The Future of Graphic Design

For the last 18 months, the graphic design world has been fixated on the simple, stylish traditions of the Swiss Style – something that spread to the fashion and product design world and was driven to some degree by the popularity of TV drama Mad Men, which is set in the early 1960s. It’s now time to move on.

A 60s pastiche can be beautiful, but it is everywhere – and if you want your work to stand out from the crowd, you need to progress beyond it.

“Recreation of vintage movie posters, book covers and music artwork has been a [recent] general theme throughout the visual industry, not only for graphic designers,” says Norwegian designer Morten Iveland.

“Most of us have a vintage app, like Hipstamatic or Cross Process on our iPhone. If you go to IKEA nowadays you’ll find whole collections inspired by original classics from designers such as Charles Eames and Arne Jacobsen.”

Where we seem to be moving to, according to the leading designers we’ve spoken to for this feature, are forms that respect the principle of much traditional graphic design – clarity of message – but without directly copying the styles, motifs or typefaces of a bygone age.

“On the whole, minimalism is still a key theme and the trend of using a very simple typeface embedded in a picture to obscure the image lingers,” says Nick Ellis, creative director at Halo Media ( “The fact that this is getting a little overdone indicates that a lot of progress will be made by working with typography [differently].”

In-store advertising material for Lettucewear scarfs by design company Form

One trend here is a move from elegant typefaces to handwritten letterforms and fonts created from scratch, says Appetite creative director Jason Butler ( He says clients appreciate lettering “that captures the spirit of the message, has character and enables differentiation. Gone are the days when designers would say it has to be Helvetica to be a design statement.”

Such an approach can be seen in the stamp collection that the Hat-trick design agency has created for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 50th anniversary. As their creative director Gareth Howat says, “I think clients are realising more and more that branding is not just about the logo; it’s about the whole experience – and creating an engaging design right across the board, from print, to digital, to product. Strong, engaging ideas are becoming evermore important to differentiate companies and products. ‘Me too’ solutions just will not cut it, and good design is key to making sure that they stand out.”

A stamp collection by Hat-trick design commemorating the 50th anniversary of the RSC

Gareth also sees a move, particularly in these tough financial times, to make sure that there will be value for money in design. He predicts that, “In branding, there will probably be less ‘radical’ rebrands and a few more ‘refreshed’ identities, where people make the most of what they have got. One of our big projects over the last year has been to refresh the branding for Wimbledon, where this was a classic case: evolve the heritage of the brand and discard all the things that didn’t work.”

Morten Iveland also sees designers ignoring another of Swiss Style’s central tenets – the grid system – instead bringing in the seemingly random arrangements associated with the 90s grunge style (if not its actual grunginess). He reckons, “Designers such as Neville Brody and David Carson are probably going to be an inspirational source to this neo-grunge style.”

A digital illustration by fast rising design student Dan Mountford

Independent designer Andy Thirsk ( also observes that branding has become a lot simpler, with an increased importance on impact of brand and standout of identity. He says, “I see a lot of tradition and vintage creeping back into design trends at the moment. Clean simple, graphic design and typography with little fuss and great imagery. Geometric shapes also have been quite widely used in design, particularly in music.”

It may seem odd, but to some degree it’s the Internet that’s driving this, as simpler designs work best when used within interfaces designed by other companies from web applications to social media sites.

A poster promoting driver awareness for Drive Essex by design agency Halo Media

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