Design like it’s 2021
Close-up of part of an oil painting by fine artist, Helen Bayley.

Looking back at design trends over the years, it’s easy to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And boy, did things ever change in 2020. For many of us, the past twelve months have felt more like 12 years. So as we begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel, let’s take a look at what we can expect in 2021. You may recognize a few familiar trends from last year’s blog, but somehow this year they seem to take on a whole new meaning.

Clean Design

It’s no coincidence that minimalism is at the top of the list for this year’s design trends. With so much information overload including political, social and pandemic-related news blowing up the Internet—not to mention home school lesson plans and social posts, emails and text messaging hitting an all-time high, we all could benefit from a little visual breathing room. Clean, uncluttered design provides the break we so desperately need. With marketing opportunities shifting from in-person to digital, digital creative has to work extra hard to engage audiences and be easily understood.


Illustrative design allows us to dream, to imagine and to suspend reality—even if for just a few minutes. It opens up possibilities that may not exist in the real world. And now more than ever, as large photoshoots have been put on hold due to social distancing and travel restrictions, designers are relying more on stock and custom illustrations to tell their stories.

Natural Designs and Imagery

While representing the natural environment in design is nothing new, experts believe it will hold even more value this year as many of us have remained indoors and are longing to reconnect with nature in any way we can. Earthy tones, muted colors, leafy shapes and nature-inspired textures and imagery are expected to continue their trend in online, print and packaging designs.

Basic Shapes

With all the chaos and uncertainty of 2020, many consumers just want to go back to the basics. It doesn’t get any more basic than simple geometric shapes. Shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles and triangles evoke a sense of comfort, simplicity and nostalgia. Designers are answering the call by using them in logos, infographics, websites and as design elements alone and in combination with each other or as part of 3-D designs.

Muted Palettes

With the world being in a constant state of chaos over the past twelve months, designers are taking the new year as an opportunity to create a calmer, gentler experience. This means trading in the bold color trends of last year for pastels and desaturated colors. These softer palettes whisper instead of yell, providing a sense of safety and serenity that is long overdue.

A Pop of Color (or two)

One design element that has always been used to provide inspiration is color. Color trends are usually a reflection of the times, inspired by culture, politics, nature, technology, and yes, even a worldwide pandemic. This year’s trend is no exception. In fact, Pantone has announced not one, but two colors of the year for 2021. And after the year we’ve had, we deserve all the color we can get.

First, Pantone Ultimate Gray 17-5014, represents strength, fortitude and stability. Think of a gigantic, heavy rock we can all lean on. A warm blanket on a cold, cloudy day. Ultimate Gray provides the security and reliability, we’ve been longing for.

The second color, Illuminating 13-0647, provides a bright and cheery contrast. This bright yellow hue represents optimism, hope and sunny days—symbolic of coming out of the darkness of 2020 and looking forward to the year ahead.

Together Ultimate Gray and Illuminating show how two seemingly different things can come together to support each other and inspire others.

The Bottom Line

While most of the world couldn’t say goodbye to 2020 fast enough, many would agree the year did inspire innovation, creativity and many great design trends that will continue throughout 2021 and possibly beyond. We’ll have to wait until next year to see which trends stick around and which take their place in the design retirement community along with beveled edges and drop shadows.