If there is one thing we love about the creative discipline of graphic design, it’s the ever-expanding nature of it. From where we started with simple cave paintings, we can now feast our eyes on countless design styles. From geometric design to grunge, let’s take a look at the most important and commonly used design styles today.
A great graphic designer has more in their toolbox than just skills and (super expensive!) software. Great designers also invest time researching and adapting to various styles. Between the many design styles available, it’s essential to know when and how to use which style.
From minimalism to 3D illustrations, a graphic designer is spoilt for choice. However, it is not as simple as blindly picking a style that sounds like it may work. Choosing the right design style for the right project is a delicate art form and can make or break your design.
Keep in mind that each style can and often will be used interchangeably. Additionally, one design can consist of multiple styles or the designer’s interpretation of one or more styles. Minimalism design can be applied to typography, and flat design can simultaneously be abstract, for example.
Every design style has a distinctive voice and application. In this guide, you’ll find prominent graphic design styles and how to use them.
Typography in graphic design is all about playing and modifying typefaces to invoke a feeling or relay a message to the public. It can be used metaphorically, in typographic illustrations or posters, for example. Or it can be used literally in a logo design or the headings.
A lot goes into picking a suitable typeface. It should serve the purpose of legibility while keeping the overall aesthetic and look of the design in mind. A design can do a complete 180 when using a different font. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that some designers solely devote their time to studying and creating typography.
Typography is a widely applicable style since many designs need a form of text, and this text can encompass various design styles. One of the most notorious graphic styles in typography is the Swiss Style Design, also known as International Typography Style.
Swiss style design or international typography style
Referred to as either Swiss style design or international typography style, this design style originated in Switzerland in the 1940s. It is seen as the foundation on which many design movements grew throughout the 20th century.
This design style sprung from the Zurich School of the Arts and Krafts and the Basel School of Design.
Josef Muller-Brockmann, Opernhaus Zurich - Cavalleria Rusticana, 1973 via International Poster
Characteristics of this particular style are:
- Clean and simple
- Asymmetrical layouts
- Consistent use of white space
The retro design style is where the graphic designer uses elements or takes inspiration from a vintage design style. It’s a broad term since there are many different old styles.
Retro has become increasingly popular in product design. This isn’t surprising since it has the power to evoke a feeling of nostalgia. And who doesn’t love a good throwback to the good ol’ days?
Product packaging, logos for produce; many of them consist of retro designs. Additionally, it’s regularly used in some service industries. The hospitality business, for example. An old hotel will most likely have a retro logo since it gives people a sense of establishment and trust.
On the contrary, some industries should probably refrain from using retro styles in their brand identity. For example, as a healthcare provider, you should probably think twice before coming across as old and outdated.
A retro design draws inspiration from vintage design styles. These are the most common styles:
- Art nouveau
- Art deco
- Mid-century modern
- Pop art
- Psychedelic design
- Memphis style
Three-dimensional design, or 3D in short, is one of the more modern styles. It’s widely used in the digital world for landing page design or web design, for example. Lastly, product design and 3D printing are the perfect match, increasing the popularity of 3D design even further.
With these fast-expanding technological advances and software capabilities, the options are endless. Many graphic designers are upping their 3D game. Visuals are becoming more and more realistic, blurring the line between digital and physical.
If there is one way to have your digital content stand out from the crowd, it’s through movement and animation.
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Like abstract fine art, abstract graphic design is subjective and can be experienced differently. When a design steps outside the lines of a conventional and predefined style, it is abstract. General design standards are thrown overboard, and the result is often a perfect blend of randomness.
Whether it’s product packaging or the background of a web page - when you’re unsure of what to use to illustrate a design, abstract may just be the answer.
Are you a startup without any photography yet? Naturally, you want visually enticing graphics, even though you don’t have any in-house imagery yet. Instead of using stock photos that are often overused, think of hiring a graphic designer that can help you with abstract design.
When done well, abstract design can create something that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but is visually striking nevertheless.
