(Last updated on March 18th, 2021)
What are the latest trends in graphic design? Are you using any of the significant trends in 2021? Take a look at some of the top trends within graphic design that you should not only be aware of but use in your work as well.
It’s essential to keep up with graphic design trends to be a versatile designer. Companies seek to remain current and appealing in their ad campaigns, and it’s up to the graphic designers to make that dream a reality.
But it can be quite daunting trying to figure out what to focus on for the graphic design. There are so many styles and mediums that require not only creative but technical knowledge as well. Graphic design is such a vast field that it can span many applications and illustrative techniques.
If you’re seeking to up your game, consider the following graphic design trends to be aware of in the current market. Some of them are simple, while others are more intricate. Whichever area you specialize in, here are the most important trends to be aware of when it comes to modern graphic design.
With the advancements that have come about in computer-generated imagery, 3D modeling/animation has become more common in graphic design. The technology has evolved far past the favoring of animated features and has entered into the commercial realm.
Those who specialize in the medium are referred to as 3D artists, and there’s a lot to know on the subject. Artists using such software consider how a particular logo or product is designed, shaped, textured, lit, and rendered. Rigging and animation also play a part as well.
3D animation can often be an effective means of communicating a mission or product purpose without shooting in live-action. Not bound by the limitations of a camera, 3D can be used to give a close-up appeal to the many parts of a machine or highlight a business’s details.
3D is also a cunning tool to be used in previsualization for developing products and spaces. Crafting such ideas in 3D can be a great way to convey a primary production and construction layout. It can be a great way to communicate the allure and benefits of the final product.
Of the many examples out there, take a look at the classic Coke Cola polar bear commercials aired specifically during Christmas. Something as simple as computer-animated bears drinking soda amid the icy tundra was able to convey the drink’s refreshing nature and the spirit of the season.
It seems so simple, yet the polar bears became an icon of commercials, to the point of being parodied. It’s now as common to associate polar bears holding a Coke bottle around Christmas time as much as Santa Claus.
Since the polar bear ad campaign has been around for quite some time, it has also changed dramatically in visuals. The polar bears became more detailed, expressive, and better lit as time and technology progressed. The bears went from somewhat simple shapes to richly textured characters.
The difference in ads from different years showcases just how much improvements occur in 3D design over time.
Designers in this realm need to keep up with the latest developments to present the best quality of 3D for the market, not to garner dated comparisons. The last thing you want is a customer saying your ad looks like a video game on the Playstation 1.
Programs to consider using for 3D include the free/open-sourced Blender and the spendier studio-quality software of 3Ds Max. There’s also plenty of walkthroughs and tutorials to learn the medium with relative ease. Given the high demand for these visuals, the software is more than worth the investment of learning.
The thoughts nature often conjures up thoughts of something being organic and pure. It can be a beneficial theme for promoting a product or service centered around the natural world. Nature-inspired graphic design can be just the branding required for such businesses.
For example, take a look at the branding for Dr. Squatch soaps and shampoos. The labeling of the mascot as the mysterious sasquatch associates the product with the woods. This is intentional to communicate that their products are more natural and organic rather them heavy on chemicals.
You can see this nature theme not only in the woodgrain appeal of their product design but also in their advertisements. Notice how their ads feature their spokesperson outside in the woods or relaxing in a cabin. There’s a clear nature theme coursing throughout.
Taking cues from nature can be a great way to communicate both the environmental benefits and the product’s casual comfort. It’s an aspect that can be both relaxing and inspiring, seen in everything from soothing coffee to cleansing hygiene products.
As unorthodox as it may sound, emojis have migrated from being mere symbolic text to a form of graphic design on its own.
Considering its common usage in communication, it’s natural that it would pop into graphic design. This goes for both referencing current emojis as well as creating new icons for marketing purposes.
This form of marketing is best served on social media. Peppering company updates with emojis can be an engaging way to lead the eyes, from a smiling face to a clapping hand. However, try to get a lay of the land lest you make a poor choice in which emojis to use for which posts.
Emojis have become common thanks to their proliferation in pop culture jokes, and there is a literal movie just about them. You can see how effective they’ve become when splashed upon YouTube videos and thumbnails.
Like any trend, though, it’s essential to take heed of what attracts specific customers and what falls out of style. An abundance of emojis can often attract a younger crowd and may push away the older. Take caution in how frequent you become with utilizing such a graphic design trend.
Of course, it can be possible to develop emojis all your own. Take a look at Twitter’s hashtags for specific movies and events to notice how they automatically add in an emoji. These are better known as Twemoji and sometimes called Hashflags.
As with the film The Invisible Man (2020), you can even get smart with them that made an emoji of a handprint that is only viewable in dark mode, appearing as an invisible area in light mode.
Creating these types of emojis can make posts more engaging. Since they’re triggered automatically by writing specific hashtags, these promotional emojis can inspire others to try them out for themselves.
