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10 Big Graphic Design Trends for 2021: From Organic Design to Organized Chaos

What will be the hottest design trends of 2021? Ranging from natural to nostalgic, here are the styles we’re predicting for the year ahead.

Posted 17 Dec 2020
Graphic Design Trends 2021

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there are certain things that we can never predict. This year, the COVID-19 global pandemic has had a massive impact on all of our lives – the design industry and design trends included.

With many people socially distancing, pivoting their businesses to digital, working from home, or being directly affected by the virus itself, there’s definitely been a big shift in the type of visual content being consumed and created. But as a result, plenty of new design trends and techniques have emerged, with many pushing onwards and upwards into 2021. 

Now, with the new year just around the corner, a fresh start has never been more welcome. And while there will always be certain elements of graphic design that are here to stay, keeping up with the latest design trends is key to remaining ahead of the creative curve. 

What’s Trending in Graphic Design?

So, what will be the hottest design trends of 2021? Ranging from organic design to the organized chaos of anti-design, here are the 10 biggest design trends we predict will make a big impact in 2021…

01. Organic Design

Organic Design - Tea @ Ei8ht o'clock Branding
Tea @ Ei8ht Branding

Influenced by the increased focus on sustainability and environmentalism throughout 2020, the organic design trend has shown no signs of slowing down. It’s deeply rooted in our connection with the world around us, and is all about using natural, tactile elements – such as organic textures, natural shapes, botanicals and neutral colors – to evoke the feeling, sight, and sounds of nature.

What is Organic Design?

Organic design is a trend that’s now widely used across various areas of design – including fashion, product design, interior design and graphic design. And visuals incorporating and inspired by mother nature are pegged to be one of the biggest design trends of 2021. 

Neutral colors have become particularly popular, as they directly replicate our environment’s natural palette. Alongside soft browns, beige and white, faded pinks, blues, and greens can be great additions to a neutral color palette, either used alone or paired with brighter colors to make them pop. 

Earth Tones Collection

A close relative of organic design, the “Cottagecore” trend emerged amid the global lockdowns of 2020 and is set to continue into 2021.

What is a Cottagecore Aesthetic?

Cottagecore is an aesthetic that celebrates rural life, crafts and skills such as foraging, baking, and pottery. Cottagecore emphasizes the simple, pastoral life as an escape from the dangers of the modern world, fetishizing the wholesome purity of nature and the outdoors. While starting out as a lifestyle and interior design trend, cottagecore is now quickly seeping into design – embraced by luxury brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Parisian designer Jacquemus

“The Cottagecore aesthetic has been around for a few years, but in 2020 it grew in popularity as many of us imagined what it would be like to be in a simpler, cozier time and place,” says Envato Design Specialist, Kate McInnes.

“We fell in love with “the strawberry dress”, watched videos of people foraging for wild mushrooms and crafted perfect miniature worlds in Animal Crossing New Horizons. As the seasons have changed, so has Cottagecore, and as we move into Winter 2021 expect to see cozy knitting projects, warm mugs of cocoa with cinnamon quills and dreamy winter country landscapes.”

02. DIY Aesthetic

ARAMI CARILÓ Real Estate Branding
Real Estate Branding by ARAMI CARILÓ

Over the last few years, digital illustration, digital watercolor, and other artistic styles have driven an increase in hand drawn and handmade designs, with many designers now choosing to take their work back to basics. And as organic design continues to grow in popularity, we’re also seeing more artists and designers dabble in arts and crafts to inspire their digital creations – leading to the rise of the super trendy DIY aesthetic. 

How to Create a DIY Aesthetic

Many DIY designers are now experimenting with different materials and mediums – including raw illustration, natural textures such as wood, paper and twine, as well as collage and mixed mediums. This can be seen in this collage-inspired Real Estate Branding by ARAMI CARILÓ, as well as this Naples illustration by P. Willis and this crafty interpretation of 36 Days of Type by Marlena Stawarz.

Watercolor Collection

Featuring a raw, unpolished, hand-crafted style, the DIY design trend is perfect for evoking a personalised and homemade feel. And with many people searching for a greater sense of connection and community in these times of uncertainty, we’ll likely see this design trend grow in 2021. 

To adapt your tactile style digitally, you can recreate many arts and crafts effects with Photoshop Actions and Brushes, which work particularly well for invitations, stationery, mockups, and logo design.

“The DIY aesthetic has to be one of my faves, and it’s become increasingly popular as brand and customer preferences shift towards supporting local and conscious consumption,” says Envato Lead Digital Designer, Sophie Dunn. “The typically earthy, natural, organic tones and materials this aesthetic is known for has a way of making you feel you’re supporting the greater good, and embracing the beauties and perfect imperfections of human craft.”

