12 inspiring graphic design trends for 2023
The 2023 graphic design trends have arrived for another year of aesthetic revivals and new experiments in creativity. But compared to past trends, what sets 2023 apart?
While design comes from creative minds, trends are also borne out of the context of their time. Last year saw the world recovering from a pandemic, and design trends favored comfortable nostalgia and colorful expression. Much of that optimism remains in 2023, but it has been strained through this year’s rising inflation around the world, the ever advancing climate crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Designers respond to these circumstances in a number of ways. Some lean toward excitement and curiosity for what’s ahead as technology inspires them to explore the unknown. While others react to constraints and anti-establishment sentiment with defiance, through styles ranging from escapist yearning to rebellious innovation. One thing is certain: the 2023 graphic design trends are already shaping up to be an eclectic moment in the story of graphic design.
The top 12 graphic design trends for 2023:
- Risoprint reimagined
- Punk revival
- Retro line art
- Airbrush surrealism
- Folk botanical
- 90s space psychedelia
- Mixed dimension
- Acid graphics
- Experimental escapism
- Complex compositions
- Abstract gradient
In a design context, mysticism involves iconography that relates to astrology and divination. The trend relies heavily on popular symbolism, including zodiac signs, all-seeing eyes, lotus flowers and sacred geometry. As in ages past, these symbols act as talismans, infusing the natural and celestial world with occult and deeper meaning.
From a purely visual standpoint, there is an inherent gentleness to these designs. They are constructed with thin lines and organic curves that feel light and delicate. Colors become calming when subdued through muted tones. And the imagery of moons, stars and meditative faces evoke uplifting peace, an escape from earthly concerns that offers hope and solace. All of this is what gives the trend its mass appeal: you don’t have to believe in tarot cards to experience the serenity of mystic designs.
Risograph was a mid-80s printing technique developed by the Riso Kagaku Corporation in Japan. It paved the way for cheap bulk printing by using dots and desaturated colors, with the result that images were often grainy and unintentionally stylized with double exposures.
In 2023, risograph printing is being reimagined for digital, abstract graphics. Its grainy textures add depth and noise to minimalist shapes. This has inspired many designers to create surreal valleys of abstraction with a touch of vintage flair. When depicting real characters, risograph textures and colors are combined with exaggerated caricatures and simplified features, transforming the familiar into the unfamiliar. Ultimately, this trend blurs the line between basic shapes and machine processes.
Vintage colorful shades with noisy gradients. It reminds me of an old printing process and really leaves an impression on the viewer. The visuals make me feel like I am exploring another world and I feel like I just get lost in the interesting atmosphere of the design.”
Punk is a rebellious counterculture with roots as early as the Dada movement of the 1920s. Since then, it has never really gone away—it was born on the fringes of society, and there it persists. But 2023 is witnessing a revival of its mass appeal, as everyday people are finding ample cause to rail against failing systems. Not only has the exponential wealth gap become more glaring at the onset of a recession, but the death of the UK’s monarch in 2022 has also ignited renewed opposition to the monarchy and its colonial legacy.
Aesthetically, punk tends to be characterized by DIY techniques like scribbled lettering, cutouts, mismatched fonts and chaotic collages. Punk design is an overall rejection of opulence and decorum. It is not afraid to be messy because life is messy, and audiences find comfort in this honesty. Additionally, these jumbled arrangements are visually energetic—you can almost hear the outcry of frustration in the jagged edges and graffiti splatter.
In 2023, many designers are turning to minimal line art to create illustrations that are humorous and fun. This is a retro style that recreates the nostalgic memory of drawing with felt-tip markers.
The simplicity of the line art lends itself to a cartoonish style (like thick outlines and rubber hose limbs), which is why the trend is a natural fit for more light-hearted projects. And because these drawings are so minimal, they can handle ultra-bright colors without overwhelming the viewer. To enhance the retro effect, many designers pair these illustrations with throwback bubble fonts and design features reminiscent of vintage magazine ads, such as oval borders and starburst stickers.
Surrealism is an enduringly popular design approach for its novelty and endlessly inventive weirdness. But in 2023, surrealism is getting an unexpected pairing with 80s airbrush techniques, as soft retro filters are overlaid onto strange, chimeric imagery.
This produces a gauzy effect that subdues the usual disorientation surrealism invokes, blanketing the graphic in a uniform haze. It’s as though we’re recalling the image from a half-remembered dream. In some cases, the blurring of color creates a soft glow, making the image feel inviting and transcendent. All in all, airbrush surrealism fosters approachability as if to suggest that the strange has now become ordinary.
Patterns are a staple in graphic design, useful for providing backgrounds or framing content. And nature is a common subject matter for patterns, as mixtures of leaves, fruits and vines create compositions as lively as a forest. But in 2023, nature patterns are getting a little less refined through shaky doodles, rough textures and incongruous coloring.
This trend reinterprets familiar nature themes into unexpected, whimsical drawings. It also rejects the geometrical precision too often imposed by vector art tools. But the vibrancy in these patterns does not only come from the plants but from the shaky imperfections of the human hand. The effect is to make digital artworks feel organic in more ways than one.
The paint-textures give designs a lively look, and I hope we’ll be able to see more usage of hand-made textures. Some customers still prefer “too smooth” and “polished” designs, but imperfections are really cool
Last year, 60s psychedelia made a return to graphic design through escapism, luring viewers into dense, colorful worlds. In 2023, the trend is continuing this momentum to infinity and beyond, but this time through 90s space psychedelia.
