We’re getting closer to the end of 2020 (collective sigh of relief), so it’s the perfect time to look toward the future to see what design trends will be taking the tech world by storm in 2021.
Spoiler alert: retro is new again.
It’s not that surprising. Think back to your favorite sci-fi books or movies. We always knew that 2020 was always going to be a special year – although we might have missed the mark on just what made it special. Nevertheless, it makes sense that in the most futuristic year, we’ve decided to look backwards, to the design trends that first inspired us to dream about what the year 2020 might hold.
While not true maximalism, this trend seems to be a reaction to the minimalism that has been normalized since Apple’s iconic, ultra clean aesthetic took the world by storm in the early 2010s. With more and more digital experiences looking the same, brands are pushing back in order to stand out.
Maximalism says “more is more” and we’re seeing this deference toward brighter colors and bolder fonts popping up as brands fight for attention in the digital space. Robinhood’s recent redesign is an example of brand maximalism balanced with UI minimalism. They’ve made bold choices in regard to their brand elements, opting for ultra-saturated hues and vivid color combinations that are reminiscent of the ‘80s, but keeping these color punches very focused with limited distractions. Love it or hate it, it definitely gets your attention!
Sure, you already knew about gradients. But it bears mentioning again, as gradients were ranked one of the most mentioned design themes by Awwwards. This is a trend that has proven that it’s not going anywhere – and it’s growing.
This year, we’re seeing more intricate, multi-color gradients. One of my favorites is from Stripe, with added animation to make the effect even fresher and more engaging. Gradients have been appearing in buttons, hovers, headlines and more. Keep an eye out for this trend to keep popping up in more unexpected places – and with animation.
Scrolling effects walk that fine line between enhancing user experience and making me want to chuck my mouse at the wall.
Luckily, there’s a new class of scrolling effects that are both clean and engaging and make me want to re-scroll through a section to experience it again – basically, interactive gold. These new effects don't just move up and down, but side to side, diagonally, and every which way.
Here’s a simple but effective example from Asana, which combines what would normally be a three-panel slider or tabbed box into a fun scrolling opportunity. The beauty here is the simplicity of the action – it’s interactive enough to delight, but clean enough that I’m not distracted from the message.
And here’s another example from one of my favorite brands, Pitch. While also functional, their use of scrolling effects has the added bonus of being a “surprise and delight” moment. The first time I visited their site, it was such a fun experience that I immediately remembered them – it was a visceral response that is basically the holy grail of all brands and designers.
This new wave of scrolling effects brings the wonder back to the web experience – just remember not to overdo it.
Let’s face it: at the end of the day, all tech websites sell digital products that live on flat, rectangular screens. There’s not much that can be done about the container when showing off a product’s interface, but that hasn’t stopped brands from finding new and interesting ways to display screens on screens.
Simplified UI isn’t a new thing, but it’s still a very effective way to show your product or highlight a specific functionality without bogging viewers down in unnecessary details. Brands have been finding creative ways to punch up their designs so they hover somewhere between simplified UI and illustration (hence, stylized UI), with animation adding that extra layer of interactivity.
The first thing you’ll see when you head to Typeform is an animation that takes you through their product – but it’s not an exact replica of the in-product interface. They’ve simplified and stylized the experience so you are able to understand the broad strokes of what it’s like to use Typeform, without sitting through a literal tutorial.
Figma has taken this idea to the next level – their site is a combination of the literal in-product experience and highly stylized animations that look nothing like the actual UI, but are equally effective because they focus the user on the key functional pieces that the brand is trying to highlight.
Yup, you knew this one was coming. But 2020 has really been the year of interactive design, à la animation and micro-interactions (and scrolling effects, but we already talked about those), and it’s a trend that’s only going to pick up in the coming year.
The beauty of interactive design is in its simplicity. No one wants to scroll through a website where every module is an explosive interactive experience – at that point, you’re just showing off. Like Felix Felicis, interactive design is most effective when consumed sparingly. But once you’ve had a taste, it unlocks a world of possibilities.
Almost every trend in this article has included an example of interactive design, so I won’t belabor the point. But consider what areas on your website could benefit from adding a little interactivity – or any of the points discussed above. Not for the sake of being trendy, but to add value to your user experience and to your brand. Whether it’s to help users better navigate your site, or to better explain your product – trends can be very effective ways to communicate your brand and help your business achieve its goals.
Happy trending! You can read more from me about how to manage an empowered, productive design team.