The creative industry has always been closely influenced by current events and worldwide developments. As designers we are affected by those events; we participate in them; we respond to them. The past few months have provided us with lots to reflect upon. The Ukraine invasion, economic uncertainty and the revoking of women’s rights in the US, to name but a few.
What else does the world have in store? How do we make sense of what’s going on? How do we start to think about the future both as designers and humans?
It’s time to turn our gaze forward by exploring four major themes happening around us. In this piece we discuss each of the trends, what changes they represent, and how they will affect the creative industry and the world beyond it.
In the height of Covid, we lived under continuous deprivation of experiences. As a result, we’re now demanding extra-stimulating experiences for the senses. We want much more than a gig or simple trip to the cinema. Artists, museums, brands, designers and new technologists are addressing this new demand by offering immersive experiences for both body and mind. It’s a true celebration of all five senses!
WEIRD SENSATION FEELS GOOD: The World of ASMR is currently on display at the London Design Museum. The exhibition explores the trendy phenomenon Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), a physical sensation of euphoria or deep calm triggered through sound, touch, and movement. Visitors enter an acoustically tuned environment and get to experience the emerging fields of creativity and design that have grown around this feeling.
Dreamachine is another multisensory event offering an immersive experience. It’s curated by Collective Art in collaboration with renowned musician Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers. The Dreamachine experience is designed to offer its visitors a “magical journey to explore the extraordinary potential of their mind”. Conjured entirely by light and music, the experience is set to unfold behind closed eyes - meaning it’s created by the visitor’s own brain and will be completely unique to them.
This event also follows another trend, Accessible Inclusive Design which we’ll discuss later in this article. It means that attendees are offered two types of experiences, purposely built to accommodate those who may have sensitivities to high sensory environments.
180 The Strand now hosts the Future Shock exhibition, transforming its spaces through immersive digital technology. It includes generative and interactive algorithms, AI and 3D digital mapping, laser work, holographic projections and electronic music. Blurring the boundaries between the physical and virtual, the 16 participating artists reimagine the near future with site-specific installations and vital sensory experiences.
In the recent Milan Design Week, interior design company Moooi chose a multisensory experience to showcase their work. Their installation, A Life Extraordinary, could be experienced both live in Milan as well as online. In-person visitors stepped into “The Portal”, where they were welcomed by Piro - a dancing scent diffuser which was made in collaboration with IDEO. Piro sets the visitor’s experience through different multi-sensorial interior moods. Online visitors could visit the same landscapes and moods through a digital AR experience.
Another example of the ultra-sensory trend can be found in the work of audiovisual artist Max Cooper. With a science PhD and an international reputation as a leading electronic musician, he’s well known for creating immersive experiences. His live AV shows are a feast for the senses, and this October he’s offering a new special 3D/AV event, taking over London’s famous Brixton O2 Academy venue. In his shows, Cooper merges his electronic music with visual scientific enquiry to produce a multi-sensory experience for the party-scene and its clubbers.
The next trend is also on the topic of design and the sensory experience. Neurodivergent design brings the neurodivergent population to the forefront of design thinking, prioritizing inclusive and accessible solutions in various design fields.
Neurodiversity is the variation of neurocognitive functioning among humans. The phrase is used to classify a wide spectrum of people who differ in brain function, such as those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and more. Awareness of such disabilities has increased in recent years, with the term ‘neurodiversity’ gaining interest rapidly since 2018, according to Google Trends. The heightened awareness of this marginalized group (who make up 15-20% of the global population) comes after years of underrepresentation in society. Addressing the needs of this population will also soon become a regulatory requirement with European Union member states adopting the European Accessibility Act into their laws by 2025.
We’re slowly starting to see more neurodiversity in culture and media too. Films such as the Sundance Festival Audience Award winner Cha Cha Real Smooth feature an autistic character played by Vanessa Burghardt - a non-neurotypical actress. The Netflix series, Love On The Spectrum, follows non-neurotypical individuals on their search for love and has just launched another season in the US.
In design, this trend is all about embracing different needs and creating a space to support and celebrate how different perspectives enhance society. Designers are reframing the narrative around neurodiversity through visually rich and joyful stimulation. We’re seeing punchy and optimistic colors, organic patterns, tactile materials, multifunctional spaces, sensorial gradients, authentic imagery, and large typography.
