The Future of Anti-Design

A retro and kooky alternative to minimalism that utilizes clashing colors, textual overload, and digital distortions, anti-design has become a popular design trend in recent years — but does it have staying power?


What Anti-Design Looks Like

Even if you didn’t know what to call it at the time, you’ve probably encountered anti-design in the past few years. An aesthetic typed by bold, clashing colors, textual repetition, and oftentimes jerky letter spacing, anti-design could probably best be described as a form of ironic minimalism.


Often a work of anti-design will gesture at the aesthetics of early internet graphics, and can even incorporate up-to-the-minute internet humor, including memes. Thanks to the nostalgia and heavy sense of irony that typically power it, anti-design is a fairly capacious aesthetic.


But what exactly does it look like? One famous example is the cover of Kanye West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo. The bold orange background, combined with a simple, repeated font, and disruptive, seemingly randomly placed photographs, gives the album cover a slapdash feel that slots firmly into the trend of anti-design.


Who It’s For and How It Works

Since anti-design is typically ironic, espousing a devil-may-care attitude, it’s not often adopted by corporate brands with household names. The exception, of course, is brands that have little to lose. When BusinessWeek was acquired by Bloomberg in 2009, the magazine was consistently running in the red — which was part of the reason the stunning series of anti-design covers it released in the following years makes sense.


When it comes to non-corporate examples of anti-design, the aesthetic is typically used as a way of rebelling against prosperity and uniformity. So-called “raw” or “ugly” aesthetics pop up when dominant modes of cultural expression start to become overly polished or perfected. Today, a number of design trends have reached a point of uniformity that can seem exasperating to consumers, from the case of the book cover blob to the famous desertification of luxury brand logos.


What all that means is that the future of anti design is unclear. With the pandemic still impacting design trends, and causing more and more consumers to seek comforting and reassuring design trends, the appeal of a shocking piece of anti design might seem to be at an all time low. At the same time though, it’s not hard to imagine that a year or two now consumers might begin to sour on the comforting aesthetics of the pandemic period — in which case, anti design could have its day.