The benefit of such a form of advertising is that it brings some life and character to what can appear to be a standard advertisement. There’s an iconography to putting a face on your texts without the aid of an image or link preview. It’s simple yet effective.
You get an idea of designing such by taking a gander at the top social media hashtags associated with a particular brand or product. Notice how they’re relatively simple in design and yet communicate well.
These types of emojis are also quite temporary, so to get an idea of how effective they appear, you’ll have to scout around social media. Take note of significant events, upcoming movies, and other such brandings trying to generate hype at the moment.
But if you’re curious how these emojis have been implemented in the past, take a gander at the Hashflag library over on hashfla.gs. From this website, you can view the history of the Hashflags through an archive.
4. Retro Futurism
Nostalgia can be a powerful thing. Reminding customers of a simpler time can be an easy way to garner the older crowd’s attention who recalls yesteryear. For a specific demographic, part of that nostalgic wonderment was the neon blur of the 1980s.
The 1980s had a specific vision of the future portrayed in movies, television, and comic books. Some of it was dystopian, but some were optimistic with colors very much of the era. Light blues and deep purples permeated the landscape of speculating on the future.
Such design is an easy way to convey a sense of retro allure for electronic soundtracks and neon aesthetics.
It’s far more frequent you’ll find cartoon characters popping into everything from Google homepages to quirky advertisements. Cartoons just have an appealing edge for conveying just about any tone. Some are silly and engaging, while others are simple and calming.
There’s a variety of cartoon styles to choose from that can fit just about any brand. The term of cartoon often conjures thoughts of Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse antics. But cartoons are far more than only entertainment for kids.
A perfect example of where cartoons have worked best is how Google crafts their exceptional homepage imagery. On certain holidays and anniversaries, Google’s homepage will often feature a cartoon of simple shapes representing a particular person or event in history.
The Google cartoons effectively get people interested in clicking on the imagery to learn more or understand what the cartoon is all about. Clicking on the cartoon will take the user to the search topic of the day. Consider how much better it works than merely giving a text reminder of what day it is in history.
Though Google’s creative usage of minimalism is practical, designers need not be bound by one style to the point of becoming associated with the search engine. There’s a wide range of cartoons to emulate in reflecting a brand.
For example, if you’re aiming for something dynamic and appealing to teenagers, the anime style is both detailed and exciting. If you’re aiming for something more emotional, some realism in a Pixar style can bring about that moving sensation.
Cartoons also span different mediums as well. It’s not just 2D and 3D but even stop-motion as well. The Rankin-Bass Christmas specials have tied stop-motion close to evoking a holiday style, leading to Best Buy trying to replicate that style for their Christmas advertisements.
The imagery conjures up thoughts of Christmas for those who have grown up with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’s special.
One area where cartoons have become most appealing is in doodle board videos. Cartoon illustrations appear on a board with a hand drawing up everything as a voice explains. Such a video creates a personal appeal of someone sitting down to draw out their plan for you.
There’s a great demand for these types of explanatory doodle videos that even software developed to automate the process. Doodly has been developed as a simplified drag-and-drop whiteboard video developer.
Such innovation would make this area of cartoony graphic design seem as though it’s being phased out for automation, but it could go the other way. Doodly is quite limited in its illustrations that some advertisers may find it lacking. That’s where a skilled graphic designer can come into play.
There are so many applications out there to consider when crafting animation. For 2D animation, consider using Adobe Animate for everything from simple to detailed drawings. For 3D animation/modeling, consider Blender, 3Ds Max, or Maya.
Stop-motion requires the most investment of time considering how long it takes to assemble shots frame by frame. You’re better off replicating that format through computer animation unless you have a lot of time and money on your hands to jump into this medium.
6. T-Shirt Design
Direct marketing can often sound like a dirty word, taking the risk of blunt with the messaging. The term usually brings about the simplistic form of postcards, but it can take different forms. One of the more pleasing is that of T-shirts.
Placing a T-shirt marketing logo can be an easy way to get a name out there in a very casual way. Not only does it have the appeal of being a useful piece of clothing, but it can function as a prize as well. Think of how much interest the term “free T-shirt” garners at a public event.
Promotion through T-shirts can be a mixture of direct and casual. You can communicate a brand while also presenting an appealing design that people can feel comfy. The message can get across without one even noticing they’re wearing an advertisement.
A simple and understated design can make a T-shirt’s branding seem exceptionally casual. Take a look at the T-shirts offered by the video service of the Criterion Collection. The iconography of something as simple as the off “C” is incredibly unimposing.
But it’s also present enough that the branding can be a conversation starter. Someone may be intrigued by the shirt and ask what that’s from. Other designs communicate more directly, but there’s something about making a brand stick out with so little.
