Ben Barnhart

Ben Barnhart

June 7, 2021
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June 7, 2021
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Welcome to 2021! Last year was a wild one. No matter where you live, a lot of things have likely changed for you in the past year.

For most of us, 2020 was spent at home, or at least with a much smaller social group. That meant that a lot of people started spending more time online - on social media, eCommerce sites, and streaming platforms.

Remote work, telehealth, and digital learning were necessary to survive this crazy year, and it’s made digital natives out of all of us. Now that we’re used to being online, we’re also consuming a lot more media.

Social distancing and travel restrictions meant that design and media have been more important this year than ever before. It is one of the few ways we’ve been able to connect and stay entertained while restrictions have remained in place throughout most of the year.

The way that people interact with each other on a day-to-day basis has changed, and it's likely that we've only just begun to see the way that design is going to change in response to the past year.

With a year as tumultuous and life-changing as 2020, design will be forever changed, and we will likely see trends emerging in response to this year for several years to come. We don’t know what those trends will be, but we can take a pretty good guess at what graphic design trends will look like for the upcoming year.

In the absence of our regular social activities, we're looking for new ways to connect with each other. That’s led to an increased need for connecting via our devices.

A perfect example of how media has been impacted by the pandemic is the sudden popularity of the simple social game Among Us. Among Us took the internet by storm last year and seems to be a microcosm of the current trend.

Among Us is an online multiplayer game all about teamwork. You work together with a group of online strangers or friends, to complete tasks while working to solve the mystery of which person in the group is an “imposter” trying to sabotage the rest of the team.

Image source: Epicgames.com

This game has been a great way to connect and spend time with coworkers, friends, or family online, but the style of this popular past-time also tells us a lot about the design trends we will see this upcoming year.

Among Us combines many of the major design trends listed below, comic book style, hand-drawn illustration, and designs that create connections. It’s not surprising that the most popular game of the year incorporates some of the significant trends that we’re seeing in design.

Speaking of design trends, let’s recap the major trends from last year and see what has changed and what stayed the same.

What Were The Top Graphic Design Trends Of 2020?

Here’s our list of the top graphic design trends from last year.

  • Futuristic design
  • Eye-catching design
  • Internet culture
  • Dark themes
  • Evolutions in hardware

Our list for 2020 was made before the entire world exploded in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, so there are probably some trends from the end of last year directly in response to the pandemic that aren’t on this list. But that’s the nature of predicting trends; you never know what new factors will be thrown into the mix.

This year, there are many graphic design trends that feel like natural progressions from the trends we saw last year. However, with such drastic changes to our social landscape, graphic designers need to be thinking about how our world will change in the future.

Last year’s design trends were futuristic and based on pop culture, a sharp contrast from the retro themes and nature-based designs popping up for the upcoming year.

One thing that has stayed the same is the popularity of black and white designs and dark mode. Dark mode has become popular with tech companies, who are designing their apps and social platforms with a “light” and “dark” mode.

Photo by Sten Ritterfeld on Unsplash

This year, we’ll be seeing more of that as well as a resurgence of bright, pop art colors and designs that connect us to one another. Trends come and go, but certain themes like bold colors, artistic typography, and abstract shapes ebb and flow in and out of mainstream design.

You might be wondering, are trends crucial to consider for graphic designers, or are they just fads that will inevitably fade out and become irrelevant? It’s a good question! Let’s discuss.

Why Do Graphic Design Trends Matter?

Whether you’re a creative director, freelance graphic designer, or design director, popular trends can help you brainstorm design ideas for the upcoming year and hone your talent with updated graphic elements.

Design trends tell us all a lot about what is going on in the world and embody the current and upcoming visual trends we will see in fashion, television, and advertising. Designers of all types need to have their fingers on the pulse of the cultural moment to create impactful designs that resonate with their audience.

Graphic designers willing and able to stay current with ongoing trends have a significant edge over designers who stick to the same style year after year. When you create innovative, on-trend designs, your work is more likely to be recognized and work effectively for clients.

Great designers don’t ignore trends; they learn them and use them to their advantage when creating new work.

The majority of trends serve a purpose, either by responding to cultural events or switching things up from the trends of the previous seasons to stand out.

