I must admit, I dislike articles dealing with design trends. Most of the time, design trend roundups cover similar topics and lack originality. But you know what? I will try to give this old idea another spin, and I will try to keep it original.

This is why you might learn some things that you wouldn’t expect from such an article, so let’s get started.

Illustrators Will Be In Big Demand

Small and big businesses alike are finally starting to understand that the best way to tell stories and get their message across is via images and good stories.

Thanks to the latest design trends, illustrators can look forward to a busy year as demand for visual content reaches new heights.

Thanks to the latest design trends, illustrators can look forward to a busy year as demand for visual content reaches new heights.

That’s why illustration is going to reach new heights this year, and it might even peak in terms of demand and popularity.

In other words, illustrators can look forward to a lot of job offers. This isn’t solely a design trend, it’s a business trend.

Full Stack Designer? What The Hell Is That?

I am hearing this expression way too often, so it’s probably going to become a design trend too.

But what on earth does it mean? What is a “full stack designer,” and why should we care? It is a designer capable of tackling all your design needs, from branding, mobile applications, websites, to making coffee.

What the hell is a full stack designer? It’s a designer capable of handling all design needs.

What the hell is a full stack designer? It’s a designer capable of handling all design needs.

The potential benefits of using a single designer for various tasks are obvious. In theory, it could eliminate a lot of communication and back-and-forths in your team. On the other hand, you need to make sure that you don’t end up with a designer who appears to be a jack of all trades, but is master of none.

Automatization At Its Finest

In the past year we witnessed rapid growth of services like Readymag and Semplice, but that is just the start.

We are going to see a lot more tools for codeless development. Designers are going to be allowed to produce fully working designs.

We are starting to see more tools for codeless development and design automation. How will this affect your work?

We are starting to see more tools for codeless development and design automation. How will this affect your work?

The approach has a lot of potential advantages and could streamline execution, but please don’t get carried away. Automated services can do a lot, but they can’t do everything.

Designer Tools: Final Battle

We saw a huge amount of new design tools gain popularity last year, but new tools appear all the time; and they come and go.

Designers should definitely keep a close eye on Sketch and Adobe Comet development. These are obviously the tools of the future.

Designers should definitely keep a close eye on Sketch and Adobe Comet development. These are obviously the tools of the future.

However, this time it should be more interesting. I would single out the struggle between Adobe Comet and Sketch, because these seem to be the tools of the future.

We will see how a little software studio can take on a big corporation that’s been setting industry trends and standards for years.

Prototyping And Specs Tools

In the past year we witnessed the appearance or popularization of several prototyping/specs tools. This year won’t be different, with one exception: Some will shine and some will die.

Here are some of these exciting tools fighting for users and market share:

I am especially curious about the outcome on the design and prototyping tool front. Having design and prototyping functionality in two separate apps might become a thing of the past. Their functionality can be covered by a single tool, keeping everything in one place.

Being A Designer Is Going To Become More Complex

Over the past few years, a designer’s job has been progressively more complicated and demanding. To be a top notch designer, it is no longer enough to have good visual skills.

In spite of new tools and a higher degree of automation, designers can expect their daily workload to become more diverse and complex.

In spite of new tools and a higher degree of automation, designers can expect their daily workload to become more diverse and complex.

Designers are expected to be proficient in several new fields, such as animation, prototyping, user testing, speccing, and more.

Designers must master new skills and broaden their knowledge. Future design positions will require an expanded skillset and more experience.

The Dark Rise Of Diffuse Shadows

In recent years, designers relied on clean, long shadows, but it seems someone decided that these minimal shadows are way too decadent.

So, let’s hear a warm welcome for diffuse shadows, which are a combination of shadow with a bit of color inside it. You can visualise it as a unicorn painting, and you should get ready to see more of these. So long, long shadows!

Diffuse shadows help illustrate depth more realistically and naturally than long shadows. Their soft edges, coupled with a splash of colour to mimic diffused lighting, help designers create good looking environments and smoother, interactive transitions between various design elements.