Characteristics of abstract design are:
- Nonsensical or a mix between identifiable and non-identifiable elements
Minimalism is a style that sends out a sense of luxury, eliteness, mysticism, and scarcity. No wonder it’s often used in corporate design, advertising, and packaging design. If you’re striving for simplicity and want a clear and concise brand message sent to consumers, minimalism is the way to go.
Using only the basics to advertise your product shows confidence. A simple packaging that doesn’t need all the fuss of bold design choices shows you trust your product as is.
Additionally, it can help people understand your purpose better. There aren’t any elements distracting the viewer from the ultimate message your design conveys.
Characteristics of minimalism design are:
- A clean design without the use of many different elements
- Minimal use of different colors
- Simple yet enticing typography
- Use of white space
Did you have to check twice to see whether a design is a photo or not? That’s a dead give-away the designer used photorealism as their style choice. It often depicts a realistic representation of design elements such as natural shapes and colors.
Photorealism is a very commonly used style in architecture and interior design. To create a model home, for example, or design a kitchen. More and more software programs make it easier to design hyper-realistic visuals, making photorealism and 3D a bit of a power couple in the design world.
Additionally, photorealism is often used in mockups and advertisements. Think about an illustration of a mockup phone to display an application.
On the opposite spectrum of 3D design, there is flat design. As the name suggests, it is two-dimensional and therefore more simplistic than 3D. There is no need for a natural lighting effect or creating the illusion of depth in a flat design, making it a monochromatic style.
Flat design is often used in web design and digital marketing. It’s a style that has become increasingly popular for digital illustrations, especially in corporate design. These types of illustrations give you the option to add a bit of fun to your otherwise very formal website or socials.
If that sounds like something your company could use, then maybe it’s time to check out ManyPixels’ gallery of free resources. You’ll find a bunch of royalty-free illustrations to spruce up your content with.
Via ManyPixels free resources
Characteristics of flat design are:
- Bright colors
- Quick visual perception
- Two dimensional
- Simplicity of shapes and elements
- Clear and strict visual hierarchy
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One of the evergreen design styles is geometric design. Let’s first answer the question: What does geometric design mean? Geometric design is a style that is based on sharp geometric shapes, accentuated lines and edges, and a balance between abstract and realism.
This style is a great duo prospect since geometric graphic design often overlaps with minimalism design and typography. Did you know there’s a whole subcategory of geometric typefaces?
Now that you’ve got the answer to what does geometric design mean let’s look into this popular style a little bit more. The history of geometric design is an interesting one since it can be traced back as far as Mayan temples and ancient pyramids. Back then, it was often used for decorative purposes, displaying geometric pattern design.
Different shapes and patterns are used to zhoosh up certain building elements. This is still a trendy design style, although now applied in a much broader sense. From digital backgrounds to product packaging, in our opinion, a good graphic designer should know how to design geometric patterns.
If we’ve just spiked your curiosity to learn how to design geometric patterns, then luckily, many modern graphic design tools will do the dirty work for you. The Fibonacci Sequence is a good first step if you want to go old school. Additionally, it never hurts to study a bit of Escher while reminiscing about your high school math classes.
From a striking tattoo design to seamless geometric patterns, geometric design is a widely applicable style and a great match to many other design styles.
Characteristics of geometric design are:
- Repetitive usage of shapes and lines
- Often abstract
Let’s talk about the rebellious style of the group: grunge. Grunge is a counter-movement, standing up against the design principles. In with the gritty and rough, out with the conventional and strict!
If you think of the punk and gothic movements, you’ll get somewhat of an idea of what grunge looks like. Grunge takes its name and style from the subculture emerging in the 90s. Think distressed textures layered on top of each other, with uneven edges and a rough finish.
Grunge takes the cake for the most chaotic style out of the list since, with this style, anything goes. It makes it a fun and forgiving style to experiment with. Additionally, it’s a great style to add a little spice to a mundane design. Opposites attract, which a good minimalistic design with grunge elements goes to show.
Characteristics of the grunge style are:
- Rough finishes
- Goes against the principles of design
- Layered textures
- A bit chaotic (but in a good way)
This is by no means a complete list of every style out there, but in our opinion, these are the most commonly used styles today. We hope this has helped you distinguish different graphic design styles and sparked some inspiration into using one or two for your next project.