7 controversial digital predictions for 2019

How global populist radicalism and your dad’s old sneakers will affect the digital world’s upcoming year.

7 digital trends of 2019

Waking up this New Year’s Day came with a gentle hangover and a pleasant list of 264 unread emails. -Was GDPR just a dream?-. After all, I never opted-in to know how many hours I spent aboard my taxi’s app or seeing how many KMs I drove on my scooter sharing account. One thing is sure: these companies got us again. They know we LOVE end of the year charts. It’s not a coincidence these days that every inch of digital space is filled with summaries and predictions for the future: we all crave to analyse the past and guess what the future will hold. 

The same goes for digital trends, we're naturally curious to know what the next trending topic will be. There is a downside to all this, though. We heard these same predictions a million times. So here’s my shot at the top 7 controversial trends that we’ll see this year and how they will impact the digital space. 

1. Content is dead

2018 was the year companies realised digital marketing was not the same anymore (again). Their users, stuffed with chameleonic publicities, suddenly became adsproof. Millennials’ brains developed some sort of “skip forward” filter to blur out ads on their social media feed. CTR plunged. CPC went up. The first natural step was to hire digital marketing agencies promising to make ROI+ rain like autumn in the UK. Needless to say, those who were lucky enough to catch the right agency soon faced the same problem, all over again.

The solution? Content. People love spontaneous content. They consume it, they comment it, they share it. And what’s sexier than virality at no cost? So that’s how the race to key-worded articles began. Companies started a blog, hired a content editor, then two, then a whole team. SEO metrics skyrocketed. [Note: we did the same at Xceed and, at one point, over 50% of our new monthly users were being acquired via our digital magazine.]

Unfortunately, this model comes with some barriers to scale long-term: on one side, users realise these pieces of content are simply masked ads and, on the other, millennials and generation Z dislike text. Traditional text-based social media (see Facebook & Twitter) are slowly dying, and as Instagram and Youtube boom globally, we should ask ourselves: is this new form of content –focused on image/video creativity- set to last? Or will these be simple, yet shiny, shooting stars?

Screenshot 2019-01-03 at 15.48.47.png
“Content has a purpose. Art has a meaning. All those YouTube stars releasing content for the masses are important to our culture. They serve a purpose. Like city buses serve a purpose. Like toilet paper serves a purpose. But for meaning... I look to artists.”.  Bronques. ©  @mutualinspirationsociety

“Content has a purpose. Art has a meaning. All those YouTube stars releasing content for the masses are important to our culture. They serve a purpose. Like city buses serve a purpose. Like toilet paper serves a purpose. But for meaning... I look to artists.”. Bronques. © @mutualinspirationsociety

Screenshot 2019-01-03 at 15.49.07.png

People want more real feelings, passions, experiences. That’s why 2019 will be the year for brands to bet on creating Art rather than content. Putting long-term community over short-term likes will guide the way to this new era of digital marketing.

2. UX (finally) refuses to conform.

January seems to be the best time for UX future-tellers to predict about the dawn of a new year of minimalism, flat design and big typography. There's nothing wrong with any of these design trends; on the contrary, as highly universal aesthetic choices, they will surely stay valid for decades. My 1 cent on this, though, is that 2019 will be a revolutionary year for UX design.

If we look back in history, design -as well as arts in general- have always been strongly influenced by the surrounding political atmosphere. European post World War II design clearly sought stability in the simplicity of mid-century modernism. Italian 60’s evergreen “Bel Design” is a clear example of how design and politics are strongly linked together; facing the current uncertainty of global politics with its rising populist radicalism throughout the western world, you can bet that political feelings will be reflected in the design trends of 2019.

Nike React Landing  Page . ©Nike

Nike React Landing Page. ©Nike

Today, in this political transitional period, challenging the status-quo will be the leitmotif of 2019. The era of copying+pasting Airbnb’s style guide is over, and the great improvements in code-based design tools will give designers the freedom to bring their skepticism and radicalism to life.
Less pastel colour palettes, less minimalist interfaces and less modernist illustrations. Expect 2019 to be about high-contrasts, innovative forms of user interactions (Snapchat was somehow ahead of its time in this) and radical solutions that always look for standing out from the crowd.

3. Goodbye brands’ political agnosticism

Branding and marketing will go hand in hand with the point mentioned above about status-quo challenge in design. This trend in coming out with a direct political statement, actually arises back in 2017 and grows in 2018, but this year will be the one of its mass propulsion. 



Nike’s political campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick opened the path to controversial debates and embraced a new wave of marketing that focuses on a message before anything else. People buy a why not a what to quote Simon Sinek.

