The biggest trends in graphic design for 2023, as predicted by the creative industry
The job of the graphic designer may have changed a lot lately, but the good news is that the discipline is still in demand more than ever indeed. As businesses battle to survive the coming recession, good design will help them stand out visually, connect with their audiences, and create the brand loyalty they so desperately need.
That means the best graphic designers should not want for work in 2023, although at the same time, you may be expected to do more than ever. It’s no longer good enough to only design for print or even digital. There’s also motion, AR, VR, mixed reality and more. The good news is that good design is always good, whatever the platform. So as you stick to the same design fundamentals that have carried you so far, you should be in a strong place.
And at Creative Boom, we’ll continue to play our part in bringing you the best graphic design news, resources, interviews and case studies that we always have. So you won’t go short of graphic design inspiration or advice over the next 12 months.
To that end, we thought we’d gather some industry opinion to help you navigate the next year of no-doubt choppy waters. In this article, we bring together experts from across graphic design who share their thoughts, fears and hopes for 2023. After all, forewarned is forearmed!
Trend 1: A revolution in design tools
Arguably the biggest change in graphic design in 2023 won’t be what our designs look like or how they function but how we make them. “If late 2022 was defined by the emergence of AI in art and design, I think we’re really on the edge of a design tool nirvana,” believes Nick Hill of Re Design.
“Plugins and tools have always been around but stuck behind tricky workflows,” he explains. “Tools like Figma helped democratise the ‘plugin’, and at Re, we now use the software for so much more than what it was clearly originally intended for. Apps like Runway have made inpainting and masking content, which used to take hours of specialised work, available in minutes. There’s been a recent resurgence in parametric type design that I’m really excited about. And tools such as Cavalry are bringing procedural and node-based design, previously only possible in expensive 3D software, into 2D.”
Most importantly, this removes the barrier of entry or the skill threshold to the design profession. “The playground is growing far wider, and it’s becoming easier for creatives to plug in and play,” Nick notes. “Maybe that will mean creatives can focus more on the big ideas and the curation of themes than on a single output.
“The tension is whether we can use this growing space almost ‘invisibly’ or that the tools become too evident and repetitive in work,” he adds. “I’ve got no idea what tool or app might become a ‘can’t live without’ by the end of 2023… and that’s pretty cool.”
Trend 2: Brands look for human connection
In the chaotic, post-pandemic world we’re entering in 2023, people will be craving connection: moments that make us smile, says Kenneth Johnston-Cowley, design director at MadeBrave. “The most immersive way to do this is rich brand photography and film. Can our audiences see themselves in the brand, either literally through photography and film or through tone of voice?”
He offers MadeBrave’s recent Velux campaign and the new wealth management brand they’ve created for atomos, as examples of this principle being put into action. “To stand out in the sometimes clinical world of finance, authentic and human storytelling focuses on ‘hopes and dreams’ moments that communicate the brand in a very intimate way,” Kenneth explains. “This image style is framed by a graphic system that leaves space for interpretation. For example, imagery is cropped in a dynamic way to suggest the story continues.”
Another example he points to is the recent A British Original campaign for BA by Uncommon London, “with its limitless executions of relatable reasons to travel and clever timelessly modern art direction. Through all of these examples, the design elements act as an understated facilitator for authentic human storytelling, which is exactly what they need to do.”
Trend 3: Designing for a hyper-reality
Once upon a time, graphic designers created work exclusively for print. Then the rise of personal computing shifted attention to digital. Now, it seems we’re going through a further revolution.
“Today, designers are expected to be multi-specialised in both physical and digital spaces, and the future is a blend between Al, AR, VR, MR and IRL to create fully immersive brand experiences,” explains Holly Karlsson, creative director at Bulletproof. “These areas are not new, but they are evolving quickly and go way beyond the traditional concept of graphic design. And that makes it an exciting time to be a creative.
