Trends for 2016 – Skill Demands for Designers

Trends in design don’t just come and go from one year to the next. They are either refined in some way or they fade in and out. It’s much like clothing styles, interior design trends, and hairstyles. They all evolve gradually.

Many of the design trends in 2016 actually began in 2015 and before, and many of them are returns of what we would call “retro.” So, many of the skills that your currently have will be well-suited to this year, many may be old ones that you have not used in some time, and some will certainly be new skills that you will want to develop and master.

Have a look at the trends below and assess you skill levels to ensure that you can meet client needs with a design that will be appealing and contemporary. Most of these trends apply to both graphic and web design. A few will pertain only to web design.

1. Flat – It’s Back

We could reasonably call this flat 4.0, because flat design has been in and out of “style” a number of times. If you have been a designer that hasn’t used fat design in a while, you will actually find it a welcome relief from all of the flashy glitz and skeuomorphic design trends of that past few years. These two former trends could be seen by many as “artificial,” such as faux textures, drop shadows and attempts to replicate real objects.

Flat design, on the other hand, is simpler and classic. It is minimalistic and focuses on the practical purpose – the audience’s use of the design. Think of the universal signage that has been developed over the past several decades.

Flat – It’s Back

This is about as flat and minimalistic as it gets – clean, crisp edges, sometimes bright colors, and definitely two-dimensional.

Microsoft used flat design with its interface for Windows 8…

Flat – It’s Back

…and has kept this design ever since. Even its logo is now flat.

Flat – It’s Back

The key to flat design is that it is functional. If an element doesn’t serve a function, it needs to go – it is just a distraction to the audience.

Flat designs do not have to be boring. With bright contrasting colors, images can “pop” and grab viewer attention. In a society that wants speed, easy-to-understand information, and simplicity, flat design is perfect.

Creating Flat Designs:

  1. The first “rule” is the concept of simplicity.
  2. Use solid, vivid colors to give elements their respective emphasis and to grab attention, as opposed to any detail.
  3. Sans serif typography works best because it is crisp and clean.
  4. Text must be simple and as minimal as possible.

The trend of “flat” will continue in 2016 because it has “staying power” and is flexible enough to take artwork or photography. Some updates to it might include adding shadow and a simplistic background, even a small amount of motion.

Whether you are a web or graphic designer, there are some great tools and tutorials that will inspire your own creations.

2. Bold and Even Playful Typography/Simple Single-Line Typography

That’s right. Typography will be all over the place. Actually it was in 2015, and that trend will continue. What will not be seen is the same as what was not seen in 2015 – lots of fancy scripts that are complex and difficult to read. Lifestyles are simplifying, and typography must reflect that, or the organization will appear unauthentic and out-of-date. Even when being bold and/or playful, typography will be immediately readable.

The Bold and Playful:

The Bold and Playful

Cool 3-D effect that remains simple but fun.

The Bold and Playful

Bold colors combined with 3-D effect still allow readability.


While this might be somewhat irritating to some, it will capture the eye and cause a viewer to pause and unravel the “puzzle.” The other great thing about letterstacking is that it allows more text in a smaller space, especially in the design of logos, when you want to keep a name from crawling across the entire space.


This design trend appears to have gained a foothold among designers and organizations, and so it will continue into 2016.


Simplicity is achieved by thin lines, with a common weight, and gives design a sleek and clean look, with lots of surrounding white space. Add to that a single color, and the design message is trust and honesty.


Monolines can also look homemade, furthering the message of honesty.


Typography in Shared Space:

This is another trend that will continue in 2016, and it remains to be seen if it will last. When text overlays on tops of images, it must be done carefully, and the text must be more important than those images to convey the message.

Most design has backgrounds, images, and type, and they are most often separated elements. More and more, designers are abandoning this concept and creating designs in which type expands into the space of other elements. It can provide an interesting effect, but the challenge is readability.

How to Do This:

If you intend to use this shared space concept, then the typography should be simple, and there should be enough contrast for it to stand out from both the background and any elements it is covering. The use of black or white lettering seems to work best. And the type must be at least medium-sized – no monolines here.

Bold and Even Playful Typography, Simple Single-Line Typography

Bold and Even Playful Typography, Simple Single-Line Typography

A Word About Text:

Design is not just about visuals. The text itself is critically important. While creativity in design is important, a part of that design is creativity with words. Becoming a better writer is a piece of design that many ignore, but engaging words and phrases can be just as important as the visuals that they support. It’s a vital skill for designers. But don’t be sad if you don’t have one just keep in mind some freelance writers who can save you in your crisis.

3. Split-Screen Design

This is a design trend that continues to grow, probably because it is so versatile. It can be composed by dividing a screen into two equal panels, splits with grid elements or cards, and splits that are more subtle divisions.

Some suggestions for using this design:

  • If you don’t have a lot of images to work with, use typography and color blocking to achieve the effect you want:

    Split-Screen Design

  • Focus viewer/reader attention from left to right, so as not to confuse, and put yours most dynamic element on the left.

