Dieline's 2022 Trend Report

by The Dieline on 12/19/2021 | 50 Minute Read

If you ask any design studio or creative agency about predicting what the latest design trends will be for the coming year, most of them will tell you that they loathe trends. 

Because they don’t follow trends; they set the trends. They’re the ones determining what the conversation is and how it should look and feel.

Trying to predict the trends for the upcoming year can feel like a fool’s errand—that’s part of the deal with creativity in general, right? We want to be shocked and awed while celebrating ingenuity and innovation, feasting our eyes on something we’ve never seen before. The power of the next best thing is obvious, but as we’ve come to find in an increasingly chaotic world, so are the creature comforts of nostalgia and the sentimental.

The world is changing in dramatic and drastic ways. While some of us are still shaking our heads and googling metaverse and NFT, if 2021 showed us one thing, it’s that the future waits for no one.

What you have here is a collection of ten ideas and themes that we’ll be seeing more of in 2022. You’ll see how designers are looking to other decades for inspiration, new industries and markets, ethical consumption, and packaging trends that are a much-needed about-face from the dumpster fire that was 2020. Plus, we’ve talked to a handful of some of our favorite designers, and they’ve offered their invaluable insight into some of the creative trends you’ll be seeing in the very near future. And, yes, we’re even going to talk about the metaverse, because how can you not?

So sit back, get comfortable, and dig in—here’s the 2022 Dieline Trend Report. 

Trend 1: We Love The 90s

So, a bit of a disclaimer here; I didn’t exactly love the 90s. 

I spent all of my teenage years in that decade. While this makes me a cross between a geriatric millennial and card-carrying member of the Oregon Trail Generation (and no, I don’t emoji well), I can tell you that you don’t necessarily love the decade you’re a part of. If anything, I’ve always been partial to the 70s.

And I think that’s the point here.

Because as you're living through it, it feels like a regurgitation machine without much of an identity. The “kids” obsessed over the 60s and 70s back then, and those decades made it into many 90s cultural moments and fashions. Here’s a reminder: Dazed and Confused came out in 1993, and That ‘70s Show premiered in 1998. Now, as a new generation of consumers comes of age, they’re looking to another decade for comfort, and frankly, so are their parents.

So, no, it’s not much of a shocker that the 90s are back in. If anything, they arrived a few years ago, but that same nostalgia for a long-gone decade will likely stay with us for some time. 

Design trends are cyclical. That goes for music, fashion, and graphic design. Trends come and go. They get accepted, they get mass acceptance, and then mass adoption. They become the norm, and then someone rebels against them.

Alex Center, founder of CENTER

“Design trends are cyclical,” says Alex Center of Brooklyn-based design agency CENTER. “That goes for music, fashion, and graphic design. Trends come and go. They get accepted, they get mass acceptance, and then mass adoption. They become the norm, and then someone rebels against them.”

So what kickstarted it all? Bidding wars for Seinfeld reruns? Bucket hats and Doc Martens? Bagel Bites? Pleats and bistro vibes? Free Britney?

Think of it as a very sudden about-face from the minimalism that’s dominated the past two decades. Last year, it was "the blanding" that designers were running away from, fully embracing the kitchen sink mentality for something more dynamic and playful. And it’s not just those neon hues, bold typography, wackadoodle patterns, and rave aesthetics making a comeback. “The truth is, the 90s, in terms of design, was more fun and complicated and experimental,” Alex says. “There were layers and gradients and shapes and funky type, and I'm excited that it's coming back.”

In 2019, we talked about the rise of fast and anti-design, a celebration of scum-bro vibes that didn’t give a solitary fuck about what came before—making things ugly, in a sense, felt like a victory over the social-first brands decked out in a sea of tired pastels. However, you can see the design world and popular culture really lean into those sentimental feels of the grunge-meets-Britney-meets-new jack swing decade. Waste-free body wash brand Plus has a website decked out in Nevermind-esque typography, while protein-packed mac and cheese brand Goodles is the ultimate forgotten skateboard logo. Even &Walsh gave salad greens a much-needed makeover with Plenty, giving the brand a rowdy color palette that screams junk food.

“It’s been almost 20 years of a slow march towards a minimalist, flat, simple, and clean aesthetic—what we might classify as ‘good design,’” Alex mentions. “Things that had shadows and gradients looked and felt dated. And then every brand went through a shift where they flattened and simplified and minimized. They replaced everything with clean sans serif typography, and they lost a lot of character.”

But what does that look like today?

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“More fun and less precious,” Alex jokes. 

People want to have a good time right now. That's not to say that you shouldn’t take climate change, last year’s insurrection, or new variants lightly, but people also need to decompress and take a breath. Being surrounded by some color can't hurt, right? “I think that's the 90s spirit,” Alex says, “because things were good and fun, and life didn't feel quite so scary back then.”

“Design and culture is a reflection of what's going on, and I think after the pandemic—not that it's over—but people want to feel joy, and I think design in many ways is going that way, too,” he adds. “We were all inside for a fucking year and a half, and people were sad.”

That’s why you’re seeing beloved snack staples of the 90s getting revived—Dunkaroos, Doritos 3D, and Cookie Crisp cereal. We're even witnessing collabs from classic brands from the decade, like Fila teaming up with Starbucks to make highly sought-after merch. It's no surprise, but we look to the past for solace. This past year, Pizza Hut rolled out their “newstalgia” campaign, resurrecting the beloved Book-It program while delivering an AR pizza box that allowed consumers to play Pac-Man. So, yes, you have these things steeped in nostalgia, but they’re getting presented with new technologies. They’re fun for the older crowd that vividly remember running away from arcade game ghosts while getting their kids to come along for the ride. 

Brands know that millennials have an awful lot of buying power, so their interests are two-fold; remind the olds of yesteryear, and turn that nostalgia onto new generations. And it’s not just the 90s creeping their way into branding. You’re also seeing the 60s and 70s tunneled through our collective fondness for the 90s because that decade, in particular, borrowed so much from the past. Just look at Good Vibes probiotic ice cream or Block Party's hemp-infused chocolate; I don’t know if CASA candles smell like nag champa with a hint of weed, but they definitely remind me of a lot of the basements I hung out in as a teenager.

Everything comes back again eventually, and there’s always a younger generation thirsty to revive it or even just appreciate the design trends of yesterday. Just because it might have come from the 90s (or 60s or 70s) doesn’t mean it wasn’t any good, to begin with—it just needed to have its time in the sun once again.

That said, can we please keep the mothballed JNCO’s and Zubaz in the attic just this once?

(Words: Bill McCool)

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