A great way to watch for new design trends is to pay attention to what your fellow designers are doing. Follow people you admire on social media, ask questions, and stay in touch with what is going on in design publications and magazines you know to be cutting edge.

But it’s not always easy to keep up with what’s fashionable for graphic design. Being a freelance designer is more popular than ever with the increase in remote work. If you’re doing freelance work, you’re likely working alone, without a team to bounce ideas off of.

To compensate for this lack of collaboration, we recommend working even harder to stay up to date with trends. And that’s where we come in.

So, what are the upcoming graphic design trends for 2021? We did some digging to see what the major trends would be this upcoming year and created this master list. But first, we’ll summarize the general trends we’re seeing and discuss the connections between them.

What Are The Design Trends For 2021?

Here’s our master list for 2021 design trends:

  • Retro-futurism
  • Glassmorphism
  • Comics and pop art
  • Hand-drawn illustrations
  • Black and white design
  • Monochrome and duochrome design
  • Natural inspiration
  • Tactile design
  • Psychedelic design
  • Abstract minimalism
  • Voxel design
  • Jewel tones
  • Designs that create connections

In this article, we will talk about design techniques, design tips, and how to create relevant content in this tumultuous time.

Right now, we’re seeing a lot of bright colors in retro designs, hand-drawn illustrations, natural themes with neutral colors, and pop art themes. We’re also seeing designs emerge in response to software updates like glassmorphism and black and white design.

Many of the trends this year have one thing in common: nostalgia.

Nostalgic design is back in a big way and has been creeping into the mainstream media for the past few years. So, let’s talk about nostalgic design and how it can be used.

What Is Nostalgic Design?

Nostalgia is a desire for the happiness or positive emotions one felt in a previous time. In design, artists can appeal to their audience emotionally by creating art that evokes memories of a specific time or place.

Nostalgia is a powerful psychological phenomenon that creates a sense of comfort and familiarity.

Nostalgia culture has been popular the past few years, evidenced by popular shows like Stranger Things, a show set in the 90s that exploded into popularity a few years ago. And revamps of well-loved shows like Saved by the Bell, Daria, and Punky Brewster.

Image source: thefullest.com

A significant sign that nostalgia designs are big right now is that major brands have also jumped on board with this trend and are going retro with their logos. For example, Pizza Hut revamped their logo by bringing back an old-school logo they used from 1967 until 1999. Same with KFC, who opted to place their logo with one they used up until 1976.

This past year has also seen an increase in retro designs in fashion. Major fashion brands like Tom Ford and Raf Simons are embracing this trend and creating pieces with psychedelic prints.

Fashion and design go hand in hand, what is popular for one is likely prevalent in the other as well.

It’s not surprising that nostalgic design is popular this year; while things are in complete chaos, many are searching for familiar comforts. It’s well-used by creators in every industry to evoke emotions and is a powerful tool to connect people through design.

Now, without further ado, here are the 13 most significant trends that the Vectornator team has identified for the upcoming year.

Retro-Futurism

This year, we're going to see the evolution of a trend that has been growing in popularity during the past year: Retro-Futurism.

While various “retro” or “vintage” styles have been cycling back around for years now, the most recent trend has been to use visual elements or inspiration from vintage sources and update them to embody a more modern design style.

We’re really excited about this trend; there are many opportunities here to take styles from the past and make them your own!

Retro design has been especially prominent in typography design. Many designers are using big, bold fonts reminiscent of retro poster graphic design but updating the fonts to be cleaner and more straightforward.

This bold typography mixed with bold colors and a retro vibe looks straight out of the 60s. And, as we talked about before, this can be a powerful way to connect to an audience.

Another notable trend we’ve noticed is designers reimagining current pop culture topics with a vintage design aesthetic, like this crossover between contemporary musical artist Phoebe Bridgers and famous horror author Stephen King's 1980's novel covers.

Seriously, how cool is this combo? We’re obsessed.

A great way to incorporate this trend into your designs is to model your design off of a favorite throwback piece, utilize brighter colors, and employ heavy fonts. And definitely don’t be shy about using funky shapes for this design style!

