Visual Trends We’ll Be Watching in 2022

Words by NJI
Published January 7, 2022
Last Updated July 10, 2024

Design trends don’t occur out of nowhere. They are recurring decisions made by millions of people, often shaped by mutual experiences. When these patterns catch our eye, we start to seek them out intentionally—and a trend is born.

2021 has been a turbulent year, and creatives around the world have reacted in many incredible ways. Following emerging design trends is a great way to trace this story.

It’s important to understand the conversation that goes into a trend before you interact with it, so we’ve put together some background on three trends we’re excited to watch in 2022.

More Is More 2.0

Meet the opposite of beige tones and polite, blank layouts: Maximalism is divisive, passionate, and a lot—for good reason. At its heart is a challenge for individuality and self-expression.

In the wake of the pandemic’s isolation, people want unabashed, genuine connection, and maximalist design is a natural extension of that demand.

A vibrant, colorful room with eclectic decor. The room features large plants in decorative blue and white vases, a wooden bookshelf with books and yellow pillows, an orange couch, a framed artwork on a pink wall, and a patterned rug.

As a design space shaped by unique and often deeply personal experiences, it’s impossible to narrowly define such a trend. Still, there are some standout characteristics. Look for rule breaking; bright, clashing colors; bold patterns; opulence; and experimental and deconstructed typography.

A graphic with a red background and bold, distorted text in the center that reads "LEARN HOW TO BE HUMAN." There are three black-and-white photos of people placed around the text. The subheading above the text says, "CREATING WITHOUT YOUR PHONE.

Posters – Brooklyn Film Festival 2020

If you’re getting worried about committing a design crime, remember that modern maximalism doesn’t come at the cost of function. Whether it appears on a website or in an indie zine, it is grounded in important UX principles, such as clear signposting and useability.

A black background with 16 colorful, rectangular packets. Each packet has a unique and vibrant design with graphics and text, displaying various patterns and colors like pink, green, orange, and blue. The word "OUT" and some other designs are visible on some packets.

Global! – Swell Studio

Edge of Tomorrow

Tomorrow is coming, and this is what it looks like: crisp 3D renders, glossy textures, and precise, looping movements.

You may find these graphics familiar or even nostalgic, and that would make perfect sense. There’s some overlap with skeuomorphism—think of those shiny, metallic UI icons in old iPhones and Windows XP buttons.

In their modern rebirth, though, 3D graphics in design are less about replicating reality and more about enhancing a narrative in eye-catching ways.

The boom in popularity is no doubt happening, in part, because of increasing accessibility. As 3D modeling tools have become widely available (think Blender and Cinema 4D), 3D graphics have re-emerged as a way to add dimensionality and texture to online spaces.

Cartoon characters positioned on a whimsical, geometric structure featuring various shapes, icons, and tools. Text on the left reads: "YOUR MEETINGS: And equips your team with powerful new tools to make every meeting worth having.

Website – Ready

We think there’s more to their resurgence, though. The ability of 3D visuals to feel physically present, even on a flat display screen, can be incredible for engaging audiences digitally.

This weight is especially helpful given our increased dependence on virtual means of communication. Creating a physical presence through 3D can be a game changer for brands that operate online exclusively and those that can’t roll out in-person events.

Five abstract Meta posters. Each features colorful, flowing shapes, with Meta logos at the bottom. The central poster reads "This Future Will Be Made By All Of Us" in white and blue text. Backgrounds vary in color from light blue to white.

Meta Rebrand – Creative X

But back to the shiny graphics. The rise of 3D visuals with our current capabilities also mean new ways of thinking about animation and interaction. For example, check out this amazing logo from Block:

A stylized 3D block featuring a multicolored, gradient-like texture with swirls of teal, orange, yellow, and white is shown. Below the block is the word "BLOCK" in bold, black, uppercase letters. The background is a light, pale blue.

Excited to add 3D elements to your next project? It helps to pay close attention to super-clean grid layouts and readable, web-friendly type. These go hand in hand with letting these assets shine.

AI-Driven Design

AI-powered design tools have actually been a big part of design for a long time (just look at the Content Aware Fill in Adobe Photoshop), but it’s exciting to see them becoming more visible, experimental, and open-access in the mainstream.

The use of neural networks to “dream” new images has seen incredible popularity. You’ve probably seen generated creations with varying levels of success floating around social media.
Bots can generate mesmerizing artwork, translate sketches into layouts, and make font recommendations. (Seriously, check out FontJoy the next time you’re struggling with pairing fonts.) There’s even an AI that managed to trick clients into thinking it was a human graphic designer for a year. Meet Ironov:

A colorful grid featuring six different design variations of the word "Birb." Each variation includes unique graphics such as a bird, geometric shapes, abstract designs, and different fonts. Background colors include shades of yellow, pink, blue, and red.

Concept generations by Ironov – Art. Lebedev Studio

What’s really interesting about this trend is how it stands in contrast to the current demand for authenticity and human connection we explored above in maximalism. In fact, there seems to be no human behind these designs.

But that assumption leaves out the entire process behind building and maintaining an AI, all of which is painstakingly handled by humans: devising complicated rules, composing datasets for machine learning, and deciding which output to use.

A grid of 15 abstract art pieces, each with a rectangular white base and different abstract lines and shapes in various colors. Each piece includes text at the bottom starting with "THIS IS NOT A" followed by different objects or concepts.

Perception Engines – Tom White

It’s tempting to portray these advances as a post-human Brave New World, but it’s more realistic to recognize that these are tools that regular people like us can use to craft experiences that resonate with our audiences—other regular people. In that way, we keep the human touch at the forefront of creative storytelling.

A collection of 18 unique Nutella jars, each with a different colorful and abstract design on its label. The jars are arranged in three rows of six against a light background. The classic Nutella logo is prominent on all the jars.

But let’s be honest. AI-generated design does sound cool! And as designers who are always looking for new ways to improve our craft, it’s exciting to think about what advances we’ll see in this space in 2022.