Top 10 Graphic Design Trends that Shaped the Visual Landscape of 2021

Now that 2021 has only two more months before 2022 steps in, let us reminisce on the few visual and graphic design trends that ruled this year. And as a bonus, we’ll also discuss some of the trends to lookout for the next year!

So if you are in a mood to recapitulate what’s trending in graphic design in 2021, let’s start. One great thing this year saw was the fresh variety of visuals, ranging from natural to nostalgia generating elements, from sci-fi and futuristic to classic symbolism, to urban social media emojis and memes to diversity – 2021 had it all.

In its essence, graphic design is all about transformation, which clearly influenced the evolving trajectory of this year pertaining to brand graphics.

The Evolution of Trends in Brand Visuals

And as we say brands, well, marketers had to (or rather forced to) adopt the latest trends within their brand visuals, to keep up with the taste of their audience. Memejacking has been the talk of the town, and several big shots tweaked their visuals, taking cues from some of the viral memes.

And most of all, we had the pandemic as the quintessential rhetoric found in several graphical elements throughout the year.

With millions of working professionals working from their homes, there has been a paradigm shift in the consumption of visual content as it had been before. And this exactly gave way to the emergence of so many new design trends and visual techniques per se.

So, without further ado, let’s dig in and find out the best design trends that raised the bar in 2021.

Abstract Futurism & Psychedelia

Psychedelia as a visual motif has always been in human nature and has found different forms of manifestation since time immemorial. As Freud puts it, dreams are the psychedelic expressions of our subconscious that sometimes take the conscious form of art.

Since the 60s, we have seen art forms associated with hallucinogens and psychedelia. And standing in the 21st century, it’s proven that this art form still exists in its grace and glamour.

Excessive color usage and intricate abstractions are seen in graffiti, murals, and packaging designs. Interior designers take resort to such arts to embellish the aesthetic of any plain room.

We can also see psychedelic murals in offices, giving the interiors an international feel. Psychedelic visuals are rampant on the social channels too and are highly liked and shared.

Visuals Leveraging Voxel Art Forms

In simple terms, voxel art is a digital art that uses 3D pixels to create animations, digital illustrations, and motion content. Popular games like Minecraft, Among us, Roblox, use such pixel arts that are now almost synonymous with these video games.

And why are voxel art forms getting so much notice – because they render childish fun and simplicity with a retro appeal that makes them weirdly modern and memorable.

Emoji & Emoticons

The ubiquitous social media imagery, emojis or emoticons dominate the WhatsApp chats or Facebook posts of 90% Millennials and Gen Ys. A little wink or a small teardrop or a subtle smirk – all these extremely human expressions are now manifested through digital arts and have taken the front seat in digital communication these days. More because these small icons encourage response and interaction, as well as lighten a mood.

So, it goes without saying that we have seen plenty of brand graphics where the designers got creative with emojis. Be it promotional materials, or marketing collateral, vector emojis ruled. May be in static or GIF format, but we have definitely seen creative designs with multiple emojis.

Visuals that Evoke Nostalgia

Nostalgia appeals to the audience on a feel-good level. It takes them on a trip down memory lane, where they can once again live their past, even for a brief moment.

And that’s why when Nintendo added the old school Super Nintendo games to their new Switch consoles, it took many Nintendo lovers to the good ol’ days of summer bike rides, disposable Kodak cameras, meeting their school friends only after settling the meeting spot over call.

Well, 2021 saw many similar nostalgia-jerking ad campaigns and visuals adopted by big brands like Gucci, Coca-Cola, Nike, Pepsi, so on and so forth. Visuals that make someone live the past have become an incredible tool for smart marketers. And this year saw a good many instances of it.

Graphics in Monochrome &Duo-tone Shades

The idea of using a fairly limited color palette has been a determining factorin all modern designs. And this year, lots and lots of duo-tone designs have been seen, allowing graphic designers to play with their creativity.

Brand visuals and brand videos with monochromatic colors give harmony and balance while making the themes soothing to the onlookers’ eyes. Monochromatic and duo-tone designs primarily set off contrast and uniformly create a stunning visual impact, making the designs look mature.

Retro Futuristic Designs

Fusing future technologies with yesteryear graphic designs is now a common visual trend that has taken a dominant shape in 2021. And it can be surely said that the upcoming years will continue to have this trend prevailing.

Faded aesthetics, vintage visual elements, splashes of vibrant hues, typefaces based heavily on computer signages – all these elements are cleverly matched with futuristic themes, and that’s what makes the retro-futurism vehement.

