Image by Beatrice Sala.

It’s that time of year when we glance back at the last 12 months in an attempt to understand what it all means. And while we can’t promise you all of the answers, throughout the year we do our best to articulate moments that can lend some clarity on where design was, is, and where it’s heading. We’re hesitant to call these moments trends, but sometimes an idea or aesthetic becomes prevalent enough that we can’t help but take notice. Is that a trend? Perhaps. Either way, here’s what we took stock of in 2020.

Infini, by Sandrine Nugue

Chiseled type
Maybe you noticed that type took a turn towards the jagged this year. With sharp corners, non-linear strokes, and exaggerated serifs, “chiseled type” became a verifiable thing. The letterforms look simultaneously modern and prehistoric, like they’ve been chiseled out of rock and recreated on a computer. The style is, as writer Emily Gosling explains, a real designer’s design choice. But the type style also lends itself to descriptive eloquence. Designer Thomas Huot-Marchand explained that he wanted his typeface Minérale “to shine like diamonds.” And type designer Jesse Ragan of XYZ type described his typeface Cedar as having a “hand-carved aesthetic.” That alone is reason enough for us to write about it.

Part of Biden’s transition graphics.

Political gradients
We know, we know. When haven’t gradients been a trend? But while they’ve long been a mainstay in pop culture and technology, it’s only recently that the political sphere has adopted the gauzy glow of ombre. Biden’s creative team embraced gradients throughout the campaign as a way to bring some visual levity and youthfulness to his traditionally staid palette. Other politicians including Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Georgia senatorial candidate Jon Ossoff have deployed the style, as well. What can we learn from politicians’ wholehearted embrace of the gradient? Honestly, not much beyond the fact that gradients are so ubiquitous that they’re now considered a safe choice for even the most image-conscious public figures.

Human NYC, design for orthodontics company Two Front.

Ovals
Once you see the oblong outline of a fruit sticker decal you can’t unsee it. In 2019, designers went bananas (sorry) for the style, which wraps text and image in a vector-drawn elliptical perimeter. The decals bring together the best of old-school stickers and new-school street-ware culture into a very pleasing aesthetic. They command attention, like a button, while maintaining their outlined subtlety. “The simplicity of these little decals makes it easy to interpret them freely, transposing your own experiences onto their meaning,” writer Margaret Rhodes observed. And indeed, when deployed correctly the decals can evoke trustworthiness as much as trendiness.

Modern Fertility branding | Image courtesy of Wolff Olins.

High-design healthcare
We published this piece in early 2020 when healthcare was facing different challenges. In retrospect, it feels quaint, naive even, to write a story about the consumerization of healthcare and its branding mere weeks before the healthcare system was crushed by the Covid-19 pandemic. And yet, these companies and their millennial minimalist branding still say something about the aspirational nature of healthcare to speak to people as consumers and not just patients. It’s hard to imagine any healthcare company spending too much time thinking about serifs and color palettes in the coming year, and that’s probably a good thing.

Volume 1 of Annika Hansteen-Izora’s guide “Creative Ecosystems and Funds that are doing the work to support Black people.”

Instagram activism graphics
We lived our lives mostly online this year. That was true even during moments of political unrest and social upheaval. While crowds took to the streets to protest the systemic mistreatment of Black lives, the protests were happening online, too, in the form of colorful guides that popped up all over Instagram. These swipe-able graphics served a utilitarian purpose—they acted as digestible piece of information that helped to inform and guide anyone who cared to listen—but they also took on an aesthetic all their own.