Glassmorphism

If you've seen any articles discussing design trends this year, you probably won’t be surprised by this one. It seems like a lot of people these days are moving their UI design towards this trend known as “glassmorphism.”

Image Source: Monika Mosur

Glassmorphism is a popular design aesthetic that is most often found in UI design, where background frames or buttons are made to look like “glass” by blurring the elements behind them but still allowing some aspects of shape, light, and color to show through.

If used well, these elements can create a very sleek, modern look. It also helps the UI to blend into the background and can give a sense of depth and immersion to the user. This style was popularized by the iOS7 design system but has seen a recent resurgence since last year.

Vectornator has used elements of this design aesthetic since 2018.

Glassmorphism is an excellent tool for design; however, if used excessively or without careful consideration, Glassmorphism can make a UI design much more confusing; making everything transparent, blurry, and out of context.

Be careful not to overuse this technique.

This type of design tends to create more muted colors and muted tones in your design. Desaturated colors aren’t inherently wrong; just be cautious of the effect muted color palettes will have on the visual experience.

All warnings aside, this is a fantastic new trend that will surely be popular in the upcoming years.

Comics And Pop Art

Another blast from the past is the resurgence of comic and pop art design. Pop art, made famous in the 50s and 60s, has been reemerging in design lately in a big way.

In its early days, pop art aimed to blur the boundaries between “highart styles and contemporary pop culture media. This movement started at the beginning of the mass media movement that spawned popular comic books, television, and advertising.

Pop art is purposefully cheesy and kitschy and, when first created, directly opposed the elitist art culture prevalent at the time with bold and playful designs. It was a protest against the norm, meant to disrupt and upset.

This design trend is directly related to comic book design, in both inspiration and style.

Noticeable from their heavy typefaces, action lines, and mix of grainy and bold colors, comic book design style has also been revamped lately. Like pop art, its color and design set this style apart from the norm and had a controversial response.

There are a myriad of comic book art styles, and many of the designs have morphed over time, but they all share common themes: bright colors, surrealist drawing styles, and a strong pop-art influence.

It’s no shock that this style is coming back into popularity as the Marvel franchise is one of the most prolific movie franchises globally, and movies like the Joker, Suicide Squad, and Watchman are hugely successful.

We can’t wait to see what designers do with this fun, funky trend.

Hand-Drawn Illustration

The use of hand-drawn illustrations to create a sense of familiarity, softness, and authenticity is a time-honored tradition. But over the last year, we've seen more and more brands moving in this direction.

Custom illustration has the capacity to communicate a great deal about a brand in terms of feeling and story. It can create a sense of mood and place that isn't possible with other forms of graphic design.

Image Source: @nickvector_art

Many of our Vectornator users rely on our platform for creating content like this. Our precision interface allows for unparalleled control over your lines, and our platform supports third-party pencils and tablets, like the Wacom Intuos Pro.

A great way to incorporate this trend into your work is to create simple illustrations and add them to an existing design. Custom illustrations are a great unique touch to add to a graphic.

It also fits in with one of the other design trends on this list, creating connections through design. Hand-drawn illustrations give your designs that personal look and feel that many are drawn to this year.

Black And White Design

Like last year, we’re still seeing more and more companies moving towards adopting a dark palette.

Most apps have the option to switch to a dark mode color scheme as a preference in their settings, but many apps these days are defaulting to a dark palette, with some even simplifying even further to a pure black and white scheme.

This is an excellent example of technology and current culture directly impacting design and changing what is popular.

Image Source: @Seamus Lloyd

There are many reasons for adopting a darker color scheme, but a significant reason is that dark color palettes are less harsh on the eyes. Especially since we've started spending so much more time on our devices this year, there is a considerable need to minimize eye strain caused by too much exposure to blue light.

Also, a design schema with a dark background helps the text pop without causing too much strain on the eyes. As we said last year, we think that dark mode will start to become the default setting for more and more apps and websites in the future.

Bright colors and bold designs aren’t always the way to go. Sometimes you have to go the opposite route to make designs that are pleasing to the eye.

Black and white designs have become popular likely for the same reason retro designs are heating up this year: nostalgia. Black and white cartoons and movies are the ultimate form of nostalgia for many, and emulating that look is a great way to bring up feelings of nostalgia.

