Be bold, be happy: Visual trend Powerfully Playful is all about optimism and glee

Credit: Adobe Stock / Tandem Stock

If you open the newspaper, you might get the sense we’re living in a time of uniform doom and gloom: a time of relentless Covid variants, climate disasters, economic collapse, and geopolitical strife. And let’s face it - that is the world we live in. But stray from the news desk and you’ll find creators and brands responding to current events with a buoyant, colorful, devil-may-care kind of optimism.

Some call it absurd, others call it defiant or cheerful in the face of adversity; we’re calling it Powerfully Playful. This visual trend is all about that unstoppable and resolute sense of optimism that’s shining through the images around us right now.

Explosive, unbridled optimism

The first glimmers of Powerfully Playful started midway through last year as the impact of global vaccination campaigns met the thawing of winter and the gradual return to life outside the walls of our apartments or homes.

The explosive, exuberant, almost hallucinatory joy seen in the viral Extra gum commercial spoke to a world of people who had spent so long trying to make it through each day that they forgot days can be enjoyed.

Credit: Right: Adobe Stock / oneinchpunch Left: Adobe Stock / Petro

If any band anticipated the spirit of this exuberant trend, it would be the unstoppable global force that is BTS. Their music video for “Permission to Dance”—with people across all walks of like dancing uncontrollably across bright, optimistic, colorful sets—quickly climbed the charts as the anthem for unbridled joy.

Dance and movement are especially prominent in this visual trend, both as moving images (for example in the recent star-studded Cartier ad “A Celebration of Love”) and still images, like this bright, punchy, cheerful Vogue gallery from September 2021.

Looking forward into the new year, we can expect to see more brands and creatives leaning into this optimistic and kinetic imagery to reach out to audiences. In the Powerfully Playful visual collection, you’ll see how explosive joy, song, and dance can bubble up just about anywhere and with anyone: from the bakery to the bedroom.

Credit: Right: Adobe Stock / Gillian Vann/Stocksy Left: Adobe Stock / Maskot

Embrace your inner child

Optimism and childhood seem to go hand-in-hand. From being able to play make believe, following your imagination, and feeling the thrill of experiencing novelty, being a child presents lots of opportunities to embrace life with the hope that things will turn out okay. What the Powerfully Playfull trend suggests is that childhood isn’t just a state of being: it’s also a state of mind. Consumers and creatives are eager to break down the boundaries between play and work, reality and imagination, expectation and reality.

A recent spate of advertisements targeted to adults speaks to their inner child first. Consider the recent life-sized teddy bear IKEA ads or the SuperBowl DoorDash commercial featuring Sesame Street characters and sets. Children don’t exactly have the disposable income or need for either of these services. But adults who like to let a little magic, playfulness, and childlike joy into their lives? These Powerfully Playful ads speak to them.

The childlike point of view makes its mark visually through playful graphics and animation as well as puppetry. Along with the rise of motion graphics and projection mapping, good old-fashioned animation seems to be having its heyday in a certain kind of visual culture. The New Fairies Nike campaign mixes nostalgic, Bambi-esque animations with skateboarding to share with audiences the sense of magic, freedom, and flight skateboarding can bring.

In our Powerfully Playful showcase, oversized costumes of dragons and praying mantis bring a touch of absurd and tonal playfulness alongside bright cartoon-ready illustrations and photographs capturing the simple moments of childhood games like hide-and-seek.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Hero Images/Hero Images

Fun and games

On the topic of playing games, Powerfully Playful is also a part of the increased importance of gaming in our lives. While long a part of arcade and adolescent culture, the pandemic rapidly accelerated the popularity of gaming. In the U.S. alone, over the last two years the number of video game players in the US alone grew from 164 to 226 million.

A closer look at the kinds of games that are being played dispels the idea that games are for the antisocial. The best selling video game console of the current generation by far is the Nintendo Switch, a platform that caters to fun, bright, colorful, often family friendly games. The cutesy-retro game Minecraft, popular with nostalgic older gamers and kids alike, retains its place as one of the best selling video games of all time. And the mainstreaming of the metaverse and multiplayer gaming communities highlights the place gaming increasingly has in our lives: a way for people to connect digitally and cross-culturally.

Many examples in the Adobe Stock collection show us the role gaming can play in our lives; as a way to enjoy moments with your friends or connect across generations.

Credit: Right: Adobe Stock / fStop Left: Adobe Stock / Pau Novell/ADDICTIVE STOCK

Spread the joy

Like all of our visual trends, Powerfully Playful is both an analysis of the imagery around us as well as a creative call to action. With brands as big as IKEA, Nike, and Cartier featuring loud, dynamic, optimistic imagery, it’s likely to keep circulating into niche products, creative work, and social media for the foreseeable future. Bold, whimsical, unabashedly optimistic themes will continue through the next year as consumers and creatives respond to the dire straits around us with grit and joyful resolve.

Check out the full Powerfully Playful collection from Adobe Stock for more inspiration. Awaken your inner child, grab your camera or tablet, and have some fun creating playful imagery to submit to Adobe Stock.

What to Produce

Creative Trends

Get Inspired

Call for Content

Stay informed

Get exclusive stock artist tips.

Sign up for our Adobe Stock artist newsletter to get the latest creative trends, stock industry insights, curated inspiration galleries, calls for content, and more.

Sign up