Image by Tala Safié

Welcome to Spotted, Eye on Design’s new column that turns an eye (ahem) on the styles and graphic trends you’re seeing everywhere. To kick things off, we’re looking at “liquid metal,” the glinting 3D texture effect that gives everything it touches a futuristic shine. Have other nominations for trends we should feature? Shoot us an email at submit@aiga.org.

What are you seeing?
Call it what you want—liquid metal, chromic graphics, chrometype—but gleaming typography, three-dimensional logos, and textured illustrations are everywhere right now. The look is distinctly computerized: think sinuous, jagged type that’s been plumped by pixels, or water drop squiggles that look like they’ve dripped from a melted lead pipe. The digital trick can be achieved through 3D rendering software, but an artfully applied Photoshop filter or two also does the trick. Though spaceship silver is the style’s default sheen, liquid metal can take on a watery irredescence, a matte-black buff, or a ’90s-era Windows screensaver vibe.

Who’s using it?
The better question is, who isn’t? Jessica Walsh employed it for her slippery
new logo. Dazed magazine just launched a new beauty site with a chromed-out identity. Type designers are doing it. So is Eric Hu, Zipeng Zhu, The New Company, Jonathan Castro, Yuta Kawaguchi, Mirko Borsche, Elliot Grunewald, Darren Oorloff, and So. Many. Others.  

Why do designers love it?
The simplest explanation is that liquid metal just looks cool. “It’s unusual, almost surreal,” says designer Zipeng Zhu. “A shiny metal that runs like water is very mesmerizing.” Indeed it is, but let’s go a little deeper. It’s fair to say liquid metal owes some of its futuristic trippy-ness to the spindly typography that came out of the metal scene—a genre that has its roots, thanks to rawk, man, in the early days of psychedelic design. It makes sense then that liquid metal is closely aligned to a more contemporary version of psychedelia, too.

Liquid metal is a key planet in the acid graphics universe. This genre, made popular by David Rudnick’s intricate layers of geometries and jagged type, is a haven for all things glistening, illegible, and glaringly artificial. But is the chrome glint a callback to early computer graphics or a glance forward to our cyborgian design future? It really depends on your point of view. The designers who’ve adopted this computerized sheen employ it for a range of uses, from nostalgic throwbacks to conveying a deliberately futuristic vibe.

 

By now, liquid metal is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to say where the trend truly started, but in recent years it’s been adopted with fervor by designers who peddle in what’s best described as culture-centric design. Musicians, shoe brands, and general “youth culture” at large tend to be the main purveyors of the style. The visual treatment is a stylistic F-you to the orderliness of minimalism. “Everything is reactionary,” explains designer Daniel Brokestad. “After years of design going in a more minimalistic direction, removing the 3D and gradients from the late ’90s/early 2000s, it’s again adding additional 3D treatment to the lettering as a reaction to the stripped down look.” Round and round we go.

Joey Rumble, a designer who runs the Instagram account Chrometype says he’s seen the style take off in the past couple of years as designers want to experiment with a more futuristic look. Rumble makes a downloadable chrometype starter kit for people who want to play with the style, and says it gets around 30 downloads a week. When asked if the trend is over, Rumble put out an ask to his audience. The answer? Not quite yet.