While psychedelia often takes its inspiration from nature (consider the multicolored clouds and melting mushrooms in many such compositions), space psychedelia is about marrying the future and the past. It features 90s retro techniques like Memphis Design patterns, Saturday morning cartoon styles and colors reminiscent of Lisa Frank school supplies. And it mixes in futuristic themes, like androids and spaceships, vaporwave landscapes, simulated environments and cyberpunk neon. With these bright, imaginative illustrations, the designers of 2023 are looking to the technological future with optimism.
As many of us dreamers in our nature, we’re trying to use these good nostalgic vibes to build some new reality. A mix of retro and futuristic styles looks really great now as we’re relearning to explore this world.
By Hurca ! via Behance
The more time that we spend in online spaces rather than physical ones, the less clear the boundaries between the two can appear. And in 2023, graphic designers are shattering that boundary completely by working digital illustrations into real-life photography.
While merging the artificial and actual might sound dystopian, this trend is much more focused on joy and whimsy. Vibrant splashes of color and grinning cartoons are emphasizing the contrast between the disparate elements.
It also shows the world as we might like it to be, a place of discovery and wonder. When life sometimes feels gloomy, it is the imaginative power of art that offers escape and reminds us that we are capable of creating magic, if we just put our minds to it.
Acid graphics, sometimes referred to as Y2K grunge, are the next stage of the Y2K revival that began last year. This trend features grimy textures, chrome metallics, broken grids and amorphous shapes. It’s the rare nostalgia that favors darkness over fond memories, given that it was born out of the late 90s goth subculture.
The acid graphics trend fits in with adjacent styles like brutalism and anti-design because it’s so moody and often uses computer glitches, crowded text and messy layers. As in those movements, acid graphics present a darker side to the internet, finding their best expression on websites, album covers and social media posts. It is a style that contemplates whether the future of digital art will be geared more so toward computers than human eyes.
Y2K and the gothic subculture, specifically referencing “Mall Goth,” started in the late 90s and in reference to the commercialization of gothic culture. Since then it has had a resurgence on apps like Instagram and Tik Tok.
Last year escapism became a dominant theme in graphic design, as creatives sought to draw viewers into mesmerizing, imaginative worlds. The trend is still going strong into 2023, but now escapism is getting experimental.
Much of this experimentation is inspired by recent advances in technology, as 2022 witnessed the viral emergence of AI-generated art, the Metaverse and the interstellar images made possible by the James Webb Space Telescope. These have left their mark on the creative industry. Designers are taking inspiration from all of these technological experiments and merging them with their own creative expertise.
The result is exploratory compositions that feel like windows into the digital psyche. This brand of escapism has darkness and moodiness to it, containing impossible landscapes that are artificial yet still conceptually adventurous. This year, designers are leading us deeper into the artistic unknown than we’ve ever been.
Programs like DALL-E and Midjourney are making creating art with AI accessible to all. I have seen some amazing explorations, especially in typography that I believe will continue to change how we think about design and look at the world around us.
Storytelling is at the heart of graphic design—even when it is conveying abstract traits, it uses cohesive visuals to fit those traits into a narrative about a brand. In 2023, visual storytelling is getting both more literal and more abstract through complex compositions. These are illustrations that contain several “scenes” rolled into one. One character might be snapping a photo, another might be paddling a canoe and yet another might be cresting a mountain—all in the same composition.
Although these designs are dense, they are often stylistically minimal, which supports the inclusion of several elements without exhausting the viewer. Because these scenes tend to favor landscape orientations, they are becoming a favorite on website headers or as featured images for news articles and blogs. This trend not only keeps the viewer’s eye moving through an engaging visual, but it also reinforces the idea that we live on a spectrum, in a world of multiple stories happening all at once.
Gradients, or color transitions, have been on trend for a while now, and yet, they somehow manage to keep us on our toes each year. Gradients in 2023 are no exception: this time, they are expressed in abstract shapes and diffused in blurs.
The oblong, organic forms of abstract gradients create a feeling of weightlessness, in harmony with their effervescent coloring. The noisy edges add a touch of realism, as though these gradients consist of windswept, multicolored sand. Due to their soft colors, gradients are naturally calming and the fluidity of abstract gradients bolsters this effect. And because gradients don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, there is comfort in their reliable presence.
Abstract gradients have already been building up popularity in recent years, but they’ve suddenly gained more allure in modern graphic design lately that I’ve started to think about how they’ve become that quintessential creative trend that will continue to be huge and evolve in 2023.
Ready for the biggest 2023 graphic design trends?
The 2023 graphic design trends are another exciting chapter in the evolution of art. As a vehicle for mass communication, graphic design is intimately tied to the public consciousness. Each trend provides a creative outlet for the concerns facing the masses.
Mysticism, abstract gradients and botanical patterns offer serenity through uplifting visuals. Risoprint, space psychedelia and complex compositions offer escapes into dazzling, exciting worlds. Retro cartoons soothe viewers with the nostalgia of the past while experimental escapism looks forward to the compelling strangeness of the future. And through it all, punk is returning to rebel against the general state of the world. Even as economic austerity threatens to impose limits on daily life, the graphic design of 2023 remains a veritable force of ingenuity and innovation.
Author 99designs Team
The 99designs team is a rag-tag group of color-loving,
creativity-celebrating, typography-appreciating, idea enthusiasts.
Most of us like dogs.