Web Design Trends 2021
The 2021 web design trends review is here! 2020 wasn't easy. With its gallons of hand sanitizer, awkward Zoom meetings, and the looming anxiety of uncertainty, we're all feeling a bit frazzled. Despite the circumstances, we all did our best to move forward through it all. See how distinguished designers are designing their websites and how their trends are becoming best practices for web creation in 2021. I hope this list not only inspires you but makes you approach the web in a more inclusive and accessible way.
2021’s web design trends appear to share a common theme: rather than aspiring to hi-tech fantasy, web designers are seeking new heights of realism. They are blending the digital and the ordinary like never before, and it reflects just how much a part of everyday life websites have become. Here are 10 web design trends that will also help make 2021 a bit brighter.
1. Parallax animation
Image from Pinch Studio
From micro-interactions to particle backgrounds, we’ve witnessed the rising popularity of web-based animation trends year after year. 2021’s web animations are getting even more complex through the separation of page elements into foreground and background extremes, creating a parallax effect. Remember that too much movement in parallax effects can be harmful to people with vestibular disorders because the illusion of depth and movement can cause disorientation and dizziness. Parallax is the optical illusion that happens when objects near to the viewer appear to move faster than objects farther away. Although we see this in everyday life—when viewing passing scenery while driving, for instance—the effect on web pages comes across as equal parts real and surreal. The depth created through the use of foreground and background also has the added benefit of immersion, transforming the computer screen into something closer to a theater stage. As users navigate the web page, they are drawn into its convincing performance as if by magic. And at the end of the day, isn’t magic what the internet is supposed to feel like?
2. Retro fonts
Image from Spotify
The old belief of using sans serif fonts as the go-to font style for web design has been changing with the times. Indeed, sans serif fonts have always been loved by web designers for their sleek legibility and simple structure. Throwback typography has gone through a bit of a resurgence. We’re not seeing the same tired fonts. Rather, stylization and a bit of artistry are reimagining what retro fonts can be. We see this merging of old and new on the page for Spotify’s Carnival promotion. Instead of feeling stale and cliche, they breathe new life into traditional bold fonts with a bit of experimentation. This is a good example of taking traditional fonts and giving them a bit of a cool and modern spin while maintaining legibility. There are actually specific serif font families that designers have come to love, where we’ve noticed a pronounced preference for “elegant”-style fonts. Examples of such include the well-known font families Georgia or Times (both found in Google Fonts). Less well-known fonts have also become popular — such as Portrait or Noe Display.
3. Use of Emojis
Image from Diangelo Santos
It’s no news to us that worldwide communication has embraced digital interaction. Whether 5,000 miles apart or 5 meters apart within one house, people are constantly interacting through their keyboards. This includes emails, messaging applications, group forums, and so on. Things have grown far beyond words — alphanumeric characters accompanied by playful emojis in written text elements are now an integral part of our digital lexicon. The rising popularity of emojis has made its way to the web designer’s toolbox, too. Web creators have taken to the playful, endearing language of emojis, using them as part of their website content itself. Leveraging these illustrated gestures is now an effective, simple way to illustrate brand sentiment and non-verbal messaging in a language familiar to users of all backgrounds. Communicating with target audiences of all languages and dialects thrives on this technique — your brand voice can now be heard in a visual, non-verbal way.
4. Comfortable colors
Image from Taboo Organics by Creative_David
Given the increasingly digital nature of the job market these days, most people spend the majority of their time on computers. Because of this, it is not uncommon for users to experience eye strain after staring at screens for long periods of time. The soothing effect of light colors often encourages users to stay on the page for longer, enjoying the color palette’s tranquility and warmth. On Dockyard Social’s homepage, the pale mustard-like yellow and faded maroon-like red resemble a faded sunset, creating an ambiance of calming peace of mind. This somewhat explains the popularity of last year’s dark mode trend, which counteracted the overwhelming whiteness that dominates screen-based media. In 2021, web designers will be thinking outside the two extremes of dark and light. They are finding middle ground in soft color palettes, like wholesome greens, pastel blues, warm browns, or light pinks.