Just make sure an absence of color works well for your company branding or clients before making the switch to black and white. It’s not for everyone!

Monochrome And Duochrome Design

Now that we covered the recent rise in black and white design, also known as achromatic design, let’s talk about the growing popularity of monochromatic (one color) or duochromatic (two colors) design.

Simple palettes are all the rage this year, and they offer a welcome break for viewers’ eyes after absorbing some of the busier design trends on this list (we’re looking at you- pop art).

This trend can help the consumer focus on what is important, your product or message, and not be distracted by showy and loud designs. Monochromatic and duochromatic color schemes create an overall feeling of harmony.

Duochromatic designs include two colors, which gives you a bit more to play with when designing a piece. But overall, they produce the same emotions of a stress-free interaction with design.

But don’t be fooled, these designs aren’t boring! You can use color gradients, color transitions, and other design elements to make monochrome and duochrome designs sharp.

These color schemes use various light and dark shades to develop shapes and convey patterns to the viewer. The use of shading in these pieces is what makes the designs work.

This trend can be a welcome break from the more colorful trends we’ve talked about, and despite their lack of color, could actually stand out in comparison.

Natural Inspiration

One of the most significant sources of inspiration we're seeing in graphic design right now is the natural environment. As a result, more brands are adopting design elements in their logos and graphics that evoke or outright mimic elements of the natural world, such as plants, mountains, rivers, and more.

Additionally, there's also a current design trend that incorporates texture into various elements, especially things like film grain and other, more tactile examples. ‍

We’re also seeing more use of muted design palettes and color schemes that use earth tones and soft pastels. This is related in part to the rise of vintage modern design aesthetics.

It’s not hard to guess why design trends are leaning towards the natural world; being stuck inside this past year has created a desire for time outside and a nostalgia for the outdoors. Nature-inspired design is a great way to touch on this need.

Evoking elements of nature while many are quarantined at home can create connections and fondness for the feelings your designs bring up for your audience.
Image Source: @sandra.staub

Tactile Design

On the topic of natural design elements and vintage designs being modernized, there’s another graphic design trend that has begun to gain more traction in the past year: Tactile Design.

This design sensibility has to do with UI and graphic design that you can almost feel. From Google's paper-mimicking “Material Design” style to the sleekness of glassmorphism and textured surfaces we're seeing from designs inspired by natural elements, the digital world is becoming less ethereal and more hands-on.

There's also a recent trend of 3D art becoming popular in the design process, whether digitally created or photographed artwork made from physical media.
Image Source: Natalia Kuzmina

This feeling of tactility, no doubt inspired in part by the growing number of digital natives in the tech industry, shares some design elements with the handmade guerilla zine culture brought about by the first commercially available copy machines in the United States in the early 1950s.

Psychedelic Design

The 70s are back, and we are digging it! Designers are embracing their inner flower child and creating funky, psychedelic prints this year.

Psychedelia is an art and music trend from the 1960s and 1970s that drove the hippie movement. Meaning, “to open the mind” in Latin, this movement focused on using psychedelic drugs to open minds and experience hallucinations.

Psychedelia goes far beyond hallucinogenic drugs and music festivals; it created an entire cultural moment, way of speaking, and clothing style all of its own.

The art and design trends that went along with Psychedelia are chaotic images with bright colors and abstract shapes. This is another trend that follows the nostalgic design trend that has been so popular as of late.

Image source: Idea School of Design

Psychedelic design took its use of optical color vibration and intense color patterns from another trend on this list, pop art. It’s also said to have borrowed design and concepts from comic book style.

Psychedelic design is easy to spot, with vibrant colors and unique shapes that have almost an optical illusion effect on the viewer.

Much like the original movement, the reemergence of this chaotic theme full of abstract shapes and distorted designs has developed out of a moment in time that feels unstable and new.

Abstract Minimalism

Abstract minimalism has been hugely popular with designers as of late. Its distinctive look is usually coupled with saturated colors and distorted proportions for characters and text.

Minimalism is a form of abstract art that became popular in the 1960s and is composed of simplified shapes. Minimalist designs only use the most essential elements needed to create a composition.

