2021 graphic design trends focus on people

Every new year offers the opportunity to start from scratch. In terms of 2021 graphic design trends, that could mean a breath of fresh air. While last year's trends were all about the promise of a new decade, with sci-fi and futuristic technology presumably playing a big role, now it's all about people. Creative platform 99designs surveyed its global graphic design community and identified eleven 2021 trends: It's all about styles that depict the here and now.

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Abstract psychedelic art

Psychedelic art has its origins in the music and art scene of the 60s. It is associated with hallucinogens and creative experimentation against a backdrop of social upheaval. In short, it's about opening the mind. And that seems to fit today: The chaotic imagery of psychedelic art encourages freedom and a sense that designers are no longer bound by, or tied to, traditional constraints. In 2021, we can expect designs with a life of their own, both in terms of their explosive arrangements and their complexity. 

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Symbol Revival

Historically, symbols have always been about universality. Be it in the form of warnings or about marking a concern with a common symbol. The power of classic symbols lies in transcending language. Designers will use this power to create ambitious symbols of resilience, growth and empowerment. To do this, they will work in familiar symbols of power, such as goddesses, stars, and stoic lions. However, they will give the classic motifs a modern twist.

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Retro Futurism

The retro-futuristic style spectacularly shows where the sci-fi dreams of the past went wrong. It was believed that by now we would have flying cars, ray guns, and robot maids - instead we have vacuum robots. Because of its imagination and surprising optimism, retro futurism has become accepted as a visual style. Stylistically, this optimism finds expression through bright colors, computer-inspired typography, and curves - from astronaut helmets to arches and domes. Rather than harking back to an idealized past, the new Retro Futurism promises to catapult us into the good old days of the future.

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Seamless surrealism

"Surrealism is one of those art terms that people associate with the inexplicable. Images that are intentionally nonsensical. What people often forget is that the term also has the word "realism" in it. The real is intertwined with the surreal, and in no year was this more evident than 2020, when the bad fiction of a pandemic became part of our everyday lives. Graphic designers express this fear with the help of surreal collages, where images that would be normal on their own become alienating when combined. The illusion is seamless and makes it difficult to separate the images. 

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Authentic representation

Recently, more and more designers have already focused on authentic and diverse people instead of models in illustrations. In 2021, it's no longer just about inclusion, it's about celebrating those people. As part of the Black Lives Matter protests, designers have depicted, black women and men in strong and inspiring situations and poses. If design should avoid one thing, it's sameness. Highlighting different cultures, skin colors, ages, and identities provides an opportunity to create designs that, like people, are unique and diverse.

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Naughty characters

Good design can tell a story. Great design makes the story memorable. In 2021, designers will eschew abstract imagery in favor of whimsical characters. The more personality these characters embody, the more memorable they are. Concept art is the foundation of this trend, offering not only character poses, but personality in the form of a hand-drawn approach. That's why these styles can range from detailed crosshatching to the simplified shapes, lines, and colors of modern cartoons. The concepts themselves signal the return of humor and wackiness in the coming months. 

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Comics and Pop Art

The design styles of the past never really die. In 2021, designers are resurrecting the grainy colors, heavy inking and onomatopoeia of old comics. Originating in a time of simple printing, comics often used halftones or dot shading to represent colors. Today, this approach can breathe new life into modern, minimalist trends like flat design with the help of grainy texture and depth. Similarly, web designers can use tilted images and twisted shapes to create a sense of drama and movement.

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The fine arts

There has always been a distinction between art and design, but 2021 cares little for traditional boundaries. Painting gives designs surface variation and depth. They look so real, it's as if you could touch them. That's why the trend fits so well with physical products. Since art is associated with culture and class, it's useful for products that want to convey an old-world elegance - such as wine labels and cosmetics packaging. Also, painting allows for richer hues than those created on a computer, giving the designs a sense of seriousness. They invite the viewer to take a moment and reflect.

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Elements of nature

Many people are spending a lot of time indoors this year. Therefore, it's no surprise that the outdoors will show up in graphic designs. Whether this trend manifests itself in the form of leafy patterns, earthy color schemes, or illustrations of breathtaking vistas, graphic design is going green. Nature imagery is meant to convey serenity, renewal, and growth. All things we joyfully anticipate.

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Color blur

Gradients and color transitions have been in for a few years now. What's new is that designers are taking it a step further with even more blurred and gradient backgrounds. Add in a noise filter and these designs master the fine line between transience and reality. The benefit of this trend is that it allows foreground elements like bold typography or atmospheric imagery to stand out against an almost imperceptible background. This trend is a mood and we expect to see it more often in designs with a somber side. 

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Designs with social awareness

2020 was the year the world understood how much it needed to change. From healthcare and environmental awareness to Black Lives Matter and pandemic preparedness, it became obvious how many challenges we face. The good news is that this conflict may just be at a turning point if everyone does their part. With this in mind, designers around the world are rising to the challenge of using their talents for the betterment of their community. We've seen this with the rise of creative handlettering that conveys unity, accountability, and advice and comes across as protest art. It shows up in illustrations that personalize the wearing of masks. Whether it's through community service or personal design projects, 2021 will be a year where design gets involved.

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As the start of a new decade, 2020 may have turned out to be a disappointment. Graphic designers are willing to turn the tide in their very own way. From tragedy, bold characters are emerging. Out of self-isolation, designers bring us closer to nature. And out of obscurity, they give us symbols of freedom of expression. 

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