a truly unique brand image is to go bespoke.

The short version

Form follows function. But when you’ve nailed the function, a little extra effort on the design aesthetic goes a long way.


Magnani is an advertising agency that helps challenger brands amplify and accelerate their marketing initiatives.

For more tips and opinions, check out our blog or sign up for our newsletter.