The concept of minimalism can be applied to interior design, fashion, and art. Minimalism as a lifestyle choice has also taken off in recent years, leading many people to purge their closets and belongings for a simpler way of life.

The idea became even more popular lately, with the rising notoriety of the Japanese organizer, Marie Kondo. Kondo encourages people to get rid of anything in their home and life that doesn’t “bring them joy” on her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

In design, it can be as straightforward or as complex as you make it. Lately, abstract minimalism has been popular with character drawings.

Learning how to use minimalism in your design is a powerful skill for any designer’s toolkit.

Voxel Design

Voxel art is a type of digital art created with “volumetric pixels,” AKA 3D pixels, which can be used to make illustrations, video games, or animations

3D design isn’t new; it’s been around for quite some time but has recently become more popular with designers. There are many different types of voxel art, but all are based on the same concept of placing blocks together to create a composition.

You’re probably most familiar with Voxel Art from Minecraft, a classic video game that is instantly recognizable by its Voxel design. Also, the 2015 Adam Sandler movie, Pixels, uses 3D illustrations throughout the film.

Check out the trailer to see what we mean.

Voxel art is a very recognizable and distinctive style using geometric shapes that looks incredibly similar to Legos. The playful, geometric look appears to be straight out of a video game.

This trend fits well with the retro style and has a unique look that is sure to catch the eye of customers and clients alike. Geometric shapes are especially popular with tech and video game companies, who use this style to remind their audience of their roots.

Using this style is perfect for a tech company looking to set their designs apart from the rest.

Jewel Tones

Jewel tones are incredibly trendy in design this year. From interior design to fashion, we’ll be seeing a lot of jewel-toned designs in 2021, and we’re not mad about it.

Jewel tones are deep, rich colors inspired by gemstones like Emerald, Amber, and Sapphire. These tones create an opulent design palette that really pops and catches your eye in any design.

Using jewel tones can lend a very distinct look to any design and help your design stand out from the pack. Gilded items are especially hot this year, with gold being a major go-to color for designers.

Gold is being used a lot with textured designs, and everyday items are often colored in with gold to make them pop.

But it’s not just gold that’s popular this year. Azure was the 2nd fastest growing color in 2020, increasing over 90% in just one year!

This is one of many gem tones that is making strides in design lately. And we don’t think they’re slowing down anytime soon.

Designs That Create Connections

The increased focus on realism and tactility in the design world these days shares an almost spiritual connection with the strangeness of the past year.

In a time where we all have been spending less time with each other and more time on the internet, it's no wonder that our designs have been leading us back together in new ways. We all want to feel more connected, and media is one of the few ways left to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic left many of us house-bound or unable to gather with large groups for the first time in recent history. This has led designers to start creating connections in their work.

Visual content and graphic elements can be used, with the right design techniques, to foster connections.

Don’t be afraid to attempt this in your designs. Authentic images are more likely to create a better user experience. This includes approachable typography, responsive design, and using a personal experience to create a design that tells a story.

Many big brands are making ads emphasizing the need to come together as a community at this time. For example, check out this Pepsi commercial about connecting again after the social distancing rules are over.

Creating connections through design might be one of the most important trends that come out of this crazy year. And we hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon.

Wrap Up

This year, be sure to keep this principle in mind when designing: how is your graphic design facilitating or hindering personal interactions? And what can you do to make your users feel more connected to each other?

Nostalgic designs and bright, colorful trends are the comfort food of the design world, and it’s not hard to see why they’ve blown up this year. We’ve all been needing a mental break from one of the most tumultuous years of our lifetime.

But don’t feel like you have to follow these trends in each of your designs. Instead, be innovative and create your own trends; that’s how design continues to evolve!

To make your designs stand out, don’t just create things that are on-trend, make sure they are directly responding to the cultural moment we’re in.

Design trend predictions are always a bit of a shot in the dark; after all, who could have predicted things shifting the way they did last year? And a new major trend can always pop up throughout the year.

So, make sure to follow us on socials for our design tips and keep up with your favorite designers to see how their visual content evolves this year.

We at Vectornator wish you a happy and fulfilling 2021, happy designing!

Cover includes artwork by Mirza Talovic, edited in Vectornator.

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