Graphic Design Trends In 2021
The field of Graphic Design shifts from year to year.
Themes that were popular in the past and are now out of style often resurface at some point in the future.
There’s a cyclical pattern to what’s in style, and Graphic Design is no exception.
In many ways, the core themes of graphic design are influenced by the times, but some exceptions and fringes buck the trends.
We’re here to look in-depth at what emerging trends are here to stay and which ones are unlikely to stick around in the next year.
What is Graphic Design?
Graphic design is a subset of communication design, which studies how users interact with the visual form content.
It’s a field where artists and experts on human behaviour intersect and create engaging and beautiful content.
Visual content can consist of several strikingly different categories, including videography, photography, animation, typography, illustration, layout, printing, and many more.
The purpose of graphic design is to make content more pleasing and beautiful, increase the engagement and retention of the information shown on a website, print media, or another visual tool for interaction with users.
On the other hand, brand identity design elements can shock or create discomfort in a user.
Product labels, iconography, and logo designs are A/B tested and carefully designed and re-designed to address feelings in the users or product buyers.
What trends were predicted in 2020
In early 2020, there were predictions that the flat style introduced recently by Google and Apple would morph into something more 3D.
Neomorphism, as it is called, takes a twist on skeuomorphism.
Skeuomorphism is perhaps the most controversial style from the mid-2000s, which introduces paper, metal, and leather into fully digital graphic design.
The idea is to communicate better with unfamiliar people with digital technology by making devices look more similar to the traditional pen, paper, and other non-digital siblings.
Neomorphism is a brand new thing, but using similar principles of trying to make content easier to digest by donating to it more elements of our world.
The pure digital “flat” graphic design style, which is very much in fashion, was predicted to grow into something slightly more of a 3d design in 2020.
Neomorphic designs make objects look connected with many omnidirectional shadows and all fashioned from some high-tech silicone-like material.
Neomorphism did make its way into some designs, but the overall effect seems to be much more subtle than many graphic designers predicted in late 2019.
Flat iconography, illustrations, and sans-serif typography are popular, but with smaller drop shadows, and more muted effects.
Instead, in 2021, we will likely see the elements of neomorphism evolve into a more subdued, subtle blurring of textures and the addition of grain or print-like features to designs.
In 2020, one of the most popular graphic design elements was the addition of flowing, flat, brightly coloured background objects to almost every website and scene.
Meant perhaps to represent flowing data, connectedness, or nature, it has permeated into many designs.
Asymmetry was prevalent in 2020, and we think it’s likely to subside for now.
Many of these flowing designs contributed an element of asymmetry, but we’re expecting much of these to change.
Driving Factors For Graphic Design Trends in 2021
The events of 2020 have been chaotic.
Between COVID-19 causing vast numbers of people to become unemployed or sick, and the growing unrest between left and right political groups worldwide, 2020 has been a whirlwind year.
With a vaccine for the global pandemic now being distributed, people are hopeful for returning to normalcy sometime shortly.
Even after receiving the vaccine and getting back to work, many people look at a long road ahead to returning to business as usual.
These global events can tell us a lot about what’s likely to change in graphic design trends over the coming months.
The desire for people to feel comforted has an enormous impact on the designs that companies will put forward, and that we have already begun to see from many organisations.
Get Used to the Comfort Spectrum With Lots Of Monochrome And Muted Colours
In the field of psychology, the question is often asked: “what does comfort look like?”
Many hospitals look similar because people are hard-wired to feel comforted by specific colour schemes and visual cues.
Muted, natural colour palettes like green, blue, and brown remind us of lush foliage, water, and earth.
Pastel colours that you might find in a sunrise or sunset make us feel nostalgic or calm.
Bright colours that cause alarm or contrast may find themselves out of a job for a little while.
Aesthetic of Chaos
Some try to mimic the chaos, to see natural beauty within it.
Others try to control it or respond to it in some way.
Many people have less time viewing graphic design content than usual, less energy, and perhaps have a headache coming on.
The formats, colours, typography, shapes, and themes all respond to the chaos of today’s events.
Significant emerging popularity will be seen with slide decks, multi-view stories, and boards.
This is perhaps because people have less time or the growing popularity of Facebook’s muted video feeds.
Slides are often square, much like a captioned video, but clickable, allowing users to read at their own pace.
Instead of the video coming at you all at once, you can have some idea of safety, comfort in the additional control of click-through or not.
Each slide is crafted to be beautiful and pleasing to the eye and to contain minimal text.
People are sitting in on webinars, video calls, and e-learning in record numbers.
Videos are becoming less for entertainment, and more for every-day communication of information.
Text-heavy videos need to convey more information and graphic design pioneers how this new medium will look.
For example, Apple Clips embraces minimalism with the single word automatic captions in real-time, allowing users to view such videos audio-off.
Instead of posting slides, which can be cropped with Instagram, similar video-stories and simple videos can be used, enforce anti-cropping rules.
Many designers are using video to show the same content as slides, but available on video platforms.
More people used E-Learning in 2020 than ever before.
Although not a surprise since millions of people couldn’t attend their school campuses, a curious thing is happening.
People are gravitating towards skeuomorphic designs.
Web designers of e-learning (LMS) systems make their sites look more paper-like, introducing print media themes.
It seems that people miss books and paper.
An element of nostalgia is introduced, and instead of using bright white, many sites are opting for warmer shades or off-white backgrounds.
The cards that make up common text-heavy videos and slides are very infographic-heavy.
