Each year’s web design trends promise to beam us into the sci-fi future of our dreams, given that they are based in technology. But 2021’s web design trends appear to share a common theme: rather than aspiring to hi-tech fantasy, web designers are seeking new heights of realism. They are blending the digital and the ordinary like never before, and it reflects just how much a part of everyday life websites have become. In this way, the following 9 web design trends for 2021 are literally breathing life into the digital world.
From micro interactions to particle backgrounds, we’ve witnessed the rising popularity of web-based animation trends year after year. 2021’s web animations are getting even more complex through the separation of page elements into foreground and background extremes, creating a parallax effect.
Parallax is the optical illusion that happens when objects near to the viewer appear to move faster than objects farther away. Although we see this in everyday life—when viewing passing scenery while driving, for instance—the effect on web pages comes across as equal parts real and surreal. And at the end of the day, isn’t magic what the internet is supposed to feel like?
(Neumorphism (or Neo-skeuomorphism) is a modern iteration of a style of designing web elements, frames, screens, etc. known as Skeuomorphism. SO, Neumorphism is a witty (right?) combo of the words “New” and “Skeuomorphism”.)
Neumorphism has been gaining incredible traction this past year, and in 2021 it promises to usher us into the paradoxical age of minimalist realism. The style is a successor to skeuomophism—a design approach that incorporates renderings of familiar, outdated materials into current designs, and it had its heyday on app icons everywhere in the early 2010s. This trend was largely supplanted by flat design, which simplified icons and colors in a way that was less realistic but more uniform and easily identifiable.
Neumorphism represents a merging of both trends, with designs that mimic physicality through selective drop shadows while being overlaid with semi-flat colors. Most commonly, the effect resembles digital embossing or debossing. It allows designers to reclaim the tactile experience that was lost in the flat design era, and this in turn heightens the user’s connection to the design he is interacting with. Expect to see this stylized realism on the buttons, search bars and text boxes all across the digital designs of 2021.
Abstract art compositions
Abstract shapes, especially those consisting of geometric primitives like squares and circles, can come across as simple, minimalist and restrictive. However in 2021, web designers are incorporating them into complex, sprawling compositions that exude freedom.
In most cases, these abstract art arrangements are taking the place of stock photography and figure illustrations. While they can include images of people, they still evoke emotion without them. Their bursting, Pollock-esque compositions feel energetic, and their many vibrant colors are infectiously warm. The result is web pages that feel expressive and alive, even in the absence of familiar human faces.
Given the increasingly digital nature of the job market these days, most people spend the majority of their time on computers. Because of this, it is not uncommon for users to experience eye strain after staring at screens for long periods of time. Web designers have been taking this into account with colour schemes that are focused on being easier on the eyes. (remember we talked about more muted tones in graphic trends for 2021)
In 2021, web designers will be thinking outside the two extremes of dark and light. They are finding middle ground in soft color palettes, like wholesome greens, pastel blues, warm browns or light pinks. These not only make website colors less jarring than pure black or pure white, they naturally induce calm and relaxation.
This trend overall is a hopeful sign that web designers of the future may be more concerned with accessibility and comfort than dramatic innovation.
Web design for causes
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the various shelter-in-place orders that followed, the internet has become a refuge. Not only have virtual conferences become the norm for social gatherings and entertainment, many brick-and-mortar brands have turned to websites to keep their businesses afloat. And web designers were up to the task, creating meaningful and impactful designs.
In 2021, we’ll see more designs and imagery resonating with a movement, or social & environmental issues. What this means is brands focusing their web designs around their virtues, such as their sustainability efforts or community involvement. It means brands getting onboard with stock photos that reflect real, diverse customers. It means a rise in digital spaces bringing awareness to social causes through interactive means, such as visualizations and simulations. And it means an increase in the resources and methods of DIY web design, making website production accessible to everyone.
When users scroll, they are doing more than navigating the page: they’re interacting. The physical actions they perform in real life—flicking their fingers over the mouse—cause a response on the screen. Interaction is a form of participation, and when users are involved in things that are happening, they are more likely to be interested and engaged.
Scrolling is one of the most subtle forms of interaction, and as such, 2021’s web designers are ramping up the visual feedback users get when they scroll. This can range from full colour scheme changes to complex animated transitions to wholesale shifts in the layout. All in all, web designers are taking the time making each scroll feel like a new page—sometimes even a new website.