For design fans, there’s plenty to be excited about in the coming year. With our design forecast, you can hop into the trend time machine and discover the direction of graphic design for the year ahead.
2020 was quite a year, but things are starting to look brighter, with optimistic design, soothing colour palettes, and activist-infused design paving the way for a more positive and confident future. Perhaps graphic design can’t change the world, but it can certainly change how we see it.
Read on to discover the emerging trends that are set to define graphic design in 2021. Don't miss the latest trending graphics and templates on Envato Elements too.
What Are the Biggest Graphic Design Trends for 2021?
Each year, we analyse search data and trending design styles to compile our trend forecast. 2020 was one of the most surreal and uncertain years in recent decades, and individuals are impatient for change, positivity, and certainty—social trends which will manifest in a year of design that is life-affirming, joyful, and escapist.
Comforting colour schemes, dreamscape renders, and childlike graphics all indicate that we are seeking healing and reassurance through the designs we engage with, while activist-themed design and stripped-back infographics point towards the fact that we’re becoming increasingly engaged with the world around us.
The 2021 graphic design trends set to make a big impact include:
- Childlike charm
- Neutral and pastel colours
- Design in motion
- Quirky serifs
- Activist design
- Simple infographics
- Virtual reality renders
- Clean retro
Read on to explore these graphic design trends in depth and learn how to use them in your own projects, making a head start on this year's designs for web, print, packaging, and branding.
Trend #1: Childlike Charm
In a year in which we spent much of our time at home, people could construct their own worlds, rediscovering neglected hobbies and turning to nostalgic activities and products. This time spent away from the ‘grown-up’ world allowed us to rediscover interests developed in childhood and the innocence and simple joy that these brought us.
In design, we’ll see a return to youthful graphics and themes, aimed at adults as well as kids, with naive-style illustrations, hand-drawn fonts, or Lego animals helping to lend childlike charm to app designs, products, and packaging.
Trend #2: Neutral and Pastel Colours
1950s consumers adored pastel colour schemes for interiors, cars, and products—a positive, soothing palette which marked a break from the drab and militaristic hues of the wartime period. In many ways, we expect the colour trends of 2021 to play a similar role, with soothing neutral tones and rejuvenating pastels helping designs to feel lighter and airier.
While neutral, earthy tones of biscuit, blush, and ivory will create elegant, calming backdrops for lifestyle branding and portfolios, holographic effects, gradients, and metallic textures will help to lend a contemporary edge to pastel color schemes.
Trend #3: Design in Motion
An unexpected and charming side-effect of the COVID crisis has been the resurgence of animation across advertising, branding, and web design. With nearly every holiday ad this season favouring animated characters over physical actors, it’s clear that 2021 could be animation’s year. Our favourites include Disney’s ‘From Our Family to Yours’ ad and the hilarious campaign for Greenies dog treats, which uses stop motion animation created by Isle of Dogs puppet maker Andy Gent.
This also coincides with an increasing number of social platforms favouring video content over static imagery, with even Pinterest—at one time the web’s static moodboard—encouraging users to engage with video content in Stories, ads, and pins. In 2021, we’ll see more illustration, logos, and type that can convert easily from static to moving, with brands looking for graphics that have more versatility for multi-media marketing campaigns.
Trend #4: Quirky Serifs
2020 was the year of the serif, a type style that brings authority, heritage, and beauty to layouts. The year ahead will see serif styles continue to dominate branding and logo design, with font choices becoming quirkier and kookier as the trend pushes forward. Stencil-style fonts, flowing calligraphic type, and perfectly imperfect serifs with chiselled edges and characterful quirks will bring a romantic narrative to designs, helping to invest even the newest brands with a sense of history.
Trend #5: Activist Design
One inevitable outcome of 2020 is our increasing engagement with the wider world and our growing awareness of inequalities and injustices in our society. From Black Lives Matter to climate strike movements, a wide range of protest groups have successfully established themselves in the public eye.
