That is the question posed by Getty Images with the release of their 2017 Creative in Focus report, a colossal document that leverages roughly 1 billion annual image searches and 400 million downloads to predict the challenges we face as communicators (and how to overcome them).
No stranger to the Semi Permanent stage, Jacqueline Bourke (Senior Creative Insights Manager, Getty Images)'s keynote at our 2016 Sydney event was an undoubted highlight of the week. She will be returning in 2017 to deliver more insights for visual communication, so we got in touch to better understand the challenges that lie before us.
Can you explain your role at Getty Images and what a ‘normal’ day looks like?
The Creative Insights team at Getty Images is a team of visual anthropologists, globally situated in our London and New York offices who work with an international team of art directors, photo editors, picture researchers and over a quarter of a million contributors from all over the world to guide and produce striking visual content for tomorrow.
The role of the Creative Insights Team daily at Getty Images is two-pronged. Certainly, it is to meet current imagery demands and keep tabs on what customers are searching for and buying. But it’s also about inspiring our photographers and customers about what’s to come and encouraging them to be more forward thinking.
What are the primary inputs Getty Images use to form an insight? How are these then reflected as an output?
A quantitative and qualitative methodology is used to identify the emerging visual trends from both our search and top selling data. Our visual anthropologists start with Getty Images' unprecedented access to unique information - our customers search and buying patterns which provide invaluable insights into the modern appetite for image consumption. Our customers enter more than 1 billion searches on our website every year and go on to download 400 million images. Interestingly, Getty Images is also the destination for people interested in imagery, as around 97% of visitors to Gettyimages.com are there to browse rather than buy. Quite simply, people come to immerse themselves in the world's best visuals and their searches help us understand how people see the world.
There is no replacement for instinct and intuition. It is what drives creativity.Jacqueline Bourke, Getty Images
Studying the shifts in global visual culture and the significant events in media, pop culture, advertising and art is combined with understanding the key social, cultural, economic and technological trends that are helping to shape human behaviour. The conclusions we draw inform the visual intelligence behind our 2017 Creative In Focus trend report and inform the briefs we write to guide our photographers.
In your experience, what do you think most drives change?
The pivot point of creativity and technology. We are entering a unique time for design and imagery, with new innovations and accessible technology allowing us to consume and experience imagery in ways previously unthought-of. One could argue that visuals have become the language of the 21st century as we are choosing to capture, share and engage with images on an unprecedented scale.
MIT neuroscientists recently discovered that the human brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. We are becoming an increasingly quick read visual society and what this means is that we have become a people craving visuals that go far beyond the norm, expanding the ways we interpret the world. We love to be surprised visually and this is reflected in the tastes and behaviours of the modern consumer which is varied, erratic, rebellious and driven by advancements but on the other hand also seeks connection, peace, social good and purposeful living.
How do you identify when a trend will shape the world vs. it just being a passing fad?
Trends emerge regardless, but being able to identify which ones are coming down the pipeline that are going to have the most resonance (and ultimately the biggest impact) requires deep digging on both qualitative and quantitative research. We can’t just rely on search data or sales or usage to signify changes, but need to know how to prioritise these indicators while examining them through a cultural and social lens.
Change is a given as our human curiosity always pushes to seek, but comfort of the known is almost always a refuge.Jacqueline Bourke, Getty Images
Is there a point where too much data or too many insights restrict creativity or the possibility of a chance encounter? If so how do we overcome this?
There is no replacement for instinct and intuition. It is what drives creativity. The place for data and the patterns that we can see in data are a viewpoint that creates a conversation to help inform creative strategy and shape execution but ultimately we find ourselves at this pivot point between creativity and technology which is a story as old as time.
Trends come and go – what stays the same?
What is that famous French saying from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr – "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" – ‘the more things changes, the more they stay the same’. It is important to remember that visual trends don't exist in a vacuum. They are not a neatly pre-packed set of a given year's big ideas that come and go in a specific set of time. The trends we cover are interconnected, as they feed into and shape each other. They are also part of a cultural continuum, evolving out of the major trends of previous years. What remains universal is our human curiosity to see patterns whilst also being surprised by serendipity, nestled between the shock of the new and the comfort of the nostalgic.
How do you see the nature of trends change – are they coming and going faster? Is change more or less permanent than it was?
There is no simple answer. We can only deal with the patterns that we see and the zeitgeist that we find ourselves in at any given moment. Change is a given as our human curiosity always pushes to seek but comfort of the known is almost always a refuge. To understand the nature of trends changing, let’s highlight a specific story.
“In our hyper-kinetic world, audiences are fatigued with the ordinary.”Getty Images Creative In Focus report, 2017
For example, Unfiltered as a visual trend for 2017 is the current incarnation of the long-tracked desire for authenticity in visual languages. In 2014 we forecast the cultural shift towards showing social good, trust and transparency in the Vanguardian visual trend which was driven by authentic imagery of real people of purpose contributing to the world. In 2015 we forecast the OutsiderIn trend which championed nonconformity as people began to celebrate an anti-hero and anti-establishment spirit that we have seen play out in 2016 with dramatic shifts across the political landscape in both Europe and America. The 2017 Unfiltered trend illustrates a move toward a documentary aesthetic, taking a step further as the antithesis of glossy, aspirational advertising. Challenger brands are increasingly adopting the aesthetics of photojournalism to connect with younger consumers and bring a raw, spontaneous edge to their storytelling.
How can we best adapt to a constantly changing landscape?
Being open and intuitive whilst balancing the information we can see in data patterns. The ever-increasing circulation of people, goods and information around the world is having a transformative effect on society and has the potential to change the way we see ourselves. Global Neighbourhood, another of our key visual trends for 2017 is about embracing this state of flux, as our collective cultural identities will be less about where we are and more about what we believe and who we connect to. Cross-cultural and socially borderless imagery will become more prevalent as brands learn to change and respond to our increasingly complex consumer identities. Challenger brands will raise these dialogues against a rapidly increasingly complex political landscape where questions around borders and borderless is raw and firmly central.
What is the data that makes you most hopeful about the future of creativity, and what makes you most fearful?
There is a constant human need for creative expression and new ways to visualise narrative, stories, universals. What is hopeful are the changes in our customers buying patterns to break with stereotypes in visual storytelling to tell a more authentic story and move society in a better direction. For example, we can speak to the evolution around the representation of women in imagery which allows us to enter a new age of inclusivity that is fundamentally important for all generations. We need to visualise the change we want to see in the world, and leave behind the outdated one -dimensional visual clichés of often men leading, women sidelined or sexualised, gender-traditional occupational roles in work and at home. That’s why Getty Images teamed up with LeanIn.org three years ago to launch the Lean In Collection providing a simple way for brands and creatives to find images that expand the visual representation of women and girls – and also men. The more images we see of women leading and being powerful and living full, vibrant lives, the more normalised those images become in our actual lives.
The fear is that although we have seen some great changes take place in the last few years, there is still much work to be done in building this visual world of equality. We cannot rest on our laurels.