Every year we look closely at the next big thing coming to the world of digital product design and design in general. This year is no exception.
We asked 13 top designers with decades of experience about the trends that will dominate the space in 2021.
Here’s what they had to say.
Design Manager at Mailchimp
Expect to see louder, more colorful experiences with flourishes and richness. After a hard year behind us, minimalism will feel even more sterile and cold than soothing and peaceful. I predict we’ll see a return to play and joy across design industries (digital, product, fashion, interior) using of warm colors and decorative motion/animations.
In some ways, I think this is a continuation of print design styles translating to digital experiences. We’ll continue to see more storytelling, interesting typography, and small joyful animated winks to the viewer across great experiences, especially on platforms when functionality itself has significant market competition. It’s about to get very fun!
Director of Design at Webflow
The rise of ecosystem design: Recent years have seen the rise of the passion and creator economy; empowering many people to find alternative careers outside of the full-time job. No code and authoring tools have allowed people to go from idea to realized product much faster and to more people.
As these economies continue to grow, designers will find their users are becoming more design-centric with the help of such tools. Designers will have to think about not only the customer experience but the ecosystem experience as well. These markets thrive on community, integration, and interaction. It’s not about having a solution that’s fully designed, rather integration points that allow learning and iteration from what the ecosystem creates, such as plugins, tutorials, and shared knowledge. It’s no longer just user-centered design, and though it sounds meta, it’s about designing for people who design and foster their own customers.
Director of Product Design at Coursera [Prev. Netflix, Scribd, Yahoo]
Responsible design will keep business growth good: Given the past decade of excess and the resilience of 2020, business success will be qualified by the experiences we create for wellness and well-being and not just quantified by revenue and subscriber growth.
Design has the power to uncover the truth for customer’s needs and motivation. Design will take responsibility for being respectful and inclusive with the product experiences we deliver. Organizations will design to address various socio-economic strata, cultures, and global communities.
How we design will be equally important if not more important than what we design. Design as a practice will co-create experiences in harmony with present resources and surroundings. The blurring of boundaries between work and home, living in isolation to cohabitating with family, and hybrid models for education will influence how we create customizable yet simple design solutions.
The business outcome will thrive by leveraging responsible and respectful design decisions. The designer’s role could very much take an oath, committing to solving problems, helping businesses make this world a better place; respectful, equitable, and playful.
Product designer at Doist
Customization & emotions: In product design, the trend that will continue in 2021 will be giving more power to the user. When we look at the latest releases, even Apple now offers more and more ways to customize the user experience on your iPhone. For example, the new iOS 14 widgets or shortcuts give people so many more possibilities in designing their own experience. So I can see especially consumer-centric products becoming more personal. The desire to stand out from the rest will become even stronger and designers will find new ways to support the user’s current emotions with a rewarding experience.
App developers and designers will focus on delightful details such as small and meaningful animations, visual, audible, and haptic touch feedback to make apps more lively and engaging. A good example would be using celebration animations with confetti when a user reaches a goal that supports the emotion of excitement and stimulation. The ability to customize your iOS home screen’s app icons with your very own designs is so compelling because everyone can be a designer now. We can observe numerous icon pack designs all over Twitter.
Collaborative & autonomous learning: Collaborative design tools like Figma, with their introduction of community files and social media platforms like Twitter, give so many opportunities to newcomers to start with. People share best practices, give advice and tutorials, and much more. All you need to do is connect with people or search for a design component you are interested in, and you are one click away from duplicating, playing with, and inspecting a complete design file from a stranger - and possibly more advanced designer - or simply someone who approaches design in a slightly different way. Sharing resources will become even more popular. The entry into the design field couldn’t be easier with autonomous learning.
Multi-usable interfaces, rounder, bigger, clearer: Touch and mouse operated systems will merge more and more. It’s nothing new, but it forces us to rethink our past design decisions all the time. Something that is supposed to be touched needs to be approachable. A driving example is the latest macOS Big Sur release. Apple seemingly overhauled its OS to be ready for this future. This movement influences the design of interfaces as well. Designers will eliminate hard edges and borders, round off corners, incorporate more white space to enable input types from your finger to your cursor. There will be more focus on clarity and content without overwhelming you. Everything becomes bigger, rounder, simpler from buttons to iconography. Not only in products but web design as well. So it’s important to remember that (almost) every website that you design will need to support touch or hybrid devices.
Acknowledging accessible and meaningful design: Designers continue to go beyond moving pixels and creating layouts. They acknowledge their responsibility and the impact they have on their design decisions. There will be increased knowledge sharing about accessibility best practices and how to design accessible interfaces for people with temporary limitations or physical disabilities.
Head of Product Design at Product Hunt
Mindful Design: 2020 was something, and it caused much anxiety all over the world. In the past few years, we've seen more and more designs acknowledging accessibility issues. After a trend of bold, aggressive designs, I believe we're now seeing a shift to more visually calming ones.
