Graphic design trends are more than forgettable fads: they reflect a year’s worth of constraints and clichés being upended for the sake of something new. Because imagine how boring life would be if design stayed the same.
This year—like an echo of the near palindrome that 2022 is—the graphic design trends represent a tentative second wave. The world is slowly but surely picking itself up from a lingering pandemic. Styles from across the decades are being given a second life. And a few experiments are replacing the old with the new. Our journey through 2022 promises to be nothing short of unpredictable, as we’ll discover in the following 12 graphic design trends.
The top 12 graphic design trends for 2022
- 90s nostalgia
- Expressive and experimental lettering
- Ukiyo-e flat design
- Daydream doodles
- Parametric patterns
- Intricate maximalism
- Extreme bubble design
- Grunge revival
1. 90s nostalgia
It seems not that long ago that popular media like Stranger Things and It brought 80s nostalgia back into the mainstream, ushering in an era of gothic serifs, neon colors and vaporwave landscapes. In 2022, the retro comeback has finally landed on the 90s (having also recently been romanticized in Netflix’s Fear Street).
As we’ll see in many of the trends on this list, the 90s are coming back in a variety of incarnations. But this particular trend hinges on nostalgia—that longing, idealized gaze backward. To this end, we are reexperiencing the 90s through Memphis design patterns, simple emojis and primitive internet frames. Fond childhood memories reign supreme through bright color blocks and dripping slime. Whenever your design project calls for a sense of comfort with a touch of old-school cool, turn the clock back to the 90s.
Everything old and retro is new again! People want familiarity and comfort mixed with minimalism—life was overwhelming pre-pandemic. People want to slow down, reflect and have fun
2. Expressive and experimental lettering
As the world becomes more global and online, we can’t always rely on words to convey meaning from culture to culture. Far from being a setback, many designers see this as an opportunity. For 2022, we expect lettering that pushes the bounds of easy legibility, creating forms that are expressive in and of themselves.
Because this trend is rooted in experimentation and personal expression, the sky is the limit as far as how it can look. Mismatched letter styles, mind-bending shapes and amorphous blobs are all on the table. All in all, these lettering styles challenge the distinction between abstract shapes and readable letter. This can be a risky trend—hard to pull off for audiences that are less interested in artsy experimentation. But it rewards those brave enough with freedom: unshackling meaning from any specific language.
Thanks to the ever-increasing visual smog in our surroundings and streets, the path of purity in design and aesthetics is the right way. A game with typography in a sensitive combination with playful elements and fresh colors are the future!
I think the state of graphic design has slowly changed into more expressive while trying to be functional at the same time.
3. Ukiyo-e flat design
For years now, designers have been searching for ways to reinvigorate the flat vector artwork imposed by digital design standards. The designers of 2022 are taking their inspiration from past pioneers of flat design, specifically the Ukiyo-e artists of Japan’s Edo Period.
Ukiyo-e is a style of printed artwork (though it was sometimes painted) using hand-carved woodblocks. One of the most famous artworks of the style is The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It often featured bold outlines, flat colors and limited perspective techniques—all of which are familiar to the vector designers.
Over a period of 300 years, Ukiyo-e artists rendered everything from landscapes to local celebrities to mythic scenes in stylized flatness. Though they mostly depicted everyday scenes that would resonate with its principle consumers—the merchant class—facial expressions and human poses were often exaggerated with a touch of fluidity. These days, creatives are utilizing similar techniques to give ordinary flat vector scenes the same extraordinary effect.
4. Daydream doodles
Doodles are more than meaningless shapes you draw when your mind wanders during a zoom presentation. What you doodle can actually say a lot about you.
These meandering drawings are intensely personal, and the designers of 2022 are injecting their professional work with a bit of their own abstract mindscape. Doing so can bridge the gap between digital tools and a human touch, creating designs that are approachable. At the same time, this does not have to conflict with digital design—tools such as animation are helpful for evoking the freeform-drawing nature of the doodling process.
The organic and simple hand-drawn doodle style creates unique characters. This attracts young adults because the characters have unique features that incorporate relatable words and personalities. The simplicity of the art style makes it perfect for designing products and branding.
Over the last decade, the app race has fostered strict design conventions focused on usability above all else. While this has created interfaces that any average user can easily understand, it has also led to homogeneity across the digital landscape. Many creatives have been pushing back by bending the rules. In 2022, some plan to break them entirely: enter the anti-designers.
Anti-design (related but not entirely synonymous with Brutalism) is what it sounds like: it eschews traditional design principles and conventional aesthetic tastes. It challenges us with asymmetry, clashing colors, bare interfaces, crowded elements and stark typography. While we see it most commonly in the digital sphere, its spirit of rebellion can apply in any design context. To its critics, the style is ugly for the sake of ugly. But to its champions, it creates designs that are liberated from beauty standards somebody else has constructed.
Anti-Design has been around since last year but it’s increasing in popularity more and more. It’s design that dismisses standard design principles, has colors that clash and type that’s illegible
Last year, we witnessed designers escaping stay-at-home orders through imaginative forays into the natural world. Since then, they have waded deeper into evermore fantastical worlds. The resulting designs reflect escapism in its purest form.
The appeal of escapism is not just in the getaway itself but in its inherent wonder. This trend is full of unexpected colors, tantalizing settings and whimsical character designs. It is a way for designers and viewers alike to experience an expansion of their imagination. While this is largely an illustration trend, it can be useful for background patterns on labels and websites. The key is to fill these worlds with dense intriguing imagery in which viewers will lose themselves as they explore.