The rise of activist movements over 2019 and 2020 has resulted in a new wave of designs related to themes of protest and social action. What began as hand-created signs and icons are gradually evolving into established identities that are recognisable worldwide. From impactful logos to placard-friendly type styles, the aesthetics of protest are set to become even more professionalised in 2021.
Far from commercialising activist causes, sleeker designs for flyers, websites, and social images help activist groups to reach wider audiences and engage with the public and the media with more authority. Expect to see more web and social media templates focussed on activist themes, as well as fonts, icons, and illustrations that give a nod to protest styles established in the 1960s and 1970s.
Alongside the wider activism movement is the rise of smart tech, with an ever-growing choice of eco-friendly and charitable apps for conscientious consumers. For these, clean and clear UI-focussed layouts, code-friendly flat design, and simple sans serif typography will continue to be the hallmarks of eco-themed design in 2021.
Trend #6: Simple Infographics
2020 was a year of data saturation—with breaking stories every day alongside the rise of ‘fake news’, it’s been difficult to both absorb information and know what to believe.
In 2021, simple and clear infographics will play a significant role in communicating important information effectively. We already saw this style of stripped-back infographic being used by governments and media outlets to advise people about coronavirus prevention, with child- and adult-friendly illustrations, simple instructional icons, and limited text condensed onto single images for sharing on social media and websites.
While we hope coronavirus-themed infographics won’t be needed as heavily this year, it’s likely individuals will still need to be informed about prevention and good practice in the workplace and in public spaces. Thoughtfully simplified infographics can also play a role in explaining other complex policies or concepts in a world which has never been more data-saturated. Think in terms of health and safety signage—the new generation of infographics will take a step back and aim to present data in ultra-simple visual language.
Trend #7: Virtual Reality Renders
With so many of us having turned to digital socialising last year, we are becoming adept at interacting in virtual environments. While sophisticated virtual reality might still be a jump from pixelated Zoom backgrounds, we can expect designers’ attention to turn towards digital interiors in a way that is influenced by the world of VR. If we can’t share an image of a physical interior to put on our Instagram profile, we might soon be able to fill the gap with 3D rendered interiors that achieve an even more fantastical and idealistic effect.
Fantasy interiors, dreamscapes, and imagined rendered environments will be the backdrop to a number of advertising campaigns next year, and the render trend will filter across into web design, product presentations, and social images.
Connected with our Design in Motion trend (see above), animation and digitised environments are after-effects of a year spent mainly online, but they have exciting potential for designers looking to move beyond the limits of physical settings.
Trend #8: Clean Retro
The final 2021 trend on our list, Clean Retro refers to the minimalistic and pared-back vintage styles that are starting to gain traction.
This trend combines hints of retro styling with clean, contemporary layouts and colours. An example might be a display typeface that has a hint of 1970s style, which is then paired with crisp, neutral colours, contemporary serif text, and plenty of white space. Similarly, a design might use a vintage-inspired colour palette, such as Seventies-influenced earth colours or muted mid-century hues, but combine this with ultra-clean layouts and contemporary images or graphics.
The Clean Retro trend is great for designers who are partial to vintage style but are looking for a way to modernise their work, particularly for website and app designs. Look for typefaces which can’t be assigned to a particular decade but have a vintage quality, and combine them with grainy textures and muted colours.
Conclusion: 2021 Graphic Design Trends
New year, new start! While 2020 left much to be desired, the design trends for the year ahead reveal that we’ve learned a huge amount in terms of how design can contribute to better communication and make us feel happier and more comfortable in our digital and physical environments.
Graphic design has played a huge role in presenting vital information over 2020, and in the year ahead this only looks set to continue and become increasingly important in our day-to-day lives. Alongside design that responds urgently to a rapidly changing world, such as our Simple Infographics and Activist Design trends, there are also a range of trends that aim to make individuals and consumers feel comforted and content after a turbulent year, including childlike design, pastel colours, and animated graphics.
Make sure to get ahead of the curve and start putting these exciting trends into action. It’s set to be a better year ahead! You can find trend-led templates, graphics, and fonts on Envato Elements to help you get started on the right foot.
Don't miss these essential templates and fonts that look ahead to the new year:
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