As digital marketing becomes ever more visual, how can we make sure we stay ahead of the trend? One way is to analyse the data on creative trends taking off around the world.
To tap into this data, I’ve had a chat with Jordan Roland of Shutterstock. You can listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Tell us about Shutterstock?
Shutterstock is about 13 years old. It started out as a stock photo company. And since then it’s grown into what we can call a creative marketplace. They basically have asset types that can help a lot of facets of the creative community. So for agencies or marketers, we have a lot of asset types like photos, videos, illustrations, music. And what we do is we try to find ways to partner with agencies or marketers to use these asset types in their projects. And a lot of times, what this does is it helps efficient workflow and helps people that are starting a small business get their websites off the ground. So what we do is we provide ways for creative individuals to get their businesses started.
What is the Creative Trends research?
It’s interesting because about four years ago, this project started. And what happened is the internal graphic design team, which is what I was part of, we started noticing a lot of visual trends popping up in the agency. So what we do is we share work around each other about what are some of the big brands and then just redoing. And then, what are some of the big agencies coming out with commercials or print ads, or web advertisements? And, on our own, we just started seeing trends pop up. So what we did is we have an internal infrastructure data team, and what they do is basically, every time the user comes to the Shutterstock website, we see what they’re searching for, we see what kinds of things they’re downloading. And so what we did is we took these trends that we saw, went to the internal business data team, and what they did is they showed us a year-over-year increase of if these terms were trending or spiking and how often people search for them.
When we noticed that, for these trends that we had just organically seen as a team, were directly correlating with some of the most searched for terms, it got us thinking that well, throughout this next year, if we see other terms starting to spike in a similar style that these terms have been, we can actually start to predict what some of the visual trends would be for the next year. So this would have been my first year, four years ago. So at the end of that year, we decided to look at what these new terms were. And then in the kickoff of my second year, so that would have been 2013, we came up with our first 2013 creative trends where we started actually predicting what the trends were going to be for that year.
What are the top four trends making an impact around the world in 2016?
The top four global trends right now is a term called “flat lay”, a term called “boho”, a term called “sacred geometry,” and another one of “metallics.”
Flat lay, for example, is kind of a visual style where you basically envision a camera overhead at a whole bunch of objects laid out and organised. Flat lay is an interesting trend where Squarespace, the template and website company had a commercial come out two years ago, two or three years ago, where it was an overhead camera with hands preparing stuff, and the hands were preparing different things. So one, it was someone making food, and another one it was a person drawing, another one it was a person drumming. And this was one of the first times in the actual advertising, creative space that this technique had been used for a company. And then what was interesting was seeing how it went from just that one commercial to UX and UI website design elements started having their shadows look like it was flat lay. And then the next year, fashion designers were laying out their clothes in that same style. And then the foodies were laying out their ingredients in similar styles. So you saw a trend start with the commercial, and then through the next few years, it started seeping its way into almost every single type of industry it could. So now, this year, one of the big things we’re seeing is even normal everyday people all arranging their desks in a flat lay type way, and taking the picture of it for Instagram, or it’s fully saturated to the point where it’s part of the zeitgeist right now, and the cultural mindset.
Boho is a combination of a 1960s hippie style but has a modern aesthetic where they use floral patterns or a lot of types of combinations of natural elements mixed with a lot of contemporary visual styles and colours.
Sacred geometry is really interesting because it’s thousands of years old actually. And the whole idea is rooted in a lot of religious thinking of that all the elements in the natural world like a flower, or a rock, or a mountain have actual mathematical qualities and shapes to them. And basically, what they were doing is drawing these geometric shapes and combining them with natural imagery. A good example of how sacred geometry is used in contemporary art and design is the new cover for the Coldplay album, for example. The symbol on that cover is sacred geometry.
One thing I found that’s pretty interesting about sacred geometry, for example, and how universal and how long it’s been around, is there is a metal hardcore band from the UK that came out with an album back in 2014. The name of the band is Bring Me The Horizon, and they used an almost identical symbol to the one on the Coldplay album. So it’s pretty fascinating to me that a metal hardcore band that has a dedicated but somewhat smaller following, and then Coldplay, one of the biggest bands in the world, can use a lot of similar imagery. And that speaks to how trends can come in ebb and flows year over year.
— Johan Erasmus (@iAmJohanEra) November 9, 2015
And then metallics, we saw a spike this year in terms of the fact that wearable tech was really, really big in 2015. And then in 2016, the aesthetics of wearable tech are starting to kind of bleed into the art and design and fashion world. So there’s a lot of organic fabrics, but they’ll have a more metallic or metal feel. And we’ve noticed that that was inspired by a lot of the wearable tech of 2015.
How do visual trends differ around the world?
