2021: New Year, New Design Trends

Wow, what a year it’s been.

2020 has been a rough one and the design world has had to adapt along with everything (and everyone) else.

So, let’s revisit my graphic design predictions for 2020, and then see where I think we’re headed for 2021.

For 2020, I figured that monochromatic layouts would be popular.


With the no-nonsense vibe that they provide, I expected to see monochromatic layouts used widely, particularly within financial industry communications. And while that’s proven to be accurate, it seems that there hasn’t been a greater trend toward this like I thought there would be.

I was certain we’d see more metallic inks and papers.


While metallic inks and papers were very much in play, it seems that they’ve also been viewed as a bit of an unnecessary luxury in an unpredictable year.

All signs pointed to dark, neutral color palettes.


Earthy tones like greys, browns, and greens have been used across the board in 2020, though perhaps not as much in tandem with the metallic inks mentioned above.

I envisioned heavy typefaces reigning supreme.


I predicted that heavy “humanist” typefaces, with small x-heights, low contrast between strokes, and tight kerning and tracking would prove to be popular. And while we’ve seen some of this, it’s not made quite the impact I expected it to.

I wanted graphic designers to be seen as strategic articulators.


I was starting to see graphic designers and illustrators being brought in earlier in the process, to both help think through and articulate concepts and ideas. In my own experience, this has continued to be true and then some.

And, what’s in store, graphic design-wise, in the new year?

Complex line drawings

The simple line drawings of the past couple of years are evolving into more complicated and narrative illustrations, and, there’s been a huge push toward hybrid illustrative infographics as well. Line drawings combined with photographs, videos, and interactive features should also prove to be big in the new year.

Embedded video

As COVID-19 has accelerated the move away from in-person sales pitches and meetings, we’ve all been looking for alternative ways of communicating with clients and prospects. Firms like Adobe and Altru have made it easy to record video clips via cell phone camera, which are then embedded in layouts “published” online and presented via URL. These videos are a convenient way to show team personalities and express corporate culture without the need to violate social-distancing norms.

Design inspired by nature

When times are tough it’s only “natural” that we look to nature. Think plants, animals, and other organic elements, often presented in a traditional way. Nature-inspired design is the reactionary comfort food of graphic design and I predict we’ll see a lot of it in 2020.

Progressive, risk-taking, optimistic design

When things get chaotic, designers tend to take one of two paths, and, if it’s not a comfort based path like the one described above, it’s a risk-taking one. We figure that all bets are off, there’s nothing to lose, and it can’t hurt to take a chance or two. Sometimes these ideas stick and sometimes they don’t, but it’s how design innovation occurs.

Three-dimensional type and design elements

Remember those words in bubble type you scribbled on the back of your wire-bound notebooks in middle-school? You might not have realized it, but you were laying the groundwork for a reassuring and distantly familiar typographical style that I think will continue to pick up steam in 2020. What started as a distinctly nostalgic trend is now one that even corporate designers don’t think twice about utilizing. We’re always looking for the next new thing, and, this new thing just happens to be an old thing.

Voxel-based design

You almost certainly know what it looks like, even if you don’t know what it’s called. A voxel is a unit of visual information that defines a point in a three-dimensional space. Pixels presented in 3D describes it pretty well, too. LEGO has been presenting information like this for years in their instruction booklets, and, games like Minecraft have evolved the style further. In fact, the technique has become so ubiquitous that it’s become a kind of shorthand for illustration that speaks to kids and young adults. There is an honesty in the construction of voxel-based design and I expect that we’ll see a lot more of it in the new year.

And those are my graphic design predictions for 2021. Here’s hoping that it proves to be a better year in every way!

ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.