This article is part of CMO.com’s October series about creativity and design-led thinking. Click here for more.
As companies move to transform their organizations into experience-led businesses, designers and creative professionals will find they have more influence and power to make decisions and effect change. Indeed, visual elements, as well as the people creating them, factor heavily in a winning customer experience.
What should organizations be considering? Here is Adobe Stock’s take on the visual trends of 2017.
We live in a technology-first, industrialized world, influencing digital design to gravitate toward a handicraft style, such as sketching, delicate brush strokes, and fine textures.
“As hardware and software evolve, professional illustrators, animators, and graphic artists are sketching with digital pencils—and it’s giving them quality, flexibility, and the chance to be creative on the go,” said Brenda Milis, Adobe’s principal of creative services and visual trends.
Drone technology is pushing the boundaries in terms of angles available to photographers. “We can now produce images from viewpoints that were never before possible, and artists are already taking advantage of this,” Milis told CMO.com. Before drones, photographers were getting aerial views by climbing onto bridges or buildings.
Women today connect better with unique photos that buck gender stereotypes. This is especially critical to remember, given that women make 85% of all consumer purchases. Additionally, journalists are looking for stock images that can accompany stories about social change and the real lives of women.
“Images that celebrate women and their creativity, notable female figures who are pioneers of their time, as well as contemporaries who are ever expanding their influence are resonating with women,” Milis said. “There’s an expanding awareness of the need to bring gender roles and diversity to the forefront of design for a more balanced perspective.”
Consumers today are more environmentally friendly and overall do more for the environment that our predecessors. As a result, corporate environmental responsibility is becoming more critical than ever. Images that show man-made structures in balance with natural elements speak to our growing urbanization. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 97% of the nation’s land is rural, but only 19.3% of us live there.
“We are overwhelmingly urban, and as designers, journalists, marketers, and others separate themselves from wild nature and open spaces, they’re searching for images that show there’s still a connection between the natural world and all that we’ve built,” Milis said.
An Adobe Stock search query analysis by Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) found that the majority (62%) of urban images searched for embraced a balance between urban settings and nature. These were images including parks, gardens, bridges over rivers and streams, and lush landscaping surrounding man-made structures. Only 25% of the most-searched urban images were entirely man-made (think: a building).
Adobe Stock is also seeing a rise in imagery whose main purpose is to motivate people to action—maybe to make the world better or to remember to be in a moment. ADI found an uptick in images with a political or philanthropic purpose. From photos of people hoisting their protest signs, to snapshots as they cross the finish line in a charitable 5K, social media users are increasingly blending visuals and hashtags to create calls to action.
To understand more about the trend, ADI analyzed aggregated, anonymous data from the Adobe Experience Cloud, including more than 75 million social engagements between 2015 and now. It found that holidays with a political or social message drove peaks in social media hashtag use. For example, in April, when we celebrate Earth Day, advocacy mentions jumped 30% above the baseline. They jumped 90% above the baseline in June for LGBTQ Pride month.
“Function is winning out over form when both together are not in reach,” Milis said. “A lack of content can no longer be disguised by pretty packaging—it first needs substance and weight. Social media has given a voice to everyone, and celebrities recognize that people are expecting more than their faces emblazoned on selfies—we want their intelligent support for social issues, too.”
Real-life imagery as a trend has taken shape given how nearly every person today has a camera on hand. Social media feeds are flooded with photos of news as it happens, and it’s brought with it an expectation of realness and rawness. Photos are the news source of 2017.
“Photography has the power to connect us to place and places from all corners of the planet,” Milis told CMO.com. “In the age of both traditional and social media saturation, authenticity is key for images to cut through the noise, and we’re seeing a natural trend toward images that reflect reality.”
Artists are using angles, balance, and perspective to deliberately break the rules of composition to both shock and unsettle audiences. They’re using their work to communicate about social change, political upheaval, and environmental threats, urging viewers to see beyond the norm.
“Working with compositions that aren't centered is one extremely effective way to get and keep the viewer's interest,” Milis said. “Unbalanced compositions are, in fact, extremely strong compositions that very much resonate with the eye and offer a unique moment, often adding dimension to the storytelling force of an image.
3D isn’t a new concept by any means, but it is fairly new as it relates to the marketing realm. In fact, the odds are high you have experienced a 3D automotive ad and just don’t know it. 3D makes people feel like they are part of the experience—more than merely being a viewer.
“The demand for 3D assets has been growing the past couple of years, and interest is only scaling,” Milis said. “New technology makes working with these kinds of visuals much easier than before and helping 2D artists to move into the world of 3D design.”
Storytelling is the norm in 2017, with brands creating an experience around telling verses selling. Whether it’s a single image or a six-second advertisement, companies are all attempting to tell an interesting story using visuals. Those that speak to the correct audience, with the right tone and setting, will be most successful. Adobe Stock has seen a rise in stories that are told through a variety of methods: with a beginning, middle, and end combined in a single view, for example, or, instead, one element in focus with room for the viewer to interpret what happened before or what will happen next.
“Quick digital narratives have become a staple of our increasingly media-saturated daily lives, and there are more ways than ever for people to create their personal stories and share them online,” Milis said.
Art reflects the joys and anxieties of the times, so what do Millennial artists have to tell us? We know they’re coming of age in a politically charged and economically tough time. They want to make changes and move beyond the politics and stigmas of the generations before them, but how will they make their mark?
“So far their work varies from boundary-breaking to occasionally, clumsy,” Milis said. “From our perspective at Adobe, we’re watching as young artists navigate difficult questions about whether to follow new trends or to invent their own. As an artist, is it better to stay with tried-and-true tools and mediums, jump into the latest trends to make your mark, or try to start a trend yourself?”