5. 3D visuals everywhere
Image from Pitch
With the advent of higher resolution screens, 3D design has come a long way from the blocky and beveled edges of Geocities. We’ve been seeing high-quality 3D visuals weaved seamlessly into web designs. Instead of being garish distractions, they’re adding to the overall user experience. The creative agency Sennep throws in dashes of depth with 3D elements throughout their website. There’s a nice sense of harmony here between all of the design elements. This is a perfect example of how in more minimalist layouts, 3D can make an even bigger impression. The example above from the presentation software company Pitch shows a colorful layout full of three-dimensional shapes, drop shadows, gradients, and layered elements. These 3D design elements bring this design to life.
6. Web design for causes
Image from [re]movement by DesignExcellence
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the various shelter-in-place orders that followed, the internet has become a refuge. Not only have virtual conferences become the norm for social gatherings and entertainment, but many brick-and-mortar brands have also turned to websites to keep their businesses afloat. And web designers were up to the task, creating meaningful and impactful designs.
In 2021, we will see web designers continue to value their role in helping the world through troubled times. What this means is brands focusing their web designs around their virtues, such as their sustainability efforts or community involvement. It means brands getting on board with stock photos that reflect real, diverse customers. It means a rise in digital spaces bringing awareness to social causes through interactive means, such as visualizations and simulations. And it means an increase in the resources and methods of DIY web design, making website production accessible to everyone.
7. Simple Shapes
Image from Happy Socks
The artistic style of the 90s era has also made its comeback in web design trends — this time in the form of simple shape motifs integrated throughout design schemes. These simplistic, two-dimensional shape illustrations boast one shade of color and no depth or texture. You can see examples of these shape styles on the Happy Socks website, which uses two-dimensional design on their product packaging and throughout the actual site. These basic shapes may also have text written on them and are often reminiscent of stickers-design from the 80s or 90s. These shapes may also be used as buttons (either static or animated), or as a sticker that informs us about a limited-time promotion. No matter what these stickers look like or entail, their common goal is to draw the attention of the website visitor.
8. Scrolling transformations
Image from Outer Studio via Dribbble
When users scroll, they are doing more than navigating the page: they’re interacting. The physical actions they perform in real life—flicking their fingers over the mouse—cause a response on the screen. Interaction is a form of participation, and when users are involved in things that are happening, they are more likely to be interested and engaged. Scrolling is one of the most subtle forms of interaction, and as such, 2021’s web designers are ramping up the visual feedback users get when they scroll. This can range from full-color scheme changes to complex animated transitions to wholesale shifts in the layout. All in all, web designers are taking the time to make each scroll feel like a new page—sometimes even a new website.
9. Cartoon illustrations
Image from Blush
There was a time not that long ago when websites were just text and a few images or graphics. Web design has evolved, with designers now creating work that connects with people on a more personal level. Cartoon illustrations have gained popularity as a way of transforming websites with a healthy dash of humanity. There are so many sources out there and artists crafting fantastic cartoon illustrations. Blush is a great platform to find custom character illustrations, like this great set from Vijay Verma. Cartoon illustrations offer so much in terms of creativity and making a brand more personable. We’re looking forward to seeing a growing cast of characters throughout web designs in the coming year.
10. Geometric Grids
Image from Hudson Gavin Martin
Grids are simple but have a lot of flexibility in how they can be integrated into a design. Geometric grids are gaining traction as a way to structure a layout, with a clean and bold look. This design from Hudson Gavin and Martin use blocks both for navigational elements and as well as for content. These big squares of color are fun to navigate through and work so well in keeping your attention. These black lines and borders can vary in thicknesses — often used as page dividers, specifically as grid boxes of numerous sizes. What I also love about this up-and-coming design trend is how its design elements often combine these black lines and illustrations with real photographed images, as seen in Roze Bunker’s design scheme. These images tend to be an entire photograph or a cutout. Either way, the black borders, and accents have a powerful impact on user engagement. Thanks to this captivating type of visual, website visitors almost always notice these images immediately — devoting their full attention to the messaging and experiences that the designer seeks to relay.
Ready for the biggest 2021 web design trends?
At the end of the day, the top 2021 web design trends look less like design out of a sci-fi movie and more like the actual design we would encounter in everyday life. It goes to show how increasingly common websites are as a part of our life, and the designers of 2021 are bringing them down to earth. How do you imagine the future of web design trends? Let us know your predictions in the comments below.