In urban design for example, WIP Collaborative has designed a public streetscape in New York called Restorative Ground. The playground is made up of modular zones offering the users a wide variety of activities and simulations that cater for their individual needs. A focus area for reading or learning activities; an active zone that prompts energetic play; and a calm zone for resting.
In graphic and web design, creatives are recognising the potential for more inclusive and sustainable design aesthetics that improve both offline and online experience for everyone. Tools for web and app design include accessible typography, clear language, soft colors and bold contrasts, visual hierarchy and consistency, and sensory stimulation.
The rebranding of non-profit organization Understood is a good example of these methodologies. The design agency which led the project, Wolff Olins, developed a new custom typeface which makes certain letters and numbers more distinguishable. In addition, they used motion to optimize the user experience, and a combination of dark blue tones with pops of pink and orange for contrast.
For people with ADHD, designer Vatány Szabolcs created Focus Sans - a web extension with a customized font which makes it easier to concentrate and focus when reading online content. Allowing users to redesign the content as they see fit, other functions include a status bar that visualizes the users’ progress and a filter that hides distracting images.
The repercussions of Covid and the war in Ukraine seem to all point in one direction: financial uncertainty. With the economy rapidly changing around us, the ripple effects are everywhere. Inflation, unstable interest rates, cost of living, recession - these issues are now part of our lives, and what this theme is all about.
One trend arising from this theme is the increase of digital services around savings. In the past month, there has been a steep rise in Google searches around costs and savings. It makes sense then, that we’re seeing so many new apps, mobile wallet platforms and virtual money assistants that monitor spending, subscriptions, budgets and bills.
For young consumers, the app Cleo offers AI chatbots that provide personalized spending advice, using a playful and engaging approach to handling money and budget. The app will also ‘tell you off’ for negative spending habits, and praise you for making good financial choices.
Trim is another mobile app that tackles the challenge of saving. As its name suggests, Trim helps its users pay bills on time, negotiate internet and phone rates, and helps them find better deals.
It will also pinpoint any underused subscriptions or memberships that should be canceled.
Another new digital trend is services offering shared subscriptions to help people save money together. This is the newest addition to the sharing economy, allowing people to earn a passive income, based on renting or leasing what they already pay for.
For example, the app Athlo, which allows users to rent out their gym memberships. It enables people to fractionalise the unused time on their subscriptions, while in turn giving gym-goers a more flexible membership option. This also eliminates the guilt and financial concern of not using a service to its full potential.
TogetherPrice tackles a different angle in a subscription-based model: sharing a plan with friends. We’re already familiar with ‘family plans’, offered by big companies like Spotify, which allow users to save money with a joint family membership. But until now, friends plans have yet to catch on. TogetherPrice allows customers to split the cost of subscriptions - mainly streaming services and content platforms - with other users around the world.
Lastly, our spotlight goes to one of the most alarming developments of our time. We seem to be in the midst of a worldwide regression regarding human rights, particularly the rights of minorities and marginalized groups.
The recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court means that women no longer have a constitutional right to an abortion. Not only does this open the door for women being stripped of basic bodily autonomy, it also now threatens LGBTQ+ rights. Some analysts believe that we are entering a swing in the pendulum of what is known as the ‘Cyclical Theory’ in politics and sociology. The theory explains the fluctuations in politics throughout American history and its alternating moods between liberalism and conservatism. Each phase has characteristic features, which then generates the other phase. Are we now at a point in the swing where we are turning away from liberal values?
This development isn’t limited to America of course, and it trickles down to the rest of the world. The notion of the world changing before our eyes with us having little control over it has led many individuals to unite around values of empathy and community, shunning individualism in favor of alliances. We see worldwide protests on the subjects of reproductive rights, racial justice and climate care. We’ve seen people using Pride Month events to protest on issues that go beyond those concerning the LGBTQ+ community.
People realize that they are responsible for their own future and that they need to demand more from governments and institutions when it comes to protecting minorities. People realize they are stronger together and that collective activism can affect change.
This theme translates itself visually as a form of graphic activism - in-person and online. From climate change awareness to anti-racism campaigning, creatives are using design as a tool for education and to encourage radical thinking. Designers are turning to digital spaces to push the visual side of causes, allowing them to feel part of a cause and a community - a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.