The 2020s have only just begun, but can we all agree it’s been a whirlwind so far? Our new way of life has changed the way we communicate and consume media, and this shift from physical to digital has ushered in a new era of graphic design. As tends to be the case, new, up-and-coming trends reflect the temperature of the moment … and the temperature of the moment we’ve been living in?
‘Taketh us as far away from our present reality as humanly possible.’
A tendency towards escapism amidst a global pandemic should come as a surprise to no one, really; but this new demand has prompted our team at Avenir to take a step back and unpack how societal circumstances as a whole impact the content we consume, and how we consume it. Join us as we take a deep dive into the Pandemic’s influence on graphic design trends, and what this means for how our content can be adapted to appeal to audience needs.
Escapism & Whimsy
You may recognize escapist art by its combined retro and futuristic elements, or its psychedelic whimsy. One core escapist feature is its tendency to prompt audiences to get lost in it, noticing more and more little details the longer they look. Naturally, when things aren’t going so well in the real world, the impulse to indulge in other-worldly art seems like an inevitability — graphic design has been no exception. One article calls on creators to excite audiences through incorporating escapism in web design and social posts. While indulging in escapism may seem a bit melancholy, there is inherent creativity to pushing stylistic boundaries and thinking outside of the box.
Another article highlights colorful, fun graphic design elements as particularly popular, resembling a societal shift towards consumption of lighter content. Simply put? When the world seems dark, our content might as well be light. The fact of the matter is that nowadays, audience thresholds for somber content are quite a bit lower, and many now prefer content that captures the simplicity of childhood. This has inspired a wave of simple, cartoon-ish graphic elements, taking the place of more sophisticated styles that have dominated in years past.
Avenir employed this strategy when developing a brand concept for Sobriety on the Sand, a sober retreat for gay men from all recovery programs, coinciding with the great post-quarantine return to normalcy(-ish). Avenir and our client were drawn to a lighter design concept. The graphics for this project, awash with bright colors, quirky imagery, and more puns than most humans can handle, were ultimately highly successful, expertly walking the line between serious and lighthearted. Check out some of our favorites here:
Nostalgia – another form of escapism – also entered the chat in a big way in 2021. Defined by a somewhat misrepresented wistfulness for a time past, nostalgia creates a sense of longing for a different ‘simpler’ time. This trend has shown up in marketing many times over the years, but never more prominently than 2021, for somewhat obvious reasons. ‘Retro’ aesthetics dominated marketing trends over the past year, taking the form of 50’s black & white, 70’s primary colors, and really every decade in between.
Note: whether or not these really were ‘simpler’ times is up for debate. We think a few groups would beg to differ – but this conflict gives us a great opportunity as marketers to reinvent retro themes for a modern audience.
Another article reinforces this trend for 2022, with nostalgia pertaining specifically to ’90s and early 2000s aesthetics. In just one article listing 12 graphic design trends to look out for in 2022, three are dominated by the 1990s-2000s era, in the forms of 90s nostalgia, Y2K, and Grunge Revival. For some of the biggest consumers of digital media, Millennials and Generation Z, this era aligns with young childhood, so it is no wonder that their sentimentality is bringing it back to the surface.
KYA – Know Your Audience
This is where knowing your audience becomes essential. While the Pandemic has shifted how we all consume content, knowing specifically which era will tickle your audience’s nostalgia-bone is likely to increase engagement. Let’s say you have a community of Boomers on your hand — evoking the simpler days of Pac-man and Rubik’s cubes* is as simple as one 80s neon-futuristic Instagram post. So perhaps try throwing your content back!
We all know that digital media has a great impact on popular culture, but what we are now finding in these unprecedented times is that this relationship goes both ways. Our new circumstances have marked a great shift in how audiences consume and respond to certain content, raising questions about how future global events will influence popular design. In the meantime, checking in with your audience can help you make more informed design decisions, and help you keep up with the times.
By the way, it’s Rubik’s, not Rubix, in case you’re suffering from the Mandela Effect and are living an alternate reality.