03. Nostalgia Design

Mona Lisa pop art portrait
Mona Lisa Pop Art Portrait by Mr Richi Barba

Since making a comeback in 2019, the retro graphic design trend has dominated the design space, popping up everywhere from industrial, interior and graphic design to social media and pop culture. But throughout 2020, the resurgence of retro has evolved into what we call the ‘nostalgia design trend’. 

Why is Nostalgia So Powerful?

Instead of anticipating the next great thing, nostalgia design and marketing focuses on taking things we already know and love, and using the familiarity of the old to sell the innovation of the new. The design equivalent of comfort food, nostalgia has been found to be a powerful psychological tool that gives our lives a feeling of meaning and purpose, evoking those warm fuzzy feelings that bring us happiness and comfort.

The nostalgia design style has been adopted by independent designers such as friend of Envato Peppy Colours, as well as big brands like Nike, Pepsi, Gucci, and it has become an incredibly valuable tool over the past year, as the world navigated unpredictable and unprecedented times

As a result, many graphic designers have been resurrecting classic and nostalgic design styles in their work. Some are experimenting with the grainy colors, and heavy lines of vintage comics and modern pop art, as well as the psychedelic aesthetic iconic of the 60s era. Others are dabbling in the bold colors and free-form typography of the 70s, or exploring the neon and cyberpunk styles that defined the 80s

Plenty of 90’s design trends are also back in full force, such as grunge, rave, cartoons and iconic 90s pop-culture. Even the noughties are making a comeback, with the revival of Y2K tastes and Big Sur Icons. 

“2020’s grunge draws inspiration from zine art of the 90’s and puts it through a digital lens,” says Envato Design Specialist Kate McInnes. “We had computers in the 90’s but it wasn’t a big part of the aesthetic, a lot of the zine art was photocopies and collage. While computer graphics is the easiest way to create designs in this style, it’s a lot of fun to do it the old way too!”

90s Design Trends Collection

Kate also predicts a resurgence of realistic, Big Sur icons: “Big Sur Icons will be Skeuomorphic icon design for a new era. Apple MacOS 11 is here and it’s brought back realistic icon rendering. For those of us that created icons back in the days of hyper realistic icon design, this is great news. The old rendering techniques are finally coming out of retirement! Icon designers on Twitter and Dribbble are excited by the news and have been posting their own take on this new icon style with bright, joyful, bouncy results.” 

No matter which decade is your jam, there’s no denying that nostalgia design is back in a big way – and it isn’t going anywhere in 2021! 

04. Illustration

The explosion of digital art has seen an abundance of new and exciting illustration styles blossoming online. While illustration is by no means a new trend, many businesses and creators are now including digital illustrations and hand-drawn elements in their websites, and branding.

In a digital world, hand-drawn illustrations can add a unique, memorable and personal aspect to any design. In particular, illustration styles such as 3D illustration, flat design, minimal hand-drawn sketches and “odd bodies” will continue to leave their mark on our digital lives in 2021. 

How Do We Use Illustrations?

Pairing hand-drawn features and illustrations with more modern design elements such as precise lines, bold colors, geometric 3D shapes or photographs can also make for incredibly engaging designs.

“We’ve seen a rise in all things handmade, organic and authentic in recent years, so it’s not surprising that illustrations are trending in the same direction,” explains Envato Digital Designer Camilla Anderson.

“Hand-drawn or painted illustrations are becoming sketchier and rougher, and digital illustrations are becoming grainier, more textured and more organic in their shape. By celebrating these ‘imperfections’ in their design style, brands can seem more relatable and authentic to their customers.”

05. Gold & Jewel Tones

Harvey Nichols | Retouch
Harvey Nichols | Retouch

As Envato’s most popular color of the year for three years running, gold still reigns supreme as the Queen of precious metals. And while it’s growth is slightly declining – perhaps due to the difficult economic times many have been facing – it’s still set to be one of the hottest colors of 2021.

Why is Gold So Popular?

As a design element, gold is incredibly versatile. It can be used in variations of metallic, matte, shiny, sparkly or embossed, and looks great whether used as an accent, to designs absolutely dripping in gold. 

&Walsh – Jay Z’s X Barneys Fashion Line

As seen in Harvey Nichols’ project ‘Retouch’ and &Walsh’s Jay Z X Barneys Luxury Fashion Line, gold can lend a luxurious, high-end feel to any project. It can also be used alongside other contrasting textures, colors and materials – such as neutrals, pastels and organic textures – to give it a more muted and modern edge. 