Lulu Chen builds magical worlds with cute nature-inspired creatures. Composition, color palette, lighting and character design make her work really special.
Marija Tiurina has a very unique style of creating little psychedelic worlds. I always find more and more because the level of detail is outstanding.
The world is extremely diverse. Don’t forget to experiment. Try completely new design directions. It will be a rewarding experience for your brain.
In a much more literal sense than today, the people of the Y2K era were certain technology would be their doom. When that proved untrue in the year 2000, the resounding sigh of relief led to an intense renewed technological optimism. But social media isolation and misinformation have dimmed that significantly in recent years. It’s no wonder many creatives are trying to reclaim that early sense of excitement—when anything seemed possible through technology—through Y2K-inspired designs.
This specific period, around the late nineties and early naughties, is characterized by crude interfaces, low poly CGI, bubblegum pinks, blues and iridescent colors reminiscent of the backs of CDs. In many ways, it approaches cyberpunk, but it is much more bright and innocently nostalgic instead of dark, neon and sleek.
[Y2K is] a bit grunge, a bit anime, a bit pop, a lot of tech. It has a cheap feel to it, in the most endearing way possible.
The 2020s were once considered the future of design and technology. We are now turning our backs on the polished minimalism of the now and are looking to the past for inspiration. Specifically, the Y2K boom of the 2000s in all of its kitschy, metallic glory.
8. Parametric patterns
Patterns are a mainstay of graphic design. They are useful for breaking up solid colors and adding visual interest to a background. But in 2022 designers are bringing statement patterns to the forefront through parametric geometry.
Parametric patterns consist of intricate geometric structures, wherein each line morphs depending on its relative positions. Effectively, the style is based on the graphs of parametric equations. Although they are rooted in geometry, these patterns are fluid and three-dimensional, giving them a sense of movement as opposed to architectural rigidity. In the designs of 2022, parametric patterns are being used to represent the complexity of their subject matter, be it human communication or identity.
This is an example of how design can communicate with minimum graphical elements. The main focus is a parametric pattern that I illustrated to represent clutter, noise, barrier in one’s head.
Frasurbane—a portmanteau of the 90s American sitcom Frasier and the word “urbane”—is another style that hearkens back to the 90s but from the point of view of the young adults. It considers the GenXers who, at that point, were settling down in urban areas and were finally earning enough money to indulge themselves in some high culture. Essentially, this is encapsulated by Frasier’s Seattle apartment—which included a grand piano, a modernistic fireplace and a statement column all within a general beige decor.
Although the trend has largely been having its moment in the interior decorating world, 2022 is bringing the Frasurbane to graphic design. Here, it finds expression through stately serifs, muted colors and carefully placed design elements. This is a trend that wants to have it both ways—to balance stuffy adult sophistication with youthful city-dwelling hipness. It does not eschew traditional aesthetics for messy chaos (the way youthful movements like anti-design do), but it is much more of a culture-loving showoff than minimalism. When it goes too far, the style—like Frasier himself—can come across as snobby and pretentious. When done right, Frasurbane can encapsulate a measured maturity.
10. Intricate maximalism
Although it is tempting to define maximalism by its counterpart “minimalism,” this trend does much more than you’d expect—true to its name. Maximalism isn’t just about filling space, but filling space with objects, colors and patterns that mirror the whim of the artist. It is like how hoarding can reflect a lifetime of keepsakes that mean nothing to anyone but the hoarder. The trend has been growing a while through related interior design movements like “grandmillennial.”
Essentially, the designer focuses on the individual pieces, and when we view the entire composition, we experience a jumbled smorgasbord representing their cumulative and sometimes clashing tastes. In this way, it is a style that lacks shame, putting all aspects of a designer’s artistic palate on display. While it is a trend, it has real staying power: so many elements competing for your attention means there will always be new discoveries waiting.
Chaos when it’s designed well can be really powerful and interesting. It’s a natural evolution for design to focus on more of the detail and intricate style of brands and products after such a big minimal push. Minimal layouts won’t be going anywhere either, but I think adding in more layers to complement this strong aesthetic will really drive it further.
11. Extreme bubble design
Each year, graphic designers find a way to imbue their professional work with some much-needed fun. For 2022, we expect to find designers at play through reinventing rounded graphics and lettering styles.
Bubble shapes have an undeniably positive effect, as circles often convey friendliness and levity due to their lack of corners. But unlike the typical bubble fonts and shapes (which often find their way onto products aimed at children), this 2022 trend revels in exaggeration through elongated forms and psychedelic colors. This makes these inflatable designs feel grown-up, even while they maintain that essential spark of childish glee.
12. Grunge revival
If 90s nostalgia is the child and Frasurbane is the yuppy adult, grunge is the destructive teen. Grunge is angst incarnate, and its return is a recognition of an out-of-control world. It is characterized by gritty textures, shadowed imagery and zine-like collages. This aesthetic oozes unleashed energy, as ink trails and splotches create an emotive feeling of movement. Its slapped-together also echoes the hurriedly edited videos younger audiences view on TikTok.
Most notably, grunge has a physical presence—through analog elements such as tape, torn pages and scribbled handwriting—rebelling against the clean, flat graphics of the digital age. After a year of quarantine spent mostly online, this sentiment comes as something of a relief.
Ready for the biggest 2022 graphic design trends?
The graphic design trends of 2022 are a ragtag bunch once you take them all in. Frasurbane and anti-design, escapism and grunge, doodles and parametric patterns. It’s hard to imagine any of these disparate personalities mingling at a party, but next year they effectively will be. And it’s exactly these unpredictable mashups that you won’t want to miss out on in the coming year.