Collage is an expression of remixed reality, combining unrelated elements to create something that is recognisable, but at the same time has never been seen before.
In a ‘post-truth’ world, where even the news can’t always be trusted, rejecting a single reality in favor of multiple, layered perspectives seems reasonable. The equivalent visual idea is what makes collage so appealing. Perhaps we’re all just collaging our way through the uncertainty – glueing different pieces together in an attempt to turn chaos into beauty.
As a visual idea, collage has been around for more than a century. Some of the mixed media experiments by Dada artists like Jean Arp and Raoul Hausmann, look surprisingly fresh a hundred years later. For decades, avant-garde creatives have turned to the medium to express absurdity; building imaginary (and often bizarre) scenarios from the building blocks of life as we know it. In an age as absurd as the one we live in, collage feels weirdly relevant.
Contemporary designers use software instead of scissors and glue to achieve a comparable mash-up of photos, graphics, typography, and texture, but the sentiment of remixing reality persists. Digitised replicas of analogue textures (folded paper, tape, newspaper, stickers) are wildly popular on Instagram, but virtually anything – photos, text, stickers, GIFs emojis, graphics, textures – can be ingredients in a collage.
In recent years, we’ve seen a loosening up on the style, as collages become less composed and more expressionistic. Images of people are fragmented, and interwoven with abstract patterns or expressive painting and drawing. Fashion houses have embraced the style in major campaigns – rebelling against posed fashion photography by exploding these images into surreal fragments.
Counterbalancing this very raw, almost childlike expression of collage, we’re also seeing more design-oriented applications that approach the art form with more minimalism and precision. Taken into the digital realm, elements can be manipulated more meticulously, and the color palette is easier to unify. Collage needn’t always be chaotic, it can be very melodic and harmonious.
Another big evolution has been breathing motion into collage, using GIFs to make graphic elements dance playfully, or deconstruct and reconstruct to reveal the creation process. The added elements of surprise, delight, and visual complexity make animated collage even more compelling, and it will definitely be an unmissable design trend this year.
Collage artists love to dig through old magazines and online libraries for obscure imagery, like thrifters at a vintage market: reducing, re-using and recycling design rather than creating it from scratch. At least half the fun lies in trawling through dozens of pictures, imagining connections between them. The aesthetic’s rejection of newness aligns it well with eco-consciousness, and the general trend towards analogue ways.
In terms of visual communication, collage is also very efficient. Superimposing multiple ideas and imagery in a single frame can drive home a complex message in a moment – even if the message is perhaps more of a feeling. Brands that embrace this approach in their design, are often purposefully communicating a sense of complexity and rebellion. Unusual juxtapositions make us pause, decode, and ask questions.
Alternatively, collage is often used more like a moodboard, sketching a unified idea from multiple images, something difficult to put into words that we nonetheless feel immediately. The effect here can be quite peaceful, as it drifts the eye along a more considered journey. Done right, this approach can mainline a mood straight to the heart.
Whether it’s with paper and glue, or on your phone while you’re taking a train, collage is also just… fun; an almost meditative way to spend an hour or two. It’s pure play, because there really are no rules, and you’re almost certain to create something completely unique. Quite frankly, we should all be playing a bit more in 2020.
We’re certain this visual style is well-loved by Over users, seeing as there were more than 50 000 searches for ‘collage’ in 2019 – the second most popular search term of the year. It’s a trend that’s only gaining momentum, and we have you well covered.
There are no real rules when it comes to collage, so you can dig around in just about any of the thousands of graphic packs we have in our library. Much of the fun to be had is in combining different elements, and seeing what instinctively feels right together. Like we said, it’s a great way to play.
That said, we have some brilliant collage graphics and templates to get you going in a more specific direction. We even have a collage layout collection, which is a great way to apply this trending look to an entire Story, or multi-platform campaign. It’s all laid out for you, just switch out the images and graphics to reflect your personal style.