These Are The Biggest Graphic Design Trends That Will Dominate 2021 (infographic)

As 2020 draws to a close, we have an opportunity to reflect and look ahead at the trends beginning to shape the year ahead. We spoke to the global community of freelance creators working on 99designs to gather their predictions for some of the graphic design trends set to dominate in 2021.

Gone are the futuristic trends that ushered us into a brand new decade in 2020, and instead we have 11 trends clearly influenced by the unexpected twists and turns of the past few months.

If there's one silver lining that has emerged from the many challenges of 2020, it is that shared experiences have brought many of us closer together, and strengthened community bonds around the world. So while these trends might all look quite different, they share one commonality: people and anthropomorphic personalities are front and center:

Design trends re-emerging from the past

We are seeing favorites of the past take on new life in 2021. Graphic designers are breathing new life into abstract psychedelia, inspired by the hallucinogen-fuelled creative experimentation of the 1960s that evolved from a period of profound social upheaval. In a year where society has been turned upside down, this trend sees even more colour and intricate abstractions adding new levels of complexity to designs you could look at 100 different ways, and find something new each time.

Another trend re-emerging from a bygone era, sci-fi fantasy themes taking inspiration from Retro Futurism bring bright colours, space age characters and retro computer-style typography to a design trend that promises an optimistic outlook for the year ahead.

Art movements meet design

Graphic design trends grounded in prolific art movements will gain traction in the new year. In 2021 we anticipate that album art, posters and book covers will borrow elements from movements including pop art and surrealism, in everything from packaging to web design.

While pop and comic art brings a much-needed injection of fun to 2021, designers also expect a healthy dose of surrealism to shape work in the next twelve months. Surrealism is one of those terms that people tend to associate with the fantastical, but it’s easy to miss that the word itself incorporates ‘realism’. The 2021 trend seamlessly entwines the real with the surreal: an experience felt deeply by people everywhere as a pandemic worthy of a bad film swept around the globe and transformed our way of life.

While fine art and graphic design have usually remained relatively separate disciplines, if 2020 has shown us anything, it's that things don’t always go as planned. Expect to see painting techniques such as acrylic brushstrokes and abstract expressionism creep into graphic design throughout the year, as a fine art infusion blurs the line between styles.

Textures and color reflecting moods

Designers are also experimenting with gradients and colour transitions adding Blur and Grain to create designs that you imagine you'd be able to feel the texture of if you touched them. Coupled with bold typography and overlaid with strong imagery, there's only one way to describe this trend – a mood.

Equally, with the events of the year forcing most of us to stay indoors, the world has missed being outside. So it's no surprise that designs laced with Elements of Nature are predicted to gain popularity next year. With natural, neutral and earthy color schemes alongside illustrations and patterns inspired by leaves and flowers, these designs help cultivate feelings of renewal and growth, which most of us are eager to experience once 2020 is firmly behind us.

Characters and symbols breaking through

While some designers predict abstract concepts, others are looking to trends centered around quirky characters that inject personality and fun into any brand. Irreverent Characters is a trend built on concept illustration, meaning these characters range in levels of detail – from simple line work found in modern cartoons to more detailed and fleshed out drawings – and bring some much needed eccentricity and humor.

But alongside this quirky trend, we’ll also see a strong nod to a sleek, simpler aesthetic: Symbol Revival puts a modern twist on classic iconography. Historically, symbols have been about universality, and after the shared global experiences of 2020, designers are looking to symbols’ ability to transcend language in 2021. Recognizable iconography such as lions, fearless goddesses, stars and planets convey messages of resilience and strength for the whole world.

Authentic social connection

Designers have a powerful collective voice, and the community is raising it. The trends shaping 2021 are not just pandemic-related; the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted a long overdue scrutiny of unchecked systemic prejudice and we have already seen brands making efforts to diversify the people depicted in their marketing collateral. We predict (and hope) that this continues to gain momentum in the coming months, and that 2021 will be the year that pushes beyond inclusion to a celebration of identity that truly encompasses Authentic Representation.

Alongside campaigning for racial equality, the world continued to demand change in areas from healthcare to the environment. This has seen creators from around the globe using the power of design to promote awareness of, and encourage engagement with, important issues. From creative typography delivering messages of hope to activism illustrations, Socially Conscious Design is no longer sitting on the sidelines - it is front and centre as brands leverage it as an agent for change.

About Author:

Shayne Tilley, Head of Marketing at 99designs. 

Shayne is Head of Marketing at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. He is a wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity who helps bring more opportunities to people all around the world.
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