Design trends 2016: 21 leading designers, artists and creatives tell us what's inspiring them for the year ahead

Discover 2016's most important trends across graphic, digital and immersive design, illustration, creative direction, advertising, photography and VFX.


2016 is almost upon us and most of us are starting to think about the year ahead. The trends that will most affect our practice aren't just about whatever colour Pantone has picked to symbolise the year ahead - but the cultural, business and technological changes that affect what our work means, what our clients want and what the possibilties are to make, display and let people engage with it.

It’s that time of year when every news source from the Daily Mail to Pigeon Fancier’s Monthly asks prominent people in their field to tell them about what’s to come. But here at Digital Arts, we want to do it slightly differently – and better – than the rest.

Rather than asking the creative industries for clairvoyance about the future, we wanted to know what they hope will happen – and what they fear might – how their own practice will change over the next year, and what the drivers behind these are.

We've asked some of the smartest people across graphic, digital and immersive design, illustration, creative direction, advertising, photography, VFX to tell us what they think - and you can help but be inspired by what they say.

Image: A paperscape by Carl Reiner for Google. Learn more about this project in our guide to visual trends for 2016.

Craig Ward

Designer and art director, wordsarepictures.co.uk

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I guess the same thing that I’d like to see every year - more original thinking and less reliance on styles and trends."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"I’m going to be honest. I kind of try and keep my head down and not really pay attention to what everyone else is up to these days. A little bored of the grid-less, chaotic, cool kid typography that I see so much of around though. And wobbly underlines."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"I have literally no idea what’s going to happen next year. This year has finished on such a high - three huge projects back to back - that it’s kind of left me with some thinking to do over Christmas. Not sure how I can top it. I would imagine it will become more abstract. I’ve pushed some personal boundaries this year in that respect and it seems I cant et away with it so let’s see."

How will it be different in form and function?
"I’m hoping to move into interiors and to see if my process driven approach and love of unusual materials will translate into usable spaces. I’m aware that I can't just announce myself as an interior designer so I’ve actually enrolled in a course starting in January so I can learn from the ground up.

"Also, I’ve been fortunate in that my last two personal projects really resonated with the public and media, I’m feeling a little selfish truth be told, so I’d like to try and work on something more worthy and try and divert that attention to a cause."


Andy Sandoz

Creative partner, Havas Worldwide and D&AD president 2015-2016

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"Confidence. Too much loose opinion, technology and pattern recognition are like knives to the magical qualities of intuition, taste and confidence. [I want to see] more trust in gut feel to pursue the less predictable path."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"More fear. Obviously. To quote a quote i just read and have no idea where it came from - You are a ghost, driving a meat-coated skeleton, made from stardust, riding a rock, hurtling through space. Fear nothing."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Nothing. Everything goes in the mix. Bad shows where good is. Hard gives strength to easy."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"More chaos. [I'm] tired of order. Let's put more stuff in strange places and play with weird textures, otherworld materials and freaky references."

How will it be different in form and function?
"I want to make work that looks attractive, friendly, interesting... but then really messes with you."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"The unknown unknowns. Climate change. Not technology."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"Forgiveness."

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Andy McNamara

Head of CG, Rushes

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"Ever-decreasing budgets in VFX/CG - but with high expectations - is challenging for all post-production and VFX companies across film, commercials and broadcast. However, the more progressive companies such as Rushes, see many positives in the nascent VR and immersive industries from both a creative and business perspective.

"Rushes are already active in this area, with our first VR projects currently going through the building and we’re looking forward to expanding our VR capabilities in the new year. Especially because the need for quality content becomes increasingly important as the first wave of consumer tech goes on the market."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"As usual it's generally keeping up to date with tools and techniques - things are moving way too fast to sit still.  However, further ahead it would be great to look at GPU rendering in a bit more detail and real-time CGI for VR/Immersive with Unity and Unreal Engine and see what the creative possibilities are."


Adam Rix

Creative director, Music

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"If I had to pick one thing to change, perhaps rather boringly and predictably it would be and end to free pitching – it’s such an inefficient model for agency and client to create effective and meaningful work."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"More crowdsourced creative and logos. I’d like agencies and clients to form closer, more engaged relationships and stand by the work they produce together. In recent times we’ve seen beer bottle label copy written by customers (after a bad reaction to a new packaging design), new branding and football crests canned and put out to tender to the public, all epitomised by the shambles that was the Tokyo Olympics.

