As a new year begins we look to see what trends are likely to impact the creative world in 2022. Trends and fads constantly come back into vogue as they are rediscovered, reimagined, and recycled – this year is no exception. The trends that are being forecast are eclectic and just like the times we are living in, the themes are unpredictable and contradicting but all have an emphasis on experimentation and playfulness.
The design trends getting the most mentions seem to be; movement in design, anti-design, playful typography, combining 3D and 2D, and eco-aesthetics. However, there is one particular trend that has been gaining momentum in recent years and has got my attention – the 90s nostalgia trend.
The 90s is a particularly broad theme which is why I wanted to dig a little deeper and identify which elements of the decade’s visual identity we could be seeing incorporated into the creative landscape in 2022.
Now that’s what I call 90s
I grew up in the 90s and almost all of my favourite bands, movies, tv shows, art and design are from this decade. Some of the most iconic album artwork (‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana to ‘Ok Computer’ by Radiohead), advertising campaigns (‘Wassup!’ by Budweiser to ‘The future’s bright, the future is Orange’ by the mobile network Orange), and branding (The Public Theatre by Pentagram) came from this era, which makes it no surprise that creatives find it so inspiring.
Only a week into 2022, PepsiCo revealed they will be reviving their special edition Crystal Pepsi. The campaign which celebrates the 30th anniversary of Crystal Pepsi features the hashtag ‘Show us your 90s’ to encourage people to get involved in the nostalgia trip and help to create a buzz. The visuals are like time capsules that show stereotypical pop culture images in the style of the time.
Brands constantly have to find new ways to reinvigorate their visual identity without losing their core brand. They need to come up with innovative solutions to get people talking about their brands, and these days it is essential to make shareable content on social media to maximise reach.
So, what is the 90s aesthetic?
Graphic design and fashion were intrinsically linked to music in the 90s. Different genres of music emerged that influenced the attitudes and styles of the youth culture, which ultimately came to define the 90s aesthetics.
Below, I’ve cherry-picked what I think were two of the most influential cultural movements of the 90s in Britain to see what unique characteristics they brought to the era and to help us identify their presence in the creative realms of the modern day.
The spirit of Grunge
Grunge originated from punk music in the 1980s but saw a rise in popularity in the early 90s thanks to bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and many other acts signed to the infamous record label, Sub Pop.
Grunge was seen as the opposition to Glam Rock (think ‘hair’ metal bands like Kiss and Guns and Roses). The grunge fashion scene is known for its casual, ‘don’t care’ appearance e.g. flannel shirt, jeans and boots. In reality, the ‘look’ came about out of necessity and had to be functional, cheap and durable. This was because many of the bands came from Seattle, which was a poor city in the US. Most of the population worked either in the lumberjack industry or at the manufacturing site for Boeing.
The visual language of grunge is expressive, raw, imperfect and unconventional. Skateboard culture and street art were also a source of inspiration that fed into the 90’s alternative scene.
One of the most influential publications of the 90s was Ray Gun, which ran from 1992 – 2000. It was an alternative rock and roll music magazine that was Art Directed by David Carson. It featured musicians such as Sonic Youth, David Bowie and Bjork. It is a prime example of the Grunge aesthetic in graphic form. The designs were experimental, with chaotic layouts, striking photography and abstract typography.
The Britpop Movement
By the mid-90s, Britpop emerged in Britain as the remedy to the US-led Grunge movement. Britpop was bright, loud, upbeat and relatable to ordinary people. It was a stark contrast to the moody, dark and dirty aesthetics of Grunge. The Britpop movement didn’t only cover the music scene with bands like Oasis, Blur, and the Spice Girls but was a whole visual brand campaign that included most of the creative sector including fashion, contemporary art and graphic design.
Britpop had an emphasis on Britishness. The British Union Jack became predominant, as well as pop art references and the 1960s Mod scene which all influenced the identity of the time. The fashion was typically British, featuring parkas, polo shirts, bucket hats and sports apparel. Not only can these themes be seen in what people were wearing but also in the graphic artwork that promoted the brands and events, and also in the music publications of the time like NME and Select.
The visual aesthetics of Britpop were bold, simple and highly typographic. Woodblock style sans serif fonts were used heavily with the occasional appearance of 60s retro-inspired lettering. Colour pallets were reduced to mainly red, white, blue, black and the occasional pop of yellow. The overall feel of the Britpop movement was confident and eye-catching.
Decades of inspiration
It is not the first time a particular decade has become a source of inspiration. In recent years the design industry has seen the reappearance of 80s aesthetic maximalism. The essential elements of the 80s look were created by the Memphis design movement and are well-known for its use of vivid colours, energetic abstract patterns, bold typography and a distinct ‘modernist’ feel. Some believe that the hit Netflix series Stranger Things had a large part in catapulting the 80s back into the limelight and inspiring a new generation of creatives.
The 90s was a culturally diverse decade. Grunge and Britpop are only two examples of pivotal movements of the time. They both had very individual aesthetics, but there were many other sub-cultures that rose between 1990-2000. Most of the trends happened simultaneously or overlapped and influenced each other. The creative styles we can look forward to seeing more of will be expressive and exciting. One thing is for certain; the 90s will have a long-lasting impact on the creative community and our modern pop culture.
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