2018 is coming to a merciful close, and as we reflect on this past year, a few overarching design trends come to mind. Below is a list of 6 trends we feel truly embody the madness that was 2018 and will simultaneously help define a foundation for the new year ahead of us. A few of these trends we hope will continue and others we hope to leave behind, but either way, we want to welcome 2019 with warm arms and an open mind for what’s coming next.
It’s ironic that during a time when technology is pushing so forward, we’ve become so obsessed with design relics from the past. The best possible case study of this phenomenon is the return of the “dad shoe” in 2018. Loosely inspired by the original Nike Air Monarch (pictured above, this classic also made an epic comeback this year), sneakers like the Balenciaga Triple S and the adidas Yeezy Boost 700 Wave Runner took mainstream markets by actual storm. Perhaps in an era of extreme change people are seeking comfort in objects from, to put it lightly, simpler times.
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Following close behind the dad shoe craze comes deep tech nostalgia for iPods, OG Japanese emoticons and retro gaming systems. What nostalgic items will people choose to obsess over in 2019? We’re guessing blank VHS covers:
VR & AR AS ACTUAL DESIGN TOOLS
Even just last year VR and AR felt too futuristic to be a useful tool for industrial designers, especially those working under the umbrellas of larger corporations. However, after many independent designers began experimenting with VR software such as sketching program Gravity Sketch, it already feels as though more corporate operations are starting to catch on that these tools are part of design’s future. In the auto industry, Byton VP of Design Benoit Jacob told us in a recent interview that this year, he brought on a younger designer specifically to master Gravity Sketch in order to educate the rest of his team on how sketching in VR can enhance their daily workflow.
The Gravity Sketch team sees their momentum continuing into the new year: “The realm of possibilities that VR has for design is almost limitless,” says Gravity Sketch Co-Founder Daniela Paredes Fuentes. “VR sketching is only the first step to transforming the way in which creatives make. We envision co-creation as a big element of designing in VR; from designers working together, to engineers figuring out manufacturing constraints, to clients having real-time iterations of the products. We’ll see design ceasing to be a linear process and becoming far more collaborative in nature, both remotely and worldwide, that will speed up design cycles and allow for better and more interesting products, buildings, games and movies to become reality.”
Design firms like Michael Graves Architecture and Design are also beginning to incorporate VR into their client presentations as a way to make communicating to non-designer clients more digestible and efficient. Once someone’s standing next to a virtual version of a designer’s work to scale, it’s harder for them to be confused and easier for the designer to respond to questions and make adjustments on the fly.
USING THE DESIGN PROCESS AS A MARKETING TOOL
The design process really came to the forefront of the public’s eye this year, but certainly not in the way we expected. Similar to how Instagram made everyone a photographer, brands are now allowing everyone play a role in the design process, pulling back the curtain on what was once a much more mysterious process. Nike’s customization opportunities offered inside their two new experimental House of Innovation retail locations (Shanghai and NYC) and a sleek robot that makes $7 burgers are just a few examples of how design was heavily used as a retail marketing tool in 2018.
While many customization options out there still don’t let customers completely design their own burger, sneaker, etc., the options keep getting more and more detailed over time (Think Nike ID online versus a Nike ID-like experience in real life), which makes us wonder if and how long it will take for every step of the process to be in the hands of the consumer.
DO IT FOR THE GRAM
We watched with fascination as many industrial design-focused micro brands like Myro (designed by Visibility) and Billie went on an extreme rise this year, many of them taking the form of subscription services. The subscription model works well for brands— assuming customers are satisfied with the product, they will be back for more. This trend also speaks to just how much the population craves convenience—once you give these companies your address and credit card information, you don’t need to think about re-purchasing ever again.
While many subscription-based brands promise a more sustainable approach to buying necessities (i.e. refillable cartridges, replaceable razor heads, etc.), we’re hoping that in 2019 these brands figure out a way to cut down on the excess packaging that houses said replacements as they make their way to consumers’ doorsteps.
This year we noticed a focus on designing full health environments. Lab100 is a research lab designed by Cactus that aims to declutter and simplify the doctor’s office experience by incorporating new technologies and updated interfaces. On a similar note, Alma is a therapy co-practice space that focuses on humanizing the anxiety-provoking process of finding a therapist and attending therapy appointments.
Other companies chose to focus on product ecosystems, specifically ones designed de-stigmatize once “taboo” health areas. Sex essentials brand Maude designs products to make sex objects more intuitive and less, well, male focused. Think vibrators that don’t look like dildos and lubricant you wouldn’t be ashamed to accidentally leave out on your nightstand.
A rise in CBD fascination has also sparked an influx in new product offerings, presumably resulting from people anxiously waiting to hear which state will legalize marijuana next. Products range from beauty to food and beverage, and with plenty of offerings comes plenty of design variety. It’s clear companies are still trying to decide how to design for the rapidly expanding market, but we’re excited to report that many of the products fall on the
high elevated side of the design quality spectrum.
“Blanding” is one of our favorite trends from 2018, simply because it’s so damn easy to make fun of. Earth to the design community: A brand without branding CAN NOT EXIST. Even the bold colors and blocked off product descriptions found on Brandless brand products is branding. What started with logo redesigns has now transitioned into full brand rollouts, simplified text replacing illustrated icons on skincare products and blown up photos of cookies gracing the covers of cookie boxes. Circling back to the nostalgia trend: for better or for worse, people want simplicity.
That being said, blanded products sure do look good in your pantry, on your nightstand and in your bathroom. We certainly aren’t debating that fact. A few of our favorite examples from this year include Dr. Jart+‘s packaging designed by Pentagram, Target’s Smartly, Urban Outfitters’ Ohii and Clare‘s paint and paint accessory packaging. Pocky even tested out blanding this year with limited edition packaging we wish we could’ve gotten our hands on.