In response to the significant economic and cultural changes over the last few years, design aesthetics have begun shifting in big ways. Adding to this, technology has continued to influence and impact design work, with promises of bigger changes on the horizon. And designers themselves are changing the way they learn their craft and think about their careers.
For anyone with an eye on the design industry, 2022 was an unforgettable year. Below, we'll explore why through examining:
- Top Visual Trends
- Top Technological Innovations
- Best Design Practices & Standards
- The Business of Design
Top Visual Trends
Over any given year in design, the most obvious trends are often visual. This year was no different, marking a shift from the clean, well-defined designs of the last decade.
"One of my favorite things about being a designer is having to adapt to design trends — it certainly keeps me on my toes." — Jenna Freitas, Graphic Designer
A Nostalgia Explosion
Retro and vintage styles have always been a mainstay in design, which makes it difficult to think of them as trends. But nostalgia had an outsized influence on design in 2022, apparent in the countless throwbacks to the web as it was in the late '90s and early aughts.
From a wider perspective, designers started using simpler, more organic aesthetics this year — in contrast to the clean-edged, highly polished visuals that have marked design for several years.
Outside the bell curve, however, designers are leaning into nostalgia, especially on the web. Simple web layouts and old-school navigational systems with intentionally low-fi visuals have popped up everywhere. A good example is the portfolio of Tracy Ma, a former designer at the New York Times.
Art by Matt Romo
Dynamic Product Reveals
While animated presentation techniques are nothing new, this year saw a significant uptick in dynamic visuals, particularly on marketing sites with digital product reveals.
An excellent example is Linear's website. This polished product development tool is revealed once you start scrolling, creating a flowing effect that imparts a feeling of discovery and moves you along the page. It's trendy and attractive but also effective in the sense that it keeps people engaged.
Top Technological Innovations
Much of design and tech are adjacent fields, putting the design industry on the bleeding edge. From advances in artificial intelligence to the future of the web, some of the year’s biggest design innovations started in tech. By the same measure, others have yet to materialize.
AI Enters the Ream of Design
Artificial intelligence has been on everyone’s minds for a while now. In design, AI-powered image editing software has been available for a while. But it wasn’t until this year that machine learning technology made significant waves in the industry.
In August, a text-to-image deep learning model called Stable Diffusion was released to the public. Other models, such as Midjourney and DALL-E, soon followed. Since then, there’s been a seismic shift in the way digital artists and designers produce work. By inputting text commands, creators can generate digital artwork of exceptional quality in seconds. Some people have even won awards for their AI-crafted art.
Popular design tools, such as Figma, Photoshop, and Illustrator, now have AI-powered plugins that can empower designers by giving them prompts through which to generate design ideas. While it’s still early and difficult to predict the precise impact AI will have on design, the impact will certainly be significant.
Digital Design Tools
Over the last few years, designers have been blessed with an ever-growing assortment of amazing tools to work with. But none has had an impact on the industry as much as Figma has, which brought collaborative design to the masses. In 2022, collaborative design is showing no signs of abating. Adobe made a significant bet that it won’t.
In September, the brand behind Photoshop and Illustrator purchased Figma for a record-setting $20 billion, making a significant investment in the future of collaborative design. Until now, Figma managed to redefine product design without Adobe’s resources. Now, it’s safe to say that multiplayer design is here to stay.
Eager to build your Figma skills? Check a list of the best Figma courses online.
Art by Figma
NFTs and Web 3
Last year and even the first half of 2022 was an exciting time for tech-savvy digital artists with an eye on Web 3 technology. The explosive popularity of NFTs provided many designers with a new way to earn while doing what they loved. But the future of NFTs doesn’t seem as certain as it once was.
Following the economic downturn and the collapse of FTX — a major crypto exchange — the values and trading volume of NFTs plummeted. The circumstances have left many wondering what the future holds for cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and Web 3, all of which share the same technology.
For NFTs, which are speculative assets like traditional art, the future is impossible to predict. Similarly, Web 3 is an ephemeral idea that’s yet to fully form. But while 2022 wasn’t the best year for decentralized tech, it’s not going away any time soon.
Art by Mike | Creative Mints
The metaverse, or rather, the 3D reimagining of the internet, promises exciting opportunities for designers and creatives. Uninhibited by the restrictions of screen sizes and two dimensions, the web as virtual reality opens the door to the sort of creative exploration that marked the early days of the internet.
