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Gradients in branding: we look at what works and why

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Are gradients in branding outdated?

In recent years graphic design has focused heavily on flat, minimal aesthetics in particular when looking at branding, with the use of effects like gradients being viewed as outdated. It’s easy to see why it looks as if gradients are dying out, with many brands choosing to go with flat design for their logos, but there is still a place for colour blending. When applied with careful consideration by a skilled designer who has an eye for sophisticated branding, it can lead to a positive and engaging visual that the flat alternative cannot achieve.

Gradients in logo design

With flat design taking the present centre-stage, a lot of large brands have been striving for contemporary design by discarding effects such as gradients. Take Google’s logo for example, in 2015 the company redesigned the look of their logo to fit in with the era of flat design, and Google is not the only brand to adopt the more minimalistic brand identity.

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Google logo progression (2010-2014-2015)

Gradients were never bad, we just got bored of how they were being used. A decade ago there was an influx in harsh gradients with many trying to achieve a tactile or 3 dimensional effect with their use, but as that trend faded out it became generally considered that gradients should be used to apply an effect to a design, such as an interactive element on a web page, rather than as a styling choice.

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Apple Messages app icons (iOS 6-iOS 7)

Subtle Gradients

A large part is played by the subtlety of colour change, allowing designs to move away from that ‘shiny’ web 2.0 look towards using gradients as abstract blends to achieve certain effects. For example: Apple’s iOS 7 app icons now have a a very slight gradient as opposed to the harsh, shiny effect they previously had, this allows the aesthetic to remain flat and slick but keeps a sense of interaction to the icons. Whereas if they were completely flat they may just look like pictures or part of the background, instead of individual interactive elements.

Another effect of subtle blending is to give a sense of motion or progression to a design, If we take a look at this banner for Virgin broadband, it gives the impression of movement and speed towards the edge of the banner, subtly hinting that the service has improved your internet speed but again in keeping with the minimal visuals of the rest of the brand.

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Virgin Media broadband banner

Shifting trends

A good designer will predict trends rather than wait for them to happen. This exercise is the result of a constant thirst for inspiration – often from broad and abstract sources… How and when to utilise a simple effect like a gradient is about seizing an opportunity, and the reward for lateral thinking in this way is achieving a visual effect that could potentially stand out from the crowd.

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