2018 Design Trends: Predictions from Top Creatives

Pulling these prediction pieces together every year gets more and more dizzying each time. In 2015, creatives were predicting the rise of animation and motion graphics. In 2016, we expected greater digital experiences and the solidifying of mobile-first technology. And now, in 2017, our focus turns greatly to augmented and virtual reality. Those little handheld computers we carry with us at all times are about to become even more important to designers everywhere.

Here are just some of the possible 2018 design trends we’ll be seeing after we ring in the New Year! 


Augmented and Virtual Reality

“Augmented Reality (AR) came back big this year and will continue to grow as one of the major trends in 2018. The comeback didn’t happen just because of all the hype related to Apple introducing it’s own framework ARkit to create AR experiences: With over two billion people currently using some kind of smartphone, AR growth came as a natural extension to 2D content we interact with on our screens.

“Apple’s ARkit definitely opens doors for app developers to create AR content faster and submit it into its store. At this point, it’s still the Wild West when it comes to quality AR content – and Apple is definitely picky when it comes to what type of AR app they want to see in its store. Functionality is definitely the key to success when it comes to creating a potentially popular AR app. It’s not just about one 3D model you can interact with on the screen, it’s more about  how you can change this 3D model, apply different textures to it in real time, and so on.

“The retail industry will definitely be a big consumer of AR, especially on the B2B level. Really soon we will see planners and architects picking up materials for their next project by pointing their phones on the floors (for example) and seeing how applying different types of hardwood or carpeting on it reflects on their screens. From furniture layout to games to education and entertainment, AR will play a major role in 2018 and beyond.”

Denis Krylov, Co-Founder and Partner, Transparent House

“The period ahead is going to require a different type of sensitivity to users that goes beyond traditional UX and gets worked out on graffles with imaginary users behind digital surfaces. This is because neural networks are allowing computers to hear and see humans and react in more human ways. Companies like Google are turning AI into a commodity that can be integrated into a huge range of products that will quickly bring the intelligence into homes, cars and workspaces. Headphones will bring its far-reaching possibilities into the spaces that remain. Turning this technology into something legitimately helpful will require designers to interview, roleplay and research other people with specific tasks like never before. It’s going to require a whole new sensitivity.”

—David Lehman, Design Director, HUSH

“Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are coming to a museum near you! Used mostly for gaming and watching videos the last few years – and even as a design tool in the architecture and construction industry – museums are discovering how to use VR and AR to share educational content, tell stories, and give visitors a unique experience. Walk the floor of any museum conference expo and you’ll see vendors promoting VR and AR hardware, software, and content. The keynote speaker at the 2017 Association of Science and Technology conference was Brendan Iribe, co-founder of Oculus. We just completed a 10-person VR experience at the First Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, and visitors absolutely love it. Exhibit designers, and other creative professionals, will continue to explore ways for VR and AR to enhance storytelling.”

—Kevin Snow, Creative Director, Luci Creative

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“Virtual Reality (VR) has been a big trend in the past years and is now established really well in medical, real estate and some parts of the entertainment industries. The challenge of VR remains that it requires additional hardware. With AR you can interact with content by simply using your phone screen.”

Denis Krylov, Co-Founder and Partner, Transparent House

“The future demands multi-layered experts, individuals who can speak multiple technical languages and will use them to extend the penetration of the disruptive technologies that have defined so much of the past decade. Understanding websites alone or apps alone will not enable us to design meaningful interaction in the era of AI. The multi-touch interface will be replaced by voice and image even faster than touchscreens replaced the mouse and keyboard. Building the world that this new method of interaction will enable will demand that we broaden the horizon of imagined user experience and begin to understand what this foundational level of interaction will enable and the pitfalls that should be avoided. Attention spans are quickly reaching zero. People want the right information immediately and with minimal effort. Unlike touch interfaces, the world of AI is more dependent upon computational horsepower than slick, new, user-owned hardware. This means that designers will need to have a very functional understanding of the limitations of developing technology to make sure they design solutions that don’t invite unreasonable expectation. The boundary between functional AI and Star Trek AI is going to be murky for the next few years, during which time we can expect all sorts of awkward situations with people talking to machines that either don’t hear them or don’t understand their language.”

—David Lehman, Design Director, HUSH

“The biggest trend I see is bridging the gap between physical (analog/disconnected) and digital (connected).

