Invasion of the Dramatic Shadows

(Yes, I wrote the title of this blog to sound like a Harry Potter Book.) 

I spend hours of my week, perusing Pinterest. It’s my absolute favorite method of social media, and I’m not even being social (which says something about my personality). I glean much of my knowledge of trends by what I see on Pinterest. Lately, I’ve been especially taken by dramatic shadows, a micro-trend that I started noticing in mid-2019.

Back in 2019, this trend started with photography – objects artfully spread across a backdrop, with vivid colors and intense shadows at interesting angles. I’ve provided some examples below for your viewing pleasure.

From right to left, photos by Alinne Marst, Unknown, and The Prop Dispensary.

Graphic design soon realized that Photography can’t have ALL the fun. Soon, this trend began bleeding into packaging design and its subsequent product mockup imagery.

To be a designer these days, you need to be clever. This Optimist packaging, alone, is striking all by itself – the giant “O” logo; the “A-Okay” hand symbol as their “mark”; the curved type around the logo; using only two, bold colors; the stream coming off the “O” with the reversed pattern. But their product images are clever. Really clever. They’ve used the technique of a dramatic shadow, and made the shadow mirror the same position and angle as the shadow coming off of the “O” in the packaging. It’s shadow inception!

The Optimist brand and packaging were designed by Galya Akhmetzyanova and Pavla Chuykina

In B.T.R. Bar Brand’s product imagery, you see the same effect. They used a shadow in their design, coming off of the “B. T. R.”. And then they’ve mirrored that shadow in the product images. This shadow is designed to look unrealistic, as they’ve used the same background color in their packaging, as the color of the shadow. But the technique is the same. (And you can even see this shadow applied to the cherries in the bottom left.)

The Dramatic Shadow effect does a good job at conveying movement, which can be difficult for something as static as a vector image.

The B.T.R. brand and packaging were designed by Riser.

Last but not least, I decided last summer to use this technique in my own product mockup imagery for the portfolio on my website! I love how it provides a uniform look to all of my projects. The trick, though, is to balance uniformity with unexpectedness. Too much of a good thing is never good, so I sprinkled in some live photography as well.

Here are a few examples of how I used this technique in my own work. Enjoy!

Grids Galore!

This geometric graphic trend hasn’t been this popular since Harry met Sally (literally). Grid backgrounds are EVERYWHERE right now – websites, packaging design, you name it. I even use a grid in the new branding I created last November. In my opinion, this checkered renaissance was left in the wake of the aftermath of an 80’s design style’s recent revival. What is this style, you ask? 80’s babies – think: Saved by the Bell. The goofy colors and geometric shapes from our favorite 90’s classic teen show actually have a name – it’s called Memphis Style.

Saved By The Bell hangout “The Max”; Memphis Style Interiors; Memphis Style Pattern; Memphis Style Chair

The Memphis Group was an Italian architecture firm, famous for its postmodern furniture, carpets, lighting, and the like. The Milan-based group formed in 1980 as a conscious objection to modernism. Their style was clearly influenced by terrazzo (which I explain in a previous blog post), with similarities of haphazard shapes. But while terrazzo was more indicative of the imperfections of nature, Memphis Style was its bizarre, ephemeral cousin; born of asymmetrical triangles, circles, and bold primary colors. Not everyone was a raving fan.

According to Brand Strategist, Bertrand Pellegrin, Memphis Style can be best described as “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.” Another trend researcher describes its colors as “Sesame Street”. And Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse

The Memphis Group disbanded in 1987, but they clearly left their mark. Saved by the Bell is my favorite example of Memphis Style in action; Pee-wee’s playhouse is another example. I’m unsure how the grid initially played into Memphis Style, but you can see it in almost every example I’ve posted – in the windows of The Max, as tilework beneath the kooky furniture, and in the background of the Memphis graphics. It makes sense; a checkered background provides some grounding And while the various, colorful shapes pair really nicely with the lightly screened grid background, both are strong enough to stand on their own. Here are a few modern examples of a grid background in action. Enjoy!

Grids in packaging design, photography, and bathroom tile