2023 was a defining year for digital design and how our workflows have been impacted by the emergence of new technologies. As we usher in 2024, we take a look back on some of the design trends that impacted the way we design at Luminary.
Variables f.k.a ‘design tokens’
Variables are a powerful set of preset properties that define the visual language of a design system. They serve as the building blocks for creating consistent and cohesive designs across all digital products. Variables are currently able to manage colour, effects and layout specifications. Eventually they will also be able to manage typography and spacing properties. By centralising variables, our design and development teams have been able to easily make changes, ensure consistency, and save time in the design process.
Variables have recently become a native feature in Figma. Before that update, teams were reliant on plugins such as Swapper and Toolabs to implement and manage variables. You can read more about variables and how Luminary has embraced these into our process here.
Greater advocacy for accessibility
The state of accessibility in digital in 2023 was a mixed bag. While there has been significant progress in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that digital products are fully accessible to everyone. We must continue the good fight!
One positive development in 2023 was that many designers and developers are now aware of the importance of accessibility and are taking better steps to make their products more inclusive. There is a call to action for agencies, teams and individuals to advocate and educate about the importance of better accessibility and inclusivity in the experiences we send out to the world. The areas in which we still see the need for greater improvement are:
- Colour contrast ratios need to be improved, ensuring content is not difficult for people with low vision to read text and identify actions and links
- Lack of closed captions or transcripts for videos, making them inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Form validation and labelling need clarity, making it difficult for people using screen readers to understand the purpose of each element
- There is a lack of support for keyboard-only navigation, which can make it difficult or impossible for people with certain physical disabilities to interact with digital experiences.
Design and development teams must prioritise advocating for accessibility from the beginning of the design process and to continually test and iterate on their products to ensure that they are as inclusive as possible. Read more about how we design for accessibility.
No code or no design?
How might we design directly into code, or how might we code without designs?
Bridging the gap between design and development and releasing products as soon as possible was a key focus for 2023. Design systems have matured over the past few years, especially with the emergence of design tokens, becoming consistent and scalable across various digital channels. Teams are evolving their traditional workflows, recognising the need to get to market as quickly as possible and iterating upon each release instead of lengthy timelines.
Agile has largely enabled this fast-moving way of working since its adoption, but teams are now finding ways to design directly into code and in some cases negating the need for all features and components to be designed at all.
Tools such as builder.io Visual CoPilot enable teams to take designs from Figma and automatically generate framework code, along with tailend styles. This is a powerful new way of building interfaces that will likely change the way we think about the traditional production line of creating digital experiences. Other tools such as Framer, Webflow and Plasmic offer rapid development of designs using AI. Whichever framework does this best will win the web development war for the next 10 years.
Designers have been gravitating towards serif typefaces once again, marking a shift from the previously dominant serif fonts. Minimalists, graphic designers, and web designers who prioritise accessibility have long favoured these clean and simple typefaces. Geometric sans and Swiss-style grotesque typefaces have gained popularity due to their renewed freshness and relevance.
Serif typefaces not only provide a clean and minimalist aesthetic for branding, packaging and print designs, but they also improve legibility and accessibility on digital platforms such as apps and websites. As digital accessibility gains more recognition from organisations, sans-serif typefaces are expected to take on a more prominent role in accessibility compliance. The Swiss school tradition, with classic serif fonts such as Neue Haas Grotesk and Univers, is a style to watch.
The resurgence of san-serif fonts in recent years can be attributed to their sleek and modern appearance, making them a favourite of designers aiming for a minimalist aesthetic. In the past, they were overshadowed by more ornate and decorative serif fonts. However, their versatility and simplicity have been rediscovered, and they are now being used to create a variety of designs – from logos to web layouts – for a bold and impactful visual impression.
Digital requirements have played a significant role in the renewed interest in serif fonts. They are easily readable on digital screens, making them an ideal choice for websites and mobile applications. Additionally, the popularity of flat design, which emphasises simplicity and minimalism, has further contributed to the return of serif fonts.
