Rarely does a year influence design as dramatically as we saw in 2020. But then, there hasn’t been a year like 2020 in a very long time. Basic assumptions about how we live were upended, and the status quo was interrupted in ways no one could have predicted.
Design is almost always an answer to the prevailing themes of the day, and so the trends we’re likely to see pushing us into 2021 were born out of the travails of the previous year. If you’re looking for a positive way to spin the dumpster fire that was 2020, consider that beauty can emerge from the most unlikely places. The difficulties we all faced are pushing design in bold new directions that will define our visual landscape for the foreseeable future. Here are a handful of the trends we think will dominate graphic and web design in the coming year.
Retro Futurism Will Paint Idylic Pictures of Alternative Futures
Retro futurism is an art style that celebrates fantastical visions of the future as imagined by people living in the middle of last century. These utopian techno paradises came complete with jetpacks, flying cars, and moon bases. They’re appreciated equally for what they got wrong as much as for what they hoped might be.
After a year where it seemed everything that could go wrong did, these idealized views of humanity’s future are oddly comforting and hold the promise of what’s possible when we exert our better natures. They also look really cool.
The Natural World Takes Center Stage
We already see nature themes dotting the design landscape, and we expect this trend to grow throughout 2021. Patterns, textures, and scenes born from the natural world are a welcome addition to our visual palette after months of lockdowns and forced isolation.
This focus on organic shapes and natural landscapes echo our yearning to break free from 2020’s limitations. Simultaneously they’re a celebration of the outdoors, the one place we could all go during the pandemic that got us out of the house while still keeping us safely distanced.
Organic 3D Will Dominate UI/UX Design
User interface design is continually pushing the envelope, looking for the next “it” look. In the early aughts, glassy, reflective design elements filled websites and app interfaces. These were replaced with skeuomorphic iconography in the early 2010s — interface elements designed to mimic real objects. Flat design took over in more recent years as an answer to previous excesses. This year, neumorphic designs will take over as we push into this century’s third decade.
“Neumorphism” is a term coined by Michal Malewicz, a UX designer and CEO of HYPE4 agency, combining “new” and “skeuomorphism.” It favors soft, muted plastic textures that combine the realism of skeuomorphism with the technological future we’re designing. We expect to see web sites, app designs, and even animations pull from neumorphic influences.
Multiculturalism Is on the Rise
Race and identity politics were two other predominant themes from 2020, and we’re seeing a greater awareness of the rich diversity of our experiences reflected in design.
This focus on inclusivity isn’t new. But in 2021, we’re moving away from simple inclusion and moving into authentic representation. Minorities are no longer afterthoughts, added to designs to satisfy diversity requirements.
Instead, they’re becoming the centerpiece. Cultural elements from a wide array of traditions are finding expression in this new representative landscape. In 2021, designs will reflect authentic human experiences from a variety of perspectives instead of manufactured diversity.
Voxels Will Take Over For Pixels
2D pixel art has been trending for several years, but voxels are now primed to take their place. Voxels are 3D cubes, the three-dimensional equivalent of a pixel. Voxelized 3D art elements, popularized in games like Minecraft, are now reaching the mainstream and are set to break big in 2021.
Because of its simplified form, voxel art offers designers a broad canvas of possible expression. It’s at once retro, futuristic, and just plain fun. We think you’ll find voxels popping up across the full range of digital media in the coming year.
Bold Geometric Shapes Get Jiggy With It
Not since the early ‘90s has there been such a strong focus on complex arrangements of simple geometric shapes in audacious color palettes. This design aesthetic is set to make a comeback, though this time with a bit more refinement.
Gone are the garish pinks, oranges, and greens of the Fresh Prince era. In 2021, bold but complementary palettes will combine with dense, stylized configurations to create fearless designs that capture the frenetic motion of modern life.
Muted Colors Will Serve as Backdrops
As a counterpoint to complex geometric arrangements in the foreground, 2021 will see backgrounds recede further from the camera. As a respite from our noisy world, designers will feature calming, muted colors that add visual flavor without standing out — think mild pastels, warm tans, and restrained greens. These colors will serve as unobtrusive beds that support the images and text on top of them without making too much of a statement alone.
Grainy Textures Begin Edging Out Flat Designs
Flat design has been a dominant trend for many years, but artists are beginning to tire of its wide fields of uninterrupted color. Grain, inspired by film grain, is slowly stealing territory from flat colors.
Grain adds visual excitement to color gradients, creating a dynamic sense of motion that feels as if it might leap from the screen. It takes crisp digital edges and smears them out, granting them an analog quality that feels at once modern and timeless. We expect grain patterns to become more pervasive as we push through the year.
Interested in what these design trends can do for your brand? We’d be happy to sit down with you to discuss the visual challenges your company is facing. Our designers are masters of their craft and can put these and other styles to work for you.
Just don’t ask us to relive design trends from 2020. We’re working very hard to expunge the year from our memories. Let’s jettison it into deep space where it belongs and embrace 2021 as a new beginning. Happy new year!