Natural Language Gaining Traction

After Typeform introduced a new and innovative way to communicate with customers, people started caring more about their form/login/registration pages. They wanted these pages to talk to customers, and so far, the approach has been a huge success.

Forms with natural languages have a tendency to offer superior conversion than regular input forms. Therefore, we expect to see significantly higher adoption of natural design language.

Forms with natural languages have a tendency to offer superior conversion than regular input forms.

Forms with natural languages have a tendency to offer superior conversion than regular input forms.

It is important to note that these forms usually aren’t skeuomorphic, because a lot of casual observers mistake skeuomorphism for natural language. Although both try to humanize design, skeuomorphism is more elaborate and unsuitable for these designs.

As far as skeuomorphism as a design trend is concerned, it’s been passe for years and it won’t make a comeback anytime soon.

Material Design To Rule Them All

Shortly after Google introduced its material design language, every designer I know started taking Google seriously again, and they were right to do so. Google invested a lot of effort into its new design language, which was acclaimed by users and design professionals alike.

Material Design is here to stay. It’s not limited to mobile, and it’s making an even bigger mark on web design.

Material Design is here to stay. It’s not limited to mobile, and it’s making an even bigger mark on web design.

The popularity of material design had an unexpected side effect; although it was originally conceived as a mobile design language, material design ended up affecting web design way more than design on mobile platforms. The clean and sleek look were welcomed by users, and I expect us to see more web pages and web application designs based on material design moving forward.

Google is not changing its direction, and material design is an integral part of Android 6.0. This means this particular design trend is bound to stick around for years.

More Animated Interfaces

We all love those richly animated Walt Disney classics, right?

However, when making design interactions and animations, we should not watch those movies. Otherwise we will see even more animated interfaces this year, and the average web designer is not a Walt Disney animator.

Animated interfaces are another design trend worth looking into. However, don’t get too carried away.

Animated interfaces are another design trend worth looking into. However, don’t get too carried away.

On a more serious note, if designers decide to adopt animated interfaces, they need to strike the right balance by not making the animations distracting, and not compromising the user experience with unnatural and unnecessary pauses.

Bold Colors For Everyone

We are slowly getting to a stage where we simply have too many websites and apps. In order to differentiate their products, designers are pushing the envelope and experimenting with new colours.

One way to make a design stand out is to employ bold and rich colours. People are more likely to remember and associate them with that brand.

Rich, bold colours are in this season. Crank up the saturation and experiment with striking, colourful designs.

Rich, bold colours are in this season. Crank up the saturation and experiment with striking, colourful designs.

A radical colour choice resonates with users; the Asana or Spotify rebrands illustrate how it’s done. Both companies transitioned to memorable, (over)saturated colours, and the redesign worked for them.

In 2016, we expect to see more designs, redesigns, and rebrands using the same approach.

In any event, designers need to decide if they just wanna follow industry design trends, or want to experiment with their own trendsetting designs. A confident designer can make a difference and here is why:

2016 design trends are merely an evolution and extension of existing design languages and patterns. We are not reinventing the wheel this year, so this leaves room for innovative designs based on familiar building blocks.

The underlying basics remain unchanged; we will continue to see clean, minimal design in every field. The biggest change in terms of style comes courtesy of diffuse shadows, so this is definitely something to be taken into account. Remember folks, we’re not just changing the shadows; we need to take into account lighting in general, so we must consider mimicking soft, diffused lighting in our designs, which usually translates into lower contrast and softer edges.

Natural design and animations are worth looking into as well, especially for designers who specialise in UI, UX, and IxD. We suggest a subtle, conservative approach, something that will complement the soft shadow look discussed earlier.

Designers concerned that using softer shadows and more subtle animations will rob a design of its flare needn’t worry; rich colours are in this season, so they should be used them to make a design pop.

I started my list with a couple of points that have more to do with business than design. While 2016 design trends might not look too exciting or challenging, I think it’s important to stress that designers will be expected to do more moving forward. This means they will have to master new tools and techniques, and take on roles they may not be entirely comfortable with. Designers should consider setting aside some time to experiment, brush up old skills and learn new ones.

