The pendulum swings back

One thing I’ve learned from the last five years is that there’s no way to know what’s coming next. Will there be another new global illness? Will our reliance on the Netherlands’ barium and/or cocoa butter supply cause a supply chain crisis? Each outcome feels as likely as any other. That being said, there are a few things that we can point to as likely, pending a global cocoa butter catastrophe. 

For one, in the last five years, we’ve seen a return to expressive design. It’s been a decade since the pivotal iOS 7 moment that shook the cobwebs from an entire industry. What followed was a mass reset of expectations — the line between wire frame and finished design blurred, and iteration replaced culmination.

Over time, we started to crack the door open to expressive design once more and embrace decorative display typefaces, emotional colour choices and expressionistic UI patterns. Moving into the next five years, the pendulum will start to swing the other way. After all, iOS 7 came out of the ripple effect of the last major recession. Austerity was in vogue, and so minimalism, self-selected uniforms, geometric type and high contrast colour became de rigeur. Now that we are entering another moment of economic tightening, the maximalism of the current era will swing back towards simplicity and curation.

We’re already seeing it in certain areas of design: In the automotive industry, mass-market hallmarks like the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius have been redesigned to be straightforward and stripped down; a massive departure from their previously overwrought bodywork. Generally, we’ll see this tightening of the belt continue. Typography will once more become practical — goodbye exaggerated inktraps and art deco display serifs — and we will see a shift away from decorative design towards the functional and practical. Quality and craft will become higher value priorities for a world that is more scrupulous about spending.

In addition to those economic factors, there’s also the cultural cadence of trend. If you subscribe to the concept of the 20 year cultural cycle you’ll notice the current self-aware resurgence of Y2K style, and echoes of the 80s. As we look towards the next five years, we’ll be revisiting the styles and fashions of the late aughts (I hope you enjoyed wide-legged pants while you could), and by extension, the cultural psychology of the late 80’s.

After a decade of disruption focused investment, we’ll see the entrenchment of incumbent powers throughout culture. You can again see this happening already in the automotive industry, where after the rise and fall of disruptive automakers like Lordstown, Faraday and Argo AI (as well as the continued spectacle of Elon Musk causing damage to the reputation and stock performance of Tesla) familiar stalwarts like Ford and GM benefit by staying the course in an era that otherwise could have seen their positions unseated. We’ll see the forced of corporate consolidation change from being top-down, driven by aggressive anti-competitive behaviour to a necessary survival tactic from smaller firms bidding to be acquired by more stable players. Traditional institutions, technological and financial, will maintain their position and power after the mainstream distances themselves from the once-viable crypto and Web3 markets.

Lastly, AI will continue to shift the technological landscape under our feet. There will always be a new, scary thing that threatens sense of stability, but as we’ve seen over and over again, from chatbots to deepfakes, we will become distracted by the next scary tool before the current threat has a chance to undo our lives. It has certainly been true that AI has become a viable, useful part of design over the last five years (even if the definition of AI in those applications is not quite accurate), but automation will continue to aid the designer rather than threaten them.

At Night Shift, we’ve already integrated tools like AI-powered transcription into our daily workflow as a studio, there are more tools on the horizon that will relieve the ongoing pain points of creative work. Some jobs will be consolidated, but human labour is typically reallocated rather than replaced, especially in the information sector. The idea that artists, writers and designers will be replaced by AI is not necessarily in the immediate horizon. Some types of work will be automated, but I know that some writers are looking forward to not having to take SEO writing gigs. If the robots can write for the robots, then humans can get back to writing for other humans. I’m interested in how automation could expedite creative conceptualization (once the delinquency around copyright has been factored in) and could be used to enhance our design process rather than usurp it. Ideally, as any good tool should, it’ll assist our design work and enhance it, rather than replace it. But for that, we will have to wait and see.