“A touch of gold can elevate your brand or project instantly,” says Sophie. “Use it sparingly in finer details of your artwork to give a delicate, premium look. Muted golds (like Rose Gold) are perfect for adding a subtle touch of class and texture, while shinier, brassy golds are great for highlighting and illuminating.”

In the same vein, jewel tones are set to become a big trend in 2021.

What Are Jewel Tones?

Featuring deep, rich colors that produce an effortlessly luxurious aesthetic, jewel tones are a palette of colors inspired by precious and semi-precious gemstones, such as Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald. Typically, jewel tones are deep and slightly muted with a high color saturation, making them especially dynamic for graphic design, product design and interior design. 

Jewel Tones Collection

Despite the current economic, climate and global crises of 2020, jewel colors have increased in popularity among Envato customers over the last 12 months, including Azure, Amber, Amethyst, Sapphire and Jade. 

To integrate luxurious elements such as gold and jewel tones into your next design, check out this Connected – Landing Page by cerpow, these Silver & Gold Foil Textures by M-e-f, this Amethyst crystal druse by Edalin, or these Lava Abstract Backgrounds Part. 2 by MotionMediaGroup on Envato Elements.

06. Abstract Futurism

Local Doctor | Design Trends

From the sci-fi aesthetic of CyberPunk to the super modern, minimalist style of ergonomic design, futurism has always been a popular visual style. Usually featuring advanced technology and an optimistic outlook, futurism is centred around the distant unknown – making it one of the most creative and imaginative design themes. 

Combining abstract and futuristic elements such as geometric design, 3D shapes, floating objects, bright colors, metallics, surrealism and optical illusions, ‘Abstract Futurism’ is a new ultra-modern and experimental form of futuristic design – as well as a trend expected to take over in 2021. 

A style first popularized by the suspended, rotating movement often used in tech commercials, throughout 2020 designers started combining floating objects with geometric elements and bright colors. Now, this style has evolved to include metallic textures, chaotic color combos, and surreal, abstract scenes to create a truly mesmerizing and unique new design trend – as seen in the unique work of Grigori Shevtsov and Local Doctor.

Floating Objects Collection

“Abstract futurism for me is the previous years’ trend of vaporwave bleeding into minimalism,” explains Kate. “Like other trends of 2020, abstract futurism evokes a calm soothing atmosphere and an escape from reality. My long term prediction is that the rainbow chrome and surreal scenes will move towards a reimagining of the Y2k futuristic aesthetic.”

07. Organized Chaos

Cyber Punk Collage by Henry Flores

2020 has been one chaotic year. But if it has taught us anything, it’s to throw all rules and expectations out the window and find comfort in the chaos. The ‘Organized Chaos’ design trend is about doing just that: combining the chaos of anti-design with the organized structure of minimalism, and finding method in the madness. 

What Is Anti-Design?

Often described as ‘ugly’, the anti design movement of 2020 was all about embracing the unattractive in protest of the traditional standards of ‘good’ design. Featuring exaggeration, distorted text, layering, clashing colors and chaotic collage, the bizarre yet popular world of anti-design is certainly an acquired taste. However, due to the global crisis and the tribulations it has brought with it, people are now craving a calmer style of design moving into 2021. 

While brutalism and anti-design are still current, we predict that designers will leave the brutal ugliness behind, and take elements of these chaotic styles – such as asymmetrical layouts, collage, layering and experimental typography – and integrate them with more simplistic styles such as minimalism, white space and monochromatic color palettes

Seen in the chaotic yet organized website designs of Dutch brand Roze Bunker, as well as this Cyber Punk Collage by Henry Flores, this trend is all about compartmentalizing the chaos and contrasting it with space and structure.

“The anti-design style has been a great outlet this year for designers to experiment and blow off steam in what’s been a very turbulent year,” Camilla reveals. “It also came off the back of years of design becoming more and more minimal, and for some, just plain boring. I don’t think this phase of experimentation is over just yet, but with many brands feeling the effects of the global pandemic, I think we can expect to see somewhat more conservative designs moving forward.”

08. Symbols & Symbolism

Metamorphosis Symbols by Bogdan Katsuba & Ophiuchus Design

Dating back thousands of years, symbols and symbolism have always been about exploring connection and universality. So it’s no surprise that, throughout one of the most turbulent years in history, many designers have turned to symbolism to create a sense of community and oneness.  

As a result, we’ve begun to see more symbols and symbolic visuals emerging in design throughout 2020 – such as in this project Metamorphosis Symbols by Bogdan Katsuba & Ophiuchus Design or this symbolic piece by Australian illustrator Frances Cannon. This is a design trend we expect to grow in 2021 as more designers use symbols to emphasize resilience, growth and empowerment.

