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How Will Design Change?

Gianmarco Caprio

Writer and editor at Phase with a fondness for photography, typography, design and travel.

Design evolution: what changes are on the horizon?


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One of the big questions in design is how it will change in the coming days, weeks, months, years. Predictions for near-future trends and obviously rather easy to make, but this is hardly ever the case for the long term. However, by looking back at the history of design it is possible to see certain patterns which can give us insight into how the future will be like.

That is, however, not the only indicator we have at our disposal. Other factors - such as the current developments in society as well as the appearance of new tools - will also partly determine how design will evolve.

Can Design History Give Us Any Insight?

Surely, the past is always a good place to look when we want to try and predict how the future will look like. It is a well-accepted notion that trends regularly come back in cycles, but is it the same with design?

When looking at the history of a field as broad as design, it can be easy to get lost, as it is an umbrella term for many, many different niches within it. In this article we are going to focus more on digital and print design, and, to a lesser extent, product design.

One way to approach the question “can design history give us any insight?” is by looking back to the very beginning of this discipline and then progressively work our way to our days.

But that doesn’t seem like a very efficient way to try and understand how design will evolve now, does it?

So, instead, we can try a different approach, which will be the synthesis of a few indicators and factors - history, latest development, and overall direction of today’s globalised society.

The Universal Over the Particular

There is no denying that one of the most pervasive ideas of today’s society is the importance placed on the universal over the particular.

As we progress into a new, fairly homogenous phase in the development of our society, it is crucial that what is produced nowadays can be seen, used, obtained and understood by the vast majority of the population. And this is no different from design.

We can probably ascribe one of design’s most recent and lasting trends to this need for worldwide understanding - the removal of ornament and a focus on shapes, geometry, clear typography and one-dimensionality. By taking away all that is unnecessary or additional, only what is necessary to convey meaning is left, therefore leaving no room for misunderstanding.

This direction towards simplicity, which can be observed in design as well as in many other areas, is more of a necessity in today’s globalised world than simply a trend.

Nowadays, the world has way more consumers who will watch a certain movie, shop at a certain store, play with a certain game, create with certain software, purchase a certain product, so it is absolutely fundamental that the meaning behind all such things is easily accessible.

Will Design Make a U-Turn?

While the current trend towards simplicity is most likely here to stay for a good while, it cannot be ruled out that design might make a surprise U-turn towards a more ornamental and non-functional phase at some point. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.

Often, this can happen due to a desire to go “back to the roots”. When there is a will to embrace a company’s heritage, for instance, it might be decided in favour of reverting back to one of the logo designs used in the past. This is the case of Italian car manufacturer FIAT, which is 2006 decided to use a slightly different version of their 1925-1931 logo.

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Past and Future’s Role in Determining Design’s Evolution

It is certainly not easy giving a definitive answer to the question that serves as this article’s title, nor it is to draw some conclusions. Nevertheless, design’s evolution will continue to be shaped by both past and future - design isn’t a field that looks to the present much.

It is then safe to say that anything that will make any lasting impression in this field will have come out of a very interesting place, where past traditions and tendencies seamlessly intertwine with new ways of thinking and an idealised future. Whatever the developments, it would be preposterous to even think that design could cease to impress us someday, and we should, therefore, place our full trust on whoever will take upon themselves the task of making this field thrive.

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