    Split-Screen Design

  • Keep each screen as simple as possible.
4. Illustrations – Whimsical and Homemade

While photography and formal images are certainly appropriate for some designs, fun illustrations that portray a “homey” personality for an organization continue to be a big trend. While this would not be appropriate for Rolex, it certainly would be for many other companies that want to appeal to millennials and Gen Y’ers who want “natural” and authentic.

OrangeYouGlad design firm has taken its name (a fruit) and created a whimsical illustration featuring all kinds of fruit, indicating that it is versatile in its work for clients.

Illustrations – Whimsical and Homemade

Homemade designs continue to be very popular as well. Consider these logo designs:

Illustrations – Whimsical and Homemade

The message of such designs is personal – and that is just what current generations (that make up the largest consumer demographics) want in order to feel personally connected to companies.

Here is a homemade “feel” for Dropbox, a popular app used by businesses:

Illustrations – Whimsical and Homemade

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools, especially for web designers, which can be used to create this homemade effect.

Use the tools available or use illustrators who can craft these effects for you.

5. Geometric Shapes

These are clean and often simple, something that is appreciated by viewers. Variations of retro geometric designs in 2016 will focus on layered effect and blends.

Geometric Shapes

Here, triangles are used to depict trees and perhaps mountains.

The city of Melbourne, Australia has a large “M” for its logo design. Look how its designer makes use of geometry to appeal to a variety of viewers. The top design depicts buildings and commerce, an appeal to commercial customers and potential customers; the colorful diamond-shaped “M” sends a message of diversity.

Geometric Shapes

These are easy designs to create, and their effects can be stunning. If you want to move into more complex geometric low-poly art, then you can found many tutorials available on the internet that will give you a step-by-step process.

Another tip here is to keep any geometric patterns that you have created by hand – you never know when they will come to play when you are looking for that perfect design for a logo, signage or a web page.

6. Negative Space

Yes, it’s been around for eons it seems, but it will continue to be a great design technique in 2016 as well. Some amazing effects can be achieved through its use, and designers should be experimenting with it a lot. Negative space can be used to communicate more than a basic design would.

Here is a stunning example of the use of negative space.

Negative Space

At first glance, it is just an elephant. A second glance reveals the African continent – very cool.

7. Hidden Menus

Obviously, this trend is for web designers. While the concept of hidden menus had its birth in an attempt to reduce content on sites designed for mobile users, the trend has blossomed. The now-familiar hamburger element has caught on, and designers for the most part like it. Now, they can focus on the beauty of the design and know that visitors will not be distracted by menus. Visceral responses are important, and they are easier to achieve with a sleek page. A great example of such a design is that of ContentPath, a B2B company that provides content/content marketing solutions.

Hidden Menus

8. Using Natural Photography

Given the overall trend for authenticity, using photos that depict a natural environment are very trendy. Designers should reduce the use of images that add jazz or glitz and go for a natural focus. This is often achieved by photographs of real things, and it will be important for a company trying to send a message of authenticity and trust to its audience.

Using Natural Photography

9. Bolder and Brighter Colors

Dependent upon the message you want to send, the use of color has taken on some new trends.

Duotone Colors:

The idea is not new, but it has come to be a popular trend now that flat design is also back. Color pairings are now bolder, using dark and light tones for contrast and “shock” value. While this technique can be awe-inspiring, it should be used in moderation and when there is only one design element on a single page. Here is a great example from ENO, advertising an upcoming opera.

The palette consists of only two colors with a bright color overlaying an image, in this case bright orange.

Duotone Colors

Combinations of Bright Colors:

These almost have an 80’s feel, but they came to the forefront again along with flat design. And the momentum will continue into 2016. 2015 saw far more monotone color use than 2016 will see with multiple colors that are complementary and contrasting.

Combinations of Bright Colors

10. Video, Animation/ Interactivity

These are all lumped together because they focus on the trend of movement and personal connection with movement. Not only will the concept of movement through such things as tiny and large animations and videos continue (they grab attention), but they will be used by non-web designers as well. Of special note is interactivity with videos and animation, as well as with still designs.

Web designers would be well-advised to incorporate interactivity whenever possible. Here is a jaw-dropping example of an interactive video highlighting the impact of climate change, in which viewers can craft stories of 6 people.

Video, Animation, Interactivity

Graphic designers of other sorts can add interactivity as well. Here is a billboard that is put at “person level” that advertises the low cost of the Chevy Aveo. Participants can add pennies to the billboard.

Video, Animation, Interactivity

Getting creative with movement of any type, along with interactivity will test the creativity of designers but will result in some amazing results.


Obviously, all of the potential trends that will develop as 2016 unfolds cannot yet be known, such as how popular will the “blur between reality and imaginary” become. It is pretty new and experimentation is just beginning. And going through the trends and examples designed above should demonstrate that there may be many “off-shoots” and combinations to come.

The challenge for designers is this: What is the culture and mission of the organization for which you are designing, who is its audience, and how can you use the newest design trends to promote that culture with strong messages?

Like the article? Share it.

LinkedIn Pinterest

One Comment

  1. Nice job!

Leave a Comment Yourself

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *