2010-2019: The Evolution of Design Trends in the Last Decade
Ten years already. It’s easy to say, but ten years is a lot of time, especially when it comes to the evolution of design trends.
A lot of things have happened in these years. The current design situation hasn’t always been like that. In fact, trends come and go. They adapt to changes and undergo transformations encouraged by technological developments and social narratives.
This means that the message delivered by designs is in constant change.
The design trends of the last decade go from minimalism and flat design to a much more risky approach characterized by abstract and impossible compositions. So, as you can see, we can’t deny that evolution is real and evident. We invite you to take a tour with us and see for yourself!
2010: Minimalism, vintage & social media boom
Technology experienced rapid growth since the beginning of the century. In 2010, machines were already an essential part of our lives, and we were constantly interacting with the Internet. Thus, as a reaction against the world ruled by technological developments, understandable and simple trends take hold in graphic design.
Minimalism became the top trend in 2010. Combined with neutral colors, minimalism aimed at offering a clean and simple design, running away from chaos and details.
Retro and vintage styles proved that old is the new gold. These trends became popular this year and never left the design sphere throughout the decade. Hipster designs were also popular during this year.
Apart from minimalism, other designs opted for powerful compositions with colors and playful patterns.
The emergence of new devices, like smartphones and tablets, generated new needs. Also, the increasing importance of social networks, like Instagram, and other platforms, like Dribble, offered a new way of visual communication that motivated designers to create new stuff.
2011: Responsive design, ribbons & diagonals
The top trend of 2011 was responsive design, a trend that aimed at creating different models suitable for diverse interfaces. It forced designers to reinvent themselves and think out of the box to come up with designs that fulfill the needs of responsive design.
Besides, Adobe launched this year Creative Cloud, offering a whole new world of possibilities to designers.
This year, geometric and simple shapes gained popularity.
However, we could affirm that ribbons were actually the dominant trend of 2011. Suddenly, web pages and other designs were filled with these types of shapes. Ribbons were generally used to frame a logo, the name of the brand, or an important part of the composition.
Although minimalism was still present, other trends emerged this year, such as diagonal design. The use of diagonals contributed to bringing particular chaos to the composition, keeping at the same time a sophisticated look.
Designs with a folded paper effect also stood out. We could see a lot of web sites incorporating this effect, which created a sense of reality, in an attempt to bring realism to the screen.
2012: Typography, simple shapes & Bauhaus
Notable in 2012 was the appearance of a great variety of typographic styles as a reaction to the neutrality and lack of different fonts on the web.
Handwritten typography and calligraphy received growing attention, and designers started to create their own fonts looking for authenticity and uniqueness.
Apart from handwritten style, another font trend that made its way through 2012 was DIY fonts, which were generated by using modular construction kits. These fonts allowed designers to create letters with different weights and colors. Typographies made of real objects also became a trend this year.
Simple shapes played a leading role, too, as a response to the excess of information. Following minimalist trends, the moiré style was used by many designers to create simple designs recreating an optical illusion.
It’s not surprising that the Bauhaus aesthetic made a return performance in 2012. This style uses color as an element of communication. It’s all about simple shapes and angular edges. Bauhaus style also evolved into a typographic trend using the basic features of this movement.
In the field of technology and tools, the arrival of HTML5 and CSS3 offered designers a whole new world of possibilities.
2013: Flat design, infographics & white space
Responsive design was increasingly popular and encouraged the emergence of other trends, like flat design. Little did we know then that it would turn out to be one of the most relevant trends of the decade.
Flat design became mainstream in 2013 after brands like Microsoft changed its approach and adopted the flat style for its brand-new Windows 8 operating system. One of the reasons why this flat trend took the world by storm is that it’s formed by simple and two-dimensional elements that offer users an optimal and streamlined experience.
White spaces were also significantly utilized this year, as well as minimalist portraits.
