2018 Design Trends for Small Businesses

Embrace the new year by applying these design best practices.

The new year is already shaping up to be a great one for designers. With advances in technology and improvements in design and collaboration tools, small businesses and designers will have more options for expanding their creative vision and providing customers with a high quality experience.

To get a better idea of what designers and business owners can look forward to in the upcoming year, we worked with SoDA — a network for digital agency leaders, creative visionaries, and technology innovators in more than 30 countries — to get insights from industry professionals on current and future trends. By paying attention to developments in best practices and popular techniques, you can help your business thrive in 2018.

1. Delve into design activism

A theme common to many modern businesses is the desire to use their platform to promote positive change in the world. Johanne Bruun Rasmussen, a founding partner and design leader at the Denmark-based agency Hello Monday explained, “Politics and what’s going on in society often end up filtering down to design and fashion, and I expect we’ll start to see more people trying to do better than the last generation.”

Hello Monday’s strategy for promoting design activism is to partner up with companies who will help them “change the world one pixel at a time.” By taking small steps toward improving the society they belong to and working with like-minded businesses, Hello Monday can remain a successful design leader and engage in design activism.

More and more modern businesses are searching for ways to reach out to the world around them through design activism. Image credited to Hello Monday.

JD Hooge, a founding partner and chief creative officer at Instrument, agrees that designers can easily become agents of change. He and his company focus primarily on solving tough problems for clients and creating lasting, positive change, rather than running campaigns just for the sake of running campaigns. He said, “We’re design thinkers. We’re builders. We’re innovators, and we’re focused on solving the tough problems and bringing ideas to life and really building systems for our clients that can shape their future.”

Regardless of the size and scope of your business, any company can improve life in their own sphere. Whether you decide to take on philanthropic projects or rededicate your company to promoting long-term solutions for clients, design activism can bring positive attention to your business and create a better future for everyone involved.

More augmented reality

Pokemon Go made waves in 2016 when it allowed users to simulate capturing the cartoon creatures in the real world. Snapchat’s insertion of an anthropomorphic hotdog into users’ videos proved wildly popular, spawning its own internet meme. As the population at large becomes more used to augmented reality, design leaders hope to expand its scope beyond entertainment.

Businesses can harness AR to interact with their customers and encourage them to see the world around them in a new way. As the technology improves, users and creators will start to shift from working with flat screens and two-dimensional objects to working spatially. Clay Weishaar, creative director at Tool of North America, shared that one possible innovation is a 3D interactive map of the retail spaces across North America. Similar to how Google Maps allowed users to virtually walk the streets of any city in the world, users will be able to virtually explore stores and interact with products in a way that has never been done before. “I’m super excited about creating an AR retail experience that’s one part utility — driving people towards a purchase — but also tells an amazing story as they walk through the space,” Clay said.

Advances in augmented reality open up new opportunities for designers and business owners to reach audiences in a more interactive way. Image credited to Tool of North America.

There are challenges still to be overcome before augmented reality can become truly mainstream, and figuring out how to convert current design thinking and practice from flat to spatial is an exciting task for designers to take on in the new year. Since most AR experiences take place on a mobile device, designers have to consider what that will look like while creating the experience. Current AR design technology is also not as responsive as more commonplace programs like Adobe XD, since the way the image is designed is not the same way it will be manifested.

Augmented reality promises to change the way companies and customers see their world, and businesses can look forward to incorporating it more in the coming year.

Embrace originality

While design trends can give you ideas for new practices to try, they don’t have to constrain you. Feel free to think outside the box and not just do something because it’s currently popular. “Stop doing the websites that you did yesterday. Come up with something new. Challenge what you have and try to think differently, or try to stop doing what everyone else is doing,” Johanne said.

As you discover new trends in the upcoming year, don’t simply replicate popular styles. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I take this popular technique and make it my own? How can I develop it one step further into something new?”

If you replicate trends exactly, your work won’t stand out. Instead, try to discover how you can put your own twist on popular styles. Image credited to Lena Vargas Afanasieva.

Practice mindfulness

JD points out that our current culture is heavily focused on instantaneously receiving small bits of information. These “sound bytes” can give designers an idea of what the world looks like, but it doesn’t always provide context or deeper meaning. He encourages designers to step away from the screen and “give your brain a break from all the endless scanning.”

Try consuming longer form content — like reading a book or watching an in-depth tutorial as you follow along. Set aside time during the day to simply think or meditate. Slowing down and finding clarity can help designers create more meaningful art.

Take time in the coming year to practice mindfulness, stepping away from daily projects to open yourself up to creativity. Image credited to Holly Allerellie.

Moving away from minimalism

The love affair between design and technology has resulted in rapid popularity growth for minimalism, or what Petter Westlund, founding partner and global creative leader at B-Reel, refers to as “anti-design.” While the clean clarity of minimalist design has its place, Westlund believes that it’s possible for technology-driven designs to reflect the natural world while remaining modern, particularly as augmented reality creates more connection between a user and the outside world.

Petter expects to see a move away from minimalism and towards more realistic design in the coming year.

As technology advances, many designers believe we will see a move away from minimalism towards techniques that bridge technological precision and the natural world. Image courtesy of Van Lieshout VI.

Re-emphasize the design guide

Most companies have a design or style guide, and it exists for a reason. Creative design doesn’t benefit the business if a customer can’t tell that it is directing them back to your brand. Breaking some of the rules can spawn creative masterpieces, but breaking all of them just leaves the work a mess. Johanne recommends going back to your design guides and reviewing what should be a solid standard for your company.

As you approach innovative projects in the new year, be sure each has a clear connection back to your brand.

Don’t lose site of the power of your design guide in your quest for originality. Image credited to Ramotion.

Stay ahead of the game by keeping these best practices and techniques in mind as you enter the new year. Don’t hesitate to explore the many exciting new paths the design industry has to offer, and incorporate your new ideas into projects with your Creative Cloud for teams membership.