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Why Are Gradients So Trendy Right Now?

Graphic by Timothy Aranas

In 2016, Instagram took on the creative initiative of completely remaking their logo by utilizing a colourful orange-to-purple gradient. Instagram is one of many organizations who have chosen to utilize gradients in their rebranding, and while this design choice to use various colour transitions has seen a recent resurgence in the past couple of years, the question that remains is: Why? What is so groundbreaking about two or more colours blending into each other, what makes it so special? In order to answer this, we’ll have to look at a gradient’s origins.

Simply put, gradients represent a colour transition where one colour mixes into another. Gradients have a surprisingly long history with examples of them first appearing in the 60’s within the Light and Space art movement, a movement focused on combining artificial light and how its properties reacted with materials such as glass, resin, and neon. A recent example of this type of art can be seen in Drake’s music video for “Hotline Bling.” Gradients were later made popular in the 80’s and 90’s and subsequently in the early 2010s when the Internet created the visual art style of Vaporwave, an homage to the aesthetics of the past. It was also near the early 2010s that gradients were quickly overshadowed by the rise of the design trend of Flat 1.0 and 2.0. This era introduced the minimalist style of web design to UX, choosing to avoid using styles such as 3D (creating an illusion of depth in the design to determine hierarchy or interactivity), Skeuomorphism (using unnecessary features to imitate real world precedents), and Realism (design styles mimicking real world items and textures purely for an aesthetic purpose). However, it was the sudden popularity of Flat 1.0 and 2.0 that allowed gradients to achieve popularity as well.

So why are gradients so popular? Well, when Flat 1.0 and 2.0 introduced minimalist designs, they took away traditional signifiers and contextual clues in web design like raised buttons, blue links and underlines. The solution to this was to use semi-flat design that incorporated gradients. Gradients are popular in UX design as they provide a different type of functionality in comparison to shape or text, functioning as signifiers in a more subtle way such as encouraging clickability to a button. Furthermore, the way gradients can be interacted through motion detection provides a more stimulating experience in a design. In general, gradients easily help to convey atmosphere and mood in a more sophisticated manner, a popular choice when it comes to illustration and branding. So if you start to see more colours blending together in new web designs or packaging, don’t be alarmed. Gradients are a design trend that’s just getting started.

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