Nostalgia and Other Design Trends for 2023
Originally featured in Cinctly Magazine
How do you keep your brand dynamic? Remaining relevant means evolving with your audience; subtly morphing in face and voice to keep up with the shifting digital world. It’s not about chasing every aesthetic trend, but understanding how changing consumer preferences can translate into logos, Instagram posts, and product labels.
If you want to avoid a head-spinning trip down the branding rabbit hole to find out what’s ahead, here’s a shortcut.
While many decades of last century might have been coated in boring dingy browns, brand design means throwing on your rose-colored glasses and putting a vibrant twist on nostalgic elements. It’s not just swirly hypnotic fonts and psychedelic color palettes (although those are in, too), you can also expect a resurgence of the chunky fonts, bubblegum tones, and kitschy reflections of the ’90s and Y2K era.
There are plenty of brands choosing to go boldly over the top with their oldies-inspired looks. Last year, Barefoot Surf Ranch ditched its cowboy aesthetic as the team rebranded the 500-acre complex to Waco Surf, complete with a retro typeface.
While many brands that embrace nostalgia will appear in sharp contrast to the minimalism trends of recent times, it’s worth noting that the two styles don’t have to be at odds. This concept piece proves that vintage can strike a note with minimalism for a more timeless, sophisticated design.
Channeling an “anything goes” attitude, brands are inching away from simplicity and nearer to chaos as previously on-trend whitespace gets filled with visual disruptions vying for attention. This means “brutalism” is once again a buzzword. It’s a term that may call to mind an airport parking structure when used in architecture, but it relates to futuristic vibes, heavy fonts, and stark color palettes in the digital world.
Envato Senior Digital Designer Keiron Lewis confirms it, saying that anti-design is making a comeback. Anti-design was last seen in the ’90s when it was heavily associated with maximalism, bringing with it busy, bold blends; collage-style overlays; and low-res graphics. Missing pixels, mismatched colors, and the merging of contrasting font families will trickle into the mainstream by brands attempting to stand out from the “less is more” status quo.
Trendy chaos means absurdity, repetition, excess, and (yes) retro-esque elements.
With a push towards human connection and authenticity, mascots give consumers a face and name with which to associate. Just take fast food namesame Wendy who’s been around since 1969. She never went away, but the company found a whole new way to leverage the familiar face when they created a Twitter account in 2009 ostensibly run by the mascot herself who takes to the platform to childishly share memes and roast the competition. Now, not only can consumers recognize the mascot, they can interact with it.
Mascots like Wendy come in all shapes and sizes, but a couple styles are growing more prevalent. Modern brands tend to reach for flat over 3D and illustrations reminiscent of the ‘50s and ‘60s are also making a comeback.
Walking and talking mascots can be leveraged to bring a brand’s personality to life in more mundane places outside of social media. Think 404 pages or on the underside of your packaging rather than on the front. These unexpected appearances can add a sense of whimsy to your branding and make your mascot feel that much more alive.
With the move towards short, snappy brand names and the need to communicate a lot about them in the blink of an eye, pictographs will start to play a bigger role in design once again. In some cases, like the one below, a subtle typographic alternation is all that’s needed to imply something about the product or service.
For a more obvious effect, flat icons and images are also finding their way into logos to replace one or more letters in the company name.
Strongly associating with very specific colors is known to increase brand recognition by as much as 80%. More than 9 in 10 people can identify Google just by its color palette, and almost as many can recognize McDonald’s by the same. So, using bold colors is nothing knew, but brands are beginning to shift away from entire palettes and going all-out with just one.
The resulting monochrome look makes for a stylish statement in its own right, whether it’s done with an out-of-the-box color or something subdued and classic, like this deep woodsy brown.
This technique of using a monochrome color palette can be particularly impactful in industries like health and beauty where purity is highly valued by consumers.
Gone are the days when international brands tried to localize their products to feel relatable to any given market. Today, embracing the cultural heritage behind a company’s founding can make a brand feel that much more authentic, and the foreign flair carries with it a sense of novelty (and sometimes luxury) that’s extremely appealing to modern consumers.
Even for young companies founded stateside, internationalism is proudly showcased, like by Xiao Chi Jie — a viral dumpling company founded by two Chinese Americans last year.
Both digital and tactile design are seeing an uptick in the use of texture to create a sense of depth, life, and immersion.
In product packaging, texture can be created simply by knowing what to remove, with this example proving both visually appealing and functional, as it creates a window where you can see the fresh fish inside the box.
Aside from brand assets, like packaging and logos, texture can also be beautifully incorporated into other elements, like the images your brand shares on social media. For instance, thick golden honey running down Mankora’s bottles makes a bland product photo glisten while simply lifting the corner of Happy Dog’s sticker livens up the otherwise flat piece.
Making Your Name
While how your company looks, feels, and sounds is a big part of the equation, building a recognizable brand starts with having the right people behind it and meaningful goals ahead of it. Before you start sketching logos, you need to understand the story, motivations, and values that will allow you to genuinely connect with consumers. The most memorable modern brands boast authenticity and intention, and those things can’t be created in the design room.