Mindful designs have calming aesthetics that help reduce stress (Dark modes, pleasing colors, subtle animations). It focuses on readability, making sure texts are easy to read for everyone with proper font sizes and accessible fonts.
Mindful designs are also optimized for speed to be accessible to everyone, no matter their bandwidth, and they also are fluid to adapt to every device. Closed captions and descriptions are becoming the norm instead of being an afterthought. Globally, this kind of design is a more humane approach for a world that could use more kindness.
New York-based graphic designer, storyteller, and typographer
Last year I predicted that in 2020 we would discover deliberately designed form as important again. Beauty will add many functions, especially to fields that have been designed with nothing but function in mind.
My predictions from last year are still very much true for this year. They are underlined by the fact that so many of us were confined to our homes and experienced the impact the esthetics our surroundings have on our well-being first hand.
Do you reckon the experience of living in a lockdown this year is going to affect the way we think about design?
Yes, very much so, I expect this has a long-term impact, not just on from where we work, but how seriously we take the esthetics of those places.
Senior Product Designer at Bumble
Writing skills to become more crucial in the design toolkit: As it has been said before and it's truly so "writing is designing". Good designers are some of the great storytellers and to be able to tell a compelling story one needs to pen down their thoughts articulately. Hence, now is a great time to hone the writing skills and make a habit of it. Your visuals and UX will only make sense to the users once you bring in the essence of copy in it, which is the essential part of an experience.
More curated social network groups with limited people: Right now, a lot of the social media networks are saturated and filled with noise. People are and will be opting for more curated spaces and we will see various different media systems (e.g.: video streaming, voices etc.) for bite-sized learning spaces too.
Mike Creative Mints
Designer and illustrator with 17 years of experience
Many of the trends that I shared with Avocode last year gained the full strength by now. Others are still just sharpening their teeth but will certainly show themselves in full force in 2021!
Font Experiments: 2021 will definitely unleash a huge amount of bold experiments with type. Wherever it’s appropriate and even where it isn’t, there will be more and more bold moves with fonts. In 2018/2019, the market was flooded with very typical, predictable designs. Many projects could hardly be distinguished from one another, and a market pullback was inevitable. Frankly, I’m rubbing my hands in anticipation of expressive, bright typework next year :)
Follow the white Apple: Wherever they go, we go! :) Volumes, lighting, shadows, glare - 70% of project inquiries in my mailbox are about updating the visual style for icons, glyphs, illustrations. Accurate, neat, and graceful designs are what the market needs this year. The plethora of available 3D tools, a huge amount of educational content - all of that will help beginners to smoothly get into the game with the new rules.
Creative Illustration on the offensive: More and more clients are getting a taste for bright, non-standard communication, and they put fewer and fewer restrictions on the artists. In 2021, absolutely everything will be allowed: torn cardboard compositions, vintage techniques, mixed styles - there are no restrictions left and we can put the creativity pedal to the metal! Just recently all this wild creativity only existed in personal projects or portfolio experiments but now clients are increasingly demanding bold solutions for the corporate segment. What can I say, this year, even I had to inflate a male organ-shaped balloon for a client project! :)
3DDDD: I thought 3D would just be “bigger”. Now it is everywhere. From a tool for a narrow circle of designers who use it in daily work, it took a dominant position on Behance and other portals. I think that in 2021 we’ll see a large number of new plugins, kits, all kinds of auxiliary tools that will help you use 3D every day in your workflow quickly and effectively. Every day we are surrounded by really absolutely abstract things and concepts that are difficult to visualize (have you ever tried drawing Big Data?) and 3D will come to the rescue more and more often!
Products VS presentation: The products themselves will follow the path of simplification, facilitating interaction with the users. Their presentations, landing pages, and ad designs on the other hand will get more and more complex. I think this is a natural and logical trend that will soon become a common standard.
Award-winning designer, podcaster, and cultural commentator.
I predict that we are going to see an increase in participation in the civic design and service design sectors of our community. Last year, a lot of deep, systemic issues in the United States towards people of color (particularly Black people) were shown in a way that no one could escape.
My hope is that designers will use their talents and skills to help with creating a more equitable and just future through reimagining and redesigning the systems and practices in local, state, and federal government. Believe me, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
Head of Design at Gem [Prev. Lyft, Atlassian, Facebook]
As we arrive in 2021, digital design is entering an exciting era of maturation and achieved futurism. Designing for a global audience has influenced this, as has the fact consumers are more informed around design than ever before.
The technologies we're designing for are now very much ubiquitous and familiar to the average person. In 2021 we'll see even more open roles for designers as businesses continue pursuing the abundance of technologies consumers leap to adopt.
