As the Danish Physicist Niels Bohr said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”.* The difficulty of making predictions acknowledged, we begin a new decade by sharing a few emerging or expanding trends in the ever-changing global design industry. 

All Together Now.

In an increasingly fractured world, brands benefit from building community and shared purpose. Throughout history, symbols have created a platform for ideas and engagement – think peace symbol and gay pride flag.  To quote Paul Rand, “identity has the pleasure of recognition and the promise of meaning.” There is power in working toward meaning that unites, not divides.

More Visual, Less Verbal.

Despite the fact that I am using words, perhaps poorly, to communicate these ideas, communication is increasingly based in icons and images. Ikea assembly anyone? Text-based language is heavily edited or disappearing altogether. Starbucks dropped ‘coffee’ from its logo. Mastercard dropped ‘Mastercard!’ We say it all with pictures and videos on social media and, increasingly, in our brand work. When used, words are edited sharply. Less is definitely more. 

The Analogue World Creeps Back In.

In reaction to the contemporary ubiquitous and overall sameness of identities, brands are drawing more heavily on cues from the analogue world. These visual and audio cues create a sense of nostalgia for those who remember and create texture and nuance for audiences who may never have seen a projected film or turned the knob of a TV. Just as films set in the future use the grit and sfumato of the past to create realistic and unforgettable futures, HBO and Netflix incorporate static and TV scan lines, respectively, in their idents.  

Power In Presence And Purpose.

To be successful, brands have always benefited from both clarity of intent and clarity of purpose. In today’s rich media ecosystem, gaining clarity of intent requires a richer understanding, informed by data, of the key elements that signify a brand across every audience and medium. Clarity of purpose drives a deeper commitment to why a brand matters. Together they define how a brand is perceived and valued and are key to building and maintaining relevance internally and in the global marketplace.

Blurring Boundaries.

Longstanding notions of how brands are communicated and understood are being challenged in response to the massive impact of technology and increasingly global access. Technology is blurring geographic boundaries, disrupting cultural assumptions and forcing us to reimagine the fundamental mechanics of brand development. In this new world, a ‘local’ brand can build a strong following on the other side of the planet, and Millennial audiences actively shape or reshape brands on social media. Big data is now used to inform design development and design thinking has moved from the margins to become a core business strategy.

As we find new ways to understand markets, strategize, and design, we must do so without borders and boundaries. Open to exploration and new ways of thinking.


*This quote has been noted as an old Chinese or Danish proverb and also accredited to a wide variety of individuals from Neil Bohr, to Samuel Goodwin to Yogi Berra. Take your pick.