With the new year comes the predictions. However, this year, instead of trying to predict what will happen, we prefer to take aim at what we see will be the top major trends in the visual space. We limited ourselves at five in an effort to be succinct and we picked those that will affect people more broadly.  In no particular order, here they are:

Images as a source of comprehension

We can now comfortably have computers tell us what is depicted in photos or videos. From recognizing myriads of objects, as well as people, suggesting similar clothes, automated image recognition has gone mainstream. It’s in our social media feeds, in our cloud storage, and in our e-commerce websites. However, it still very superficial as it only describes what is sees. In a sense, it is nor very useful as humans can do that too, with much higher speed and accuracy. For classification, it is a perfect tool, for interpretation, it is almost useless. The next step in visual recognition is the ability to interpret, understand and possibility draw conclusions from the recognized content. Understand not just content, but the context as well.

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Understanding context : Today’s visual recognition will recognize the car, the road, the clouds, but will it recognize that it’s in a mirror? Photo by LabyrinthX-2

True A.I. solutions have been in the works to go beyond just telling us what we see. Not just read images but interpret them.  By combining the intelligence gathered from large dataset, they are building a reference framework that can use one image to understand another. Extract patterns, recognize symbolisms and iconic references.  To decipher and build a thesaurus of the visual language.

The biggest, and wealthiest, consumer of this evolutionary technology is, of course, the advertising, marketing world. Armed with almost subconscious level data, it will be more efficient at stealthy invading our social media feeds. As well, it’s could reach unprecedented heights of engagement with its more traditional campaigns, print or TV, thanks to surgical precision visuals.  While the technology is still at its babbling infancy level, we should see some early applications soon enough.

VR or no VR ?

The camp of non-VR enthusiasts is pointing to the failure of 3D as a sign of things to come. And they are not entirely wrong. One of the biggest shortcomings of 3D was not offering tools for consumers to easily create their own. They were just passive spectators of content created by rich and elite technology-powered others. In the visual space, it doesn’t matter how great a new technology is if the content is not compelling. And for this to happen, everyone should be allowed to participate in its creation. This is what could kill the nascent VR space.  If 2017 doesn’t offer easy, affordable and practical tools for everyone to create VR, it will follow in the path of 3D.

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Passive spectators, rather than enthusiastic creators, is what is killed3D. Photo by jamesjoel

As 2017 will see places to consume VR extend ( Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest), it will need to let everyone participate in its creation. After all,  Instagram or Snapchat would have never been successful if all our phones did not carry a camera. Sure there is a few hand-held 360 cameras but quite frankly, who carries them all the time? If VR capture doesn’t make it into our mobile this year, there is little chance it will grow as a popular as Mark Zuckerberg would like it to be.

Creativity at scale

Which bring us to creativity. As we have seen, quality of content is the number one driver of success in the visual space. Not so much as beautiful, high-quality professional grade image, but content that keeps users engaged. As history has shown, this is primarily produced by those who consume content. But, very similar to the long tail, each one produces content who has appeal to a very limited few. Added together, they create the real engine behind the 300 million active Instagram users. It is even more evident with a platform like Snapchat.

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Creativity at scale is what transforms features into businesses Photo by openuser

While this content is the glue that ties the foundation of these platforms together, it is worthless to anyone outside a very, very limited sphere. The challenge for anyone in the visual space is to create both an environment and incentive that foster outer sphere creativity. Why ? Because without it, initiatives like Apple Live, Cinemagraph, life blogging or even VR ( see above), have little to no chance to survive.

Scale is the enemy of creativity, or so it seems. However, we have seen over and over examples that it is not entirely true. What truly is the enemy of creativity is a high barrier of entry, whether technological or financial, that turns off experimentation. While we might not see a solution in 2017, it will remain on of the biggest challenge to overcome.

The decline of consumer photo apps

Not that there will be a decline of new start-ups in this field. While research is hard to get, it is still one of the most active categories of app creation. Whether it’s a photo sharing, storage, editing/filtering, discovery app, there is a new next Instagram/Snapchat/Pinterest/ born every day. And while some might offer a much better user experience than the existing ones, chances that they will remain in oblivion are greater than ever.

The main reason is that VC’s do not care anymore. Try to raise cash for a photo consumer app today to practically any serious VC  and the best you will get is a condescending smile. For them, it’s a closed, done space. And without VC cash, none of these start up emerge from their seed levels.

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O no, not another Instagram killer.Photo by Jason A. Howie

Part of the reason is that people do not change their photo habits easily. With the thousands of images/videos they create in a year, they want a central location to find them all, even if they don’t. It’s like changing your clothes from closets to closets while leaving some in each closet. Why would you? And quite frankly no closet is that much better that you actually really need to change it. Good enough works perfectly well here. Same for photos. If this is where all my friends are, this is what I will use to share my pictures. The only demographic that is not bound by these rules are tweens and teens because they have not yet formed a habit ( and tend to leave their clothes on the floor). But they are also an unpredicted lot, with mass reactions driven by unpredictable trends. Not where VC’s want to pour millions.

Format, Format, format

We mentioned it before but it will continue throughout 2017. Photography, and video for that matter, want to explode out of its traditional 2 D, flat, rectangular format. Since 90% of the image we consume are electronically delivered to us via a variety of screen shapes and sizes, there is a no reason to stick to the traditional 35mm frame. From animation ( Gif’s success are a good example) to circular ( Snapchat Glasses), sound, immersive, 3D, there are now a variety of options to choose from when creating and delivering a visual message. While none might ever know the hegemony of the 35 mm frame, many will replace it as a better, more effective way to communicate our thoughts in a visual way. And while it seems trivial, it is not.

Cinemagraphs convey much more emotions than a regular flat image.
Cinemagraphs convey much more emotions than a regular flat image.(Image source: From Me To You)

Take the example of the emoji. Even if they seem toyish, they are a much more exact way to convey our feelings than any combination of words. By breaking its rigid frame, photography steps closer into the realm of the emoji effect, enabling a more precise rendering of our sentiments. And with it, our ability to extend our language. Ultimately some of these formats will automatically be linked in our sub conscience with pre-defined messages, making them indispensable to our conversations.

And the rest..

Of course, there will be more. Of course, they will be some new technology ( or rather a combination of 2 or 3 existing ones) that will surprise us and show great promise. And of course, there will be a fad or two that will not live to see the end of the year. But overall, visuals will continue to dominate how we communicate online.



Photo by Gabriel Rojas Hruska

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is a highly influential and visionary leader in visual tech, with 20+ years of experience in licensing, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is the Managing Director of MelcherSystem and has held executive roles at Corbis, Stipple, and more. Melcher received a Digital Media Licensing Association Award and is a board member of Plus Coalition, Clippn, and Anthology, and has been named among the “100 most influential individuals in American photography”

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