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How graphic design trends are changing for 2021

Experts have predicted how graphic design trends will change next year and there are some interesting surprises. Prepare for a lot more psychedelic abstraction.

It’s never been a better or more important time to be a graphic designer.

Our constant engagement with social media and digital content means things are always changing, and effective visual design can help spread significant awareness of brands, personal projects, and even activist movements like Black Lives Matter. It can be hard to stay ahead of the curve with what’s effective though, especially in a turbulent year of lockdowns and political disruption that’s pushed more of us to become reliant on our online news feeds than ever before.

Luckily, there are a few trends that can help predict what we’re in store for as we move closer to 2021, whether it be aesthetic changes or evolving purposes of digital content. If you’re a budding designer you may want to give these a look over to help give you an edge over the competition, though we can’t promise you’ll be the next social media guru overnight. It takes work, of course.

Expect more trippy psychedelic designs for music and start ups

Back when music festivals were an actual thing, poster designs were already becoming more psychedelic and abstract, and it’s likely we’ll see this continue as live events hopefully start up again.

These designs usually include a large range of explosive colours and bright, contrasting tones, with intricate shape arrangements and detailed compositions. They’re deliberately stimulating and encourage multiple viewings, which is handy when you’re creating posters for gig line-ups that are going to be shared and studied continuously.

It’s also an oddly comforting and familiar style that’s been around since the 1960s and is still associated with trendy music events and alternative products. Useful if you’re a brand trying to appeal to edgier demographics, which explains why it’s often used for beer companies and independent festivals. Look out for more in the coming year.

Retro futurism is likely to blow up in popularity

You may have seen retro futurism on sites like Reddit. It’s very similar to styles like steampunk, combining old technology and aesthetics with futuristic design that offers a distinct and easily recognisable look. The most prominent current example is Cyberpunk 2077, which hopefully releases in a few weeks – though no guarantee on that.

Sci-fi and technology events will no doubt receive the retro futurism treatment in 2021. Similar pop culture references like Black Mirror continue to thrive in the zeitgeist and sci-fi has never been more popular. We’ll be seeing plenty of planetary looks and creations throughout the next year, and if you’re still confused, allow Key and Peele to offer up a helpful example of the retro future vibe below.

Authentic and more diverse representation across the design spectrum

This one’s more a general shift across the board rather than any one trend or style, and it’s a very important one.

2020 saw a huge effort to ramp up public awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has had ripple effects in the entertainment industry both in terms of design and representation. Stock image companies have begun to re-focus their model selection process, for example, and we’re seeing a new wave of interest in businesses, aesthetics, and looks that celebrate diversity. Hopefully we see this continue into 2021 and well beyond.

Authentic and genuine depictions of individuals from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds is hugely important and it’s vital it remains a long-term change rather than a passing trend. Activists have taken to designing merch to raise profits this year too, directly interweaving graphic art with genuine social action.

More visuals focused on nature and the outdoors

When the world’s been stuck inside for most of the year, the outdoors will suddenly look a whole lot more appealing. This is largely the reason we’re set to see more nature specific design work next year compared to 2020. We’re all about the green life and camping these days apparently.

More commercial work is likely to include leaves, flowers, and other naturalistic imagery next year. You’ll see it crop up on advertisements especially, as companies try to appeal to our urge to explore the world again and get away from indoor confinement. Here’s hoping that vaccine gets dished out soon, eh?

It’s all about sustainability and ethical consumption

Speaking of nature, sustainability will continue to dominate as an appealing marketing tool in 2021 and throughout this decade. There is a very real issue of greenwashing, whereby companies create a false pretence of being environmentally conscious for positive PR or marketing purposes, but as independent brands pop up more frequently, home-grown ethical consumption is becoming the name of the game.

Check out these pieces by design company Horse for a sustainable beer brand, for example. The focus is entirely on animals and sustainability, emphasising the socially responsible production that Good Things Brewing uses for its products. Expect lots more of this next year.

Those are the biggest design trends we reckon will make the biggest splash in 2021. Any you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below, and you can check out more on next year’s graphic design ideas here.