The six visual trends that will define 2016

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Getty's director of visual trends reveals which images will resonate with consumers this year, and which brands are already on board.

Today, imagery is a universal language.  Consumers are communicating with pictures before they ever type a word, and often in lieu of words at all. At Getty Images, we see 13.5 images downloaded every second. The exponential growth of smart technology has revolutionized the world of photography. Visual content is driving emotional engagement and self-expression like never before.

Every year Getty Images analyzes customer buying trends, advertising, entertainment, social media and around 2.35 billion searches and 400 million downloads from to identify the next big trends in imagery. This year is set to revel in visual extremes: the contrast of the quiet and the loud, the peaceful and the visceral. This year’s visual trends will be a study in extremes.

Outsider In

This macro trend is a celebration of rebelliousness. As society has become more inclusive, the mainstream is more readily embracing outsiders, non-conformists, rebels and anti-heroes. Even the most established brands are getting in on the act. The launch of the 2016 Pirelli calendar this year is a great example of this. The calendar has traditionally shown voluptuous models in provocative poses. This year, the company rebelled against its own brand identity by featuring women like Serena Williams, Patti Smith and Amy Schumer who are iconoclasts, artists and rule-breakers, and celebrating all ages, body shapes and sizes. Different is the new norm.

Extended Human

Technology has transformed our lives and our sense of self. This trend exemplifies the ways in which tech is making us more human, not less so. We’re becoming more self-aware, interconnected and engaged with the world around us. Where sci-fi often speaks to our anxiety about the rampant growth of technology, the Extended Human trend is the antidote.  It is optimistic, and it celebrates these new developments, seeing them as new opportunities to care, love and connect with ourselves and each other. Brands can leverage this convergence to add emotion and a sense of connection to technology, much like Oppenheimer Funds did recently with its ‘Invest in a beautiful world’ ad.

Divine Living

Divine Living stems from the juxtaposition of meanings for the word divine itself; the idea of luxury, delight and magnificence harmonizing with the heavenly, spiritual and other-worldly. It results in a focus on meaningful consumption and living with mindfulness. Brands are catching on quickly, appealing to our sense of worth with our desire to connect to a higher purpose. For example, recent work from Volvo and Hyundai marries luxury to the serenity and peace of sanctuary. Elsewhere we’re seeing an increase of images with soft, celestial lighting that show people in moments of contemplation and seeking, as they strive to connect to a sense of purpose. Consumers, already well-established researchers, are increasingly becoming truth-seekers, looking beneath the surface of a brand to establish a more meaningful connection.  


Dirty, messy, sloppy and grimy, Messthetics is a departure from the hyper-perfect, digitally manipulated images we often see in advertising imagery. It skates between being beautiful or sensual to gory and visceral, but always makes a bit of a mess. There is something cathartic about these images, which drip and smear and ooze. They give us a sense of freedom, and allow us to bask in glorious visual chaos. Ultimately, this trend comes from our desire for experiences that fully engage our senses and allow us to ‘unplug’ and celebrate the physicality of human nature.  Some great examples of this are Reebok’s "Be More Human" campaign, which shows athletes looking extremely sweaty and covered with dirt. 

Silence vs. Noise

Silence vs. Noise can be seen as a counterpoint to Messthetics. It consists of images which have a small, bold element amongst an expanse of space. Contrast is key here. The imagery is simple and minimalistic, enabling a quick read, while being precisely executed to stand out against imagery that’s more frenetic. Visually it says ‘less is more’ in both composition and color. Using a Silence vs. Noise image is a sure way to stand out from the visual clutter. It’s also very design-friendly, as can be used as hero images or as backgrounds, as they leave plenty of room for copy.


Photographers are using new photo manipulation techniques to create playful and often surreal imagery. Surreality takes a page from the Surrealist art movement of the 1920s but brings it into the modern world with a technological flair. It showcases images that are fantastical and inspired by dreams and the unconscious, and also takes cues from new developments in digital manipulation and image replication, to create arresting, alternative worlds. MTV’s "Tagline Here" commercials have a bold, neo-surrealist treatment that feels jarring and inventive, with strange juxtapositions and curious-looking creatures. In response to a decade dominated by authenticity and realism, we now have a huge appetite for the surprising, the bizarre, and the unexpected. Surreality takes the imagination and stretches it into the future.

Pamela Grossman is the director of visual trends at Getty Images.


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