We're also going to be enveloped by a continued convergence of technology with design. Meaning: because consumers are becoming familiar with rapid evolutions in technology (including the continued, albeit slow, growth of VR and AR), designers will be working more closely behind the scenes with new technologies.
In 2021 designers can freely abandon things like flat aesthetics and focus on more augmented and layered, as well as deep, multi-modular interfaces, knowing consumers will be able to adopt these improved patterns easier than before.
Founder and Director of Product Design
I really wonder whether we have ever had such an acceleration of technology trends as we have in 2020. Working from our homes, we are waking up to the productivity and potential of fully-distributed teams.
Technologies that support remote work expanded rapidly to fill the communication void in 2020. And I think there is a huge opportunity to innovate on the blunt tools currently in use.
Just as surprising has been the rapid evolution to the digital extensions of the offline world. We now have telehealth and remote ordering from stores and restaurants in ways most wouldn’t have imagined in 2019. I love seeing this because this is exactly the kind of work I like to design with my team. Digital design enhances and improves our physical world. It doesn’t replace it.
This digital transformation of so many spaces also foretells some real competition to the monopolized digital spaces... even without government interference. I think we’ll see competition for Walmart and Amazon, for Facebook and Instagram. Fragmentation will be caused by innovation! That’s amazing.
This intense competition for our attention means the storytelling of our digital experiences becomes even more important. And no, I don’t mean we’ll get Amazon Stories and iMessage Stories. I mean that experience design will be the differentiator between products that are temporary tools and products that transform the world.
If we designers do our jobs well, we should be able to look back on 2021 as a year we humanized, personalized, and cultivated technologies in ways that make us all better.
Director of Brand Management at Raiffeisen Bank
Many trends in our industry evolve over several years, and it takes 2-3 years to see significant changes. I distinguish three types of trends:
Technological: New ways of data input, output, and processing; cheaper products; new business models, etc. It changes the environment where digital products evolve. Smartphones existed before iPhone and Android, but skillful repackaging, business model, and positioning made them the second big wave of mass-adopted technology after personal computers.
Interaction: New patterns; methods of understanding users, designing, and validating design solutions. A user-friendly representation of new technologies enables lower entry barriers and a bigger impact. i.e., user onboarding was considered as just a series of popups on first entrance; now it's all learning and engaging techniques in a user interface until a user becomes active.
Visual: Fresh visual expression techniques. It injects aesthetics to utilitarian solutions and allows to differentiate brands. They constantly get remixed, while many of them are cyclic and change each other once in several years (i.e., minimalism and decoration).
The most interesting is to see how these trends influence each other. i.e., a constant increase of mobile screen sizes hinders users from reaching the upper part of a screen without the phone slipping to the ground. That's why mobile OSes try to move controls to the bottom (as recent Android versions or Samsung One shell) and transform some actions into gestures (tap accuracy is less critical this way).
Last year's hottest topic is foldable screens. Current outrageous pricing in thousands of euros is beyond good and evil, while devices themselves are still half-baked. However, you can buy them already; production costs will decrease in the coming years, making them more affordable. It will definitely influence the number of apps and interaction approaches, which will lead to new visual design techniques.
Established practices shape habits and expectations; users perceive new things through this prism. Current trends influence the future to a great extent. That's why I watch market statistics — along with the digest, it helps me to critically evaluate perspectives of all three types of trends.
Thus, for professionals on duty, yearly trend reviews are useful only in this context — distinguish just regular best practices (like that beaten animation or large typography), those gaining momentum (matte glass, blurred colors on the background, 3D app icons, etc.), and these going out of fashion (chatbots, personas method, or isometric illustrations). It helps to understand which directions to invest in, and where you missed the boat already.
Graphic Designer at Avocode
The future is not easily predictable, as we all know too well from the events of the infamous 2020. We are, however, seeing some prevailing UI trends which suggest what is about to come.
Last year we saw some of the “quick” trends like neumorphism gaining popularity. We liked the 3D-like capabilities with smooth shadows and grey (or dark) colors. We did test it in some of our projects, but deep in our hearts, we know it does not really work, and it’s not about to stay. And if it does, it will only be in the small amount and details. We haven’t waited too long to find a substitute called glassmorphism. It’s already with us for some time, but I suspect we will start seeing it in UI design more than before. Unfortunately, I anticipate that flat design will be put to the sidelines to wait for its time again.
2021 - a year of 3D! Getting to the spotlight in 2019, the 3D imagery will still be around in the time to come. It’s getting easier for non-3D designers to actually create something in 3D with the new tools and libraries that don’t require the knowledge of the software tools like Cinema4D or Blender. We are seeing the 3D illustrations in all forms and variations, from the characters and icons to low poly key visuals combined with vibrant or pastel colors and gradients. And let’s not forget the animations! All in all, we will see a lot from 3D in 2021.
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