But like Web 3, the metaverse is still hazy. It already has substantial business adoption, including an all-in from Meta, formerly Facebook. And while it’s yet to materialize, that's not to say it won’t. With rumors of Apple launching its virtual reality hardware next year, 2023 could be an enormous year for the metaverse and, by proxy, the design community.
Art by Sigit Setyo Nugroho
New Design Practices and Standards
Design is a vocation that rewards creativity and innovation, but it’s not without a set of best practices established by the industry. At the top of the list are accessibility and sustainability, both of which saw significant adoption in 2022.
For many businesses, demonstrating and communicating sustainability in business practices is high on the list. Likewise looking to do their part, designers have pushed for more sustainability in their work.
For traditional graphic designers, this means making design choices that minimize material use and reduce waste, like choosing literal whitespace over color in a printed design or package design that uses recyclable materials.
In the digital realm, designers are pushing sustainability forward through UX and UI. For example, an app or website with a simplified interface requires less user engagement, resulting in less energy consumption. And this is but one of many low-impact design practices.
Art by Outcrowd
Accessibility and Inclusive Design
Product and web design fuel a lot of design growth. In both areas, accessibility was once considered a technical responsibility. In many cases this is true — implementing code for screen readers on a website requires a developer, for example.
But in the last few years, there’s been a push for design practices that are more accessible and inclusive. Legibility in typefaces, ratios, spacing, and color contrast are just a few of the areas influenced by accessibility, so this is less of a trend than it is a movement. And it will not slow down. Because when product designers make sure every possible user can use their products effectively, it's not just about inclusivity. It’s about good business sense, too.
Art by Stark
Dark Mode Goes Mainstream
For some, dark mode is simply a feature — and not a new one at that. Most major operating systems now have light and dark interface options. But for many others, using dark interfaces reduces eye strain caused by excess blue light, which puts dark mode squarely in the realm of accessibility. To this end, it’s fast becoming a standard to offer light and dark variations of your website.
The desktop site for Facebook and Google’s search results are two of the biggest additions to dark mode this year. But other sites — Twitter and Reddit, for example — have offered it for a while now. Moreover, many popular design systems, like Material Design, provide guidelines for implementing dark variants in products and interface designs.
Art by Florentin Walter
The Business of Design
After the economic climate and the technological advances of the last few years, there are myriad changes taking place in the world of design. From new opportunities for all to new ways of learning and breaking into the industry, 2022 has been an exciting year for design.
These are good times to be a designer. There’s a global recognition of the role and the value that designers bring to the table. — Juan Carlos Díez Rodríguez, Senior Designer
Careers in Design
With business leaders recognizing that design is often the biggest competitive differentiator, they’re investing more in their design teams, both internal and external. As a result, demand for talented creatives is soaring, right along with designer salaries.
At the same time, countless changes are unfolding in workplace culture and the wider economy. Workers are redefining how and even where they work. Paired with the high demand for great designers, the last year has seen record numbers of creatives leaving their steady jobs to seek out freelance design jobs or become independent creators.
In short, for designers, there are more opportunities and avenues to success than ever before.
Art by RD Branding
Design in Small Business
The same factors affecting larger businesses and the growth of the design industry have also rippled down to smaller businesses. Design differentiation affects even the smallest company, especially those with a digital presence. But these same companies don’t often have the resources to offer full-time design jobs.
Fortunately, the growth of freelancing and the gig economy is allowing small businesses to leverage expert designers on an as-needed basis. The expertise that was once reserved for big-budget companies is now available to savvy small businesses with an eye on design.
Art by Kristina Volchek
Naturally, increased demand and higher salaries lead to more interest in design as a vocation. While traditional avenues to learning design certainly exist, demonstrable knowledge and an exceptional portfolio outweigh degrees in most cases. The result is a significant influx of high-quality online design courses, covering everything from graphic design to UI/UX design and even product development.
Compounding on this free-flowing font of knowledge, much of the design world is adopting a work-based approach to learning, where designers engage in design mentorship to further their careers. Mentorship is often standard across web-based design learning, including Dribbble’s Certified Product Design Course.
A Bright Future for Design
Design is unlike any other career. With exciting advances in technology, high job growth, and a low barrier to entry, design is rewarding in ways that few other vocations are. For newcomers and veterans alike, the view ahead to 2023 and beyond is one filled with countless opportunities and possibilities.
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