Top 6 Design Trends of 2016


What we loved, what we hated, what we predict for 2017

The unpredictable, fast-hurling year that we call 2016 is coming to a close. Let’s be real – we saw a lot of changes in the last 12 months. We lost legends like David Bowie, Mohammed Ali and Gene Wilder. Bob Dylan became the first musician ever to win a Nobel Prize in Literature – and then declined his invitation to the ceremony. Apple released the iPhone 7 without a headphone jack (gasp!). And we all lived through a bitter election that I think we can agree not to talk about. Instead, let’s take a look at the fresh design trends that rocked our world – for better or worse – in 2016.

1. Flat art

What it is: Flat art is a clean, colorful design style that uses white space, simple shapes and subtle gradients. Bonus: The style’s simplicity is user-friendly and makes for faster loading times, which could account for its recent uptick in web design.


What we thought: Flat art is a trend that comes back again and again in different styles. We love it because it’s easy to mix with other design elements, as well as photography and typography. Associate Creative Director Susan Breen is drawn to it because, “Flat art creates high impact and is visually interesting.”

2. Animation

What it is: We all know that animation means motion, right? But in terms of a trend, we’ve seen animation (forgive the wordplay) come to life this year in terms of 2D animations, cinemagraphs, animated logos and hover animations.

What we thought: Animation is a clever way to appeal to audiences with decreasing attention spans in the age of technology. Its motion and color grab attention quickly and can accomplish things photography can’t, such as product demonstrations or complex processes. Creative Director Eric Jacobs says, “Animation gives us whole new set of tools – like sound and movement – for telling captivating stories. The subtly of these tools allows you to be relevant without distracting from the core message or overall design.” Check out the animated annual report we created for Lorain Library!

3. Typography and hand-drawn lettering


What it is: At first glance, you might think typography and hand-drawn lettering are the same thing. However, typography is the art of arranging type, while hand-drawn lettering is the illustration of letterforms – by hand. Both exploded this year.

What we thought: Holy letterforms, batman! The design world did just about everything we could do with type in 2016. We stacked it, we mono-lined it, we shot it back several decades with retro fonts, and we illustrated the heck out of it. Overall, we adore all the experimentation, and we’ve seen some really intriguing styles emerge. However, Alicia Jordan, graphic designer and hand-drawn lettering specialist, admits, “I’m kind of over watercolor lettering. It feels like that song that I once loved, until it was overplayed on the radio. Watercolor was elegant and fresh at first, but people started slapping it on everything, often using it where it conflicted with other design elements.”

4. Geometric shapes

What it is: Partly influenced by flat art and also related to the modern retro design trend (think early video games), geometric shapes have become a popular design motif. The trend can play out in a variety of ways but often uses uniform, faceted shapes with sharp angles.

What we thought: More than any, this trend reminds us how truly subjective design styles can be. Eric identifies geometric shapes as the trend that excited him most in 2016, noting that it’s “a great way to create depth and movement.” But Graphic Designer Ash Engelhardt cringes when she sees those telltale polygons. She says, “Geometric shapes are very overused. I avoid it if I can.” The verdict? We’re pretty sure Ash can beat Eric in arm wrestling, so we’re ruling to take a break from geometric shapes.

5. Simple-shape logos

What it is: Inspired by minimalism, many brands have been rethinking their logos this year. The simplistic forms found in flat design, along with bold colors and smart use of negative space, have added a modern flair to many logos, including the new marks for Instagram and Kodak.


What we thought: We dig it. With the words “white space” in our name, it’s pretty clear that we can get on board with a “less is more” mentality. Of course, we stress that simple-shape logos need to be right for your brand. Graphic Designer Erin Shippy says, “When considering a minimalist logo, you have to ask, ‘How much does this company need to communicate?’ If you’re confident you can capture what a brand stands for, the payoff can be incredible. And you’ve given your client immense versatility.”

6. Illustration

What it is: Hand-drawn illustration has been around since, well, hieroglyphics. Recently, designers have been brushing off their sketchpads and pencils and introducing custom illustrations into their work to add whimsy, feel more personal or just ensure that a brand’s design is one-of-a-kind.


What we thought: We couldn’t be happier. Any time we can infuse our strategy with a genuine human connection and craftsmanship, we consider it a good day’s work. Graphic Designer and resident illustrator Matt Labyk says, “I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot more illustration this year – especially in conjunction with fun color schemes.”

Should aulde design trends be forgot…

With New Year’s just around the corner, we feel confident in making at least a few predictions for 2017. In the coming year, we foresee more animation, more illustration and more minimalism…if it’s paired with hand-drawn lettering. And maybe this is getting nit-picky, but we’re ready to give Helvetica a rest. Enough already!

Want to see how these trends (and others) could help enhance your brand? Reach out to our team. Or share your own predictions for next year with us here. We won't hold you to them – we promise!


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