With another year under our belts, it’s time to look ahead to make some predictions about design trends we expect to see. In the past, we’ve explored design predictions by tapping design experts around the world. 2021 is no different: we reached out to designers from many different regions to better understand their thoughts on the design industry’s future. Without further ado, let’s jump straight into the trends that are sure to have a big impact on us all this year. 

Design Will Go Dark

At this point, many of your apps and mobile products have likely come with a handy dark mode. Whether you prefer the aesthetics better or maybe it is easier on your eyes, many of the designers we spoke with thought that dark mode not only is here to stay but will become much more prevalent in 2021. 

In particular, Sam Orchard, Creative Director at Edge of the Web, opines that dark mode will soon become a default feature. “Currently, dark mode is most commonly an addition to the main product design. But it has become so popular as a feature that apps that do not offer a dark mode option are much more likely to be dismissed by users. This will push designers to create products that are dark mode by default, either with no additional options, or a ‘light mode’ alternative that can be selected if desired.” 

As lovers of high contrast and more accessible designs, it certainly seems like Sam is on to something with his contribution to our 2021 design trends. We’ll be monitoring this one closely. 

An old school cassette tape in black and white.
Design is going retro.

What’s Old Will Be New

Randy Gunter is the Gunter Agency owner and believes that 2021 will be full of throwback designs. “Retro graphics – we have seen that common culture is going in cycles. Recently the 1980s look was trending. (Think Stranger Things.) We believe that you are going to see this continue to evolve into a 1990s look. Graphic design, fashion, music, etc., will pull from this era. This is typical as kids that grew up in that era are now jobholders, couples, parents, etc. As they are now grown-up with responsibilities, there is a longing for the comfort of childhood.”

We know that trends are recycled and upcycled quite often, but we didn’t expect the 90s to come back so fast! Regardless, offering products that give your target market a sense of nostalgia and comfort is sure to help build a real connection with them. 

Design Will Get More Animated

Animation is key to modern design. The movement catches attention and keeps users engaged. 

Hedy Zhou, who runs a website and graphic design studio called Happily Hedy, points out why animation will be so hot this year. “One of the biggest areas I see growing is animations being incorporated into the design. Social media platforms have been really pushing video content, so having animated icons and illustrations will capture attention and increase user retention. Even if it’s a small element of a design that moves, there will be more animation incorporated into graphic, web, and app design.”

Bram Jansen, Chief Editor of vpnAlert, concurs with animation being a key design trend for 2021 but advises a more cautious approach: “The animations are very visual effects that make a very attractive web page. These are used to focus the user’s attention on a specific element. But many go overboard and end up filling their design with animations, being counterproductive due to both visual and resource overload. Use them, but without going overboard.”

It is important to include this caveat to make use of animation but keeping the UI straightforward. Working on a prototype? Here’s a quick guide to creating simple animations in Proto.io. 

A minimalist desk with a gray chair, two plants, and a piece of art.
Clutter is confusing; keep it simple instead.

Minimalism Will Prevail

Minimalism has been all the rage in design for several years now. Plain but profound designs have been successful for Apple, among other companies. The movement will only gain steam in 2021 and expand to more types of products and experiences. Hedy Zhou tells us: “icons and illustrations are continually moving toward being more minimal, with clean lines and borders as opposed to complex ones. Overall, users enjoy having a clean, minimal, and fresh experience and feel in the apps and websites they go on. Too many pop-ups or bells and whistles may deter users, so it’s important to keep them reined in a little and not too overwhelming.”

The design needs to be crisp, sleek, and offer a clean interface so that new users can catch on and get to enjoy the app or product without having to dive deep into the “help” section. 

Logos and Icons Will Flatten

Logos and icons look like they will be trending towards minimalism as well. Ethan Taub, CEO of Goalry, sees design more closely aligning itself to digital formats. He breaks it down: “if you’re creating a ton of visual content this year, why not try flat icons? They are ideal because they can be adapted for a lot of different graphics like social media visuals, infographics, or presentations. Flat icons can also be consumed very quickly because, when you use these visuals without any context or text, you can still understand what the designer is trying to portray.”

And Morning Brew’s Marketing newsletter writer Phoebe Bain agrees with this design trend, explaining that “Lots of brands are opting for brighter and flatter logos in a move away from bold, chunky graphics… Flatter logos look better on digital screens.”

Design and digital go hand-in-hand. Most designs need to look good across mobile devices and digital platforms. When designing with this in mind, it’s possible to simplify things for your end-users and make sure your designs look how you intended them to, no matter where they end up.

A smiling man walking down the street drinking juice and using his phone.
The best products make you feel something.

The Rise of Emotional Design

Of all the design trends, this one has been a long time coming. Products are much more than features and functionalities. The most successful ones make us feel something, which keeps us coming back. They create a connection with us and become an important part of our lives. There has never been a time more important than the one we’re in now to differentiate your product by utilizing the emotional design. 

Valery Pevnev, Designer at Narrative BI, gives us the backstory: “Until 2020, the user-friendly experience was more important than the emotions from product usage. People considered services more as functional tools and gained emotions from the world around them in real life. The pandemic locked people in their homes, and now services and apps aren’t just tools for performing the tasks: they have become an essential part of our lives. That’s why in product design version 2021, the emotional design will become crucial, and it will be necessary for creative professionals to add emotions using efficient methods and techniques.”

The ways that designers can bring this to life are myriad. Ask yourself: what do I want my end users to feel when using this product? How can I connect with them on a human level? Why do my users choose my product over others on the market? Starting with these questions will help you determine how to make your design more emotional and impactful for your end-users. 

Serif Fonts Will Reign Supreme 

Last but not least, one of the design trends that can up quite often was the importance of fonts and typography. Many designers believe that we will see Serif fonts continue their ascent. Whether you’re going for a more classic serif font or want to take it into the modern-day with a sans-serif, both of these fonts will be quite prevalent in design work completed this year. 

Want to add your favorite font to your prototype in Proto.io? Import fonts here and keep your branding consistent. 

Closing Thoughts 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the top design trends that are coming in 2021. But we hope this snapshot will inspire you to hit the ground running with your creative endeavors. 

What design trends do you think we’re sure to see this year? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio.

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