"Engaging and consulting with audiences absolutely has to happen, but not after the event – continuing this trend of ‘panic consultation’ in the public eye is in danger of devaluing our industry."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Professionally: branding work that is aesthetically led, not audience led. Personally: about a stone and a half."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"Personally, I have an itch to return to physically making something with my bare hands, not a mouse. I saw an episode of Grand Designs recently where an architect had a realisation that he’d designed buildings for 20 or so years but had never actually built one – which made him feel incomplete. He had the balls to take a sabbatical and built his own house. Maybe I’ll try something a little less ambitious to begin with."


Dick Powell

Founder, SeymourPowell

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"It’s a pipedream I know, but I’d like to see a massive return to quality and commitment by clients. And I’d like to see their procurement teams put quality and creativity way ahead of numbers. And for clients to stop running faux pitches as beauty parades for work which they never actually intend to happen.

"There, I’ve got that off my chest and feel better already!"

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"Mostly that’s in and around UI and UX - rapid advances in technology are enabling new ways for us to interact with products and services and that has an effect aesthetically - in how they look and how they feel."

How will it be different in form and function?
"Again, new forms and new functions tend to be enabled by new technologies and new materials which allow us to create things which we couldn't do before."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"We never stop learning! Whether that’s about new technologies, new materials, or creating for new markets, or rethinking a product in a completely new sector, or creating a new kind of product or service ... all of that shapes and influences our future as people and as a business."

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Dave McDougall

Strategy director, Studio Output

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"More collaborative projects, run lean and agile with clients as true partners. Working closely with a wide range of internal client teams."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Creative pitching. It’s the same old record, but the creative pitch is still a strong force in the way agencies win work, and is still very broken. Architectural practices call them ‘competitions’, which is a little more insightful than calling them pitches. The best work is won on collaboration, chemistry and talent, rather than foresight and creative competition."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"It will look more 2016 than it did this year! We’ll be creative evolving ‘operating system’ brands as kits of parts, rather than finished pieces with guidelines."

How will it be different in form and function?
"It will be more optimised for the job it has to do in the brand ecosystem it sits – be that functional, systematic or aesthetic. It will likely be more closely joined up with other brand touch points."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"The increasing cost of premises and staff versus fees will make us increasingly efficient. More open, cloud­based software will make doing certain work cheaper. Step aside Photoshop, Word, Flash and MS Project – Sketch, Google Docs, HTML and Trello are our new friends."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"Writing pithy one liners for comment articles."


David has worked on many Hollywood blockbusters, including Guardians of the Galaxy

David Hirst

Head of Lighting - Vancouver, MPC

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"One of the area of interest for lighting in the next year is the de-noising features released with Renderman 20. With this technology we are seeing improvements to dealing with noise that before de-noising could potentially take significant computing power to resolve purely in the render."


David Sheldon-Hicks

Co-founder and creative director, Territory

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"Innovation is still a word that gets thrown around without much thought, and I’d love to see us move towards creating new tools and challenges with a huge amount of ambition so that we keep fresh and stimulated."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"The continued erosion of the arts from education really concerns me. If we all truly believe in the creative and digital industries driving growth then we need to back this up with support for education in Art, Design and Media. I want to see the UK government supporting the arts in this country through measured actions. We must see support for primary schools all the way through to higher education."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"I hope we can mix traditional analog techniques with new digital tools and technologies in interesting ways. The collision of those two worlds always creates interesting results."

How will it be different in form and function?
"We like to be really bespoke in the work we do. Last year we designed our own fonts which was great, maybe this year we could start building more of our own plug-ins and tools – just to allow us to build our own particular looks."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"In the short term, immersive content is definitely a big one - but in the longer term AI is going to be by far the biggest impact on the way we all work over the next 5 years. I’m not talking about Skynet and Terminator, but AI as a general digital service for brands. How we visualise and create these digital platforms will be a fascinating creative challenge. Jarvis for everyone is the dream.

