From messthetics to surreality, 6 visual trends set to dominate popular culture in 2016

This year looks set to be one of dynamic and contrasting visual trends, says Paul Foster, senior director, creative content at Getty Images.

We are entering an exciting and unique time for design and imagery, with a plurality of often contradictory visual styles emerging.  Modern consumers crave luxury and convenience, but increasingly favour brands that demonstrate real value and purpose.

As more of us embrace social media and new technologies, the way that we share and consume imagery continues to evolve, and the kind of imagery that resonates with us changes at a dramatic rate.

Getty Images’ visual experts make annual trend predictions by drawing on a diverse set of resources - search and buying trends from the millions of visitors to Getty Images’ website, local insight from Getty Images’ global network of regional offices and expert analysis of the imagery trends in advertising and popular culture at large. From this research, the team identified six trends that we can expect to have a major influence on how brands visualise themselves this year.

Outsider In

The ‘Outsider In’ trend celebrates rebellion; individuals who are daring and break with tradition. Figureheads spearheading this revolution in popular culture include Vivienne Westwood, Hillary Clinton and Amy Schumer.

This cultural shift will surface more in advertising this year. We will see campaigns that rabble-rouse using a sly sense of humour and outrageous design to grab the consumer’s attention.

Rebel Yell Bourbon is an example of a brand that has already adopted this style of imagery in its advertising, using the tagline ‘Rowdy yet refined’ to describe their ethos.

Alan Powdrill, Getty Images

Divine Living

The word divine has two meanings; firstly ‘delightful, magnificent and special’ and secondly it means ‘supreme or heavenly being’. As consumers place more value on meaningful consumption and purchasing with purpose, we predict brands will need to clearly demonstrate and visualise their own ‘brand purpose’.

We are already seeing this trend manifest itself through imagery representing contemplation or introspection, as well as through a ‘god’s eye view’ via aerial imagery answering consumers’ search for something more mindful and spiritual.

There are already examples of this type of imagery being used by brands.

An example is Hyundai, which used light rays and soft focus camera effects in its latest ad campaign to create a relaxing and healing message, even using the tagline ‘Sanctuary’ to convey this trend.

Adrian Samson, Getty Images

Extended Human

Technology is an integral part of our lives, and the ‘Extended Human’ trend explores this relationship. It shows how technology is becoming an extension of us, expanding our ability to connect and communicate. Where science fiction has always focused on our anxieties around artificial intelligence, the ‘Extended Human’ trend sees brands taking an optimistic view of our relationship with technology.

An example of this in action comes from Toyota Prius. The car brand displayed interactive messages on its cars like ‘hug me’, inviting passers-by to build an emotional connection with the product.

Mina De La O, Getty Images


Messthetics is about a break away from predictability and a reaction to the perfection we often see in advertising imagery. This approach to image making stands out in a busy market of sameness. It can be seen as an extreme evolution in the authenticity theme - messy, grimy, sweaty, visceral, beautiful and ugly.

The trend comes from our desire to break away from the sanitation and predictability of everyday life and revel in the physicality of human nature. It’s chaotic, splashy style is partly a throwback to the era of punk and its lurid colour – an era with similarities to our own.

Consumers feel increasingly disillusioned by advertising where beauty and perfection rule. We want to be surprised, shocked and jolted out of the everyday.

Jonathan Knowles, Getty Images

Silence vs. Noise

‘Silence vs.  Noise’ can really be seen as a counterpoint to ‘Messthetics’. The imagery is simple and minimalistic against imagery that’s more frenetic. Visually, it says ‘less is more’ in both composition and colour with pictures that are often quiet and restrained. It’s also very designer friendly because of the way space is used as it allows for copy and messaging.

We’ve seen brands such as Emirates, HSBC and Oakley create campaigns with imagery that uses epic spaces and single objects or people.

Pchyburrs, Getty Images


Photographers are using many new photo manipulation techniques to create very playful and often surreal images. Sometimes looking like a 21st century version of 60’s psychedelia, it’s influenced by dreams, the subconscious, and of course by the original surrealist movement of the last century. In part it can be seen as a reaction against authenticity and a visual landscape dominated for more than a decade by a drive toward realism.

The fashion house Kenzo is well known for its surreal collages and designs and the most recent MTV awards were filled with surreal video imagery.

Yagi Studio, Getty Images

We can expect these six trends to significantly influence marketing creative in the year ahead. The conflicting nature of these trends captures the contrasts between the consumer’s desire for clean, ethical living as well as a desire to see and experience the unexpected. Led by popular culture and access to new technologies, we can expect visual language to take on an exciting twist in 2016.

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