2020 was very unpredictable as covid swept the world, and without exception, every industry was affected by it one way or another. In our trend collection article we wrote last year, we highlighted only trends that solely focused on the looks of a user interface. This time, our 2021 UI trends article has a slight shift in focus. Even though many services and businesses were forced to undergo digital transformation due to the pandemic, user interface trends didn’t change that much compared to 2020.
10 UI Trends 2021
This time I went ahead and asked our designers at UX Studio what they expected the 2021 UI trends to be.
We rolled out this article a bit later than we usually do because we pretty much came to the conclusion that not many NEW UI trends could be highlighted. This year apparently slowed people down in coming up with something that focuses purely on the visual aspects.
Many related articles mention things that have been trending for three years now. And yes, storytelling, dark mode, ethical design, unique illustrations, and bold typography will remain the defining elements on digital platforms. I explained more about these in previous articles.
But, since these elements have been on the radar for a few years now, we can’t say they are “trends” anymore, but rather, common knowledge. In the same way, we don’t mention buttons as continuous trends on platforms.
P.S. We’ve also analyzed the top product design companies to work with within 2021, based on our knowledge and expertise.
1. Unique Illustration and Animation
Digital or hand-drawn, 2D or 3D, custom illustrations, you name it. The free forms, unaligned elements, components, and vast asymmetry, not only help platforms stand out from the generic but also, create a friendly and inviting environment that ensures a better experience for the users. Additionally, to make these pages stand out, these illustrations often come to life with complex motion design.
Moving elements and unexpected animations make users curious, making them scroll further to see what happens next. Nevertheless, we have to be mindful of these bold solutions and take into account the industry that the website represents.
Whenever a change is made it should be tested keeping the conversion rates in mind. But if used right, minimalistic with a touch of neat 3d illustration, a service website can still look professional, while up-to-date.
2. Artificial Intelligence
AI continues to be integrated into almost every possible product. We highly doubt that it will replace designers though. On the contrary, it will benefit and ease our work. Thanks to AI’s data-collecting capability (of collecting huge amounts of data.) we will notice more personalized products that are 100% tailored to each and every individual’s needs.
Google’s AI-powered Smart Reply and Smart Compose tools in Gmail that do the job well by generating accurate responses which is a huge time saver especially if English is your second language. The response suggestions are well distinguished, and noticeable due to their contrast with their surroundings.
You may have noticed that those long and sometimes boring onboardings which were designed to get to know the user, appear less often as they are being replaced by machine learning.
Products will learn more about users based on their behavior, which will help to create a better-personalized user experience. This eventually could lead to a higher conversion rate. Moreover, instead of designing hundreds of onboarding screens, we will be able to focus on delivering smoother experiences.
3. Augmented reality
In 2021, web design trends will involve thinking outside the box, or rather sticking to the grid. Forget the UI that is restricted to screens. Instead, you should emphasize interactions that feel like they take place within the real-world environment.
Google and Apple have already introduced their own AR development platforms, ARCore and AEKit, that blend the physical and digital worlds. AR UI can have different approaches:
- Object-related, real-world objects that have tethered interaction;
- Fixed to screen space, where the user has to position the camera in a specific way;
- Real-world related, which uses the surrounding physical world.
Besides their headset, Apple invests in AR, and there’s a lot of excitement around the Apple Glasses. Therefore, as a designer, if you haven’t already, you should start expanding your knowledge with the upcoming AR UI kits. Additionally, you might also want to think through the context and function of AR experiences carefully.
As designers, we have to consider the fact that we’ll have to get prepared and start learning new tools. The ability to create augmented reality interfaces and 3D elements might become a very useful skill in the upcoming years.
4. Virtual reality
2020 was a year of progress for Virtual reality. We could call it the internet of experiences because of the effect that it has on users. VR headsets bring most of the excitement to the gaming audience for now. Besides slow improvements, I don’t think next year will bring much more to the VR table, but there could be some opportunities opening up for other industries. For instance, it would be a great possibility for enhancing interaction in education, especially during the lockdown.
Designers should look out for opportunities to create virtual spaces for collaborations. While doing so, we have to be mindful that not all users will have a VR headset, so we have to think of a mixed platform solution.
5. Virtual Meetings
Virtual communication tools had a huge breakthrough. Considering our current global situation, this is an area that will probably continue to be explored more from a design perspective.
