10 Web Design Trends for 2021

1. Smaller, more compact mobile interfaces

Web designers and technology are both finally starting to catch up with app design. As a result, mobile websites are becoming much more powerful, with a whole host of features. Plus, mobile web design will become a far more enjoyable experience on smaller, independent websites as new tools become available. Google has been ranking mobile-friendly websites more favourably for a while now, so responsive designs should be at the forefront of any web designer’s mind.

Expect to see more information above the fold and more than one column used. It’s no longer good enough to stack elements and call it a mobile experience.

However, we may see less ambitious mobile design ideas using simpler layouts with limited custom styling and personalisation. This is due to Google’s new page experience ranking signals set to roll out in May 2021. The new algorithm will heavily penalise unnecessary styling or JavaScript on websites with slow page speed, which could stunt progress in the design world as developers may restrict their imagination to accommodate the new algorithm.

2. 3D limbs and devices

Similar to the earlier trend of 2D people with odd proportions, 3D limbs and devices has been a trend on websites like Dribbble, where highly ranked designers are beginning to fill the front page with disembodied limbs holding phones.

Generators for this style are becoming more popular and will thrust it into being a cliché by summer. This style is frequently combined with the popular clay style, another upcoming trend (see below). However, the fact that this is an easy-to-create effect means the novelty will soon wear off fast.

3. Clay style

The clay style uses 3D representations of limbs and devices, with desaturated colours giving the appearance of a clay-like texture. This style feels like an alteration of the neumorphism design style used in previous years. It could become a trend for software/SaaS companies that don’t have proper imagery of products or people but still want to have a bright, visual look and feel to their website.

4. Neumorphism

The original Apple designs on iPods and iPhones were skeuomorphic, meaning they were intended to represent the item they were replacing. For example, the radio app would have a classic realistic tuner knob representing the button. The minimalist design then took over, and user interfaces became very different with no reference to the original device.

Neumorphism falls between the two, creating flat designs that also have depth and realism. It began to ramp up in popularity in the late stages of 2020 and is primed to become a major web design trend in 2021. Apple also seems to be embracing the style with its new glassmorphism design in the latest iOS 14.4 update.

What is glassmorphism?

As opposed to neumorphism’s plastic surface, glassmorphism instead focuses on:

  • Transparency, with frosted-glass effects caused by a background blur
  • Multi-layered approaches with objects floating in space
  • Vivid colours, highlighting blurred transparency
  • Subtle, light borders on translucent objects

5. Actual 3D elements and characters

While technically possible for nearly five years, webGL websites with interactive 3D features are still uncommon. This is down to how much work they are to build. With 3D asset libraries being added to services like Envato Elements, these may become a lot more commonplace.

The simplicity of clay design will complement this as its models are very lightweight and basic. Why restrict the effect to just an image when the whole character can move around? As web tech further develops this year, this effect will become more widely used.

6. Rebound away from minimalism

Minimalism became one of the biggest web design trends during the 2010s and has been used to a greater extent over time. Minimalistic web designs seek to simplify interfaces by removing unnecessary elements or content that do not support user tasks. Flat patterns, monochrome colour pallets, dramatic typography and maximized negative space are all design traits of minimalism.

There’s a risk that designers will go too minimal, which could cause a rebound effect allowing more complex designs to take the stage. We already see an increase in mobile apps using more screen space with less white space going to waste.

7. Pastel colours

With brighter colours exploding in popularity during 2019 and 2020 led by companies such as Spotify and Instagram, we may see a return to more pastel colours as companies endeavour to stand out. We predict that the pastel style will be used in conjunction with clay characters. This is because pastels fit well with the already washed-out colours used in the clay style. There are tons of website colour guides available to help you with the best colour choices.

8. Asymmetric layouts

A website’s layout forms the structure for all other visual elements. As a default, and according to historic design traditions, the symmetrical layout has been the standard practice. While symmetrical designs hold several benefits, including stability, it’s the asymmetric layout that is now at the forefront.

This layout presents a different set of advantages entirely. Dynamic and freedom are notions conjured by the asymmetric styles. While some may perceive asymmetry as a jumbled mess, when implemented carefully, an asymmetric layout can achieve perfect harmony with your page content. Are you a forward-thinking, rule-breaking brand? Then asymmetry may be the layout for you!

9. Dark mode

In 2021, we live in a digital world with an abundance of whiteness. This is the driver behind the up-and-coming dark mode trend. It’s a web trend that has dominated the online world, with top apps such as YouTube, Instagram and Chrome offering users this personalised viewing option. It’s not hard to see why the dark mode has risen in popularity as it boasts an elegant, sleek and modern working environment, with increased device battery life and lowered eye strain.

10. Animation

While animation has been used for a long time on websites, it is only recently that it has been triggered by user engagement. The most popular example of this would be scroll sequence animations, which trigger as a user scrolls through a page.

3D, layered elements and floating text are both becoming common practice with animation layouts. They come with a myriad of benefits, such as being more stimulating and captivating.

A word of warning, however, is to use animations carefully in your website design. A few strategically placed animations throughout your layout can add value to the page, but any more and you run the risk of confusing or distracting your users. It’s a good idea to remember accessibility on your animated layout, too. Ensure all your images carry alt text and descriptions to provide hard-of-sight users with a good experience.

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