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Gavin Strange

Senior designer, Aardman

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"Aardman celebrates its 40th birthday in 2016, something we’re all super-excited about. Over those years, I think we’ve discovered that in the area of creativity, you just have to stay true to what is core to our studio, as corny as that sounds. Change happens in the industry all the time, most of the time out of your control, so we want to continue making things that are honest, with great characters, a great story and have heart - whatever the platform, whatever developments are happening in the industry."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Change is a necessity, and whether it’s a positive or a negative change, it all impacts who you are and what you make, and you have to dissect it and learn from it. It’s wasted energy to focus on things that haven’t gone our way, we want to pour all that time and energy into making great things, regardless of what’s happening on the outside."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"We love combining techniques new and old, so more of that in 2016. Whether it’s fusing classic stop-frame animation with the latest in CG technology or mixing interactive storytelling with the latest social media platform - identifying what’s new, what’s exciting and where we fit into all of it. Virtual Reality is becoming a big part of our focus too, with a few projects for 2016 meaning we’re going deep into VR and that’s really exciting, adding a whole new level of interactivity for our characters and stories."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
There are lots new things we’re looking to develop – we’re really excited about creating truly immersive narrative experiences and exploring how best to evoke emotion within interactive story. But to be honest it’s important to continue to learn, grow and accumulate knowledge and skills in all areas - from what’s hot right now to classic techniques practised for hundreds of years. Using a pencil well is just as important as wielding a virtual reality experience with skill. Everything has its place, never take the basics for granted."


Glenn Cone

VFX artist, Rushes

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"
Perhaps a shift away from the 'traditional' methods of creating commercials and advertising content towards methods that are less encumbered by budget constraints and old school templates of production."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Shrinking budgets and a lack of risk taking. The two often go hand in hand."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"New production techniques should test post techniques, which can only be good."

How will it be different in form and function?
"Less software restraints and quicker rendering means more scope for testing, R&D etc."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"Experimental and underground visual arts. There is a never-ending supply if you're prepared to search."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"The latest production and camera techniques. And maybe virtual reality."


Gwyn Edwards

‎Head of design, Purple Creative

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"2015 has seen an increase in 3- to 4-way pitches – which is hard for smaller studios like us as they suck up huge amounts of time and money with no guarantee of a return. It’s an endless creative moan, but how many times does a successful creative agency keep having to prove itself?"

"Throughout 2015, we’ve had clients asking for ground-breaking disruptive creative ideas, which, when you oblige, they think are too edgy and don’t go anywhere."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?

"After creating and establishing multiple brand visual identities over the last two years, we’re looking forward to flexing and pushing brand boundaries in 2016. We’ve already got two very different projects lined up, in travel tech and whisky, which will hopefully enable us to create category-challenging design."

How will it be different in form and function?
"More and more, we’re seeing brands wanting to push the boundaries of branding – from passive ‘look at me’ to active ‘engage with me’. This is branding 360?. We’re already creating more and more immersive and experiential activity – whether external sensory experiences or internal workshops, where every detail of the brand at every place it will be touched and tasted is engaging and memorable."

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Hani Abusamra

Designer, Studio Output

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"2015 was a good year for design-­based apps, with Apple hailing Enlight as the best app of 2015. Opening up design and art to people outside the industry, through channels they find more accessible, is a socialistic aspect of design I’d like to see grow in 2016."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"The new Eye­dropper tool in InDesign."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"Styles and trends come and go, and they have the inherent ability to influence designers and artists subconsciously. Something starting to directly affect designers' evolving styles are the realtime updates that are apparent with Adobe CC. Seeing what Adobe come up with in 2016, and how that affects myriad working designers, will be interesting to watch."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"The same answer every designer gives every year: everything. Designers are continually becoming more multidisciplinary, both through choice and necessity. Not picking up new skills as and when possible – and perceiving them all as key – would be dangerous."