Whether the outcome of these marketing stunts ends up being positive (see Patagonia’s environmental fights against Donald Trump) or negative (remember about Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner backlash?) there is no turning back: people will more and more demand a clear statement from their brands.
Will doing what’s right win over doing what’s popular?

4. Old days nostalgia is back (again)

While millennials and members of Gen Z may not remember what the web looked like in the era of AltaVista and may have never heard of “you’ve got mail”, retro design tapping into the cultural revival of the ’90s has never been this alive.

Who would have thought that your dad’s old sneakers may be worth more than your college tuition. © Vogue

Who would have thought that your dad’s old sneakers may be worth more than your college tuition. ©Vogue

While your dad’s old sneakers just peaked at stock price like old times Bitcoins, more and more websites have moved their UI towards a nostalgic 90’s feeling. This trend, that is exceptionally visible in some revival logos and trademarks study cases, will most definitely continue in 2019, so make sure, in case you’re ready to jump into it, to get it boldly right. 

The tricky path to a great 2019 retro design? Add enough modern flair so it doesn’t just look old. After all most of your potential users may not have touched a real floppy disk in their life.

5. Private communities are the new social networks

The term “social network” has never been so meaningless. Overused in every form and shape, are social networks even social anymore? In case you sense a feeling of tiredness while opening your Facebook app (if you still have it), you’re not alone. Watching your high school classmates past year in a self-generated memories video is no longer fun.

Nobody would predict the death of Facebook overnight, though. Its intrinsic value (just think about all the logins to other platforms you have done with your FB account) is too strong to let go. But one thing is clear: these crowded digital places have never felt this empty. And it is within this environment of social network excommunication that new offline/local community focused projects will thrive.

@jasonzerbin  and  @louiebengal  in the salon room of Norn house in Berlin. ©Norn

@jasonzerbin and @louiebengal in the salon room of Norn house in Berlin. ©Norn

Nextdoor, a SF based startup-going-unicorn raised almost $300M over the last years to connect users to their neighbour. Wework’s success comes from a reverse or simply old way of doing social networks: digitally empowering communities born within their own building’s offices. And recently launched Norn’s millennial members’ club will be the new way of renting properties, in a hipster setting where digital nomads and young entrepreneurs discuss the meaning of life while tucking into seasonal cuisine under the same roof.

All in all, 2019 will be the year of going back to local offline communities, and as scary as this may sound for digital platforms, this will be their great chance to evolve their social media strategy.

6. Same day delivery for everything

The global delivery disruption has matured at a fast pace over the last decade and, today, same-day delivery is pretty much the standard practice in many industries. Fashion retailers, food and beverage companies, medical suppliers, and many more are now offering same day delivery service to consumers. This trend will continue its growth in 2019 and impact even more the daily interaction between customers and e-commerce platforms.


According to a recent report by Go People, a Sydney-based on-demand delivery and courier startup, 65% of retailers will provide same-day delivery services by the year 2019. This comes as no surprise as PwC Global consumer insights survey showed that 88% of consumers are willing to pay for same-day or faster delivery.

Somehow, if you think about it, this is just a natural offline extension to our digital instant gratification and dopamine-boost collected from social media usage. And businesses know how good addicted customers are for their KPIs.

7. Experiences before products

Millennials and Gen Z are more and more attracted to living experiences rather than cluttering their apartments with products. Let’s be honest, our technical devices are just as good as they are. We don’t need more powerful computers on our desktops and, although 2019 will probably foresee the first foldable smartphones entering the mass market, I doubt this will revolutionise the way youngsters invest their budgets and live their lives.

What’s undoubtedly on the rise is the market for experiences and it is here to stay. Not only has the technological product development of everyday items slowly plateaued to the point where incremental advantage of the latest releases is not as visible as it used to be, but also and more importantly, Instagram has changed the way we show our status symbol.

Long gone are the times of showing off your new luxury car, expensive watch or $200 branded polo shirt. Today your worth is expressed in likes. Not having enough followers is the new not being skinny enough.

Kandy, Sri Lanka. ©Mattia Franco

Kandy, Sri Lanka. ©Mattia Franco

Nowadays you’re just a few clicks away from seeing an image on Instagram to purchasing a ticket to go there and take the same picture with your selfie-stick. The result? People are willing to spend more on experiences, and within these experiences, those that will be easily instagrammable will win.

This rat race to the best picture ain’t free though. What we used to spend on expensive objects is now being invested in something much more ephemeral. Spending all this time crafting our follower-attracting pictures is now devouring our most precious asset in life: time.
Some tech companies have realised this; take the latest iOS with its cute UI warnings and statistics on your excessive apps’ usage. Who knows… maybe using time wisely is the actual real experience to sell in 2019.

Mattia Franco