The design world moves rapidly, perhaps more so than any other industry. In the age of social media, aesthetic trends explode and proliferate quickly, only to disappear faster than you can say ‘marble’ or ‘Millennial pink.’ Keeping up with emerging (and disappearing) trends may seem like a full-time job but it’s entirely necessary if you want better engagement and connection with your designs.
If you’ve finally got a handle on how to streamline your designs with that pleasing simplicity, it’s time to pivot and familiarize yourself with what else is out there. Below are 7 design trends to try in 2021.
The flat-lay has dominated online graphics in recent years; everything from a brunch update on Instagram to websites of consumer brands has sprinkled this popular approach into their visuals. Now designers are moving away from ‘flatter’ applications and towards a more realistic representation of objects we encounter in real life. Enter neumorphism. The term was coined to represent a ‘new’ kind of skeuomorphism, an approach that mimics the real counterpart it’s trying to represent, for example, the old ‘save’ button that depicted a floppy disc or the trash can icon to represent a place for your discarded files to go. In this new interpretation, graphics appear almost tangibly, touchably real; almost grabbable. It’s a far cry from the leveled, 2D feel of designs past and it seems to tap into our new appreciation for things that are ‘real’, even in the online world.
While the trend is aesthetically tempting, designers are still debating the real-world usefulness of this design from a UX/UI perspective. Some designers argue that these ‘pressable’ buttons look pleasing, the lack of contrast isn’t great for usability. Only time — and a whole lot of trouble-shooting — will tell with this particular trend.
The design world almost tied itself in knots trying to predict the next ‘big’ shade that would rival the fluffy, fanciful Millennial pink. Although some have suggested mint or mustard as its predecessor, neither color has achieved the same amount of status that the fairy floss shade garnered.
Because trends often seesaw from one to its opposite, it’s unsurprising that when it comes to 2021’s colors, there’s a distinct lack of pastels. Forgoing the soothing, comforting tone of this beloved pink, 2021 shades embrace a bolder, more vivid colors with contrast at an all-time high. Leading stock photo brand Shutterstock plucked three colors out as their frontrunners: lush lava, phantom blue, and aqua menthe, and each are as brash as Millennial pink was subdued.
In contrast to the soothing feel of Millennial pink, these stark colors are designed to catch the eye and make an impact, applied liberally for maximum impact. Don’t be shy to punch them together and clash them together for a striking defiance of color-matching rules. Adidas’ bold depiction of basketballer James Harden is a great example of how this can add a fresh strength and energy to design, throwing aside calm, composed depiction.
In the same way that clashing colors purposefully break the rules, trends will teeter towards more rebellious features that create a feeling of brazen defiance, reflecting a global push to grassroots movements inspired by persistent and unlikely social heroes such as Greta Thunberg.
“What we were first taught not to do, we now do by intention,” explains graphic designer Michal Sloboda, who’s also the founder of graphic design aggregator Trend List. “There are many more rules to be broken and by doing so we can come across something seemingly bizarre, but also unique or beautiful.”
What does this look like, exactly? It can look like anything but the more imperfect, the better. Use the clashing font, mix fonts that are too similar, fill that white space and purposefully forget to prioritize legibility over design. Throw the rulebook out the window.
Sustainability has evolved beyond a buzzword and become a key consideration in areas as broad as government policy and the packaging of consumer goods. Graphic design concepts have naturally received some of this overflow, with a focus on clean, natural-feel colors, tones and graphics dominating designs from websites to business cards.
Established brands such as Uber and Yahoo have been switching their harsh-edged fonts to softer, more welcoming circular shapes for text. Some have gone further, embracing a more natural and organic color palette, like the lush new logo of Somersby.
Earthy colors and smooth lines create a feeling of authenticity and honesty; a key foundational element for many brands trying to embrace more ethical and sustainable practices. Clean, uncomplicated visuals is another aspect of this approach—keeping things paired back visually reflects a company’s commitment to simplicity.
A sister concept to the bold, rebellious trends mentioned above, maximalism eschews the prevailing partiality to the increasing amount of white-space-heavy branding that’s proliferated brands from tech giant Apple to small Australian fashion brands such as Assembly Label or Sir The Label.
“Being minimal is great, but I believe infusing wit or emotion can add more character and convey the unique story of a brand,” Slobada notes. “Brands that steer away from the formula get a chance to create their own visual language.”
In its place is maximalism; an intention clash of colors, concepts and styles in order to create a completely new and distinctive visual identity. Designers like Anna Kulachek have harnessed the energy of this trend over the past few years, fusing riotous colors, varying text sizes and often, non-symmetrical divisions of space. It feels full, hyped and spirited.
“[A] unique visual styles helped to distinguish them in a saturated market and become memorable.”
You’ll find endless trend-driven templates for design work on Canva. Ready to try the maximalist style? Start with Blue and Pink Stripes Games Influencer Maximalism Facebook Post Set or Blue and White Maximalism Beauty and Fashion Business Card.
Almost as a counterweight to the minimalist trend that’s dominated design over the past few years, the deliberately messy, rough-edged approach to visuals is gaining ground as a fully-fledged trend.
This trend is characterized by a layered, almost ransom-note texture to graphics, tapping into the same feel as the neumorphic trend; objects seem real and as though they have a tangible feel, adding a more authentic and unique feel. It bucks the prevailing tendency towards the popularised trend of flat, overly-simple design by crafting meatier design. In these designs, there’s more dimension.
It takes a lot to make visuals unique in an age where we’re consuming them almost on a minute-by-minute basis. Custom illustrations have had a boost in popularity in recent years, giving brands the opportunity to branch away from stock-standard visual representations.
Take The New York Times’ new approach to the illustration above, now sprinkled through many of their verticals. Where the publication is typically characterized by serious, considered journalism with news verticals populated by gripping, custom-captured images, sections that are more conversational retain a distinct character by way of bespoke illustrations.