There are many opportunities in this area. For example: Rethinking a complex communication product and also designing a cleaner, lighter version to avoid disconnection for those who might have slow or limited internet access.
Wonder has already broken out of the conventional boring video chat interface. Pretty much just an MVP, but it is an interesting UX/interaction case.
Since many people have been working from home this year, it would be great if more apps define features that make online video calls smoother. RingCentral, for example, gives you the possibility to integrate other apps like Slack to schedule and begin calls directly from these 3rd party platforms.
6. User Experience
Usability has become the new “UI” trend the same way pink became the new black once.
You have probably heard about Google’s announcement by now that in 2021, they will introduce three new user experience metrics to measure a website’s loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability. They are collectively called Core Web Vitals.UX audit is a proven method to identify usability flaws in your product and improve its online performance. You can also do usability testing with actual users to learn more about their motivations and needs.
Besides the pandemic, this could be another reason why the focus from pretty UI was shifted towards a more intuitive and user-friendly design.
It is good to encourage people to create something unique if they want to show how their brand is one of a kind. If it stands out from the crowd, it will surely grab the attention of visitors. But most of the time, it is not mentioned that this cannot be applied to all types of websites.
Yes, if you’re a creative agency, or you want to present a portfolio as an individual, or want to promote your showroom, it is useful to go crazy to get that wow factor, but if you, let’s say, have an e-commerce platform, it’s probably not the best idea to hide your main navigation under an unfamiliar icon placed in an unconventional part of the page.
You probably remember seeing this style on the good old Windows Vista or ios 7 but the frosted glass effect seems to have made a comeback and we will probably see more of it in 2021.
While neomorphic elements remained rather eye candies on Dribbble, for many reasons, one of them being poor accessibility, glassmorphic elements are getting more popular by the day.
These glass-looking translucent elements provide a well-defined hierarchy on an interface. They do it by mimicking depth that helps users differentiate what is in the front and what is further back on the screen. Yet it doesn’t look that overwhelming. Also, the new macOS update called macOS Big Sur implemented this style too.
8. 3d Will Be the Ui Rockstar
3D has already been here for a few years now, but 2021 will be its time to shine. Fortunately, we live in an era where technical efforts and achievements, such as rapid improvement of semiconductor production and software optimization in the last decade made even the lower-end devices powerful enough to tackle complex visuals in real-time. Thus, animated 3D UI won’t be a pain to utilize anymore.
In 2021, animated elements like logos, illustrations, and texts will also thrive on web pages and help users distinguish the parts they can interact with.
Adobe XD might also influence the upcoming 3D elements in designs. It introduced a new feature called 3D Transforms which, can now add a whole new perspective to the upcoming designs. As they described it “A 3D Transform allows an object to be manipulated within three-dimensional space, creating tilts and rotations as well as changing the depth of an object on the canvas.”
To put it simply, designers are able to think outside of the traditional X and Y axis when it comes to creating concepts.
It could also open the door towards designing for AR or VR experiences.
9. Similar Icons
I think we’ve all seen the big transformations that famous companies’ logos and icons underwent lately.
And well, people are not happy about it. Why? Because instead of hopping on the latest trend train with flat geometric design or vibrant gradients, these logos should have been treated as icons, as what all the rest of the world considers them to be.
These icons have different purposes. Rather than gaining a fresh and similar look, they should be easily distinguishable from one another.
Google’s former G suite logos or Facebook’s Messenger and Instagram logos are icons that are in daily use. Countless users are clicking and tapping on them more than once a day. They should be able to detect them in less than a second.
People like me who have more than 50 tabs open at once — yes, I have a tab manager, but still… — take longer and struggles to scan through all the favicons and recognize which is which.
This is yet another example of how accessibility should come before pretty UI. Icons should be helping users recognize an action, a command, or a certain state faster rather than making it harder for them to find what they are looking for. So let’s be mindful about how we craft our icons and logos in the future.
10. Retro Aesthetic
While Miley went back to the 80’, with asymmetry, big and bold typography, and wild choice of colors some of 2021’s UI will probably be inspired by the 90’. Other trends in website design will adopt the modernist art movement’s attributes like constructivism or brutalism. We have to be mindful of the purpose of the website and towards which elements we want to navigate the users. If we decide to adopt a UI trend, we have to make sure that after the visitors had their fun on the webpage they will also convert.