Say what you like about 2011: it certainly wasn’t boring. While earthquakes and financial catastrophe grabbed the headlines, for designers it was the year when the small screen assumed dominance, as audiences went mobile and smartphones and tablets came of age as arenas for design.

In line with this, the role of the designer is shifting away from the traditional tasks of creating posters and logos – visual identities – into something altogether more holistic.

And the pace of change shows no sign of slowing as 2012 gets under way. “It seems to me there’s a tipping point, where you’re going to see a massive online power shift. We are starting to see brands demanding sites of branded experience, rather than a typeface or logo,” says Simon Manchipp of design studio SomeOne.

Social media have been vital to this shift. “The opinion of someone you’ve never met in a country you’ve never visited is more important than the brand itself – you can’t have a conversation with a logo,” Simon says.


In the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, Wieden+Kennedy and AKQA have created a Nike campaign featuring portraits of competing British athletes with messages in their handwriting. The hashtag aims to encourage viewers to make their own pledge

This conversation has been rapidly becoming less one-sided in recent years, but social media is now so crucial to brand identity that it’s even reaching into shops, where brands are installing systems offering real-time social media commentary, adds Tom Philipson of branding, graphics and interior practice Your Studio.

Tom adds that 3D technologies will continue their steady march into our everyday lives. “As headsets like the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer get smaller and cheaper, expect to be submerged into your favourite brand’s 3D world,” he says.

This could be the year that 3D goes mainstream for branding events, too. Jaw-dropping examples of 3D projection-mapping such as Studio Output's virtual living room for Sony PlayStation (above) or The Neighbourhood's animated Christmas tree are getting creatives very excited indeed. Projects that merge electronics, programming and design are likely to be making waves in 2012, driven by tools that are designed to be easy to learn for relatively non-techie creatives, such as Arduino, VVVV and Processing.

Sporting themes are set to dominate a lot of creatives’ moodboards this year, but there’s no escaping the fact that 2012 also has a darker side: economic, social and political uncertainties are key themes.

These unsettling influences are particularly marked in illustration, says fashion illustration guru Amelia Gregory of Amelia’s Magazine. “A feeling of restlessness is prevalent in illustrations which draw influence from the spectre of war and the darker end of literature. Look out for strange and hellish scenes,” she says.


Illustration from Asger Juel Larsen Spring/Summer 2012 show at the last London Fashion Week by Gareth A Hopkins for Amelia's Magazine

The flip side of this is a clear trend towards escapism, as a rash of yetis, sea beasts and unicorns caper through illustrators’ frames, and hints of psychedelia and surrealism start to infuse more designs.

“Many illustrators are playing around with collage, presumably in response to the vast amount of imagery already available to plunder and refashion as one’s own,” Amelia says. “Quite often the resulting images take on a surreal edge, creating an escape from the everyday.

“On a lighter note, a lot of illustrators are being influenced by the bold graphic patterns, primary colours and globular shapes of the 1980s. Fun and playful subject matter and typography seem fitting at this time of global uncertainty.”


Illustration by Milly Jackson from Ramil Makinano’s S/S 2012 collection at the last London Fashion Week for Amelia's Magazine


The Olympics will dominate this summer, but while bold colours are ‘in’, garishly bright will thankfully not follow suit.

The rising popularity of screenprinting has led to a renewed fascination with techniques, such as lino printing and etching, and more demanding methods like chromolithography, while hand-drawing is as prevalent as ever.

The US presidential election in November could be a particularly interesting event this year for graphics and illustration. In 2008, Barack Obama won the visual identity contest hands down, harnessing the contributions of thousands of illustrators, and inspiring Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘Hope’ poster.

This time round will see everyone from the Tea Party to the Occupy movement weighing in, seeking to distil complex policies into digestible messages that could go viral: expect to see the battle of ideas waged through posters and infographics.

Here, again, the images that reach the masses will be those that harness the power of social media, this time by going viral. Let battle commence.