It’s essential when designing infographics to incorporate all that you’ve learned about graphic design in 2021.
Think like a minimalist, use fewer elements, gravitate towards muted colours, and don’t use more than 2-4 statistics overall.
When in doubt, use pie charts or bubbles to express quantities, which almost anyone will understand.
How Typography Will Change In The Coming Year
Following the same themes of users desiring or gravitating towards things that comfort them, we will likely see typography to turn towards nostalgia.
Serifs are back and becoming the go-to for headings and text.
Websites, slideshows, and especially pure digital formats like in-app cards and ads all benefit from a slice of nostalgia, given by serif fonts.
Sans-serif and vector lettering were trendy in 2020, and some will probably stick around.
If you’re designing and have the option to choose, and have a very modern style, or stand out with bright colours, we would recommend choosing to at least use a heading or two with a serif typeface.
Bold colours and brash fonts are not likely to be well-received, but some exceptions exist, such as well recognised logo fonts or comic-style headings, harkening back to the 50s and 60s illustrated ad styles.
How Graphic Design Themes Are Trending
Because of many people’s lack of contact with social gatherings and groups, social aspects show up in many graphic designs.
In 2020, the flat design of the human shape was trendy and still is.
But, the growth of new artwork using authentic representation is emerging.
This theme is about portraying real people in custom illustrations, portraits, and natural environments.
These images are often seen as sketches, paintings, and comic-like representations.
The use of comic-like elements is on the rise.
Remember slide decks on social media?
Their storyboard looks and feels connected us to the comic aesthetic, and we see more blur and grain in minor textures.
Even pop art is becoming trendy.
It hasn’t been popular since the early 2000s, but for graphic design trends in 2021, it is taking on a new life.
On the fringes of this concept, some designers are combining retro-futurism with dulled colours.
That’s creating an exciting mesh of striking imagery pointing to the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin’s accomplishments in 2020 but in a nostalgic, comforting style.
Geometric shapes have seen a rise in the past year, and are likely to increase in graphic design trends in 2021.
They provide an eye-catching, clean interface, with a very organised structure, and opportunities to easily create golden ratios and isometric perspectives on your graphic design layouts.
These shapes are generally circles, half moons, and rectangle objects.
They look much better with muted colours than the wispy, flowing background designs of early 2020.
We think that geometric shapes tend to add symmetry and an air of organisation to designs, but they make users feel comforted.
They look beautiful when contrasted with muted colours, and they are easier to create than the wispy, flowing textures popularised last year.
In many of these examples, we see a combination of all of the previously mentioned elements.
Serif typography and paper-like textures, combined with muted colours, symbols, and authentic human representations all provide a sense of comfort, symmetry, and security.
Minimal small objects or decorative elements are used, but they are often geometric, like small circles or triangles.
Other designs show elements of flora and fauna, water, sun, or earth.
If you’re looking for iconography ideas, think about illustrations that include animals or plants, or natural objects, combined with natural colour tones.
We see plenty of icon simplification on this theme’s fringes, which skews representations of the common elements to fully flat illustrations or blocks of colour.
On the opposite fringe, psychedelic images using lots of symbology and colour are still popular.
Often, suppose such a thematic route is taken.
In that case, it’s contrasted with geometry, for example on a beer can – the striking perfect cylindrical shape provides the order to counter with designs rooted in psychedelic themes.
These themes have a core, central direction towards comfort and nostalgia, but remember that the recognised themes that are in style today are cyclical.
Take a look at Mailchimp’s style in 2015.
It’s changed dramatically to today but is being picked up by other brands like Pipedrive this year.
If you include animation in your graphic design, it’s probably a good idea to lean towards fading transitions and motion, not anything too exciting.
It is trending to incorporate breathing gradient transitions into your gifs or videos that slowly move the user along from one scene to another.
If your animation is rearranging your canvas, prefer items moving into symmetry, moving into golden ratio positions, and the more satisfying position.
There are some definite do-nots for graphic design trends in 2021.
As many people want to put the pandemic behind them now and focus on rebuilding their businesses, lives, and future, it’s best not to remind them of the events of 2020.
Avoid icons that remind people of the pandemic for a little while.
It’s hard to say what these are but perhaps lay low on aeroplanes’ iconography, masks, crowds, and needles.
Even if your subject matter is talking about COVID-19, try to express it in a dulled way.
For example, this WHO slideshow on Facebook somehow dulls the sensation of fear, making the announcement seem old, routine, weathered, or nostalgic.
It’s through the use of many of our suggested colour, typography, animation, and thematic elements.
Some graphic design works are intending to cause shock and awe.
Unless that’s your goal, try to avoid the mask icon and icons of needles, medical, or perhaps even money-related icons.
If you look through boards on Pinterest, Behance, or Dribble, you’ll see that about 20% of themes are in dark mode over the last couple of years.
We think dark mode will probably not significantly increase in popularity – it will be prominent in about 1 in 5 web designs.
Graphic design is a study of how people behave and respond to visual stimuli.
It’s fascinating to see how the world around us makes such changes.
As graphic designers, we need to adapt constantly and invent new ways to influence and stand out.
We continuously need our art to straddle the fine line between attractive and off-putting, win over the largest audience, and move the needle.
2021 is no exception.
Graphic designers will still have plenty of work to do, and plenty of exciting design to contemplate for the year to come.
Author Bio: Darya Jandossova Troncoso is a photographer, artist, and writer working on her first novel and managing a digital marketing blog – MarketSplash. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, creating art, and learning everything there is to know about digital marketing.