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ThingTesting · “Beyond blanding”

Skinny fonts on neutral backdrops, products photographed on pastel backgrounds, and type on a curved path – these are among the brand aesthetics that designers told Thingtesting they are fed up with seeing.

“There are trends that get done to death,” says Dari Israelstam, the founder and creative director of Universal Favourite, an Australian design studio that has worked with the likes of U.S. Gen Z beauty brand Youthforia, Aussie virtual wine club Good Pair Days and contact lens brand Dimple. “It’s partly a reflection of what the market wants, and what consumers are buying. But I would love to see a bit more brand personality in the product photography, and I’m not sad to see the ‘blanding’ trend go.”

In the world of direct-to-consumer brands, new trends in design aesthetics tend to take on a life of their own. This phenomenon is, in part, a result of how long it can take to complete a branding job – in the months that an agency spends working with a young company to get its packaging pitch perfect, it’s likely that multiple other brands, agencies and designers will have picked up on the same ideas. The result, to the eye of the untrained consumer, is an apparent flood of copycat brands emerging all at once, each mimicking the others’ typeface, color palette, or photography style.

Sometimes, it’s the brands themselves that are the culprits, approaching agencies to see if they can replicate the success their competitors or peers are having with a certain look.

But if not “blanding,” the term (which designers are also sick of) used to describe the minimalist same-ification that has emerged among modern brands, then what? We asked three creative directors to give us their predictions.

“Corporate with a wink”

Despite being a recent-ish fad, the “Gen Z aesthetic” – with its bright and bold colors, and made-for-Tiktok goofiness – is already an established facet of the direct-to-consumer visual lexicon. What’s interesting now, Katie Klencheski, the founder of SMAKK Studios, which has worked with feminine care brand The Honey Pot, Busy Co, and toothpaste company Risewell, says is to see how it develops.

“I’m really happy that we’re in this maximalism phase, because I think that this is where we start to see a lot of ideas getting iterated on very quickly,” she says. “Of course there’s a ton of these copycat brands doing chubby logos and 90's web references, but it does feel like this creative explosion after a lot of restraint.”

Klencheski says brands targeting younger consumers are now taking visual cues from previous decades, but adding their own irreverent, tongue-in-cheek twists. It’s something that can be seen in sunscreen brand Vacation, which has gone heavy on the pre-2000s advertising references, or Moody Incense, an Australian incense brand that uses models sporting 70s-style jumpsuits and thick mustaches, who act out the mood of each of the brand’s fragrances.

“[This] audience is more fluid when it comes to aesthetics – everything doesn’t need to be all neat and perfect. There’s a little more honesty, play and experimentation,” Israelstam adds, noting that there is “a lot of vintage referencing going back to the 90's and 2000's.”

Klencheski says this style of over-the-top branding could almost be considered a rejection of consumerism – and is a reflection of the moment in time in which Gen Zers are growing up. Unlike millennials who spurred the “homebody economy,” putting faith in luxe pajamas and on-demand courier apps to help soothe their anxiety, Gen Zers are more skeptical of what it is that brands can actually do for them, putting pressure on those companies to get their values across. According to one 2019 survey, those born after 1995 are three times as likely to say that a brand should “serve communities and society” compared to the general population.

Click to read on ThingTesting

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