Besides, setting aside a bit of time to catch up and train is never a bad idea.

About the author

Luboš Volkov, Czech Republic
member since April 22, 2015
Luboš is Toptal's Lead Product Designer, and along with his team has led all design initiatives at Toptal since 2012. He writes frequently about the design industry, how to optimize design workflows to deliver better results on time, remote collaboration best practices, and more. He is driven both by beauty and business functionality in all of his designs. [click to continue...]
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Comments

Tanvir Hussain
Thank for sharing your points of view, Luboš. Mainly informative especially good to know prototyping and specs tools.
Mark Tiderman Jr
Excellent work. Thanks for sharing.
Luboš Volkov
You welcome Tanvir!
Luboš Volkov
Thank you! :)
Tim
A very insightful write up! One thing I'm a little confused by a statement you mentioned, "On the other hand, you need to make sure that you don’t end up with a designer who appears to be a jack of all trades, but is master of none." I'm curious to what you mean by that?
Luboš Volkov
Thank you! Let me clarify that. You can get a "full stack designer" who claim him self that he is capable to produce everything from illustrations to complicated mobile interfaces, but at the end of the day his outcome is going to be really poor. In that case you might wanna consider having strong individuals in each segment (illustrations, mobile design etc). Hope this helps to make it more clear for you. Have a good day Tim.
Tim
Ah thanks, it does! I 100% agree with your statement. Here is the reason why, as my team project portfolio started to grow, I found myself dealing with multiple design request (illustration, animation, etc.), also doing front-end programming. Even though I know how to design/develop with the tools, I wasn’t putting forth my best designs, because of the rapid prototyping and deliverables. I convinced my managers there was a business risk, something they understood from a project management point of view. Putting all the front-end design work on one person, isn’t ideal, I could leave the company and leave a huge gap in production. We quickly hired up and got two designers. I broke up the work and made each designer focus on animation/illustration and web design/mobile. But both designers are capably of reversing work, as to not getting bored and doing one thing.
Nermin Hajdarbegovic
"I wasn’t putting forth my best designs, because of the rapid prototyping and deliverables. I convinced my managers there was a business risk, something they understood from a project management point of view. Putting all the front-end design work on one person, isn’t ideal, I could leave the company and leave a huge gap in production." This is a really, really good point. If designers have to pick up more responsibilities along the way, they will become increasingly difficult to replace (for any reason).
nemrut
Nice write up though it seems more like visual design trends than general design trends. As for full-stack designers, isnt that just UX design in disguise? Competent UX designers have for years had to embrace the full spectrum of design functions from user research, IA, UI, prototyping, testing and more. ' This is why UX supplanted IA as the de facto design role that offers most bang for the buck while clearly demonstrating value to business leaders.
Tuncho Granados
Thank you Lubos, I´m curious about strong statements of Material Design from you and others, but I ask myself how will this impact iOS design? Will some of these practices apply to it in the near future, or do you think both worlds (Android - iOS) will continue to be different?
Luboš Volkov
Thanks Tuncho! Let's go over this. ##Web The reason why material design is really getting strong there is simple. There wasn't any good framework before so material design step in to the game without almost any alternatives (twitter bootstrap is getting outdated) also there is lot of libraries which allow you to built new pages under this framework. It really bring lot of things in the to web game. ##Mobile I think that the gap between iOS and Android is really getting thiner and thiner. We have seen lot of features migrating from one OS to another (such as floating buttons) and I believe that it's going to continue. But I have do admit that iOS is still better OS (design wise) since they keen to deliver really what user needs and no extra visual noise. On Android there is lot of visual distraction.
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About the author
Luboš Volkov
Designer
Luboš is Toptal's Lead Product Designer, and along with his team has led all design initiatives at Toptal since 2012. He writes frequently about the design industry, how to optimize design workflows to deliver better results on time, remote collaboration best practices, and more. He is driven both by beauty and business functionality in all of his designs.