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Design Trends 2021

December 22, 2022

2020 is over, finally.

For the most part, it was an unusual and unpleasant year across the board. However, there were a few glimmers of excitement for us, the design community. 2020 was the year that made ultra-bold colors ultra-cool again. 2020 also showed us that organic and natural could be beautiful and useful and that animation will continue to grow in popularity and necessity across digital channels.

Now, looking forward to 2021 and beyond, we wanted to take a look at what other exciting movements and trends should be on the radar for all serious marketers and designers.

Muted Rainbow Palette

Muted Rainbow Palette graphic design trends

Right now a lot of people are spending more time online. Everyone’s at home. Before, using bright electric colours was to capture people’s attention. The philosophy behind that was if people are too busy with their lives and briefly take time to scroll through social media – the goal was to have your content stand out above the rest so those few moments spent online were directed to your product/service. Now having more leisure screen time, people are being more selective with what they’re seeing. What is catching their attention now is something a bit more calming and pleasing for them to see like a muted palette vs. a vibrant palette to preserve their attention and have it be easier to spend more time to absorb more content.

A brand can adapt their content using every single colour from the rainbow, but have it stay universal by keeping it muted so they can appeal to a variety of audiences. As soon as the palette is muted and desaturated, together, it’s actually very pleasant. Now there are more options to introduce new colours to work with without looking overbearing or tacky.

A great example of a brand using a muted palette is For Her Kind, an online platform and community for women learning about acne and skincare. Since Jordi (owner of For Her Kind) has an audience of ALL women, she concluded in warm muted tones of the rainbow versus tacky pinks or cliche colors to display her beauty lifestyle platform.

A lot of new brands like to stick to what they know so they can be comfortable with growing their business and not worry about their aesthetic in the beginning stages. This means get a logo made, pick three main brand colors, and have a cute business card and a couple of quotable templates on board. Jordi took the initiative to plan out how her brand can be applied in multiple mediums and forms of design so that she doesn’t have to worry about the aesthetic or evolution of her brand while focusing on growing it. She knows her templates and designs can be easily adaptable and edited to fit whichever specific content she has to share. This way time managing her business became a whole lot easier!

Edgy Elegant Font

fonts graphic design trends 2021

There has been a wave of serif fonts taking over, and a lot more brands are trying to be unique / authentic without being too loud. Their solution is edgy elegant fonts, which really is having decorative serifs on the typeface. The little decorative details are the little bits of personality that can be displayed about the brand. Even though many brands have steered away from serifs (ie. almost every fashion designer in Europe), it is extremely popular now in personal branding and smaller business. The decorative serifs essentially make a brand go from being way too serious to being hip and classy, and also allows little more character / detail without getting into literal imagery.

Since the evolution of responsive design, logos have been requested in various sizes. The main one: mobile! Previous solutions for having responsive logos have the wordmark turn into an icon/logo for mobile platforms. The issue with this is a lot of logos from the past have extreme amounts of details/imagery that can get lost at such a small scale. In conclusion, brands resulted in having a more minimalistic logo which lost a lot of their personality and makes them look like any generic business. To stay unique and authentic to one’s original branding throughout the evolution of responsive design and technology, having the first letter of your wordmark be the logo can be enough as long as it has a personality of its own. Edgy elegant fonts can be a simple way to show personality at a small scale, and still remain effective as a full wordmark.

A brand that doesn’t necessarily have a decorative serif as the main font but uses it as a complementary font online is Sweet Nothings. They use this type of font as an eye catcher to stand out among their chunky sans serif main font. The rounded serifs and slanted arms (the line in the lower-case “e” being angled) creates a whimsical and modern appeal that goes hand-in-hand with targeting adults and children simultaneously. The goal is to be able to connect with audiences authentically, so if there is an opportunity to use typography as a medium, edgy elegant fonts will do the job.

3D Illustrations

design trend 2021 3d design

3D design capabilities have existed for decades now, but it’s becoming a lot more mainstream through technology. By having programs available to the everyday designer and illustrator, this allows 3D design to expand among the industry. However, designing in this style, whether doing it in house or contracting this out, is a lot more capital intensive, and a lot more time-intensive. So it is a commitment. it’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of time. This medium is best applied to brands wanting to seem premium or luxurious right away. Because, again, a lot of time and money was invested into creating this content.

wealth simple 3d design

An example of a brand using 3D animation is Wealthsimple. The interaction between their illustrations and scrolling through the homepage are amazingly thought out. Having the 3D Wealthsimple coin spin as one scrolls, the timed clock, the first animation turning into a mobile device, all of these things definitely took extreme amounts of time and planning to execute. They committed to the aesthetic and applied throughout their whole branding and made it evident that this is a premium service. They are here to succeed and put the time and effort into it.

