The Oprah Era of Design

There is a trend happening right now. Or maybe it’s been going on since the early days of the iPod; it could be this decade’s design movement. Our version of Art Deco or the Ray-Gun style from the 1990s. Maybe it’s just the future, what’s to come.

All companies, large and small, seem to be going for it. They want all the colors, all the fonts, all the photography and all the illustrations, all the time, mashed into one gigantic brand vision. It feels like a design gluttony. A designer’s paradise, in a sense, but an overwhelming paradise.

Take a brand like Dropbox, which was recently given a psychedelic acid-trip treatment. Think Paula Scher’s hypo-typographic Public Theater branding meets Aïshti at a Sagmiester photo shoot. Refresh all to make that 30-second file upload feel worth it. They are using 259 fonts throughout their brand. Two. Hundred. And. Fifty. Nine. Everything to the extreme!

The ACLU have something like 14 brand colors now. Why’d they stop at 14 when they should have 27? Amiright?

If you are a company that is involved in any way with the music industry, neon gradients. If you are in the sports industry, neon gradients. If you supply DVDs from a vending machine, neon gradients. I feel like Oprah: You get a neon gradient and you get a neon gradient. Look under your seat. Everyone gets some neon gradients!

I don’t know if I am complaining or jealous, because I actually love the finished look of a lot of these brands. I dig the shocking colors and juxtaposing imagery. The big glorious type and logos that come in every color of the rainbow. It’s a grand utopian design vision, in a way. In all honesty, I would love some neon gradients around here in Buffalo, but I’m also trying to step back and see the forest through the trees. What is the big picture? I like
the look but don’t fully appreciate the payoff when everyone is doing it. Why does a European soccer league look the same as a set of high-end wifi speakers? This is where I get lost and this is where I feel like this is getting to that critical-mass point.

Remember when Facebook was cool, then your mom joined and now grandma is tagging you in posts. I guess it feels a little like that. What are we doing? And who are we doing it for? Is this an exercise in self-gratification where we as designers are getting our rocks off and literally throwing everything including the kitchen sink out there to make a product sell or does the product need this much art direction to sell it?

Maybe I’m just being a cynic. Maybe this will be something we’ll come to regret in some way. Twenty years from now, will our children look at the design style of this era like the way I look at my parents’ choice to put all-yellow pastel tuxedos on their wedding party? Why?!? Or will it just be the norm, where every brand has formed one unifying look using everything in a designer’s bag of tricks. And I’ll wonder, who the hell is managing all those fonts?!?