At the end of the year, it’s a common practice to reflect on the past months as well as to look forward to where we want to go in the next year. Not only is it productive to do this in our personal and professional lives, it’s also important to be in tune with where our industries have been and where they are going. Our creative team at Willow always eagerly awaits the announcement of the PANTONE Color of the Year, for example. We’ve been doing our research and have found that, despite the challenges and gloom of the past year, things are looking up in 2021. The most interesting thing about trends is that the dark days of 2020 are actually inspiring brighter days in the New Year. 


What influences a trend? 

Trends are influenced by people, brands, technology, and experiences. By definition, a trend is a general direction in which something is developing or changing. I think we can all agree that out of all of the uncertainty this year, one thing is certain — a lot has changed. 

People tend to follow trends that embody their values and beliefs. Social, global, political, economic, and environmental issues all have the power to change consumer behavior and style preferences. Reflecting on this year, it’s more than safe to say that 2020 has had its share of all of these issues. So, how has that impacted the prediction of 2021 design trends? 


2021 Design Trends 

We were happy to discover that the design trends of 2021 had some promising and inspiring themes, including optimism and playfulness, getting in touch with the natural world, expressive compositions, and empowering subjects. 


Optimism and Playfulness

Although we don’t always enjoy the difficult challenges that we face, we know that they help us grow and inspire us to be better. After being locked down and isolated, people are craving freedom, celebration, and honestly just a simple, good laugh.  Instead of the flying cars and robotic types of imagery that we’ve previously associated with the future, you may see a shift in futuristic imagery that’s rooted in human progress, and has an optimistic, retro feeling nodding to the good ol’ days. Expect to see charming and witty illustrative characters that are playful, colorful, humorous, and spark joy. Even the 2021 PANTONE color of the year is expressing the balance of the raw reality of our experiences, and the light at the end of the tunnel. There are two PANTONE colors for next year — PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating. The gray is strong and grounded, while the yellow brings us hope. 


The Natural World 

Since most people spent their year cooped up inside and behind a computer screen, there is a yearning to be reconnected with nature and humans. There will be a surgence of leafy patterns, grain, organic shapes, earth tones, and simple color palettes that are calming and represent serenity, renewal, and growth. This natural design trend will not only be displayed in graphics, but also in materials used to create the designs as well. 


Expressive Compositions

2020 has evoked a lot of emotions, and we can’t just keep them to ourselves! The New Year will bring more expressive visuals as we continue to reflect, process, and express what we’ve experienced. Expect to see abstract psychedelic imagery, as well as authentic and honest messaging that could be displayed as chaotic type that may look a bit ugly. Imagery will feel surreal and solemn, have depth and texture, and invite the viewer to take time to pause and reflect. 



In the midst of all of the chaos, we were reminded of the importance of people and community. The past year was spent shining a light on who our real heroes are and standing up for those that don’t have a voice. As this human-centered trend continues, there will be more symbolic graphics demonstrating resilience, growth, and empowerment that go beyond language and bring people together. Diversity will go beyond inclusivity and be more celebratory, showing black men and women in powerful and inspiring settings and poses. 


Building the Future of Your Brand

You may be wondering how you can apply these trends to your brand. The important thing to remember is that just because something is trendy doesn’t mean that it’s right for you or your brand. Trends come and go, but your brand character, voice, and identity are evergreen. Make sure the trends you decide to adopt are still true to that core character. 

It’s important to understand why trends exist, but you need to evolve as your market evolves —  and that could look different for everyone. We must keep in mind who we are designing for, what their interests and needs are, and use that to generate something productive. 

Take a look at the following articles for more specific examples of 2021 design trends, and cheers to a brighter future for design! 

Cara Tudor headshot

Written by Cara Bow

“No matter who you are, I'll find something I like about you. We're all in this together, friends.”