Design for the web is always changing and evolving.
That might give you the impression that website trends are unpredictable, but in fact, most design trends rise organically as priorities, users and the web itself change and grow.
While there are some fundamental principles of good web design, for 2021 we're already seeing the next phase of design trends taking off. And many of these popular web design features are not due to the whims of digital agencies, but driven by user interactions.
So we're taking a look at some of the top graphic design trends for 2021 and exploring why they're on the rise.
From conceptual design styles to layouts and structures, design styles can mean a lot of different things. Two of the big trends in design style for 2021 are dark design and asymmetry, but probably the most significant trend is the use of material design.
It might feel like bright websites with lots of white space (literally) have been a staple of popular website design for the last few years, but now it's dark design that's rapidly rising in popularity.
Dark mode is where a design can be switched from a white or light background to a dark one.
This is very much driven by web app, system and software design where users have been requesting dark mode versions for better usability.
Now, not a lot of websites are going to enable users to switch between light and dark designs, the way that software and apps can allow. But now more and more designers are choosing dark design styles for their websites, reflecting the trend in app design.
Dark design has unique challenges, particularly when it comes to colour palettes, and it's essential that any dark website or app passes accessibility checks for colour contrast (more on that later!).
Perfect balance is something that digital designers often demand, but slowly that's giving way to asymmetrical layouts that bring a more creative, less constrictive flow to a website.
That's not to say that the grid is dead! But designers are becoming more open to a visual style that draws the eye organically through a site and using creative layouts that aren't restricted to a classic grid layout.
Material Design and Material UI
Material design is a system created by Google to help designers and developers create intuitive, adaptable web products that have a consistent user experience across all devices and browsers.
Its look is inspired by the real world, from the paper textures of printed materials to how real-life products cast shadows and reflect light.
This framework is backed up by a repository called Material UI, where you can access or create react components you can use to build your product, so you can make sure there's a consistent experience for your user.
You can stick to the instantly recognisable material design styles as established by Google, or you can create your own using their framework.
This approach to design is becoming widely used by companies from Nasa to Netflix, and is particularly useful if you are creating a prototype or MVP for a website or app.
So in 2021, expect to see more and more products using the standard material design styles to create modern looking apps and websites with great UI and UX.
Everyone knows that imagery can make or break a great design.
For 2021 we're already seeing some new trends emerging that move away from stock and realistic photography, making way for illustration, graphics and heavily stylised pictures.
Realistic photography has always played a big part in modern web design. Whether clients have opted for stock images, taken their own or used a photographer, the vast majority of pictures have been based in realism.
But now we're seeing more sites moving away from this style, in favour of using sketch style illustrations and line art.
Sometimes these are used as the only image style on site, sometimes they're part of the background elements, and sometimes they're used alongside and even over realistic photography.
This trend enables designers to change up ordinary images, breathing new life into them and making them feel unique.
With dark design coming through as one of the top 2021 design trends, we're seeing some complementary colour styles coming through, making an impact not just on websites, but also in logo design.
Black & white
Keeping colours to simple black and white gives a website a classy look and feel.
This colour style is becoming more popular, particularly on sites that use a wide range of colour images, such as portfolio, art or design websites.
The black and white website allows the colours of individual images to really stand out, a great style if you want users to focus on your work.
The use of bright or neon colours is also gaining traction because of dark website design.
Using luminescent colours on a black background is another way of bringing brightness into a dark design, letting images or elements really stand out.
For years now, banners have been the most significant element of homepage design. But in 2021 we're expecting a big shift from classic large image headers, to stripped down, text only headers.
Text only banners
Everyone knows how significant page speed is to your site's ranking, but now Google is factoring in how long it takes to load the largest element on your site.
And for the vast majority of websites, that's your header.
So in 2021, expect to see more and more websites moving away from big header images, and replacing them with oversize text headers instead.
This dramatically brings down the loading speed of your website and improves your SEO. Not to mention that it pushes the focus back onto your messaging, which can often be more useful for users.
Of course, web design trends aren't just about colours, text and images, there's also a whole treasure trove of features that can be woven into a design.
Microinteractions are the small, subtle animations and changes that happen when a user does something on your site.
They can be a special animation as someone completes a form, a transition in a gallery, or maybe movement that happens as you scroll.
Great microinteractions improve the user experience functionally and emotionally, by guiding users to perform certain actions on the site, but also by making those actions much more enjoyable and memorable.
While microinteractions are the sexy side of design, accessibility is often thought of as purely functional.
But it's a common mistake to assume that an accessible website can't also be beautiful and creative. You just need to ensure that you're thinking of your users with disabilities, alongside those without.
In the last few years accessibility has changed from being an additional feature to a necessity.
Whilst the most creative sites usually come from giving your agency free rein, many clients out there still want direct control of their website. This can be tricky to achieve without resorting to restrictive templates, bloaty platforms, or having to create a whole website builder system.
That's where modular design comes in.
With a modular design, we create a series of different elements, layouts and sections, that can be put together in a variety of ways.
It's the perfect balance for a client who wants and needs a bespoke design, but also knows they want the freedom to expand their site when they need to.
Bang on trend
We hope this has given you some inspiration for how to keep your web design fresh over the coming year. While web design styles and trends are ever-evolving, it's important to keep the key web design principles in mind and put your audience and their experience at the heart of your design.
If you're looking to create a website, product or app that steals the show in 2021 (and beyond), we'd love to hear from you.