Jane Murison

Head of UX&D: Children's, Knowledge & Learning, UX Architecture and Design Research, BBC

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"Wider adoption of human-centred design thinking across all sorts of creative endeavours. I believe that our best work is ego-free, anxious to learn and improve and willing to take ideas from everywhere."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Even more 'micro-disciplines' would be a shame. I think digital UX folk can endlessly noodle around with job titles and descriptions, and it's counterproductive, divisive and most importantly, very dull."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Really badly implemented responsive design! Some of it's lovely and elegant, but man, when it's bad it sucks."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"For kids' digital design, hopefully even cleaner and smarter. Sometimes stuff for kids can be a diminished, half-baked version of the 'grown up' treatments. I think the BBC can influence others to make first rate experiences for children."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"Wearable tech, because of the self-monitoring and habit adjustment that it gives people. That, applied to learning or to well being, is very powerful and fits with our public service remit."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"I'd love to know more about quantitative research methods, especially multi-variate testing. I'm a qual geek, so a bit of quant would do me good."


Jenny Theolin

Studio Theolin; board member, Design Sweden; and MA programme leader, Hyper Island

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I would like to see more collaboration happen in Sweden, and the death of free pitching please.

"I feel great design is falling through the gaps. When I say great, I mean the unusual, the fugly, the unexpected. Everything looks the same nowadays. So, I am hoping design steps up a notch to be less predictable."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"I am based in a startup capital (Stockholm), so I hope the influx of this scene won’t swallow the dedication in craft needed in starting new businesses. So, I hope the ‘quick design’ isn’t here to completely stay. I don’t mind the rough and ready, I just know how lazy people can be, and very often the design stays in ‘startup land’, while the business flourishes.

"Just because you bagged funding and sold for a ridiculous sum, doesn’t mean you look good.

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"I am dedicating a substantial amount of time within education working with both Hyper Island and Berghs. So, I will be closer to the fresh talent and help inspire our new creatives. As well as working with senior professionals, inspiring business transformation from the inside. 

"Hopefully this will mirror in my own work: fresh thinking and tools, with an established business foundation."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"The biggest influence will be moving my work over to Sweden, a new market, with new collaborators."

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Mårten Brüggemann

Play designer, Toca Boca

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I’m hoping for more creativity and less realism. In gaming the trend has been to try to simulate reality as much as possible - mostly in video games, but we’ve seen a technical shift towards reality in mobile gaming too. I like mobile interaction since it doesn’t have to be completely realistic, but still gives me the chance to be creative within the given context. As more and more experiences try to imitate reality, false expectations are created. Products and games whose experiences are too realistic create a less engaging artistic interpretation."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Harassment and misogyny in the gaming community."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"We’ve started working on long-term app concepts instead of creating several one-offs: such as Toca Blocks [which is out today], Toca Life, and a new concept yet to be announced. For me as a Play Designer it means that I will work with the continuous development of Toca Blocks and that my team and I can continue focusing on the framework and depths of the app. I hope this means that we can create a very distinct long-term aesthetic."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"I’ll continue to follow the development of children’s culture and our own impact within it, including using feedback from kids to help shape the games we create. For example, when designing Toca Blocks, we actually gained more inspiration and insight from our audience’s physical play with blocks – allowing us to see ‘play’ from more of a child’s perspective – than we did from looking at other block-building games."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"Music is always a big inspiration for me, both as a big part of the game experience and how the whole mood can be set through the tempo of the music track. So I’d like to get back to creating and recording more music myself."


Play Nicely created the Enter Wonder.land VR experience that's running alongside Damon Albarn's Wonder.land musical at the National Theatre

Ollie Lindsey and Scott Fletcher

Directors, Play Nicely

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"While it’s great that YouTube now show 360° footage, we’d love to see them go on to support interactive 360° content (such as Play Nicely enjoy producing)."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Play Nicely thinks that 2016 will be a huge year for the home VR market but the expected market-leader Oculus Rift needs an above average PC, so the potential will not be fully achieved until this gap is reduced."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Waiting for Oculus Rift to be released and negotiating the set-up of multiple private wifi networks in public spaces for a worldwide touring Kinect experience."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"The dimensions of any 360° viewing area obviously only represents a fraction of the entire scene. So while an experience’s interface has to consider the range of screen dimensions (iOS, Android, Oculus Rift etc), we can now surround the viewer with interactions where perhaps before we lined them up in front."

