Our Head of Design, Ross, took a retrospective look at the evolution of a particular ubiquitous design style: glitch.

When it comes to design trends, most elements take a similar journey: they begin as innovative concepts (think Paris fashion runways) where they are simultaneously accepted as fresh by the open-minded but weird by the mainstream. It then takes years for these concepts to trickle down from the margins of society to the high street. 

Equally, the cyclical nature of design trends means that what was considered passé yesterday, can become desirable today. Ten years ago, the moustaches and mullets of the 80s would be considered extinct, yet they are as present today as 70s flares were in the early 90s. 

Once videotape was overtaken by digital media, the tediousness of rewinding cassettes, magnetic ribbons tangling in machinery and the degradation of videotape by aging, were being committed to the status of a relic. And with relics come two things: nostalgic worship and mockery.

As the 21st century got well underway, and Adobe After Effects became more sophisticated, we started to witness retrospective visual effect failures being used in an ironic way. Movies about tech had credit sequences which looked as if they were aged videotape. News segments about cybercrime used graphics resembling those from 8-bit computer games. Print design began to use intentionally broken design, mimicking the poor signals of cable TV and photocopied punk zines. Glitch was born.

For anyone living off-grid, glitch can be characterised as graphics which look as if their data has become corrupt (offset interlace lines, colour channel distortion, light leaks, blown out colour, noisy textures). 

Glitch also has a distant cousin in true crime documentaries, with their scratched celluloid replicas and grainy microfiche simulations.

Well over a decade since it was used on the margins, the glitch trend is showing no signs of retreating. No longer does it only serve a purpose for sarcastic nods to a bygone age of bulky hardware and boffins, nor does it need to reference its grandfather, video. In 2023, glitch is just an unquestioned part of the design landscape. 

TikTok, (the most present of apps which keep us from being present) has a logo with offset colour channels, its reference to analogue formats all but lost. Even the term ‘video’ has transcended its origins, so now it simply means ‘online film content’ (with no hint of tangled ribbons).

And this is the journey our design trends take; what begins as uncomfortable experiments by innovators eventually settles into comfortable normality.  

All trends, however, have their time in the sun so if you want to predict the next big thing which will tread glitch into the mud, just think about the most risible fashion right now (be it brow shape or logo design), and keep your eyes peeled on the horizon.