“3D OOH billboards offer hyper-realistic and immersive brand experiences,” says Holly, “blurring the lines between technology and reality. Then there are Al data sculptures, such as the mesmerising work of Refik Anadol and the emergence of Al image generation based on machine learning, such as DALL-E 2. We need not be afraid to educate ourselves. Instead, we should embrace these evolving mediums and use them to our advantage whilst drawing on our more traditional design skills.”
Callum Goodger, senior designer at ShopTalk/DEPT , adds that: “2023 will be the year where AI-generated content will be available to the masses, with new ways in which this software can aid creative output. But designers will need to stay ahead and cautious of automated technology like DALL-E and decide if they want to integrate them into their work. The continued evolution of Web 3.0 gives artists and designers ownership like never before, so we may see further adoption of ‘house styles’ and design as ‘art’.”
Trend 4: Retrofuturism
While new technological possibilities are exciting, how will they actually influence the look of our work? “Design trends are leaning into what can roughly be described as retrofuturism,” believes Andenew Ayele, associate creative director at ThoughtMatter . “The strong surge of newly available tech and digital resources have made Web3, AI-generated and 3D art accessible. These advances have also lent to nostalgia-driven typefaces, dynamic retro colour swatches, and the ability to honour previous modes of graphic production with seeming authenticity and ease.”
He believes the recent rise of ‘Anti-Design’ is a good indicator of retrofuturism and what’s to come. “Designers and non-designers alike have often questioned the relationship between people and brands because of their inability to be relatable, to create compelling ideas and individuality, to foster storytelling, to keep humanity at the forefront through their work and products,” he notes. “Now is not the time for brands to swim in the sea of sameness with a safe, bland brand identity and visuals that appeal to everyone. They must have an opinion on function, impact and value.
“If this surge of tech and resources continue to blossom, the near future will be marked by a non-linear approach to time, inspiration, process and creativity as a whole,” Andenew adds. “Without the constraints of rigid guidelines and limited resources, we foresee individuality and emotive work to be on the rise.”
Trend 5: A fallback to the comforting past
In the 2020s, it seems like the world is changing faster than most of us can cope with. And so Greg Gibson, chief creative officer at Grizzly, believes the comfort blanket of nostalgia will be big in graphic design for 2023.
“Designers, fatigued by bright/squishy/meta/etc., will embrace familiar and even historical design over the trends we saw this year,” he predicts. “Baroque influence on typography and art, the ’60s or ’70s influence on identity, even ’00s influence on digital experiences will be prevalent.
“There’s comfort in old forms and norms, especially when we’re searching for something different,” he adds. “During times of great change, we often find that we can create the future by reinterpreting the past through new mediums. I believe we’ll see this over the next several years.”
Al Connolly, designer at Thompson agrees, but thinks there’ll also be a flashback to the ’90s and ’00s. “Y2K was a melting pot of low poly CGI, chrome and iridescent patterns mimicking the backs of CDs, unrefined interfaces and cyber-inspired fonts,” he says. “In many ways, it’s an aesthetic that can appear cheap and tacky. But what surrounds this is a sweet sense of nostalgia that captures a ‘the future is here, and anything is possible’ mindset.
“Everyone is so used to clean, corporate polished minimalism and interacting with websites that get us from A-B quickly, using clever UX/UI to a point where everything starts to look and feel the same. Combine that with widespread misinformation, data-stealing tech giants and social media damaging our mental health, now seems like a good time to look back to when technology was new and exciting.”
Al certainly believes it’s the right time for a Y2K reboot as we endure another round of impending doom from pandemics, nuclear war and global warming.
Trend 6: Emulating Gen Z apps
Nostalgia doesn’t work on younger audiences, of course. And so Ben Constable, motion designer at ShopTalk/DEPT, believes graphic designers will be drawing on the success of Gen Z’s favourite apps in 2023.
“Influenced by the rise of apps like BeReal and the dominance of TikTok, brands will look for an aesthetic that can relate and resonate with how audiences communicate on social media,” he predicts. “TikTok is a fine example of how sound can increase emotional engagement with an audience with its renowned ‘reels’; a combination of sound and media which, in turn, delivers endless amounts of viral content.
