Makers of the Future | Design with Mill Creative Director and Head of Design Donnie Bauer

We caught up with Mill Chicago's Head of Design and Creative Director Donnie Bauer to find out his design predictions for the year ahead
Thought February 5, 2021

What design trends did you see taking shape in 2020 that you think we’ll carry into 2021?
2020 was such a difficult year in so many ways, but it yielded some amazing art and design. I think the overarching vibe I saw in last year’s trends was – it’s okay to get weird!  In particular, I think designers were pushing the use of typography in some avant-garde ways. It seemed like there was an explosion in new font creations. From super trippy, liquid-y contours, to hard-edged rave inspired future fonts. I found myself hitting the “follow” button on way more font designers and font foundries last year than any other. In the context of animation, typography serves an obvious role in communication but in many cases, it’s also a big part of what makes motion graphics compelling – it can be pure eye candy! Designers have found some insanely creative ways to break down font characters into flexible shapes to stretch, collapse, and morph. Just when I think I’ve seen it all with typographic animation I’m hit with some new far-out technique. Yes, there have been many played out typographic trends in motion graphics in recent years, and many designers know this – I think that’s why 2020 brought us so many new and experimental ways to use text and shape.


Are there any innovations in design that will impact designers and the industry at large? 
“Design” is such a broad category and most of what happens around us requires design. That said, there are certainly a lot more “screens” in the world today, and that will only continue to increase. At The Mill, we create content for all types of screens and platforms. The most exciting and innovative territory is what’s happening with our experience and technology team. Here, we execute design-driven work for AR, VR, big screens, physical spaces, and much more. As a designer that has a background in CGI and 3D Design, I’ve been watching (from a distance) the increase in real-time rendering workflows. Apps like Unity and Unreal have now become a lot more ubiquitous among design and animation artists. I’m excited to see how traditional “Design” concepts can play a bigger role in what artists are creating in these non-linear applications. I’m one of the so many artists that are right there, right on the cusp of needing to transition into this territory – who knows, maybe 2021 is my year.


How important will the role of Experience design be in 2021? 
I hope experience design becomes more important than ever. Although we couldn’t gather and physically experience art and design together in 2020 due to Covid restrictions, we certainly had a profound experience(s) collectively. When we think of experience design, I think most people would think of interactive events in physical spaces and of course, in the company of other people. Although we were limited in that particular example in 2020, it begged the question – how else can we “experience” together. Artists took to live-streams, real-time formats, and mobile apps. Like many difficult times in history, there’s a cause and reaction – and for us right now, we will see increasingly innovative ways to “experience” music, art, and design as a community.


What creative trends do you think we’ll see in the coming 12 months?
There’s been so much face-melting design, illustration, and animation work as of late that I have to imagine at some point we reach a threshold of what’s digestible and actually doing our messaging some good. Believe me, I love full, visually rich design-driven work, but I think we may see a return to design fundamentals. We may see many artists, showing the power of editing and making images and animation stronger by showing less. Some of the most inspiring work I’ve seen, I’d call “smart”. Meaning, the visuals weren’t exactly the most intense, or whiz-bang motion graphic treatments – instead, they utilized an extremely thoughtful color palette, simple shapes, a keen eye for editing. Color has become such an important part of the success of a design. It always has been, but designers at all levels are paying closer attention. When I like an image, I try to scale back and figure out why it’s so “easy” to enjoy. The careful use of a restricted color palette can transform a design from being “busy” or “distracting” to feeling “easy” and “effortless”. Additionally, I think creating “with a purpose” has become more important than ever. We saw amazing art and design created throughout 2020 in response to a global pandemic, civil unrest, and politics – especially here in the United States. We’ll see more and more amazing images being crafted with a purpose, at least that’s my hope.


Where are you sourcing your top design inspo right now? 
Sourcing inspiration is very different than it used to be. When I started my career, there were a few top “cream of the crop” websites that you could visit to see the best in motion graphics, animation, and advertising. Today, I think many of us take the à la carte approach. Over the years, I’ve carefully curated feeds across all of my social media channels; Twitter, Instagram, Behance, to name a few. These days I follow everyone from musicians, fashion designers, illustrators, filmmakers, technologists, performers, in general – makers. I’m inspired by any person, community, studio, brand, or institution operating at the top of their game. I love “connecting the dots”, looking at inspiration in a variety of places to find an interesting cross-section for a new design.


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Donnie Bauer