For me, one thing I found pretty interesting about the visual trends around the world where you can see things, like in the United States, data science is really big. And we see a lot of the tech companies of Silicon Valley in America, that makes sense to me. But then you can also look at a place like France where climate change is a big thing there. So you’re getting snapshots on who different countries are viewing these terms, and then when you’re looking at big things that are happening within those countries, a lot of times that makes sense. The one that stands out, to me, that’s interesting about that is, apparently, French bulldogs are amazing in Spain because that was the most searched for term there.
In the UK, the top visual trend is polygonal. This is a type of visual style where if you look at an object like a circle or anything that could have a shape and a shadow to it, when you break it down to basic, basic shapes, so if it’s complicated like a can of soda, there’s a lot of different shapes that build it up. Instead of fully rendering the can of soda to look realistic, you break it down into various simple shapes, and it kind of has a polygon look to it. And it’s just a visual style that’s popular right now.
What are the two major cultural trends of 2016?
For culture trends this year, one thing that we saw was that there’s a big push and pull of always being connected, and that’s always being connected to our technology, whether it’s always checking our emails in our phones, or wearable technology like the Apple Watch.
But then we saw the counter to that starting to pop up a lot, too, where terms like wanderlust, which is the desire to want to travel, or mindfulness, or wellness, and so we’re seeing people embrace technology because it’s really hard to live in this world and society without having some sort of tech on you. But at the same time, people are really trying to get back to nature, and trying to figure out ways that they can have their technology, but then also figure out ways to have a better, healthier lifestyle or travel more, and try to disconnect themselves. For me, that’s really interesting because it’s like you embrace the fact that you can’t get rid of technology and then, at the same time, you try as hard to get rid of it as you can.
What design trends can you see?
For me, the one thing that stood out for design trends that I find incredibly fascinating because, in the report, it’s a 909% increase from last year to this year, is this term called material design. And what’s fascinating to me about this, and even as being a designer, where I find a lot of interest in this is material design is a term coined literally last year by Google on how their UX and UI team was going to start to approach how they designed apps within the Google infrastructure. And what they did is, if we think of your Gmail app on your phone, for example, they took the way Gmail looks and they printed it out on pieces of paper, and they recreated the app in a physical environment. And then what they did is they shined an overhead light on that paper structure they built, and they saw where the shadows were hitting. And they used that as a reference to redesign a lot of their apps. So the term “material design” is coming from they’re using a digital UX/UI design methodology, but all of the shadows and how the objects lay on top of each other are mirroring how they would if you built it in real life.
What are the video trends of 2016?
It goes back to nature. Video trends this year, all the key terms either had something to do with elements or had something to do with nature itself. So “nature” is one of the most searched for terms. “Fire” is one, “water” is another, and then “beach” is the final one. It goes back to like we were talking about with that dichotomy in the cultural trends of connected versus unplugged. In video, a lot of times, we noticed this year, people are searching for video terms and clips of the natural environment, of overhead shots of giant sweeping landscapes. And you can even tie that back into how drone photography is huge this year. So people have access to be able to shoot in areas that they wouldn’t normally have been able to. And so when you have a new piece of tech, what do you want to do? You want to explore the places you couldn’t explore before. And for drones, overhead shots of giant sweeping environments is like a go-to for people. So you see interesting balances between how something can peak in a cultural trend, and then influence the video trend as well.
What’s trending in the music world?
For music trends, one thing we found pretty interesting was, a lot of times, brands or companies will use a lot of our music tracks for their videos. So they’ll shoot their whole video and have everything done without any sound at all, and then will use a music track to complement whatever message or theme they’re trying to do. And so it’s kind of tied to advertising. When you look at a lot of the trends, there are a lot of positive trends like “bright” and “colourful” and “uplifting,” and those show us that people, while showing these commercials or showing their ads, they want the person viewing it to have a positive feeling and have a really positive mentality. A lot of times, we’ll use a correlation between, well, they want people to think their brand is cool, or hip, or fun, or feel positive while looking at their brand, and not having negative connotation when they’re watching an ad. So there’s an emotional reason they would do it.
And then also in the beginning of last year, there became a slew of ads that came out that were pretty…there was a term that was coined called “sadvertising” where brands were trying to hit people from an emotional level, and they chose to go on a bit more, “I want to make our customers feel empathetic or maybe hit them will a little bit of sad feeling.” So when we look to that as trending last year, then people are pushing back this year and going towards the opposite end and doing a lot more positive uplifting types of music cues.
For instance, Facebook will unveil a new product that either most people on the service level wouldn’t really care about, or they don’t see how it can impact their lives. So Facebook has to punch it up and basically go like, “Here’s a new product that we have, and it’s going to be amazing and beneficial to your entire life.” And using those music cues on a subconscious level can make people start to feel that without them noticing it. So it makes total sense on why Facebook would use that stuff for those types of announcements.