7. Irreverent Characters
Having a mascot or spokesperson for a brand is a great way to provide character and interaction to a campaign. This aspect not only brings personality to a brand but also tells a story as well. It’s essentially a more entertaining way of conveying what the product/service is all about.
What’s most appealing about creating an irreverent character is a comfortable association customer form with the brand. Making a company appeal more quirky through a particular name is an easy way to attract eyeballs.
Consider the branding for the car insurance company of Geico. The company has now become associated with irreverent commercials loaded with dry and absurd humor. They’ve even developed a few characters because of this appealing trend.
Geico’s earliest icon was a caveman character who acted insulted anytime a Geico ad used that phrase “so easy even a caveman could use it.” A modern caveman would view such ads with scorn and sighs about such a label.
The caveman character not only continued for a whole series of advertisements but even garnered his television series. Though it’s not uncommon for advertising mascots to span out into other mediums (see Pizza Hut’s The Noid), the fact that a car insurance company icon could make such a leap speaks volumes of the appeal.
Geico retired the character and moved onto the quaint and timid nature of a computer-generated gecko. The bit was initially that people confused the title of Geico with geckos. The bit may have died, but the gecko remains, presented as a dry-humored charmer.
But irreverent characters need not be as elaborate. They can range anywhere from a colorful character gracing a beer bottle to an exaggerated animal representing a restaurant. It’s all about bringing just a little more humor and relatable fun to a brand.
8. Authentic Representation
Customers and clients are becoming much more mindful of the times when it comes to cultural representation. More graphic designers turn towards inviting and representing different races and cultures, trying to evade the more problematic and racist depictions in the past marketing.
In the wake of police brutality and rampant racist rhetoric, many brands have adopted holding up voices of colors. Some companies have offered up solidarity in the form of amplifying the message about black lives matter.
To show support, many individuals and businesses are trying to better hold up the representation of various racial communities by promoting people-of-color artwork or commissioning it for their branding.
Embracing such amplification works well to gain a social appeal for those seeking change and progress in the graphic design world.
What this area essentially equates to is specific designers holding up their distinct voices. You can see this present in how many black artists rose to create compelling artwork reflective of America’s racial struggles after George Floyd’s killing.
9. Geometric Shapes
Sometimes the clean and straightforward imagery of shapes can be enough to convey compelling branding effectively. An artist need not be beholden to keeping their designs textured and intricate. A mere cobbling of the correct shapes can get across an idea just fine.
You can see this often employed in book covers. A prime example of this is the Twin Peaks recipe book, Damn Fine Cherry Pie. The combination of pieces representing the mountains and the zigzag spine perfectly evoke the Twin Peaks’ style with little more than geometric shapes.
The geometric design can be seen everywhere, from website design to advertisement campaigns. An excellent medium to try this out with is that of vector artwork.
Consider looking into Adobe Illustrator or similar programs to experiment with the necessary creation of shapes and the cleverness of assorting them to convey a branding tone.
10. Motion Graphics
Some graphic design elements can look stunning on their own, but they take on a whole new engagement level when posed as motion graphics. Watching a logo, character, or text come to life can an exciting way to instantly attract eyeballs to a brand.
Unlike cartoons or animation, not a lot of motion is required for this type of graphic design. All you need is a bit of moving parts here and there to communicate a certain of life. This can range anywhere from a title zipping across the screen or a brand mascot/prop having a small bit of movement.
Hostgator is a prime example of how motion graphics have been integrated into the website’s appeal. Not only does the cartoon gator have some simple movements, but a little motion graphics of popping menus and moving backgrounds can be found on the website.
Motion graphics can be a great way to give a dynamic allure to branding. It makes a brand seem active and alive using movement that can be as simple as tweaking certain illustrated assets.
You don’t even have to be an animation expert to create something that pops this well. Most motion graphics are developed through Adobe After Effects which offers helpful tools to make such videos possible.
Assets can be imported into the program and pushed and pulled about the screen to create the illusion of life. due to the software’s ease of assets and animation, After Effects has become closely associated with motion graphics.
But it’s not the only software to consider. Some video editors are capable of such tweaks in animation, as are such animation programs as Adobe Animate. These programs are not as intuitive as that of After Effects, though, so it’s best to just stick with that.
Not all graphic design needs to be bound by the colorful. Sometimes less can be more when it comes to color. There’s plenty of stellar graphic designs out there that base more of the allure in form and shape than an array of hues.
It’s not exactly a revolutionary aspect of graphic design. The lack of color in photography has often been considered a powerful statement that remains a firm trend. But it can be applied in other areas of design as well.
Most doodle-board advertisements are devoid of color, appearing more like sketches. And speaking of sketches, a focus on lines rather than color can evoke a certain sense of beauty for detail.
Mark McPherson has been working as a video editor and content writer for over ten years. His background started in animation and video editing before shifting into the realm of web development. He also branched out into content writing for various online publications. Mark is an expert in video editing, content writing, and 2D/3D animation.