Bill Gardner tells the creative community where we are when it comes to logo design. He’s the principal of Gardner Design and founder of LogoLounge.com, a website where members can post their logo design work and study that of others.

The best of these are included in the LogoLounge Master Library series of books, in which Bill maps out the best recent examples of logo design, whittling 30,000 entries down to 2,000. It’s a mammoth job, but one that gives him a unique insight into future trends.

Every year he also writes the LogoLounge Trends Report. Published for free at bit.ly/IdiK9M, it maps how fellow creatives are working within the form, and what their clients are signing off on.

To follow up on this, we asked Bill to reveal what he thinks the next set of trends in logo design will be. His response eschews grand statements of ‘this will be in’ or ‘this will be out’, instead charting the trajectory of current trends to set you on your way to the new lands you need to explore. His process of how you use past trends to inform future ones is just as relevant for other creative forms – from typography to motion graphics to illustration – as it is for logo design. So let’s set our course.

The Designer's telescope

Becoming a design soothsayer is a much easier proposition than you might imagine. The process is not too different than in the early Seventeenth century when Galileo realised, with the invention of the telescope, he was able to see inbound merchant vessels two hours before anyone else. Soon the informed Venetian merchants were able to act on this information by adjusting prices or dumping inventory hours before new stock arrived to flood the market.

Assimilating and providing context for information has always provided an edge for any industry, and design is no different. We already use anecdotal information to make logical assumptions in our everyday actions, as well as when we design. We know that petrol prices tend to rise a day or two before a bank holiday, so we fill up our cars an extra day or two in advance. You see someone quickly moving upstream in a downstream crowd, and you question why as opposed to turning a blind eye. You make a design judgment based on a recently recurring observation. All of this is forecasting, and though it’s relatively shortsighted, it’s a skill we use daily.

Swimming in a pool of information

As the founder and curator of LogoLounge, I sort through and organise more than 30,000 new logos that have been submitted for possible inclusion in each new book. I do so to create context for these identities, so that the 2,000 marks selected for the volume will flow in a natural order for the reader and each will have a sense of place.

While I’m evaluating this large mass of design, clusters start to take shape. Pools of similar techniques, subject matter, line weights or illustration style start to appear. Some of these are old friends that have a long-standing place in logo design, but others are emergent for the first time. Tracing these seminal marks is where the observant designer is rewarded.

In design, as in nature, change is most often evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. Valuable design seldom happens in a vacuum because, without context, it has no relevance to the consumer. I will also confess here that evolutionary sequences are much easier to spot in hindsight. We see a new logo and immediately we can see the lineage of the same by naming the works of other designers that apparently linked together to influence the new mark. The actual magic occurs when you take the cues of current and past design, and connect them to create a design trajectory.

Following lines 

Imagine you are shown a map with a single pinpoint identifying the current location of an individual on a journey. You have no other information, but are asked to guess where the person will be the same time the following day. You would be clueless. Since you have no idea how fast that person is travelling, or to where or what their objective is, any assumption is without value. Now assume you are told where they were the same time the previous day, or better yet, for the past two days. Suddenly, the mystery of this traveller becomes clearer as you can see the direction and speed or as trajectory is defined, ‘the line of progression’.

It’s one thing to know where you are, but a much richer thing to know how you got there. To apply this to logos, we can look at previous trends we have identified and track their evolution. For example, in the 2009 LogoLounge Trends Report, we first started to identify what we called ‘Mosaic’ logos, a significant set of marks that started dividing a shape and applying diverse colours to each section. Colours butted each other without separation, which flew in the face of traditional design rules.

In 2010, this cluster was evolving, and we called the new group ‘Pixel’, since the dividing shapes favoured perfected squares. This look had been used by Landor for the Altria logo nearly a decade before, but the significance here is that this theme didn’t develop critical mass until 2010 to be identified as a trend. 

By the 2011 report, we were noting a preponderance of designs following the previous rules, but designers were using triangles as their building blocks, much like Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, and so ‘Buckys’ were born. For this year’s key trend, called ‘Tessellation’, it was noted that the fascination of assembling an identity from a series of pieces continues. Diversity is in play now as all the pieces are no longer the same geometric shape. 

Much like on a map, there are many forks in the road when charting the progression of the field. In 2010, a set of logos that were hazy and out of focus were identified as ‘Ghosts’. In 2012, we identify several logos that derive their geometry from the previous sequence, but they have also become out of focus, like ‘Ghosts’. At present, there’s not enough of these to call this a trend, but is it the emergence of a branching evolution? Is that the end of this merger or will it sprout legs?

2010 was also the year of the ‘Spore’ logos, some of which had a combination of 3D geometric shapes of differing colours abutting each other. Were these an outgrowth of a developing trend of ‘Facets’, which appeared in 2008, and/or ‘Mosaics’, which showed up in 2009? If you watch the Facets trend, it has grown dramatically and expanded into the ‘Cubist’ trend of 2010 where the geometric plains are not just applied to gems but to a variety of objects as well.

This year, we are again seeing a minor set of these Cubist-look logos merging with transparency and glassine highlights from previous trend reports to create yet another unexpected hybrid on an ever-forward journey. 

A real puzzle

So here’s your puzzle. If you see the progression of the four groups used in the first example, what would the fifth in this series look like? Will it be more overlapping transparency? Will the shapes lose their linear geometry and become an Escher-like group of amoebas? Will the light on the parts make them look faceted? Will the shapes become three-dimensional geometrics as opposed to two dimensional and flat? You, as a designer, can forecast the traveller’s journey and lead him to the next destination. Or, you can just sit back and emulate previous steps.

A complete archive of the past 10 years of LogoLounge Trend Reports are posted at LogoLounge.com. They may be useful as a resource for figuring out where the industry has been as you try your hand at forecasting. But know this. As stated in every report, these trends are not identified because we recommend you try them. They are reported so you will have a clearer picture of the environment at the time the report is released. Using this information tactically allows you to stand on the shoulders of others to advance as a pioneer in the industry and not become a follower.