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.

Nostalgia

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.

Visual Chaos

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.

Interactive Mascots

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.

Illustrative Typography

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.

Striking Colors

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.

Embracing Culture

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.

Textural Depth

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.

Preparing for Google Analytics 4

Originally featured in Cinctly Magazine

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the biggest update to come to the platform in its 15-year history. As the internet phases out third-party cookies, GA4 is able to continue empowering website owners with valuable insights by swapping session-based data for event-based data and introducing new privacy controls. But, the switch isn’t going to happen automatically. Here’s what you need to do to prepare for GA4.

What’s Changing in GA4?

With evolving privacy regulations, Google plans to completely phase out third-party cookies by 2024 and Safari has been blocking them by default since 2020. 

The thing is, third-party cookies have been used for over 20 years and they’re mission-critical for tools like Universal Analytics (UA). By forming a trail of crumbs as users browse the web, these cookies allow businesses to target people with personalized ads and track them across sites. So, what will marketers do without them? 

Since about 80% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising fueled by third-party cookies, the company recognized the need to develop a suitable analytics alternative that can withstand changing privacy regulations and make better use of emerging technologies. After three years of development, the team rolled out GA4 in October 2020, which brings these key differences:

  • It collects both website and app data to paint a more complete picture of the customer journey
  • It uses event-based data instead of session-based data, which means every interaction will be sent to your reports as an event
  • It introduces new privacy controls like cookieless measurement, and behavioral and conversion modeling
  • It has integrated predictive capabilities that allow you to leverage machine learning without creating complicated models 
  • It directly integrates with a variety of third-party platforms to help you collect additional user data

GA4 is a big step up from UA and there’s no reason to be turning your nose up to all these improvements. But, you might struggle with switching to GA4 because it requires some legwork on your part. 

How To Prepare for GA4

It’s fair to say that switching to GA4 won’t necessarily be a seamless experience and it’s not going to happen automatically. You need to set up GA4 yourself — and it’s better to do it sooner than later. On July 1, 2023, data will no longer be collected through UA. You can wait until then to switch, but you won’t have any historical data to look at in GA4 unless you set it up now. 

If you already have Universal Analytics on your site, you can use Google’s Setup Wizard to start collecting GA4 data alongside UA until the latter is phased out. The wizard will help you create your new GA4 and give you the option of migrating your existing UA configurations for faster setup. 

If you’re not currently using UA, you’ll need to start from scratch. This means creating an Analytics account (if you don’t already have one), setting up a new GA4 property, and then configuring the data stream. You’ll then need to add the Google tag to your web pages, which you can do manually or by using Google Tag Manager

The final steps for most websites are to set up your conversions and add users. If you own an eCommerce site, you’ll need to migrate your measurements. If you’re an advertiser, you may need to import conversions. Other optional steps include linking to Google BigQuery

What’s Next? 

Setting up GA4 might not have been something you wanted on your to-do list, but your efforts will pay off. Once you have the tags in place, you’ll start seeing data in your analytics dashboard within 30 minutes and that means the hardest part is over. The next step is to familiarize yourself with the updated interface and learn how to make the most out of GA4’s powerful tools.