Finally, what social trends have you spotted?
Social trends basically goes back to what we’re seeing in cultural trends. So some of the more searched-for things are human scale, colour in nature, and atmospheric. The one linking thing between all of them is they all have to do with nature. And then what we’re also starting to dig in is people really like seeing the vastness of what the natural environment can look like. And how we came up with these social trends, what we did is, as a visual company, we have various social channels that we use. We started seeing how people engage with certain images on certain social networks, and then we looked our data on the infrastructure side, and we were seeing the very same correlation, and what images were performing well on our social networks. And it’s a lot of people being very small, next to really big things. It’s like a person hugging a redwood tree in California, for example.
I think, for me, people are trying to get back to a connection to nature, and also there’s an accessibility of phones now. So when people are traveling, the camera quality on an iPhone is great. And not only that but your video quality on iPhone, you can shoot 4K. So people have technology, and they’re going to these remote areas of the world, and they’re able to take a picture of it quickly, share it to their network. And people are starting to see parts of the world they’ve never seen before, and I think the vastness of some of these areas are getting people excited because it makes them, I think, one, feel like they are there. Or two, compels them to want to start exploring themselves. And so I think it’s people using technology to showcase a lot of beautiful aspects of our natural environment.
What are the main takeaways for marketers?
I think it’s all about getting back to being personal. I think that a lot of what we’re noticing in these trends are people have a lot more access to technology. Brands are very aware of that. And even on social network, if you have a bad experience with a brand, you’ll be able to say that to your friends on Twitter very quickly. And so brands are starting to try to go back to having a lot more of a human face. You’ll see brands and companies really start emphasising a lot of these natural popping colours. And if you look at something like boho, for example, which is taking a 60s hippie, flower-child aesthetic, companies and brands are starting to try to use visual cues for nostalgia, but then mix it with contemporary technology. So I think you’re going to really start to notice contrast. You’re going to start to see a lot of things like “always connected but unplugged.” But it’s all going to be housed within a very personable casing as brands try to connect with their customers.
Tell us about Shutterstock’s own content marketing?
For us, one thing that we found that’s pretty interesting, and this is kind of blanket for any company, is you have to figure out what your company is or what your company represents before you can define what channels work well for your company. So how do we get the content marketing at Shutterstock? Advertising used to be a lot about our collection size. It used to be about how many images, or vectors, or assets we were getting per second, per hour, per day. And it’s very aspirational. We are really trying to empower our customers to go, “You guys could do whatever you want.” But also, it came across a little bit vague, like, “What is it that they want? And what can they do?” And a lot of time we found when you don’t have any kind of focus, and you can do anything, people get lost.
So when we build out the content marketing team, what we thought about was, why don’t we just show people how they can use our assets in cool and creative ways? So we started to use that as a framework of building a team where the team was solely dedicated on building original content with only using Shutterstock assets. We would put out into the world, and we would see how people were engaging with it. As we started really focused on this, and reporting on it, and paying attention to how customers and people were engaging with our content, it really gave us a good template on how to build a structured team. And then from there, we really started to know what channels started to work, and what channels didn’t work.
And I think a lot of times companies really have to focus on what works for them and what stays true to their brand. And you’ll notice a lot, companies seem to need to be on every single social network that’s around, or they all have to have a content marketing team. And sometimes it just doesn’t fit that brand, and you’ll see them force it, and it just doesn’t work. So I think first rule is you have to know what your brand is and what you represent, and then that way you can know what channels or what teams to build out.
— Shutterstock (@Shutterstock) March 8, 2016
Can we assume your top social channels are Instagram and Pinterest?
You would guess correct. But I think our blog is another great channel as well. What we’ve noticed is you take the term “creative” and instantly people think creative is like a designer, or an artist, or an ad agency. And what we’ve noticed a lot with people who engage with our content on our blog is a lot of people who just like creative things, or feel like they want to try to be creative, are hitting our blog too, and so we have two very different people visiting the blog. Some of them are just organic users who have never heard of Shutterstock, who don’t really know what the “creative industry” is, and we have content for them. We have cool inspirational pieces for them. We have a piece going live, actually, it went live at noon today, of a series of posters that we designed as a tribute to the pictures nominated for the Academy Awards. And we basically took every movie that was nominated for a best picture and created the cool pop-up poster for them. You don’t have to have been a designer to appreciate that poster. But then we also have a tutorial on how you can half-tone an image better, or what’s a vector and how to use it. So that channel is working wonderfully for us for our current customers and also potential future customers. But then, yeah, Instagram does great. Pinterest is another really big one. Facebook is big for us, and so is Twitter.