What are Some Common Symbols in Design?

Over the last few years, there’s been an increased interest in mystical, other-worldly design trends such as spirituality, witchcraft, magic and cosmic design, which has led to the increased use of symbolism in design. Spanning the realms of astrology, psychology, ideology, and theology, the power of symbols is their ability to transcend language and represent a shared understanding of experience.

Mystic Collection

And many designers are now creatively incorporating symbols of power, love and hope into their designs  – such as religious symbols, spiritual motifs, the zodiac, nature and the cosmos. 

“I’ve seen a lot of tarot illustrations this year,” reveals Kate. “Tarot decks don’t have a set style which allows for creative freedom while the symbolism of each card provides a framework to work within. Illustrating a set of tarot cards would be a fun project to work on, which is why I think illustrators are taking on this creative challenge.”

We predict this increased use of symbolism to continue to trend in 2021, as we all strive to create a greater sense of connection, hope and community. 
To integrate more symbolism into your designs, check out these White Design Elements Illustrations by helga_helga, these Zodiac Signs by Webvilla, and this Secret symbols vector logo icon set by NassyArt.

09. Diversity & Representation

Uber Women’s Safety Guidelines by xoana herrera

With the increased focus on social, political and environmental issues across the world in 2020, increased diversity and representation in design will be a significant focus in 2021 and beyond.

Why is Diversity important in Design? 

In response to many of the big social movements throughout 2020 – such as Black Lives Matter, mental health, feminism, body positivity, LGBTQI+ rights and more – we saw an increased demand for images that illustrated an inclusive and diverse society, with key search terms driving content around diversity, inclusivity, and mental health awareness. 

Consequently, many designers are now stepping up their game and making more of an effort to include a wider, more diverse range of people and issues in their work – such as in these Uber Women’s Safety Guidelines by xoana herrera and this diverse illustration by @haleydrewthis.

3D illustrator and Envato Elements author Amrit Pal Singh is also a big advocate for increased diversity in design, making it a big point to focus on individuality and representation in his work. 

“Illustrations and character design over the years have really established wrong standards of beauty and importance. Almond-eyes, fair skin, and particular body types; we have grown up watching cartoons that establish these biases,” says Amrit. “As creators and artists, it’s our duty to fix that. We need to consciously think about representation at every stage. I’m always trying to make my work more diverse and inclusive.” 

Whether it be through representing people of all races, backgrounds, body types, religious beliefs and sexual orientations, destigmatizing mental health, or even standing up for social, political and environmental issues and creating for a greater cause, 2021 is likely to be a pivotal year for increased diversity in design. 

“Designers and marketers have such a huge opportunity to help change perception by influencing the images we see in our everyday lives, especially when it comes to diversity, body positivity, gender stereotypes, and the LGBTIQ+ community,” explains Camilla. “By making a considered effort to show a wide and diverse range of people in the content we put out into the world, we help to normalize this representation and challenge perceptions.”

10. Serif Fonts

Modern Serif Font by Design Studio

Throughout 2020, we’ve been seeing a resurgence of unique and ornate serif fonts in graphic design. In contrast to the minimalist sans-serif trends that have been super popular over the past few years, 2021 font trends seem to be going in a new direction, with many designers embracing the return of the serif. 

What Is a Serif Font?

Simply put, serifs are the little “handles” attached to the edges of letters in a piece of typography. Dating back to the 15th century, serifs have been traditionally seen as old-fashioned and fancy, but a rebirth of unique and modernized serif fonts is quickly taking hold in the graphic design industry.

While a little harder on the eyes, serif fonts are known to evoke a sense of credibility and trustworthiness – perhaps due to their traditional roots. And in these uncertain times, people are craving that trust and stability more than ever.

This trend is all about balancing elegance and strength to provide a sophisticated first impression — while still being easy to read. Already adopted by Mailchimp, Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent, as well as Ellevest – a female-founded investment app for women – we think that serif fonts will definitely make their way back into the spotlight in the new year.  

Kate advises: “I remember adding 70’s serif fonts to our 2020 trend predictions report, and now they’re everywhere, even in advertising for beer! I think that the 70’s style serifs will hold on in 2021, but I don’t see much more growth without it becoming a design meme. My take is that you can stick with serif, but look to other, less-used styles just to be safe.”

We hope you enjoyed our Design Trends Predictions for 2021. If you want more where that came from, check out our Web Design Trends 2021, Marketing Trends 2021, Social Media Trends Predictions for 2021 as well as our Creative Trends Predictions for 2021.

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