“Of course, this is all driven by the internet, software and the next tech revolution, AI/AR. Making the inanimate – animated and the dumb – smart.

“But I actually see it as a two-way street. The physical experience is getting more digital and connected. But the digital experience is actually is taking on more physical qualities. What I mean by that is we are creating more immersive, human-centric and life-like experiences in digital world. One of the best examples of that this year was what Google did to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hip-Hop. The Google Doodle takeovers have been around for a while but this was on another level. They brought in innovative tech and created an immersive, lifelike experience that brought some “pixels” to life and and had them take on a whole new meaning. The experience transcended the Google brand and medium (Doodle) as evidenced by the sheer joy (and buzz) this created for people worldwide.”

—Ivan Entchevitch, Creative Director, SET

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Branding + Business

“One 2017 trend that I very much hope will continue, is that clients came to us not simply to execute design, but to help concept the creative ideas from ground zero. We’ve been tasked with writing scripts and helping to develop key communication points, and most projects were totally turnkey. Our Cutters Studios family was vital to the success of much of our work this year because we were able to do everything from design to production and post under the same virtual roof. Our take on creative is executionally agnostic, and we found that our clients were very open to our unique way of approaching creative; many chose us specifically based upon our unique point of view. Personally, I love that the lines of what we are known for and what we are commissioned for keep getting blurred. Gone are the days of straight-up design and motion graphics execution. Moving forward into 2018, I hope that this trend towards more inclusive collaboration with our creative partners continues to grow with new and interesting opportunities.”

—Jason Cook, Creative Director, Flavor

“Two thousand eighteen will be the year that all brands become lifestyle brands. If KFC can get in on the enamel pin and pillow case game, anyone can make a go of it. And they should. Pushing your brand into every corner of your customer’s life is presumptuous and obtrusive. But if you can make yourself so integral (or maybe even just fun or easy), they might invite you along for the ride. I don’t need a Nutella sleeping bag, but do I want one? Maybe

“Some brands with enough existing clout might try to go it alone like KFC. But the really savvy ones, the ones that need it the most, will forge smart partnerships with similarly-minded companies, just like Coors Banquet and Brixton did this year.

“Then again, 2018 might yield more cross-archetype collabs like Star Wars and rag + bone, allowing folks to revel in the infinitesimally small cross-section of their own personal Venn diagram. These mash-ups are fun, as they expose two extremely niche, incredibly passionate, nearly opposite fanbases to one another just to see what happens.

“Expect the unexpected. It’s gonna be another wild year.”

—Kyle Kastranec, Associate Creative Director, Ologie

“As consumers become ever more accustomed to comparing prices, exploring options and ultimately making purchases online, real world retail environments will continue to be rethought and redesigned. Rather than simply facilitating transactions, brands will need to design their brick and mortar locations to let customers experience not only their products and services, but the essence of what makes their brand differentiated from the competition. Today, this often manifests into hands-on, digitally-led experiences that guide the consumer into the purchase funnel.”

—Dan Carter, Creative Director of North America, SET Live

“Expectations will rise for brands to use design to push beyond the expected and challenge the industries that they are in by pulling influence from emergent cultural, behavioral, and graphic trends outside of their category and using them to craft bold design statements that truly differentiate and tell a story. Whether it’s embracing human imperfection, custom crafted type, unexpected color palettes, or social media-influenced layouts, designers will be expected to think holistically, strategically, and find new ways to differentiate. Companies like Chobani have brought in house high-level talent to redesign their brand from the inside-out, which resulted in designs that at first glance may appear inappropriate for their category but is actually an immersive look into the brand, the product, and its audience. It’s embracing heritage and redefining the future, while also being very human and showing more than just products.”

—Karen Yau, Design Director, Brand Union

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“People have grown weary of BS. Design that’s born from authenticity will cut through the over-thought clutter and resonate with consumers. Successful brands will continue to distill and refine their graphic language using it to create genuine experiences and honest social media, achieving clarity with minimal content.”

—Michael Nielsen, Senior Designer, Archrival

“Voice is quickly becoming the new interface for brand.

“Brands need to differentiate themselves like never before and one of the best ways for them to do this is through their brand voice. Brand voice is what makes customers feel as though they’re talking to a person vs. a machine, which is how you build trust and connections. Consider the differences between speaking to Alexa vs. Amazon.

