Method to the messiness: Getty predicts key visual trends to look out for in 2016

As our world evolves, brands must adapt in how they engage with customers and if a picture tells a thousand words, the visual stories brands tell in 2016 will be a lot messier yet more connected according to Getty Images.

The global photography company has released its annual list hinting at the visual trends likely to influence design, advertising and brand communications in 2016, referencing rather esoteric terms such as ‘extended human’ and ‘messthetics’.

Getty highlights six emergent trends—divine living, extended human, outsider in, messthetics, silence vs noise and surreality—but there are two inherent ideas here, which represent a broader shift away from neat stylised representations of advertising towards mess and connection with society, technology and the earth.

Andrew Saunders, senior vice president of creative at Getty Images says the intention behind the trends is to highlight how visual language is changing.

“The trends our creative team identify are meant as a visual signpost for the coming 12 months and to generate debate and conversation around what’s driving culture and our visual language.”

Advertising of the 20th century often presented a neat and idealised world far removed from the messy realities that typified real life.

The real world is a much messier one than we sometimes like to acknowledge and Getty argues this emergent trend of ‘messthetics’ is a break from the sameness which characterised brands in the past. Here is how Getty defines ‘messthetics’:

“A break away from predictability and a reaction to the perfection we often see in advertising imagery. The imagery is messy, grimy, sweaty, visceral, beautiful and ugly. It comes from our desire to break away from the sanitation and predictability of everyday life and revel in the physicality of human nature.”

Getty’s ‘messthetics’ capture this style in a range of weird photographs some of which might be said to be messier than others.

This movement away from stock-type imagery is also evident in the ‘surreality’ trend, which conjoins dreamlike imagery with that which is more realistic.  

But the trends aren’t only about loud, mind-bending imagery. Getty identifies the ‘silence vs noise’ as the counterpoint to ‘messthetics’, pointing out that advertisers can also benefit from using simplistic imagery that appeals to those who live in an overly stimulated world.

This break away from the conventional is also evident in the ‘outsider in’ trend, which is filled with rebels, oddballs, non-conformists and anti-heroes. 

Major brands have shown a willingness to move away from simplistic stylised representations of the outside world, a major example being the much discussed Pirelli calendar for 2016 which broke with its tradition of scantily clad models by including a range of prominent women most fully dressed.

The Pirelli calendar also points at a new way in which brands connect with consumers and the outside world at large, an emergent trend in brand imagery which Getty’s calls ‘divine living’ or a focus on values.

‘Divine living’ captures the sort of transposed set of values consumers expect their brands to represent, Getty’s argues.

“In an overwhelming[ly]visual world, brands and storytellers are placing purpose at the core of their narratives and must now appeal to our sense of worth, inside and out.”

Pamela Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, says the trends identify how consumers desire to engage with their brands on a deeper level.

“These are exciting and turbulent times for which consumers are seeking out partners on their journey, and increasingly looking to brands that deliver inspiration, surprise, and social or spiritual value.”

Aside from expectations that brands uphold porous social values, consumers are also changing the way they interact with brands as technology helps to personalize the service each consumer receives from a brand thus shifting the watermark for how we interact with those brands.

Accenture’s Tim Buessing argued at this year’s Semi-permanent design conference in Wellington that customers now have ‘liquid expectations’ as they use services like Uber or wear a Fit Bit, which personalizes each user’s experience. While the singularity remains science fiction for the moment, the adaptiveness of new consumer services increases integration between humans and computers extending our capacities.

Getty describes our adaptive relationship with technology and brand’s representation of this new reality as ‘extended human’. Below is an example of ‘extended human’ by photographer David Vintiner.

There is a contradiction in our desire to be more connected and increased messiness, Saunders says.

“This years’ predictions illustrate the contrasts faced by the modern consumer – the yearning for extremes, to be on the outside of the mainstream, but also seeking community and engagement for a wider social good.”

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