Graphic Design Trends Designers Love—& Hate, Part 2

Last month, we asked three industry pros what graphic design trends they love—and hate—when it comes to their graphic design disciplines of choice: packaging design, web design and logo design. This week, we focus on poster design trends and infographic design trends.

What graphic design trends are you loving and hating right now? Let us know in the comments section.

graphic design trends; poster design; Felix Pfaffli

Poster by Felix Pfaffli

Poster Design Trends

Thoughts from John Foster, Principal, Superintendent and assorted other big words, Bad People Good Things LLC

Poster Design Trends I Love: My favorite trend in poster design is the incredible innovation and experimentation occurring in typography in Europe. As a long time follower of the poster scene, it has been interesting to watch this grow and shift over the last decade. In an age where it seems like design is global, this still seems to fluctuate in a regional, or at least continental, manner. Ten years ago you would find no argument that the United States was home to the most exciting typography being plastered on posters. It was the culmination of the various schools of Carson, Sagmeister and Chantry forming an adventurous whirlwind of deconstruction and skill.

Currently, that mix is best displayed by the work of young Swiss designers like Felix Pfaffli, where you see the seeds sown by innovators like Martin Woodtli (perhaps the best possible bridge, as the man who famously cut type into Stefan Sagmeister’s flesh with a razor blade for his AIGA poster before returning to Switzerland and redefining the country’s storied poster tradition) being manipulated in playful and incredible ways. Large chunks of Europe are getting in on the game as well, with jaw-dropping (and highly commercial) type manipulations from Berlin’s Hort, to the fanciful work of the same city’s Zwolf. There is consistently amazing type being done at every turn, everywhere, with the poster often leading the way. But it is Europe that seems to be really innovating currently.

Poster Design Trends I Hate: The thing that always depresses me in poster design is the proliferation of horrible illustration. I don’t mean that in the sense that it is in a style that I don’t particularly care for, but rather that it is poorly executed. There has been a greater movement away from appropriation, yet it seems to have been replaced with shaky drawing and even worse digital tracing. The tracing makes me crazy, as it is usually seen in what are otherwise fairly competent posters, but makes for odd shapes where the shadows don’t match up from the reference materials to the subject matter needed for the concept.

These posters always seem to feature off-the-shelf textures as well, creating a weird world of sub Shepard Fairey covered walls. This also makes me appreciate folks like Methane Studios, who put together pretty intricate illustrations on a daily basis for their posters and never cease to deliver, regardless of variation in style. The other folks are bigger offenders in that they can’t draw, or paint, or even cut paper, yet don’t seem to know they would do well to either bring in a different illustrator, photograph the item they need or collage—or just do anything that takes their horrifying handiwork out the equation.

I love illustration, whether it is raw and simple and childlike, or highly detailed and intricate, but it has to be good. For all of the deliciously straightforward line work of a Ryan Duggan or Kate Bingaman-Burt, or the fanciful animals of a Diana Sudyka or Frida Clements, or psychedelic manipulation of a Zeloot or Ana Benaroya, there are thousands of shoddy executions and MS Paint-inspired disasters. The one good side effect is that it does make me appreciate those people mentioned, and the dozens of others at the top of their game, all the more.

John Foster is principal/superintendent and assorted other big words at Bad People Good Things. He has posters in galleries all over the world, as well as in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. He is the author of a healthy stack of books, including New Masters of Poster Design, New Masters of Poster Design: Volume Two and For Sale: Over 200 Innovative Solutions in Packaging DesignHe thinks you should read them all.

Infographic Design Trends

Shawn Hazen, Designer/Owner, Hazen Creative Inc.

Infographic Design Trends I Love: I’m definitely a disciple of The Church of Tufte, so I believe strongly that it’s the designer’s job to make information as clear and easy to comprehend as possible. The most satisfying infographics (to design and to look at) are the ones that give complex information a unique form that expresses its essence at a glance. Not just novel, but also meaningful, and tailored to the content itself. And if a little visual conceit creeps in that gives a little extra context or reflects the subject matter (like animal or organic forms in a bunch of farming statistics) then that’s a bonus that makes it more digestible and friendly.

I was excited when infographics starting going mainstream, because they really do make intimidating statistics and impenetrable research accessible. I enjoy looking at them in the publications I read, and I love making them for my clients, now that they’re asking for them! It’s the type of challenge designers embrace because it hits a lot of sweet spots: stripping things down, meticulous typography/layout, problem-solving, a thematic underpinning, interpreting/representing “the big idea” and the old “trying to do something new.”

Editor’s Note: For examples of the infographic trends Hazen loves, check out the following work from Good magazine: Grenade or Aid?, Productivity, Full House, Educating the Workforce of the Future; and the infographic design from Italian magazine Intelligence in Lifestyle (scroll down to see infographics).

ImageHandler.ashx.htmlInfographic Design Trends I Hate:
Maybe “hate” is a bit strong. If I hate anything, it’s that infographics have become a “trend”—in the ugly sense—in that they are being deployed just because they’re cool, not because they’re necessary. I was joking recently that infographics are the new icons. Just like icons are a design mainstay (even when it’s a bit of a stretch to use them), infographics are now being requested by clients everywhere—even when there’s not actually any “info” to convey. It’s about the look—it conveys a wonk-like credibility while also saying, “We’re breaking it down for you.”

What’s worse is when the info would have been better served by a simple pie-chart, bar graph or even just big numbers on a page, but the designer is so hell-bent on finding a new way to represent the info that they end up making it harder to read. Often, text is trimmed out of the story to make room for a pointless infographic, when the text itself was more direct. The assumption is “people don’t read, so let’s make it easy for them to ‘get it’ at a glance.” That’s great when it works. But if it doesn’t add anything to a simple statement of the facts, or worse, muddies the understanding of the facts, then what’s the point?

Shawn Hazen is an award-winning graphic designer. A former art director at Apple Computer and the founding designer for Dwell Magazine, he opened his own studio, Hazen Creative Inc., in Chicago in 2008. The studio focuses on branding, web and editorial design, and has been recognized by prestigious design competitions, magazines and books.