Web Design in 2021: What to Expect

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This article, by Eden Spivak, is brought to you by our friends at Editor X

Following a year of pivotal changes and global uncertainty, we’re entering 2021 with a newfound understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Reflecting on this unique moment in time through a design lens, Editor X’s Shaping Design publication recently released Web Design in 2021. This interactive report covers 10 themes that will dominate the digital design industry in the coming year, and the role they’ll play in the work we create.

Here are four major takeaways from the report, plus a few examples of innovative and refreshing web design.

1. Life On Screen

As we shelter in place and practice social distancing, the bulk of our daily activities and interactions has shifted online. With the internet now serving as a critical lifeline connecting us to the outside world, screen time has become more of a necessity than a luxury. This places a heightened responsibility in the hands of web designers.

In response, designers are making up for our lost real-life interactions by creating immersive web experiences that are spatial and rich with elaborate visual effects.

The BFA Show Opening created by Yifu Zhang is a great example of this. The website served as the opening event for an art show featuring various schools across the world.

Since the show couldn’t bring people together in a physical setting, the website allowed participants to explore the artwork while also encouraging conversation between participants as their avatars moved around the virtual space.

Web designers are also searching for exciting new ways to bring tactility into our otherwise flat UIs. Designers turn to the tangible world of print for inspiration, reinterpreting traditional print layouts, grids and other elementssuch as stickersto create a lifelike sense of depth.

2. Design for Change

Now more than ever, we see designers lending their creative voices to engage with pressing issues, ranging from the climate crisis to racial injustice and political turmoil. Whether individually or in collaboration with likeminded creatives and companies, designers are using their skills to educate, empower and raise awareness.

Wavering Stripes, for example, is an interactive website created by Naily Nevarez and Detention Watch Network. It delves into the issue of immigration detention in the United States, using custom illustrations to create a bold storytelling experience that amplifies detainees’ personal recollections.

A similar social awakening is happening with our relationships to brands, as a new generation of consumers are demanding that brands do more than provide a product or service. Designers working in large companies will speak up for causes they believe in and respond to current events in real time, creating strong visuals that send an unequivocal message of solidarity and support.

At the same time, tech designers are reassessing their role in creating products that put users’ agency, privacy and wellbeing at the forefront, instead of competing for their attention and data. This coincides with the rise of design movements such as digital wellness and calm tech.

3. It’s All About You

In 2021, web and app design will put users at the center in an almost literal way. Our faces will play a growing role in our online experiences, and we'll have greater control over the design of our apps and websites.

We've already seen our faces take center stage this year, with the widespread use of webcams, face filters and avatars. Our reflections, as seen via a webcam or different face recognition technologies, will replace those of photoshopped models and stock photography to foster relatability and engagement.

One web experiment that makes interesting use of users’ faces is Your Typeface. In this typographic project co-created by Overtone and Set Snail, site visitors can design a variable font based on their facial features and expressions, resulting in a unique font for each visitor.

It’s not just the use of our faces in UI that will make web experiences feel more personal. Interface design itself will be much more flexible and customizable. This will allow users to express their tastes, style and identity through the look and feel of their apps and websites. Users will be able to tailor-make their own UIs using modular and modifiable assets, adapting the design to fit their current mood or a special event.

4. Hope By Design

In light of the momentous and turbulent global events we’ve seen this year, design will continue to offer comfort, relief and a sense of optimism.

The current health and mental health crises have given rise to a new aesthetic within healthcare design that’s playful, energetic and uplifting. It’s a refreshing alternative to the cold and medicinal visual language commonly associated with these fields. This style helps extend a calming, friendly hand to patients who need it.

The physical activity and wellbeing website and app Squadeasy is all color and cheer. Created by Guillaume Azadian, Célia Lopez, Lei Xing and Soufiane Lasri, it’s designed to make people happier using a neon-green background and an animated puppy face that swirls around as you scroll down the page.

A similar sense of lightheartedness is also making its way into other fields. A surge in online games offers mindless digital escapism that’s free of any functional purpose, other than passing the time and providing a much-welcomed distraction.

Across web design, we can also expect to see a rise in visuals that convey a sense of hope using colorful gradients, vast open l
andscapes and skies and other promising elements that, together, help paint a brighter future.

Eden Spivak is a design expert and editor at Shaping Design by Editor X. She is also a freelance illustrator, with a love for editorial and children’s illustration. Working at the intersection of text and image, she is passionate about putting visual concepts into words and dreaming up imagery to accompany written text.