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Branding

2021 obscure trends in branding and websites for digital products

The obscure trends in web design for the next year and why are they like this

Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming. In this article, we won’t just talk about what you can expect to see in web design next year, but more importantly, we’ll talk about why are these particular trends are on the way.

Obvious Trends

There’s currently a wave of 3D elements in web design, all friendly and welcoming to the point of looking condescending to a critical viewer. There’s omnipresent minimalism, that could hardly be even called a trend at this point, as it’s been around in web for a decade now and is not going away anytime soon: streamlined and to-the-point design is a simple solution to a number of complex problems. A lot of websites are following apps and are adding dark mode.

the website for Pitch with its 3D illustrations is colorful and playful, but it might start to feel dated rather sooner than later

Let’s take 3D elements as an example of a prominent trend right now. They are becoming more and more common for a reason: they’re playful, exciting, they help you get a friendly mood if that’s what’s needed for your positioning. Minimalism with white backgrounds is easily readable and tasteful enough, there’s no reason to get rid of it. These design solutions get the results, and so they’ve already become ubiquitous. Soon enough, a website with 3D elements won’t stand out. Here, we won’t talk much more about obvious trends. We’ll try to anticipate and intuit what’s coming, and to do so, we’ll need to know why web design the way it is now.

Reason 1: New Understanding of What Web Design Could Be

The role of web design in branding grew exponentially over the past two decades. Even until quite recently, the web was supplementary to the branding, but that’s not the case anymore. The web is front and center and with that everyone is moving away from rigid ideas of what a website should look like and one-size-fits-all solutions. Now there’s a move away from minimalism and simplicity. It can go the exact opposite into brutalism, asymmetric grids, and complicated layouts, but it doesn’t have to go that far. Websites now need to do more than fulfill their goals. Websites need to be more. In our projects, we achieve this by making every website with a concept, a metaphor. We strive to make each of our projects tell a story.

Reason 2: Risky Business

That more profound understanding of the capabilities of web design leads to better websites, which in turn leads to better websites for the competitors. This arms race gets more involved every year, so companies have to take more risks in their design and positioning to stand out in the marketplace.

Reason 3: Higher Skills, More Variety

As web design grew more mature, so did the designers. It’s now very rare for a designer to be ultra-focused in one particular area, now a designer knows how to do everything. They pick up a variety of skills, and that, in turn, leads to more varied websites: for example, the 3D trend is in no small part caused by this.

Trend 1: De Stijl and Colorblocking

Colorblocking is all about using primary solid colors. We’re used to websites with an extensive color scheme to them and the use of gradients, but now we’re going back to using one primary brand color with one or two secondaries. Websites with these simplistic color schemes come out bold and memorable. Everyone is tired of both the full spectrum on a page and just the white backgrounds with black text.

majority.com the use of primary colors adds the much needed degree of excitement to the overall subdued design

up.com.au colorblocking used with fun illustrations and brutalist collages for a more in-your-face look

lavka.yandex Russian delivery service fully taking advantage of the trend without anything extra results in a sleek and memorable website

Trend 2: Irregular Grids and Uneven Layouts

The most obvious way to make a website stand out is to experiment with its very structure. Immediately the viewer has to take a pause and consider what they’re looking at, paying more attention to the website. We’ll see a lot fewer 12 column grids and more experiments with modular grids.

vooban.com both irregular grid and layout together make the website seem as high-tech as needed for the company, but everything is still easily readable
overpass.studiovoila.com modular grid used on a traditional landing page layout to result in a more informative website but without the extra details seeming busy or unnecessary
everydayexperiments.com this project by SPACE10 and IKEA shows how our homes will look in near future, and irregular layouts help achieve that cutting edge look without being obtrusive

Trend 3: Different Illustrations

Lineart illustrations blew up seemingly overnight, and for a while, every website looked the same. That, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use illustrations, but that they should be used carefully and deliberately. We now see a variety of ways on how to make an illustration stand out, starting with stylizing them into colored pencils or watercolors. There’s the use of textures, collages with photos, and the aforementioned 3D elements. You could read our article on illustrations in web design here.

atozofai.withgoogle.com the illustrations styled to look like colored pencils achieve the necessary “booksmart” feel for an educational website
mollydookerwines.com this winery site shows a busy and overwhelming collage that excites you, but using the right illustrations with a hint of art nouveau it achieves the needed class
pets.byspotify.com cute animals are going to be a fixture in illustrations as long as we all haven’t been replaced by robots yet, but placing them around in an unusual way prevents the design from looking like a cliche

Trend 4: No More Geometric Sans Serifs

Montserrat is a good example of a geometric sans serif typeface that's been used too much.

Of course, that’s an overstatement. But the simple geometric sans serifs typefaces that are built on near-perfect simple shapes are not going to be used much more. They were used to position digital products as both stylish but straightforward, professional but not overly complicated, but they have become so ubiquitous that they don’t mean anything anymore by themselves. Websites need to stand out, and now this leads to more decorative grotesks, and some digital products even going for the softer serifs to communicate friendliness.

whereby.com Roslindale used for the headings is a serif inspired by 19th-century typefaces and coupled with the regular Inter it manages to create a combination that feels both friendly and sophisticated
kdcap.com Termina with its wide letterforms positively breaks out among more common geometric grotesks
bluereceipt.com Recolate serif is reminiscent of typography popular in the 70s, it feels warm and elegant and the nostalgia is offset by the rest of the design

Trend 5: No More Icons

Streamlining. To get rid of unnecessary details is not minimalism, it’s simply good sense. The graphic icons are a lot more suited to the interfaces and have no reason to be used in non-interactive ways on the web. Even if the icons are used, they’re geometrical and abstract, rather than busy and detailed, as to not drive attention away from everything else. For example, take a look at almost any website shown in this article: only a couple of them still use icons.

Trend 6: Motion Throughout The Scroll

Motion tied to the scroll isn’t new, it’s been around since the use of parallax in web started years ago. Now with designers utilizing different skills and better tech capabilities, motion is generally becoming more common and common to web design. But motion by itself is busy and too distracting for a lot of websites. Whereas motion tied to the scroll of the page keeps your attention throughout and helps immensely with the storytelling. This creates designs that are truly memorable and outright captivating. This trend probably won’t go mainstream, as it’s very resource-dependent, in both making it and then using it (website loading speed). But we’re sure to see a lot of experiments. Let's start with letter.co:

marqeta.com another card going on an adventure but with relatively toned-down design, which might be more appropriate for fintech

coros.net excellent use of mixing together 3D, motion, and photos, and all tied to the scroll

vcswipe.com beautiful use of motion and 3D, but it also showcases the main problem with the trend: this website takes forever to fully load

Outro

We base these predictions on our extensive experience in creating websites and identities for digital products. But no one can predict the future. For all we know, tomorrow’s big thing is smell-o-vision, and every website needs its own fragrance. And more importantly, these are trends, not dogmas. If they don’t fulfill your design goals, don’t blindly follow them.

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