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15 Top Design Trends: 2021/2022 Data, Style & Creative Direction

by Arthur Zuckerman

Sometimes a design trend is sparked by a single stroke of innovation catching everyone’s imagination. Apple’s iMac had this moment following its rollout in the late ’90s. Its translucent colors sparked a craze among brands and even bland items as commodified as candy-colored spatulas.

But in most cases, design trends are subtle in the making and with less dramatic flair. Take this year’s design trends; many of them are a revival of what has been proven and tested in the past. Yet, this is not a case of repurposing something for lack of inspiration but finding a new purpose for the designs.

In the trends below, you will find a common thread that pulls them towards a mutual objective. Designs are more integrated with function, more attuned with the environment, and, to an extent, they are the visualized truths of the socio-economic state we are in today. In this article, you will see how designers respond to society’s call for a more sustainable, healthy, less cluttered lifestyle.

design trends

Minimalism is Stronger Than Ever

Minimalism is an old art movement that is finding its way again into the design world. Popularized in the ’60s and ’70s by artists such as Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, and Anne Truitt, minimalism is a protest statement against modernism, mainly. 

But today’s minimalism trend goes beyond an art expression and more of a lifestyle choice and even a philosophy for many people burnt out by over cluttering globalized consumerism. It is life imitating art, where art shapes our preferences and, ultimately, the way we live. 

Today’s minimalism is gaining new traction across interior design, industrial design, fashion, and entertainment. Who better represents this newfound love with minimalism than Marie Kondo, host of the popular Netflix series Tidy Up based on her popular book. Although she talks about the physical decluttering of one’s space, her minimalism hinges on a “spark of joy,” tugging at our heartstrings her way to set our priorities right. 

This overarching design philosophy is not lost to businesses that understand consumer burnout.  We’ll be seeing more products designed around white spaces to give customers drowning in information overload more breathing room, so to speak. 

Creative Clash in Modern Design?

We won’t see a generation-defining design trend this year or in a couple or so years. What is happening, instead, is a reinvention of the old. That means designers have a full palette of traditional and contemporary art styles to play with. The result? A bagful of mixed nuts where simplicity seems to clash with the extravagant. 

On one end, you have the simple and sublime geometric lines and shapes stripped of any boastful elements; on the other end are bold, screaming compositions. What gives?

Well, it isn’t really a clash when one looks deeper. Designers are innovating on previous design trends and giving them a contemporary twist. What is recurring, as we’ve observed, is the trend towards an unapologetic straightforwardness whether one plays with 3D realism or flat isometric illustrations. Today’s design has to stand out in a world awash in real and digital noise, and designers have to be clear with their message from the get-go. Often, that means combining contrasting elements.

Some of the previous design trends we’re seeing a comeback are:

3D Realism Trend

No surprise here. We have more powerful computers now run by more robust software. Designers are eager to get their hands wet with these technologies. Toy Story is embarrassingly flat and glossy compared with today’s AI-rendered worlds with realistic depth and texture. 

Today’s 3D realism, nevertheless, does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is combined with real scenes and images to effect the perception of depth. In the same vein, designers are layering 3D realism with simple and elegant styles as our next trend.

Monochrome, Line Art Trend

We see designs rendered in monochromatic filters reinforced with outline typography. It’s mixing the 2017 and 2018 trends to come up with nostalgic and honest designs. Monochrome is popular in photos, thanks to Instagram, and we’re seeing it spill over to graphical compositions. For instance, cloud solutions like Wix and Canva have plenty of this combination style.

Typography Trend

Complementing the simplicity of monochrome and line art, artistic typography is making a comeback among designers wanting to provide a familiar flair to a simple base art. For instance, where a poster is dominated by a monochromatic palette, flashy geometric shapes provide the accent to draw attention to a particular space.

Isometric Illustrations Trend

Similar to monochrome and line art, isometric illustrations are making a strong resurgence in 2020, if, in fact, it left at all. Popularized in infographics around 2014, this style renders 3D on a 2D plane. Just like with monochrome–line art fusion, combining isometric and 3D realism is gaining traction among designers to lend simplicity to depth.

Shift Towards Natural Design

While nature as inspiration isn’t novel in design, we’ll see its evolution towards being the centerpiece of an artwork rather than relegated to the background as it used to be. Gradients, in particular, which is a favorite expression of natural light, will be used in more complex ways for depth and texture. We’re seeing more illustrations rendered in gradients and designed awash in organic-lit color filters that evoke nature-like ambiances such as sunset, misty forest, and urban decay.

Colors are muted, as well, against a black and white base. We see a protest against a bold and vivid palette of last year’s trend.

Beyond color, shapes and lines follow the same natural feel, flowing and genuine. Designers are going for an approachable style complemented by minimalism, if not muted colors.

As for images, stock photos are turning up more naturally captured moments as people get tired of stiff, orchestrated scenes. People photos go the way of documentary essays while landscapes are doing less filtering and more raw coloring.

Impact on Architecture

Building designers gravitate towards a more natural look not for the sake of it, but as part of a larger goal to make urban living more sustainable and healthy. Two schools of thought lead the way in architectural design trends: sustainable design and biophilic design.

We are seeing more multi-use spaces in buildings as architects look into the long-term to avoid reconstruction requirements that take a toll on the environment. That means buildings are more adaptive to future occupant requirements. 

