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Word of the Year: a snapshot into the design sector in 2022

From “Goblin Mode” to “Permacrisis” and even “Homer” (farewell Wordle streak!) – as 2022 comes to a close the big-gun dictionaries have been naming their Words of the Year.

After another rollercoaster twelve months, what would your Word of the Year be? We gave the DBA Experts their chance to choose. 

We asked them for a word which reflected the design sector in 2022, and their choices provide a fascinating snapshot into the industry this year.  

Opting for a Greek word, Adam Graham plumped for Meraki in recognition of the “creativity, soul and love” designers bring to what they do. While other choices were inspired by wider events, like Adrian Day’s Pandaustion. “A post-pandemic syndrome affecting design firm leaders and their teams,” he says. But even though we now have an expected recession to contend with, says Adrian “as ever the winning consultancies will find the inventiveness, energy and resilience to survive and prosper.”

Steinar Valade-Amland sums up 2022 as the year of Breaking-news.

“Never before in my lifetime was there a more massive stream of breaking-news. Daily, sometimes hourly, and often rather heart-breaking news. Let 2023 be the year of uplifting, and not always necessarily breaking-news,” Steinar says. “Business headwinds escalated into a recession because the news channels prefer a bad news story,” says Jack O’Hern, choosing Cry-sis as his word, to highlight media “over-reaction”. While Eraser-nomicsJeremy Paterson’s choice – will strike a chord for all those who’ve had to keep updating business plans to keep pace with changing economic optimism alongside government budgetary events. “Well done to all of those who lived through it – test papers to follow!” he says.

But despite the challenging backdrop, design teams and businesses have adapted and found opportunity to thrive.

Jonathan Gaunt has chosen Indomitable, meaning impossible to subdue or defeat. “Indomitable describes the unwavering force that the business community has had this year in the face of never-ending uncertainty,” says Jonathan. While Michael Thomson coined Pivilencia, to recognise the amazing flexibility of agencies around the world, in both pivoting and being resilient.

“For me, the ability to lean without fear into and embrace Metamorphosis works for the year 2022”, says Guy Duncan. “Be it as a design business, team, or as an individual working in the industry coping with the challenges facing us all, metamorphosis sums up the ability to change, renew, evolve into something different… which can be both a successful move and also an enriching journey.”

As we moved on from the pandemic in 2022, new challenges have arisen, like FOFF, Catherine Allison’s choice. “It’s an abbreviation for Fear Of Face-to-Face”, she says, adding that it’s that “emotion or thought you have when you are frightened or worried by a request for a face-to-face client meeting or presentation after months of comfortably presenting online.” 

On the flip side, as we emerged from lockdowns this year, there has also been much joy and satisfaction in ReconnectingKatherine Sandford-Anderson’s word of the year. “Reconnecting in person with clients, industry friends, journalists and the wider sector has been one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my year after the distance imposed on us all in the last few years,” Katherine says. “I would encourage all the DBA members to keep doing this next year and beyond.”

Lucy Mann has opted for Whac-A-Mole® to sum up 2022. “Just when you thought you’d got one problem solved, another ‘challenge’ popped up somewhere else, out of the blue,” says Lucy. “Let’s hope there are less pesky moles to contend with next year and we can safely put our mallets away.”

With New Business currently the biggest concern* for agencies, Natasha Ellard-Shoefield has been delighted to see an increase in the importance of Focus in agencies approach. “Less scatter-gun approaches and a more tailored, personalised approach has started to emerge,” she says. “Agencies are also much more focused on what they do (and more importantly what they won’t do) which makes for a much more powerful proposition.”

Jeremy Davies’ word Lead is relevant as both a verb and a noun.

“Agencies have had to rethink their approach to leadership since the pandemic,” Jeremy says. “And if New Business is the number one concern, a joined-up approach to lead generation – the responsibility of marketing, not business development – is essential.”