“The impact of this is exemplified through Instagram and Facebook, both of which have been following this path in a bid to regain control of the social world,” he adds. “From a design perspective, sonic branding can push our work into a multidimensional space, making our screens more engaging and, perhaps, hinting at what’s to come beyond them.”
Trend 7: Chaotic maximalism
The shift from Gen Y (aka Millennials) to Gen Z has made a big impact on design as a whole, says Katie Klencheski, founder and creative director of SMAKK. “Millennials were all about minimalism, but the design trends that define Gen Z are pure chaos theory meets maximalism.”
The past year has seen brands across the spectrum adopt this design style in campaigns and branding. “And what we’re seeing next is the version of this that reinterprets visual history, with flourishes of nostalgia-laced maximalism,” she predicts.
“From the genesis of 1990s digital design backwards to remixed designs inspired by folk art and ancestral heritage, this trend involves a more-is-more approach to integrating multiple design styles together in a way that acknowledges the past by yanking it forward.”
Trend 8: Beyond environmental lip service
Every year, creative leaders predict the need for sustainability will be a big trend in the year ahead. But in 2023, it seems there’s a new urgency and a desire to follow through with practical solutions rather than greenwashing.
“One thing we are very much in favour of trending in 2023 is brands and designers taking more consideration towards their physical brand experience as part of their overall brand identity,” says Danny Miller, founder and creative director at High Tide. “With that, we expect a rise in materials and products that are sustainable and biodegradable. Not simply using recycled materials but going beyond that and utilising plastic alternatives that are fully biodegradable and safe for the environment. For us, it’s important not just what you look like but what you’re made of.”
So what does that look like in practice? Brands like Seed are setting a good example by using mycelium – mushroom fungus – for their packaging in place of paper or plastic,” says Danny. “Haeckels is another brand that’s recently partnered with Shellworks, a company we’ve recently been working with on their brand identity for their new skincare line. Shellworks is a company that creates fully biodegradable plastic alternatives. The vessels they developed for Haeckels’ new skincare line are called Vivomer, made entirely out of a bacterial polymer, which is 100% compostable in under a year, no matter where the material ends up. It’s also lighter than glass, so it will further reduce the carbon footprint when shipped.”
Trend 9: Keep calm and carry on (with a twist)
Ellen Munro from BrandOpus thinks the desire for peace will be strong in 2023. “With so much global and local change over the last few years, people are looking for a bit of stability. In these times of uncertainty, brands will be looking to grow the emotional draw they have, retaining loyalty and offering a source of continuity.
“The cost-of-living crisis has made many of us rethink our lifestyle choices. Functional and effective design will dominate, with less space for the frivolous. Strong, confident typography will continue to be seen, paired with honest and real photography.”
But Ellen predicts there’ll be a flip side, too. With strikes and protests on the rise, she believes there’ll also be a rebellious air to design. “That means screen-printing, hand-painted lettering and bold statements. Styles akin to items being produced on a small scale,” she says.
Trend 10: Suspicion of branding
One of the biggest challenges facing graphic designers in 2023, believes Philip Koh, director of strategy at Without, will be public cynicism in general. “Branding, already misunderstood by the public as either inane graphics on the one hand or malign consumerist influence on the other, will be regarded with increased suspicion by an audience facing crises on multiple fronts.”
Of course, Philip disagrees. “Branding is not frivolous,” he argues. “Design solves problems, and the work we do can have a fundamental impact, making lived experiences tastier, healthier, and more rewarding.
“Case in point, a project we’re doing on school food that is just coming to fruition. Of course, the visuals are graphic, the copywriting is compelling, and the photography is, dare I say it, enticing. But the key foundation of the brand is the proposition we’ve created with our client, schools and their students: a modular, scalable approach to menus, service and applications that not only cuts waste and saves costs but provides nutritious food in a way that kids will choose to eat.”
The lesson? “Far from being dispensable, brand design, and the ideas that underpin it, can be the solution. Just don’t call it branding.”