2013 was also the year of infographics. The advantage of infographics is that they’re easier to understand and can compile a lot of information in a limited space by combining text and images.
Apart from these trends, designers also strived for uniqueness and authenticity by using hand-drawn fonts and designs. In terms of typeface styles, retro designs remained in the top ranks through 2013. Also, this year we could see a predilection for sans serif fonts, which were modern and bolder.
We can’t leave 2013 without making reference to Instagram and the increasing popularity that retro filters got this year. This trend eventually influenced designs as well, especially in the following year.
2014: Low poly, neon colors & long shadow
We continued to see some of 2013’s leading trends, such as responsive design –which took up most of the designers’ projects– flat design and minimalism.
Typography was in constant change and evolution. 2014 designs opted for sans serif and bigger fonts, sometimes combined with handwritten typefaces.
The design field was influenced by Instagram’s retro filters. Many designs adopted this retro look inspired by the funk, pop, and jazz covers of the 70s and 80s.
Colorful geometric designs (low poly) and neon colors emerged timidly, breaking with the scheme of recent years and becoming the starting point for the following years.
In design, most trends are born as a reaction to current trends. Thus, it’s not surprising that flat design was also a victim of this desire for change. That’s the case of the long shadow effect (later known as Flat design 2.0), fostered by the launching of Google’s Material Design in 2014.
2015: Double exposure, pastels & lettering
2015 was a time of change. New and revolutionary trends emerged and paved the way to a modern understanding of design.
Innovative and original techniques entered in the design sphere this year, like the double exposure effect. Illustration began to receive growing attention and replaced stock images.
One of the most groundbreaking trends of 2015 was the integration of videos as a background for web pages. This achievement contributed significantly to the conception of web design.
Paisley pop effect gave a retro look to the year 2015. In terms of colors, bright pastels became the favorite choice for designers.
As for typography, it is in this year when free fonts such as Google fonts or Typekit appeared, making many different styles available for everyone. Lettering emerged as a new way of including text in designs, while handwritten typefaces and font combos were still trendy in 2015.
2016: Flat design 2.0, risograph & motion
Flat design 2.0 had a growing staying power. It arrived as an extension of flat design and then evolved into this new version incorporating depth, motion, and color plays. An example of the transition of flat design is the Monument Valley-inspired designs.
Designs with bright colors combined with pastels popped up in 2016, leaving behind the original neutrality of minimalism.
Typography never stops evolving. Designers wanted to differentiate through typography and go original. Tools like Glyphs made it easy to generate new fonts. In 2016, there’s a preference for bold typefaces and font combinations. Surprisingly, serif fonts began to appear in some designs.
As an attempt to take back traditional techniques, print-inspired designs developed into a trend in 2016. These designs imitated the risograph effect-a conventional printing process- and incorporated striking and neon colors and textures.
Designers also experimented with motion, thanks to 2D animation. In fact, adding movement to images and illustrations proved to be an effective way to catch users’ attention.
In contrast to clean and minimalist compositions, playful illustrations (even childish for some people) made their way through the design sphere. A clear example of this is the refreshed brand image adopted by Dropbox this year.
Retro designs were still there, but they experienced some updates in 2016, borrowing the aesthetic of the 80s, 90s, and the Memphis style. As a result, retro compositions were filled with bright colors, geometric shapes, and pixel art.
2017: Duotones, geometry & retro wave
2017 was an interesting year. Although some of the 2016’s trends materialized into this year, the design sphere experienced new influences that gradually grew popularity into the following years. These changes were mainly favored by new technological achievements, like screens’ improved resolution, that had an impact on the use of colors.
All of a sudden, designers turned on the color mode in their compositions, creating bright and vivid combinations. Duotones and gradients were the main influencers in 2017. In fact, well-known brands like Spotify or Instagram updated their image using lots of colors.
Geometric shapes, patterns, and lines gave a modern look to 2017. This step towards more modern compositions was also influenced by 3D designs, which fostered the appearance of abstract compositions in the upcoming years.
