We’ve seen how rebellion is a major theme right now, and in design this is very literally being expressed as defying the age-old rules of the game. And let’s be clear – graphic design has plenty rules. More, perhaps, than most art forms. There are hundreds of text books to verify this.
Precision and legibility are essential for clear visual communication, and so designers adhere to almost mathematical laws defining exactly how elements appear on the page – quite literally down to the pixel. If you’ve ever worked with design software, you’ll know that the grid lines, rulers, and text boxes on the page are like stop signs at an interaction – you really do need to obey them. In the past, digital design has been fit for purpose but by no means elaborate or expressive, limiting true creativity.
“Rules are made to be broken” is the rebel mantra, and as tech accelerates it’s no surprise that more and more designers are coloring outside the lines. Design is an art form, and creativity is defined by curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. The artistic spirit will always wriggle away from safe spaces. Almost every great cultural movement in history began with an intuition to purposefully go where you’re not supposed to go.
2019 saw a huge resurgence of Brutalism, with a chunky, geometric, brashness derived from its architectural namesake. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and ‘ugly’ is a descriptor often associated with its overbearing approach. But it’s certainly effective at grabbing attention, and sometimes that’s the whole point. The Brutalist trend will undoubtedly continue to seep into popular culture this year, becoming even louder and more expressive as it invigorates graphic design with energy, movement, and impossible-to-ignore presence. The rise of unnatural color and the clash of natural and synthetic textures are parallel developments that bode well for difficult-on-the-eyes design in 2020.
This idea of anti-design has taken hold not only in the graphic design world, but in fashion, furniture design, decor, and food styling – where ugliness emerges as a radical response to pretty. ‘Raw’, ‘unapologetic’ and even ‘hideous’ are compliments in this context. Running parallel to the rise of authentic imagery in photography, we see a very clear mistrust of sugar-coated perfection. We’re yearning for evidence of imagination. Intuitive expression is the antidote to the generic mechanisation we’re growing weary of.
The only catch is that it requires a fair amount of skill to play on the cliff edge of familiarity. We can’t all just fling paint at a canvas and assume we’ll create a Jackson Pollock. Basic knowledge is essential, and there are some outer limits that just seem to be impenetrable.
Firstly, if there’s a message being conveyed, it does need to be visible, and readable, otherwise it’s just a frustrating experience. And then there’s the unfortunate fact that bad design can just be really difficult to look at, repelling the eye instead of pulling it in. Perhaps ‘breaking’ the rules is the wrong way to phrase it. 'Bending’, ‘flexing’, ‘contorting’, and ‘re-interpreting’ might be better terms.
Confident designers can venture far out to sea, but they remember to never lose sight of the lighthouse. It’s still worth familiarising yourself with the centuries-old principles of composition, color, movement, and typography, because they really do work in harmony with the eye-mind connection. But once you understand these basics, remix them into something louder, bolder, and more never-seen-before. Don’t accept the standardised option.
If you or your brand want to really get noticed in 2020, join the rebel alliance. May the fire of the burning rule book light your way.
Starting with a blank canvas can be intimidating when you’re looking to create something intentionally anti-design. Of course, if you’re feeling rebellious that’s a great way to dive in. But the tens of thousands of pre-designed templates we have in the app make things much easier for you.
All our templates can be remixed at your fingertips. If you want to try something far out, pick a design in our feed that you instinctively like, and then mash it up. Push it outside of its neat alignment, enlarge the fonts, add more images, invert all the colors… Go nuts.
Here are a few anti-design designs we created in Over, to inspire you.