This year has also been marked by the great resignation and talent shortages. “At JourneyHR we have spent a lot of 2022 working with agency owners to invest in their culture and people practices; helping them to engage and retain their talent, creating more opportunities for flexibility and inclusion that in pre-pandemic years would never have been considered possible,” says Aliya Vigor-Robertson. “That’s why I’ve chosen Retention as my word of the year.”

Chris Lang has opted for Trussled, “something that happens all too often in my world”, he says, “being presented with a budget or cost proposal that has no basis or semblance of reality thereby causing a headache!” Hybrid is Martin Varley’s selection, following the rise of hybrid working practises. “These have had, and will see, numerous long-term and deep-seated effects on how the sector is organised. The flight to the country continues but is it all good for business?” he asks.

And as we look to the future, with a likely period of change and uncertainty ahead, “the opportunity to achieve still exists,” says Lucy Unger, selecting Agility as her word of the year. Lucy highlights how “harnessing opportunity requires organisational alignment, fearless creativity and, very importantly, a willingness to respond.” While John Gleason’s choice, Multi-Lingual, reflects the opportunities available to Designers and Design leaders who speak the language of business. Says John, “They are better able to understand what is needed by the business, and are able to better communicate ideas, solutions and impact to their business peers.” 

“Even in recession there will still be plenty of business out there for good agencies,” points out Jonathan Kirk. “Let’s not get pulled down in a spiral of gloom,” he says, choosing Optimism as his word to take forwards as a positive force into 2023.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ralph Ardill: “Confidence has been front and centre in almost every conversation I’ve had with the Leadership teams of clients and agencies alike throughout 2022,” he says. “Confidence in our Future, Confidence in our People, Confidence in our Leadership and last but not least Confidence in our ability to anticipate, adapt and become whatever ’next’ demands and deserves.”

And so, to the final word from Shan Preddy, and a testament to the strength of the design sector. “The tempest of the last three years has left only the strongest and most resilient standing. You’re here. You’ve survived, maybe thrived. You’ve adapted, flexed, evolved and grown in stature and in presence. You are storm-resistant. You are Evergreen.”

Here’s to the new shoots of opportunity coming in 2023! Wishing all our Members, Experts and Industry Friends a happy and prosperous year ahead. 

DBA Expert Word of the Year DBA Expert Word of the Year
Adam Graham, Gray Matters Meraki Jonathan Gaunt, FD Works Indomitable
Adrian Day, Consultant & Non Exec Director  Pandaustion Jonathan Kirk, Up to the Light Optimism
Aliya Vigor-Robertson, JourneyHR Retention Katherine Sandford-Anderson, Sandford PR Reconnecting
Catherine Allison, Master the Art Fear Of Face-to-Face Lucy Mann, Gunpowder Consulting Whac-A-Mole®
Chris Lang, Flash Accounts Trussled Lucy Unger, Consultant & Non Exec Director Agility
Guy Duncan, Brand Equality Metamorphosis Martin Varley, Humphries Kirk Hybrid
Jack O’Hern, Wright Vigar Cry-sis Michael Thomson, Design Connect Pivilencia
Jeremy Davies, Little Train BD Lead Natasha Ellard-Shoefield, The Hand Focus
Jeremy Paterson, IF Media Consultancy Eraser-nomics Ralph Ardill, The Brand Experience Consultancy Confidence
John Gleason, A Better View Strategic Consulting Multi-Lingual Shan Preddy, Preddy&Co Evergreen
Steinar Valade-Amland, Three Point Zero Breaking-news    

Who are the DBA Experts?

DBA Experts are accredited expert consultants who have sustained and relevant experience in supporting the design industry. Browse the Register of Experts and get in touch >

Image credits: Laura Rivera | Unsplash | Matthias Heyde | Unsplash | Tom Podmore | Unsplash | Dave Hoefler | Unsplash | Robert Lukeman | Unsplash | Slim Emcee | Unsplash | Matt Hoffman | Unsplash


*2022 DBA Annual Survey Report Launch straw poll



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