How will it be different in form and function?
"The freedom of movement and opportunity for exploration inherent in any 360° scene (real or virtual) introduces fascinating challenges in how to alert and then navigate the viewer."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"The continued proliferation and extension of mobile VR."


Rob Coke

Group strategy director, Studio Output

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I’d like to see clients and agencies alike recognising the value we can add when we're involved earlier in the process, and higher up the chain. The impact we can make when we start asking 'what if?' questions is much more significant than just 'what should it look like?'"

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Ever more spurious ways to beat the ad­blockers and serve people spammy advertising, particularly on mobile. I've already read an article pushing ‘in-­image’ product placement as a form of native advertising. Just take the hint!"

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"We need to move on from our obsession with social 'Likes' as a metric. It's such a lightweight engagement that it's becoming meaningless. A minimum measurement for success should be whether something is shared, but in the word of mouth business we're in, we need to think beyond the usual social platforms if we want to make a real difference."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"We're bringing agile thinking into more areas of the business. It's easy to say, but getting different agency and client teams to work concurrently rather than ‘waterfall’ is a big education process, but an essential one."

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Simon Manchipp

‎Executive strategic creative director and founder, SomeOne.

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I’d like to see what all designers look for: clients with more ambition, and whopping budgets to make it all happen. To get there, we as the creative industry need to curb the public back-biting and lay off the blogs with endless negativity and surface-mounted viewpoints. It would be beneficial all round to see a more united front of commercial creativity."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"It would be annoying to see data drive all creative commissions - it’s definitely on the rise. Advertising online is increasingly chartered by analytics than disruptive thinking. An ad that follows you around the internet is annoying, not charming."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?
"Photographs of people standing around a wall covered with Post-It notes and calling it creativity. Honestly, I really don’t think any client looks at these shots and thinks ‘Wow, I really want to work with these people’. It makes the process of creative problem solving look more like a stationary stationery convention than the most exciting thing you can do with your clothes on."

How will your work be different in form and function?
"We’re developing an ever flexing platform for brand work. No paper, all digital, constantly evolving. The ways we spread the word and maintain the quality need to be able to move at the speed of modern life, and that’s not going to work within a 100-page PDF. Traditional brand guidelines are increasingly wasteful and backwards."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"We’re all rather in love with the iPad Pro - we’ve completely embraced them, iPen and all. But the truth is, people will remain the greatest influence - and the fight for time with those people will continue to be the biggest challenge."


Scott Seaborn

Global mobile strategy director, Aimia

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"I work with mobile technologies and create mobile products. I would like to see more legacy businesses opening up with cool external APIs."

And what changes would you be most disappointed by?
"Ad campaigns [that are] mobile apps that do nothing but generate ‘great’ award-entry films."

Aesthetically, how will your work in 2016 be different from that in 2015?
"Less is still more, but we don’t like it when people have to prod around, trying various things, in order to find out how to use an app… we will be using ever more intuitive design."

How will it be different in form and function?
"Mobile is product these days, and working with users (not at them) is paramount. Users will start to take control of product roadmaps more and more."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"I see budgets being cut in various sectors, as companies seem to be trying to cut costs again."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"For me, I'll be learning more and more about API management and the creative use of big platforms and systems."


Tim Lindsay

CEO, D&AD

What changes would you like to see happen in 2016?
"A more diverse range of people, skills and talent coming into the advertising and design industries, resulting in less homogenised thinking and solutions."

What from 2015 would you most like to see the back of?

"The government deliberately and damagingly encouraging schools to disinvest in arts education, to the great detriment and, ultimately, the destruction of our world-class creative industries.

"And client procurement people blundering around in an area they don't understand and, as a consequence, also doing irreparable damage.  

"Quite a double act."

What will be the biggest external influences on your work/practice in 2016?
"The biggest influence on what D&AD does, campaigns for and tries to stimulate will be on the theme of 'doing well by doing good'; helping the the design and advertising communities put their hugely important skills to work to radically change businesses' attitude to purpose beyond profit, and the need to build a new consensus around sustainable practices."

What will be the key skills or knowledge that you’d like to learn in 2016?
"Mandarin [perhaps]. In all honesty I’m not sure, I’m just happy to see where the year takes me."

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