En vogue typefaces. Fashionable photographers. Shiny new mediums and technologies. On-trend colours. You’ll see these littered through every ‘hot design trends’ piece doing the rounds this time of year.

These fashions come and go and do of course have a huge influence on the directions brands choose to take with their content. But design doesn’t need to be ‘on trend’ to land well. The latest trend won’t be right for the huge range of brands, causes and people that make up our rich and vibrant world.

Great design is more than a new colour or medium. In 2019, we’ll see creative teams stretched and challenged to dive deeper and unleash creative that latches onto bigger, more fundamental challenges shaping their businesses. They’ll need to create moments, experiences and genuine connections that drive belief in a changing world. They’ll be called upon to work in new ways with new people.

So we’ve left the latest and greatest graphic updates for other articles (and the coffee machine chat in our studio).

Instead, we’ve asked ourselves about the trends behind the trends – and what they mean for today’s creatives.


History – and what lies beneath

In recent years we’ve seen ‘craft’ and ‘heritage’ blow markets wide open and it hasn’t just been craft IPA and vegetable boxes – brands of all different shapes and sizes have been filtering, nostalgia-tripping and archive-diving.

You don’t have to look hard to find the root causes. On the one hand, many brands are looking for that ‘handmade’, human feel to build a sense of authenticity – to make businesses feel smaller, not bigger – in a sceptical age. On the other, they’re looking to cues from the past to help them generate connections in uncertain times.

There’s no sign that these influences will disappear in 2019 but a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t feel right. Brands need to look for something true to who they are. Their ‘creation myth’. Their purpose. Their people’s values. Their product’s DNA.

Hit upon a small, clearly-defined idea and use it to push the brand experience further to re-engage with existing customers and beyond.


Think small: being brave and disruptive

We’re living in an age of disruption. The market is being disrupted by smaller, nimbler startups bringing more colour, attitude and life to the mix (alongside more controversial, mischievous and clear-minded points of view on old problems). These startups aren’t burdened by history or stakeholder expectations. Their visual identity, tone of voice, marketing and real estate is built on a blank canvas. They’re free to be fresh and exciting.

Bigger businesses are in a rush to reclaim their advantage. Some have adopted the more disruptive business practices of their smaller peers. Others have sought to partner with them. Others – such as Starbucks Reserve and Google – have looked to create sub-entities that can break free, unencumbered by the lumbering giant behind it. The launch of X as a renegade offshoot will see Google channel resources into mind-bending, world-saving tech.

We’ll increasingly see these businesses follow the design cues of the upstarts too. Expect to see bolder, altogether more ‘positive’ design. Vibrant tones, juxtaposed with daring imagery. We’re seeing it already:

BBC Two unfurled new, futuristic textures, patterns and colours across all its content. No business can stand still.

Stretching off out of view, 2019’s horizon is full of question marks – uncertainty is the only certainty. Preparations for this will be well under way, but designers can help with creative that challenges perceptions, sticks in the memory, and differentiates.

In the fight for customer affection, customer experience will be brands’ most important weapon. A stunning visual identity can win attention and fire up a workforce, but a personalised experience is what tomorrow’s customer expects and what keeps them coming back. A perfect example of this is Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s ‘#LookingForYou’ digital outdoor campaign. Passersby were given leaflets with RFID tags which would activate billboards as they walked past them and start a video of Barley, a former Battersea dog, making him appear to interact with the viewer and follow them as they walked through the area.

This calls on new ways of working for today’s creatives. In 2019 they’ll be called upon to work with more technical specialists, helping hone content that matches specific needs, channels and points in an evolving customer journey. Gone is the era of box-ticking your way through media platforms or squeezing your expensive new ad into all available social formats, or employee engagement teams relying on the humble pull-up banner. Welcome to the era of data-backed creative – the rules of engagement have evolved.



Artificial Intelligence, actual interaction

Brands have been aware of the need for a recognisable audio logo – think McDonald’s, Intel or Green Giant, for example. Now, new technology is bringing another auditory challenge to the design world.

The rise of voice-enabled technology in homes presents a huge creative opportunity. The need to create sonic branding that complements its visual counterparts is crucial, alongside the flexibility to adapt it to various technologies, platforms, channels and media.

Sound design has long helped brands double down on emotional connections – 2019’s designers will be challenged to think more holistically, weaving sound not only into the pantheon of an organisation’s visual identity, but also into its interactive films, chatbot tech and voice recognition software. Visa, for example, spent a year working on a signature ‘chime’ – evoking a sense of security and efficiency, heard whenever customers pay through their phones.


Honesty in pursuit of diversity

Internal diversity messaging suffers from visual clichés: bright fans of coloured pencils, multicoloured hands reaching for the skies, perfectly cast stock line-ups of diverse employees in manicured offices.

This year has been a huge one for diversity, inclusion and social justice, and yet on the whole communications doesn’t seem to have caught up. Next year is billed as the one when understanding translates into action. Businesses are adjusting their workforces, who they engage with, and how they represent themselves in their communications.

A big part of that is responding to expectations from employees to see themselves reflected in, and respected by, the organisations they work for. Creative has a role to play: alongside making sure policy is fair and correct, businesses can deal with often sensitive talks through non-confrontational, thought-provoking, story-led creative.

Sodexo’s recent campaign tackled disability inclusion and used messaging which connected with its 2025 diversity and inclusion commitments. Presenting people as tennis coaches, parents and musicians rather than defining them by their disability allowed people to challenge behaviour in the long term, through the power of creative.

Monzo’s online diversity dashboard is a gold-standard example that started the trend, and now companies are expected to openly and honestly share relevant statistics and areas of strength and weakness in compelling and accessible ways.

Fran Payne is a senior designer at RY.

This was featured in Marketing Week. See it in full here.

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