Font combos remained as a trend, although this time, designers went beyond the limits, and started combining fonts with images in order to get unique compositions.
It seemed that minimalism was already left behind. There was a preference for chaotic designs that exceeded the limits and were filled with details. Images combinations led to the appearance of collages, vivid and dynamic compositions that were happily adopted by a lot of poster designs of 2017.
Retro style also made its way through this year. 2017’s retro designs, though, presented a modern look. This old trend materialized into designs inspired by retro wave and brutalism. Retro wave is a style that combines 80’s elements with neon colors and backgrounds with palm trees evoking Miami style. On the other hand, brutalism recovered the aesthetics of the early 90s, especially web pages’ features.
2018: Glitch, papercut & chaotic compositions
This year’s trends reveal that designers just wanna have fun. 2018 welcomed new and innovative trends and techniques that introduced chaos and a futuristic vision. The hottest design trend this year was experimentation. Designers opted for fun compositions combining different elements, like fonts, images, and designs.
Effects like glitch and double exposure gained popularity in 2018. Beyond being trends, these styles challenged designers to play around with concepts and let their imagination fly.
The chaos that ruled 2017’s compositions was also present this year and spread to typography, leading to dynamic and vivid compositions. Another trendy typography style of the year was the arty style that allowed designers to play around with fonts and make them look broken, fragmented, or in movement.
It’s in 2018 when we first saw metallic elements in designs. This metallic effect usually was combined with vivid colors and 3D effects. It’s also a clear example that trends were moving away from simple and flat designs and evolved into more complex and detailed compositions.
Styles such as papercut or isometric design were also present in this year’s designs. And, of course, the retro style evolved into a modern look, becoming one of the designers’ favorite trends.
2018 showed its more artistic side with designs that combined hand-drawn illustrations with images. The union of these elements gave rise to impossible compositions that allowed designers to break with traditional concepts of design and photography.
2019: Antigravity, liquid effect & gen Z yellow
Experimentation is on the rise. 2019 witnessed the arrival of design trends that sought to differentiate from the rest and innovate.
3D effect played the main role this year and paved the way for new effects. Designers prefer chaotic and open compositions, challenging users’ imagination.
The metallic effect was also a trending style in 2019 and evolved into other forms like iridescent, antigravity, and liquid effects. All these innovations demonstrate that design adapted to social narratives of the moment, opting for dynamic and chaotic compositions in the search for freedom.
As a result of experimentation, designs that combine realism with flat design emerged, and concepts like augmented reality entered the design world.
Illustrations of 2019 also presented some differences from previous years. Think about noisy compositions, playful, with exaggerated proportions and dynamism. Another design trend that we are already familiar with is the nature theme. Lots of designs and illustrations include flowers and leaves in different styles.
Design is changing, and also does society. New generations are transforming current conceptions and establishing rules that previous generations didn’t explore. That’s the case of gen Z yellow, a bright and bold color that had a leading role in lots of 2019’s compositions and fashion trends.
What will happen in 2020?
It’s still too early to know exactly. Designers seem to follow the futuristic and abstract trends that emerged in the past two years.
However, we will still have to wait a few months to analyze the situation. It’s uncertain if what we expected in 2020 will be fulfilled or if these predictions will be altered by the uncommon situation that we’re all experiencing worldwide.
In the meantime, here’s some further reading about graphic design trends and upcoming fads:
Many things can happen in a decade. Retrospectives are always good for understanding evolution.
The last decade has been influenced by technological developments, which have changed the discourse of graphic design, especially in the first five years. In the second half of the decade, we see how design becomes more experimental, leading to impossible compositions. These changes can be appreciated both in web design and other types of graphic representations.
What is clear is that design and trends aren’t something isolated and that they respond to the changes happening around us. Reinventing yourself is essential to keep up with new trends. So, it seems that it’s time to take risks!