The trend towards less invasive advertising and marketing strategies in the public sphere is certainly one of the more interesting design concepts to contemplate right now. These trends overlaps with technological innovation and  commercialism in surprising ways. Starting with holosonic sound beams that were used to market the A&E show Paranormal Activity, people began to get the idea that the public sphere is no longer a cut and dry battlefield between public space and private property.

Advertising is no longer a fixed entity, relegated to a billboard, a video screen or the side of a bus; instead, it is now a malleable, mobile enterprise that can be hard to distinguish from networking and social media. From online ventures that use WordPress themes to assist with search engine optimization to location-based messaging that allows users to become a freelance affiliate marketers, the newest tools for advertising and marketing blur the line between commerce, technology, and art. Here are the top examples of this merger:

QR Codes. You’ve probably seen these suckers on the streets, festooning the sides of buildings, bus stops, and billboards. They look like a combination of abstract art, computer algorithm, and graffiti but they accomplish a lot more than communicating a single message. Since Quick Response codes are essentially Internet hyperlinks that can be scanned by mobile devices, they are global designs, able to connect businesses, websites, and consumers instantaneously while also presenting a visual stimulus.

Originally created in 1994 by the Toyota subsidiary Denso, QR codes are fast becoming popular as forms of customizable functional art, especially in Canada and Hong Kong, where they have been adopted much more rapidly. Various artists have integrated the basic QR design into the commercial printing and design of textures and abstract patterns. Still Creek Press, based in Vancouver, for example, has developed multiple styles of QR code art that they print onto banners and integrate ito web pages. Businesses can use the codes to advertise their services, while showcasing a sleek, appealing aesthetic that may attract younger demographics and artistic communities.

New user interfaces. User interfaces are now being embedded in the public sphere. You may know this trend as simply Foursquare or Gowalla, but the recent progression towards Web 3.0 involves the public sphere becoming an open canvas of online triggers and embedded links. Similar to QR codes, these triggers will allow consumers to have greater mobile access to information and media. It will also make the city streets invisible treasure troves of designs and symbols.

‘Trigger’ design, or mobile street icon design, could be a career of the future. Companies such as Semapedia and others are working to help transition the world into one in which the public sphere is infused with the worldwide web. This transition is marked by an increasing focus on user interfaces. User interface design such as information architecture and GUIs (graphical user interface) is prevalent in society now, from video games to MP3s.

‘Green’ marketing. Sustainable products and services have erupted onto the marketplace. The iconography associated with recycling and eco-friendly manufacturing is now commonplace and so too is utilizing it in advertising and marketing. Green marketing, sometimes known as “greenwashing” involves eco-labels and the marketing of environmental ideas through traditional mediums such as print advertising and TV commercials to newer mediums like the Internet. Green marketing campaigns like GE EcoImagination, the Toyota Prius “Harmony,” and Timberland’s “Earthkeepers” are perfect examples of multimedia experiments in design, art and marketing can being used to push ideas onto the public. As green practices become more prevalent in design and commerce, it will be especially interesting to see how marketing trends continue to adapt to public sentiment.

Non-invasive marketing and opt-in advertising are now par for the course in the public sector and their practitioners are utilizing the latest technological devices and social trends. Trends that combine commerce, technology, and culture are especially interesting in the intellectual pursuit of functional design.