“There are a few core principles to getting your brand voice right: simplifying messaging, empathizing with your customers, showing candor even when things aren’t going to plan, and embracing personality. The brands who have the courage to commit to these principles are the ones who will win the trust and attention of their customers in 2018.”

—Connie Birdsall, Creative Director, Lippincott

Product packaging design is one of the most interesting graphic design categories. It is everywhere, it requires a high level of skill, it influences purchasing behavior, and it has the potential to inspire. Packaging design is always changing to meet the wants and needs of consumers and stand toe-to- toe with competitors at the point of sale. At 99designs, we spend a lot of time each fall thinking about the exciting graphic design trends to look out for in the coming year. We teamed up with one of our top level designers, Martis Lupus to share top 10 packaging design trends to look out for in 2018.

—Pamela Webber, Chief Marketing Officer, 99designs


Animation & Motion Graphics

“2017 was an exciting and evolutionary year for us in a lot of ways, where the project opportunities challenged us and spanned across every aesthetic approach you can imagine… and some that defy description. Still, there is something awesome about knowing that animation and illustration remain at the forefront of innovative storytelling from the perspectives of many brand and agency executives. Take our project with Pereira & O’Dell for Timberland as one example. When you think about the unique brand positioning of Timberland, and apply a creative idea where hip-hop legend Nas takes on the role of spokesperson… the possibilities became endless. We may be biased (okay, we’re totally biased), but the approach from Pereira & O’Dell seems to be the best of the best. Collectively, we found the right way to tell the right stories, and they invited us to break new ground in creative, animated storytelling. Better yet, the work has struck all the right chords with the media, Nas’ own massive fan-base, and the target audiences for Timberland and Footlocker.

“This campaign is called “The Legend Continues with Nas,” and seeing how far the animated content has traveled through earned media, owned marketing channels, key influencers, across social media, in-store and even in massive and “out of home” executions, it seems safe to say that the overall effort is elevating the legends of everyone involved to higher levels. To us, this means that story-driven animations will continue to impress across platforms and mediums, breaking through on the snackable social outlets and allowing bigger, sophisticated brands to engage in more clever ways with their ever-younger audiences.”

William Campbell and Will Johnson, Co-Founders and Co-Directors, Gentleman Scholar

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Digital vs. Physical Experience

“In 2018 we’ll continue to see a growing trend of creating “Instagrammable moments” in museums, concert and sport venues, and hotels and restaurants. Since nearly everyone is now a real-time smartphone socializer, brands and cultural institutions are picking up on the lure toward photo ops, and how they can provide free mass-marketing. Popular attractions like LA’s Happy Place and the Ice Cream Museum – along with scores of new museum exhibits – are pulling in visitors eager to have experiences and share them online. Instagram and Snapchat aren’t creating smartphone zombies – they’re pushing people out into the world. With museums, we believe that there are ways to improve visitor experiences, offer learning opportunities and educational programming, and increase attendance through well designed photo ops.”

—AJ Goehle, Principal, Luci Creative

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Numbers In Nature Exhibit Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

“Changing user experiences based on their behavior has always been the north star, but personalization also includes designing for our clients. We’ve pushed and will continue to push building sites, apps, and interactive experiences that feel unique to them and their brand. Custom photography, personal voice and tone, and interface design all need to reflect our client, not just the predefined standards of designing for web.”

—Joe Gray, Associate Creative Director, The1stMovement

“But another trend we hope to see in 2018 is as old as retail itself: remembering that well-designed brand experiences means having well trained, motivated and engaging employees. These people remain the best and most important part of any brand engagement: a good experience will dramatically raise the likelihood of a sale, whereas a rude or negative interaction will likely turn the consumer off your brand for good. Brands should understand this balance, keeping staff engaged, motivated and invested in making the consumer experience as exciting as possible, augmented by excellently designed (and regularly updated) digital and physical touch points that facilitate positive interactions and ultimately drive sales.”

—Dan Carter, Creative Director of North America, SET Live

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“As larger amounts of content are absorbed online, I think we’re going to see more and more of a push toward linear experiences. The journey itself may be selected by the user, but storytelling within is already making a comeback. I think we’ll see more of this. To make a callback to Rich Animations, I think those will be the approaches we use to tell those more linear, narrative stories.”

—Joe Gray, Associate Creative Director, The1stMovement 

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