Ben Barnhart

January 21, 2021
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January 21, 2021
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Welcome to 2021! Last year was a wild one. No matter where you live, a lot of things have probably changed for you. The way that people interact with each other on a day to day basis is changing, 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.

For many people, much of 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 more.

The sudden popularity of the simple social game Among Us that took the internet by storm last year seems to be a microcosm of the current trend: In the absence of our normal social activities, we’re looking for new ways to connect with each other.

graphic design trends

This year, there are a lot of graphic design trends that feel like natural progressions from the trends we saw last year.

But with such drastic changes to the societal landscape, designers need to be thinking about the ways that our world is going to be changing in the future.

Here are seven trends that our Vectornator team has identified for the upcoming year.

What are the design trends for 2021?

So what are the upcoming graphic design trends for 2021?

Retro-Futurism

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

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

graphic retro design trends
Image Source: Nathan Holthus

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

Another unique trend has been designers reimagining current pop culture topics with a vintage design aesthetic, like this crossover between current musical artist Phoebe Bridgers and famous horror author Stephen King’s 1980’s novel covers.

Glassmorphism

If you’ve seen any other articles talking about design trends, you were probably expecting this one. It seems like a lot of people these days are moving their UI design towards this trend known as “glassmorphism”.

glass graphic design trend
Image Source: Monika Mosur

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

If used well, these elements can create a very sleek, modern look. It 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. Our own platform, Vectornator, has used elements of this design aesthetic since 2018.

However, if used excessively or without careful consideration, they can make a UI design much more confusing; making everything transparent, blurry, and out of context. So just be careful not to overuse this technique.

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. 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.

graphic design trend illustration
Image Source: @nickvector_art

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

Black & White Design

We’re 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.

graphic design trend
Image Source: @Seamus Lloyd

There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that dark color palettes are much less harsh on the eyes. Especially since we’ve started spending so much more time on our devices this year, there is a huge need to minimize the eye strain that can be caused by too much exposure to blue light. 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.

Natural Inspiration

One of the biggest sources of inspiration we’re seeing in the graphic design world is the natural environment. 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.

Image Source: @sandra.staub

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

Maybe the fact that we’ve all been spending a lot more time inside has something to do with this fascination with natural elements integrated into design.

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.

graphic design trend
Image Source: Natalia Kuzmina

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 to textured surfaces we’re seeing from designs inspired by natural materials, the digital world is becoming less ethereal and more hands-on.

There's also a recent trend of 3D art becoming popular in design, whether digitally created or photographed artwork made from physical media.

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 1950’s.

Designs that Create Connections

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

So this year, be sure to keep this principle in mind when designing. How is your graphic design facilitating or hindering personal interactions? What can you do to make your users feel more connected to each other?

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

Cover includes artwork by Mirza Talovic, edited in Vectornator.

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