What are the best apps and tools for visual and creative marketers?
For us, I can say the things that we use on a daily basis, and then I can also give you a tool that I know that helped a lot of my friends and people on a lot of their personal sites, Squarespace is a great one if you need to get a business off the ground. It’s a templated-based website builder, you don’t really need to have any design or coding background at all to be able to do it. I’ve seen a lot of small business start their companies off from Squarespace. I think it’s a great intro way if you want to start a business to get an online presence.
For us, efficiency is really big. We come out with a lot of blog posts on a daily basis. We use Trello, which is a task management program. And what we do is we basically, as we take pitches for a new blog post, we have a column on Trello that’s pitches. Once we approve them, there’s another column for approvals. And we use Trello’s task management software to workflow what our week’s going to be, how many posts are we going to have? Making sure we’re not double-posting. That’s a big one.
And then, one thing I find pretty interesting for how our team operates is, late last year, Shutterstock came out with a little bit of editing software that was built internally into the website itself where you can crop images and filter images before you actually download them. It’s called Shutterstock Editor. And what we noticed was I’m the designer for the content marketing team, but for me, a lot of times, a lot of blog posts start piling up as I’m trying to crop photos for them, and I just don’t have enough time to do it. And a lot of our writers or editors don’t want to wait for me to finish them. We started beta testing Editor a few months before it went live, and it freed out my time to focus on some more big design initiatives, and it gave our editing team the freedom to be able to start cropping and editing their photos without having to worry about my timeline and how it fit into my workflow. So I find that the Shutterstock Editor tool is a pretty cool thing to be using, and it’s something that we’re going to be expanding on as the year goes on.
What are your thoughts on visual tools such as Canva?
For me, I look at it as these are huge spaces, and I look at what Canva does, for example, and I really like a lot of the stuff they do. They have a blog and platform called Design School, which is great for really helping people learn, “What is design? How can I be a designer? How can I grow my design skillset?” I think they are going after a little bit of a different customer than we are, and I think what we’re focused on is just how do teams work well together? And if you’re at a company that has 500, 600 people in all these different departments, how can we get these departments to work as well together as we can? And so things like Editor, in my head, are little, tiny ways to make teams work more efficiently together versus a Canva is how does a budding small business owner learn a little bit of design, or build up their business in a way that they want to become empowered, and they want to become a designer. I think we’re doing some things that are a little bit different.
What brands inspire you on social?
One of the things I find the most fascinating is the actual content marketing landscape, and how young it is, and looking where it came from. And one of the big proponents of what this was and where it came from was something called T Brand Studio, which is the internal branded content studio of The New York Times. And I find that story incredibly compelling and interesting the fact that the New York Times built out an independent part of their company dedicated to creating content for other brands. And they leverage a lot of their journalists there.
So if you’re a journalist, you’re focused on thinking of a story, finding out and reporting on that story, and then building the story. But the idea is, well, what if that story is about a company or what if that company wants to tell a certain story, but they don’t know how? T Brand Studio helps them do that. So I thought that was an amazing way that The New York Times adjusted to the way that this industry is changing. And they ended up being one of the first people that started to do this.
Another one, for me, that was really huge was Spotify. Spotify has a great labs division where they’re doing a lot of experimental stuff with music, and they run a really great out-of-home campaign in the States, late December, early January, where it basically targeted cities in America that had a lot of volume of listeners for certain tracks or certain artists. And they painted murals of the artist’s face in those neighbourhoods, and then had a number next to it of how often that artist was played in that neighbourhood.
Funny one was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is supposed to be so hip and cool and hipster, one of the most tuned artist in that neighbourhood was Justin Bieber. So they drew a portrait of Justin Bieber in the middle of Williamsburg and had a tagline that was one line. It’s like, “Hey, Williamsburg, this is how much you’ve listened to the ‘Biebs’ this year.'” I thought that was really great use of data in targeting specific locations and neighbourhoods.
— OurBKSocial (@OurBKSocial) December 9, 2015
And then there’s a website called Van Winkle’s that, what they’re doing, I find amazing. It’s a blog completely dedicated to sleep, and what goes on while you’re sleeping, and what happens when you’re dreaming. And the whole structure is about having a conversation about what happens in the hours that you are asleep, because most human beings spend a predominant amount of their lives sleeping. What’s amazing about it is it’s tied to the mattress company, Casper, but it has no affiliation on it when you go to the actual blog. So Casper has created a platform dedicated to a certain topic that loosely is applied to their brand, but they don’t put their branding on that website at all. You have to dig around a bit until you find it. And, for me, that’s a really interesting experiment because they’re basically building original content, giving it to people, but they are a mattress company. So I find that kind of duality pretty cool.