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How social and cultural trends have influenced visual design, character design & illustration

Silhouettes, colours and metaphors have changed over the last 20 years and links can be made between social trends and these changes.

Let’s look at what is happening right now. Past trends and connections between visual design and illustration and the zeitgeist of the past are often very easy to recognise in hindsight, but to stand here, now, in the current moment and make the pertinent links is not always so easy. Let us start from 20 years ago when current influences were seeded.

Where are we now? What is trending socio-culturally? Some of the more obvious trends are:

Groupthinka need to belong to a clear group in a complex world, where the “other” is the enemy, and no dissenting thought is allowed within or outside the group

Fake newsquick and easy to disseminate and influence those who do not have the education to discern probable fact from fiction

Instant gratificationthe answers are at your fingertips on the internet and I want a perfect life instantly – or should that be Instagramly

Virtue signallinga desire to show the world that you are morally superior to others

Let us expand a little on these trends. As a result of the dumbing down of education, the Universities are no longer bastions of critical thinking. Now, in many ways, they are little more than safe spaces where groupthink festers and smothers individualism. In the most glaring of ironies it is as if Orwell’s 1984 were never published. Now the inhabitants of these Ivory Towers, previously known as hotbeds of freethinking, are “Progressives” who really believe that their view is the only correct one and all others must be suppressed.

Many people’s view of the world is not based on interaction and a variety of sources, where time, maturity and an educated sifting of information lead to a teasing out of the truth. Today we have the individualised newsfeed. It may appear that there is more information than ever, available to all, on the internet, but how many have the critical faculties to discern what is true, relevant or likely nowadays? How many actually ask themselves the critical question of any piece of information, i.e. Cui Bono? Who profits from making this statement? Only when that is answered can we begin the process of truth discernment.

Individualised newsfeeds mean that one can live one’s whole life, digitally, only ever being exposed to one point of view. As some are aware this may have severe repercussions in terms of propaganda and societal control.

Amazingly with so much “freedom” people prefer to paint themselves into a corner, as too much choice is widely recognised as a limiting factor in people’s ability to choose, so it is easier to bury one’s head in the sand like the emu. We all want an easy life yes?

Enormous areas of life, which in the past an educated person would have at least been cognizant of, are entirely missing from the minds of certain generations. Why would we need the physical gulags when nowadays we have the digital ones? So much cheaper!

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. It used to take two generations for this to happen. The cycle is speeding up. Because those who never knew history condemn those who know it.

So how have these trends influenced silhouettes, colours and metaphors?

I would posit that silhouettes have become more stark, more black and white, and thus with fewer colours. Those who used to judge issues with fine shades of grey, where the truth could be estimated with some degree of confidence (Generation X) are now being faced with being judged as black themselves by the virtue signalling and groupthink of Generation Y and more especially Generation Z. Being judged as having an extreme position, allows no space for rational counter argument, an equal and opposite opposing view is the only one tenable. Black can only oppose white. This is a less rich world where nuances cannot be accepted. “You are either with us or against us” This polarisation is manifested by 50:50 divisions. Take Trump and Brexit for example, where those for and against are more or less 50%

We would expect two trends: Ever more delineation, ever bolder, heavier juxtaposition. Clear shapes, boxes, separation, tenuous links between separated objects. All of which represent the little, self-imposed cut-off worlds of people. A metaphor  for our times.

When it comes to illustration, it’s crucial for us to touch users’ hearts and tell amazing stories.

A striving for clarity in an unclear world. Bolder = louder – a louder voice is necessary to be heard amongst those who dissent. Or like the log in the sea that saves the drowning man, for those swimming in a sea of vagueness, clarity gives security. A metaphor  for our times.

Conversely, for those who know the answer is always grey. The pastel colours, the lines that suggest nuance and a respite from the stridence of diametrically opposed groups.

Take Ester Digital, both can be seen here:

Frame by frame we add a little motion to our updated website. Fully handmade with love & passion.

ester digital home page animation

Smooth transitions and endless loops

Smooth transitions and endless loops

You must choose to focus on your segment, the millennials or those with real knowledge of reality as it was before the onslaught of life changing Social Media and the internet filter of fake news changed everything.

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