Today, we see offices and lobbies transforming into co-working spaces without the need for a major renovation. With more companies shifting to remote work, we will see more multifunctional and adaptable designs in urban spaces.

On the other hand, biophilic design not only aspires for nature-inspired designs, but it brings nature literally to the living room. You have “living walls” sprouting inside freshly-minted buildings and lush greenery in hotel lobbies. This, on top of the on-going drive, to make buildings greener with architects and designers going beyond basic LEED and Energy Star requirements and onto a slew of complementary certifications, such as The Living Building Challenge, Passive House and the WELL Building Standard.

Design and Marketing Trends

The most evident impact of the general design trends above will have on marketing is through branding. Specifically, in the delivery of logos. 

Visual vs. Auditory Information Retention

Source: Piktochart

Created by CompareCamp.com

Logo Trends

Retro and vintage are back in logo rendering, whether neon or 8-bit style illustration, said Emily Burchill of Grey Rabbit Design. The logo style is apparent in cafes and restaurants; she said, lending nostalgia, familiarity, and comfort to the dining experience with family and friends.

She also believes line art is becoming trendy again in logo design. It is flexible, easy to complement other types, and practical, and easy to transfer to a range of materials from foil to embossed and printed surfaces.

She also said that muted colors inspire friendliness, softness and calmness in branding. In logo rendering, these can be terracotta, sage green, mustard, and lilac, among others, she said, “so long as it’s desaturated with black or white.”

As for the resurgence of naturally flowing typography, Burchill advised designers to go bold on serifs. While serifs evoke subtlety, making it bold pushes confidence and self-assurance into them, two characteristics any brand could use.

Beyond lines and shapes

Branding is dynamic and goes beyond the passiveness of logos. Brand managers are drumming up mascots, yet again, to provide the “human” element to their brands, said Millie Cooper of Design By Mouse. 

How something that has been around for centuries become trendy again is not surprising. Mascots are becoming the singular differentiator for many brands and people long for the connection with brands when they do online shopping, Cooper noted.

But putting up a Mickey Mouse-level mascot is no easy task. Not even for a giant company like Amazon. Its mascot, Peccy… wait, it’s got a mascot? It’s built around the famous Amazon smile, literally a yellow-orange blob designed around the Amazon logo. Perhaps Amazon feels it doesn’t need Peccy, but it’s cute to keep it. But for many businesses without online clout, a mascot adds brand power, especially in a commodified category. Just ask HostGator, MailChimp and Hootsuite.

How else are the latest design trends impacting marketing? For that, we need a separate section where design is making the most disruptive impact: websites and apps.

Website and App Design Trends

Minimalism continues to define websites not only because it looks clean and easy on the eye. Fewer elements mean better load times and more responsive to mobile devices. These two factors are critical to Google search rankings; thus website design trends are primarily function-driven.

We will see more of this trajectory with maturing technologies like VR and AR becoming mainstream. Challenged by a diminishing space and complex technologies that eat up a lot of computing power, that design is given the thinnest slice of the pie for optimal performance, web and app designers are yet again turning to minimalism with a few elements they are allowed to muster a frontend look. 

Web Design by The Numbers

Source: Web FX

Created by CompareCamp.com

Still, designers have enough legroom to wiggle in as they try a few creative directions. 

Dark mode

The style allows the UI to stand out by providing a high contrast ratio that comes in handy when a person is looking at a mobile phone against a cluttered space. Think of checking a website in a subway; the dark mode creates this boundary that allows the eyes to focus on the website elements with more ease. Dark mode also evokes an ultra-modern feel that matches cutting-edge tech.

Soft shadows

It’s the toning down of the 3D fascination in the past few years. For a while, designers were eager to embrace 3D to delight people, but they weigh heavily and wear down on user experience. Just how many of your friends still use Facebook’s 3D photo, those images that make you feel like you’re falling off a cliff? Probably not much. 

When 3D isn’t cutting it, designers turn to soft shadows as a compromise. The effect of floating elements is still there, but without a vertigo-inducing depth. A touch of drop shadows suddenly gives a flat surface a lightweight feel. In a constricted space of a mobile phone, soft shadows give designers that wiggle room to stretch their creativity.

Framed elements, white spaces

Trends are usually fads at the whim of our collective want for something new, every time. Even if that means reusing the old, take solid frames and white spaces, which scream of the polaroid era. We are seeing the trend reemerging, disappearing, then reemerging again. They were popular in the ’70s, ’90s, and in the past few years if we go by the number of catalog websites and ecommerce sites featuring framed product photos. We do not see the trend dying out soon as it plays by the book of minimalism and functionalism.

Design is Fluid

By keeping your finger on the pulse of design trends, you keep your works timely and relevant. You also keep apace with what people want or aspire to. If you are a business, that spells profits. If you are a web designer, that translates to more traffic. If you’re into fashion, that spurs popularity.

A caution with trends though. Design is fluid, and some of the trends we speak of here may fizzle out soon and fast as they have caught our fancy. Likewise, and perhaps more critically, design is a function of the inspired mind that finds itself often out of the box. Trends are contrarian; they put your creativity inside a box. 


References:

  1. Graphic Design Trends 2020: Breaking the Rules
  2. 8 Biggest Graphic Design Trends For 2020 & Beyond [Infographic]
  3. 10 stunning graphic design trends for 2020
  4. How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming 3D Animation

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