Source: Beller on Behance

3D design has come a long way from the past. A lot of the animation was very flat with simple texture overlays and shadows to create a three-dimensional effect. However, now there is very, very delicate attention to light sources and shadows and all that kind of stuff. The 3D imagery looks photorealistic, but also kind of whimsical and not realistic at the same time. It bends the two worlds that we’re living in right now (which comes in handy since being stuck inside). In all honesty, that’s mainly the reason why this medium is getting so popular, it’s bringing brands to life in a weird optical illusion way. It’s bringing really crazy ideas to life that you wouldn’t be able to create physically. The sensation of being visually and mentally stimulated is replicated through the careful attention to realism in new three-dimensional design.

Stepping away from creative imagery and looking at the functionality of the three-dimensional design can be useful for real estate agents, interior designers, architects, and stylists, among others. For example, real estate agents have adapted to virtual tours and virtual showrooms of the homes they are selling to help bring the walk-through experience to any device.

Interior designers can use apps like the IKEA room planner to place furniture and virtually plan out their new home. Many of these 3D services are becoming essential to businesses, especially now that so many are operating solely online and need to create a physical connection with their clients. There are relatively affordable programs that help create these virtual experiences Just remember: using this medium is a commitment that requires the time and effort being put into the business to make it appear premium.


graphic design trends texture

Texture itself is a differentiator in a digital medium. When scrolling through Facebook all day long or looking at a website, notice how everything seems like it has kind of a glossy feel to it, because it’s literally on a screen. Every piece of content does have this effect, because of the screen itself. Now, adding this texture, even though it’s not a physical texture, does add some separation. And that lifts it from everything else on its own; essentially it lifts the design off the screen.

Source: Julie Horan on Behance

Taking away the theory of the “glossy screen” effect of digital mediums, let’s think about print. In order to get texture, it’s usually printed onto a textured paper or cardstock. Many businesses find it too expensive to go that route and instead opt for plain cardstock or paper since it is more available and easier to use for packaging purposes. Since physical texture is commonly removed, using textures within the design itself creates that effect, once they are printed on the page. Usually, organic services try to use eco-friendly materials in print, so to achieve a rustic organic aesthetic, grain or texture is usually applied to the design so they can save on materials.

If the goal is to do something really crazy and abstract, adding the film texture brings it down a bunch of notches, which is good. This helps the viewer digest the content more easily, especially if the meaning behind the content is a little bit more sensitive. Textures can also be used to bring in a nostalgia factor that helps people visually connect to them, like they would to a Polaroid picture or a movie that was shot on film. Nostalgia in design has been an ongoing trend for the last fifteen years, and clearly stimulates viewers by being relatable to their inner child. Whether working with print or digital media, textures will always have a positive impact.

Comic book illustration style & POP Art

comic book style design trend

The 90s comic book illustration style is described as flat, but with a bit of texture. Illustrators are able to create in this style using digital media, while making the effort to make it look like it is hand done. They’re using digital brushes and programs that have painting incorporated into them. (such as Adobe Fresco, Sketches App). They have textures and various brush widths that can accurately execute what it looks like when creating this style physically on paper.

Source: Roberlan Borges Paresqui on Behance

In terms of nostalgia, there is a strategic value to using this style. The target demographic is going to, consciously or subconsciously, have positive emotions about this style because it might, somewhere in their brain, remind them of their childhood. There is an obvious positive connection to what they remember from those days. And so, just by even implementing this style, whether intentional or not, there’s that positive connection somewhere subconsciously.

Natural Lighting Mockups

natural light mockup

People are steering away from seasonal mockups (holiday-themed, spring-themed, Halloween themed, etc.) and starting to go with a more neutral and timeless approach. Using natural and warm light sources for product photography or digital mockups helps bring a warm energy to the scenery. It brings a calming energy that allows people to look at the details of the product,

Instead of the composition itself. These mockups do not need to be constantly updated, either; they can be timeless to the brand. Having bright photography and staging is no longer considered eye-catching  ̶  it may be distracting if anything. When absorbing information, there needs to be an environment that allows the brain to calmly take its time and digest what’s in front of it.

The continued idea and movement towards having a voice and being authentic is adding more dimensions to your brand and who you are. These design trends may be applicable or not, but take into consideration the purpose behind each one and consider if it is appropriate to use. Throughout

2021 everything will continue to be online, but slowly the bending of print and digital media will create a new wave of design. At your discretion, see how your business can evolve with this new wave of design – and of course have a Happy New Year!