With their unadorned and sleek look, they are perfect for creating a clean and modern flat design aesthetic. Overall, the resurgence of sans-serif fonts has brought a refreshing change to the world of graphic and digital design, giving designers an easy way to create bold and impactful responses to design challenges.
Colour in 2023
A new era of colour emerged in graphic design, moving away from the bold neons of the late 2010s and the muted putty colours of the early 2020s. This 2023 trend encouraged designers to explore colour palettes with greater creativity and openness, resulting in a more fascinating and stylish colour landscape. While neons previously served to grab attention on early apps, and neutrals providing a sense of calm in the wake of the pandemic, the ‘mid-century’ tones of 2023 were far more sophisticated, tonal, and at times sensual. These colours, inspired by 1930s palettes, such as deep crimson, burnt orange, forest green, and powdery lavender, speak for themselves in advertising, websites and packaging. They are enveloping colours, with a comforting and luxurious quality that makes them ideal for high-end brands and their digital experiences.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was a growing trend of utilising bright, playful, and candy-inspired colour palettes. This trend featured the use of neon hues, pastel colours, and bold and bright shades that are often inspired by confectionery and sweets. Designers explored new and innovative ways to incorporate candy colour palettes into their work. This trend was particularly popular in brands targeting younger audiences and digital experiences that coincide with social media trends as it can be utilised to create designs that are both fun and appealing to the user. Unless you were living under a rock, Barbie saturated every corner of our lives for a short spell in 2023 which took full advantage of this candy colour trend. Which came first, Barbie or the candy colour trend? Probably Barbie.
Liquid gradients emerged as a trend to refresh the long-standing gradient colour trend. These gradients, with their molten and fluid appearance, are characterised by glossy and oily textures and effects that add an alternative touch of creativity. Unlike the perfectly blended gradients of the past, liquid gradients have a more liberated feel and are adaptable from static to animated designs. With their artistic colour effects, they instantly elevate the look on screen and backgrounds. Additionally, typography and branding can be given an edge by incorporating liquid gradients. I don’t believe these will be long-standing trends but they're interesting nonetheless.
The nostalgic aesthetic trend that gained popularity in 2022 continued to grow and evolve in 2023. Modern nostalgia blends the past and the present to create something new and unique. The trend involves using vintage-inspired elements such as typography, images and patterns, but with a contemporary edge. Designers experimented with combining different styles from the 70s to Y2K to create something new yet familiar.
Nostalgia has become a major influence in the design world, shaping everything from product design to website graphics. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused people to miss their loved ones and reminisce about happier days. This jump-started the nostalgia trend, which brands capitalised on. The use of nostalgia created an instant connection with their customers that was both powerful and meaningful. Through classic colour schemes, fonts and imagery, designers evoked a feeling of nostalgia for past times and connected with customers on a deeper level, subtly highlighting the brand's values. Like all design trends, it’ll be interesting to see how long this hangs around before it feels outdated again.
Dark mode gains more traction
Dark mode gained significant popularity in recent times, with more people now aware of its benefits. It is not a new trend by any means, similar to responsive design, but it is being requested more frequently to be integrated into digital designs. For some users, reading light text on a dark background is more comfortable, and there is evidence to suggest that dark mode may also enhance the battery life of smartphones and tablets. From a designer's perspective, dark mode provides greater flexibility to experiment with design elements and unleashes creative potential.
Incorporating dark mode into design systems is becoming more common, and it is expected to continue to be in demand. Dark mode enables users to enjoy a more comfortable and visually appealing experience, while allowing designers to unleash their creativity in new ways. By embracing dark mode, designers can create stunning and eye-catching designs that not only look great but also provide a comfortable and enjoyable user experience.
… and also AI
We simply can’t ignore the introduction of AI into digital design.
In 2023 there was a boom in AI tools and generative tools. How AI can practically be used in design processes is an interesting landscape that is continuing to evolve and be debated. My opinion is that we should embrace the application of AI in design as an ally and seek ways in which it can enhance our traditional workflows.
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