After a tumultuous year for the design community and the world as a whole, there’s never been a greater need for a fresh slate. Luckily, the outlook for 2021 is sunnier—it’s time to breathe, reflect and look forward.
An escapist and magical mood pervades our trend forecast, with tranquil graphics, optical illusion illustrations and fantasy 3D renders set to help us to switch off the noise for a short while next year. Alongside this runs a thread of trends that are reactionary to 2020 in hopeful and solution-giving ways, with clean infographics, simplified medical branding and activist-influenced design aiming to address the problems that a pandemic year has brought to the fore.
Design is so often the looking glass through which we engage with the world around us, and in our increasingly engaged world the way that things are presented online, in print and in our daily lives has never been more important or revealing. While 2020 might be a year we’d all like to forget, designers are at the forefront of ensuring that 2021 will be a memorable era, for good reasons this time.
Read on to discover our trend forecast for graphic design, illustration and advertising design, and get ahead of the curve in your own projects.
Trend 1: Calm and Tranquillity
Serene and soothing, 2021’s design mood will be a salve to the upheaval of 2020. Neutral colors, minimal layouts and meditative graphics are welcome responses to the daily onslaught of online news and information saturation.
With many of us spending more time at home in 2020, there’s also been an increasing focus on self-care, wellness and cultivating sanctuary spaces at home (at least one wall away from the inescapable WFH zone). With screens now an intrinsic part of our interiors, as well as our office spaces, serene backdrops to desktops and websites can help to create calming environments.
Expect to see 90s-inspired minimalism making a comeback, with lava lamp-inspired animations, earthy palettes and natural textures.
Trend 2: Intelligent Medical Branding
One of the more practical trends that is gaining ground due to the COVID crisis, more designers are turning their attention to the design of medical packaging and branding related to health, medicines and supplements.
Medical packaging has followed the same functional design formula for decades, with text-heavy layouts and clinical green and white palettes. The new generation of medical brands are rethinking these long-accepted traits, with instantly recognisable graphics, creative color-coding and modular packaging design giving pharmacy shelves a vibrant makeover.
As well as looking more contemporary, many of these designs play a practical role—allowing users to locate the right medicine more quickly on crowded shelves, or catering for health-conscious consumers looking to create personal supplement kits tailored to their individual needs.
Trend 3: Optical Illusions
A trend that’s set to bring a magical mood to typography and illustration, optical illusions, immersive patterns and mind-bending graphics are the embodiment of escapism.
These trippy designs combine elements of psychedelia with clean, mid-century style. Expect to see optical illusions integrated into illustrations, logos and type design. Unashamedly fun and individualist, the goal is to spark joy over creating a legible design.
Trend 4: Fantasy Landscapes and Interiors
After a year spent analysing the shelves and kitchen cupboards of colleagues on video calls, the humble Zoom background has become a focus of discussion, debate and even envy.
With the aid of 3D CAD renders and virtual reality, it becomes possible to immerse oneself in a fantastical digital setting, whether it’s a room that features eye-popping furniture and colour, or a dreamscape that stretches the limitations of reality.
As we move back into the physical world, consumers’ desire for rose-tinted environments will spill over into advertising and web design. Products and models will be presented in fictional settings that mimic the fantastical style of gaming and virtual reality.
Tying into our forecast for escapist design in 2021, fantasy landscapes and interiors are set to become a big background trend next year.
Trend 5: Simple Infographic Illustration
Having surely reached data saturation point, there’s something distinctly refreshing about information that’s presented cleanly and clearly. With statistics being thrown at us at liberty on social media and news channels, it can be difficult to identify what’s relevant…and what’s truthful.
Stripped-back, simple infographics and illustrations that seek to concisely explain complex topics will be a key trend in editorial design and social images in 2021.
Trend 6: Activism 2.0
From Black Lives Matter to climate movements, 2019 and 2020 were protest years. In 2021, activism will become even more integrated into our daily lives through professionalised branding, more compelling websites and more sophisticated virtual and physical event identities.
Far from the commercialisation of activism, these design-supported movements will help to move causes into the mainstream, allowing them to connect with larger audiences.
Trend 7: Raw and Characterful Serifs
From a typographic perspective, 2020 was the year of the serif. Serif typefaces give brands and marketing communications more authority and personality than minimal sans serif fonts.
2021 will see the serif trend continue and evolve, with designers seeking more unusual and characterful serifs to stand out from the crowd. Serifs with a raw and rustic style—a deconstructed serif of sorts—feel the most current and cool in an over-crowded serif market.
These type styles will be particularly popular for logos and headings, across both print and web.
Trend 8: Polished Retro
Vintage-inspired design will always have a place in graphics, bringing a nostalgic warmth and comfort to brand identities, websites and apps. Next year, we’ll see a more polished version of vintage style across typography and graphics, with clean lines and contemporary colour palettes blurring the lines between decades.
If you’re not able to confidently define the era that inspired the design, but it nonetheless has something familiar and retro about it, this is the sort of polished retro style that will find a place in 2021.
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