This kind of quirky art form stays alive through its bold imagination and vibrant execution. So much so that we have shows like Black Mirror that portray the future in all its peculiarity and extremism. 2021 saw the presence of this digital art mainly in the fashion industry as a nod to our scientific ingenuity and imagination.

Graphics that show an Organized Chaos

Chaos in itself is a way of peace-keeping while accomplishing one’s goals. One cannot throw all the rules and sanity and expect total silence and comfort. Instead, designers tried to find comfort in chaos. This is what has spawned the ‘Organized Chaos’ trend that involves putting many things but in an organized and balanced manner.

So, that apparently though the design looks messy and cluttered, it doesn’t look out of balance. Every single alignment is measured and structured. This kind of anti-design trend first appeared in 2020 that involved embracing the ugliness to accentuate the good out of it. And we have seen instances of this organized chaos in quite a few designs worldwide in 2021.

3D Geometric Shapes Design

As much as sharp and pointy edges are a strict no-no for any modern graphic design, geometric patterns and shapes with an effect of 3D – make incredible design styles. And surprisingly, 2021 saw a lot of brands adopting abstract geometric shapes in their visuals.

Art Forms through Symbols, Icons & Symbolism

Incorporating symbols and icons have always been an integral part of human artwork. From the pre-historic times of the early cavemen to the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, to the current modern emojis/emoticons – it’s all about symbols. Designers have leveraged a visual element that dates back thousands of years, and thus, we saw a booming number of iconographies.

Designers and expressionists like to express themselves through symbols, and most luxury beauty brands take up this challenge. The presence of natural ingredients in a product is now distinctly implied through symbols resembling nature.

Symbols and religious motifs signifying power, magic, hope, celestial references, astronomy, space, the zodiac, the cosmos – all are being adopted by illustrators this year. And the following years would see no stopping to this unconventional trend!

Abstract Surrealism and Optical Illusions

Surrealism has been an artist’s penchant long since Dali hit on that idiosyncratic painting method. More and more painters of the 20th century were influenced by this mode of abstract art. And fast forward to the 21st century, surrealism still exists in its glory.

Today, surrealism has grown to be a global art form that is intertwined with ‘realism’, creating something more of optical illusions, a trend that has not just taken over 2020 and 2021 but will also heavily influence the coming years.


Designs on Social Issues and Diversity

Taking cues from the day-to-day lives, the society we live in, the current global affairs, designers turn these events into a mode of expression. Right from the Black Lives Matter campaign, to the #MeToo movement, or the COVID 19 pandemic – the world saw it all through graphic designs.

And this trend will be even more poised in 2022 and years beyond. Braced by the “Design creates culture” mantra, every brand and business has taken the trend in and have tweaked their way.

What’s in Store for 2022?

And just as this year was flooded with quirky design styles, 2022 is no exception. Already several visual trends and predictions are underway, and brand experts have started their job of finding the foremost graphic design trends to leverage in the following year. So why should we lag behind?

Let’s do some of our own groundwork and throw some light on the trends predicted to dominate the brand design trends in 2022.

Diverse & Inclusive Graphic Imageries

Images that showcase human diversity and inclusiveness will be one of the top emerging trends in graphic designin 2022. Brands have realized the significance of an all-inclusive culture and are striving to create more and more representative marketing strategies.

Hence inclusive visuals will populate the visuals and graphics design landscape next year.

Data Visualizations with Fun Undertone

Gamified visuals that are not just visually captivating. But they can also create a feel-good factor in the onlooker. Data visualizations covering fun elements and cool pop cultures will see a massive increase.

Already we see a surge in memes made on Squid Game, Marvel and DC Universe, Loki, Game of Thrones, Friends, and much more.

The Return of the Serif Fonts

Serif is back with a bang! And looks like it is going to stay well past 2022. With the notoriety of being outdated, serif fonts are now again being embraced as elegant typefaces and used for multiple usages.

They are stylish and evoke nostalgia, and catch the eyes of the onlookers immediately. If 2022 combines classical antiquity and modern aesthetic, then serif fonts will be a big trend in brand visuals.

Branded Memes in Mainstream Pop-Culture

As of now, memes were indie things. But considering the massive popularity of meme content, global brands are gradually riding the craze. And the year next is only going to testify for this crazy trend.

Quotes with Meaningful Twist

Quotes are gradually making a comeback but definitely with a twist. Those old-school days of inspirational quotes from marketing gurus and anonymous individuals are gone. Instead, we can see more educational and meaningful quotes that genuinely add value to our lives.

Adopting quotes within a visual is a good technique to deal with the SEO factor and a great way to strike conversation online. There will also be a phenomenal growth in using customers’ testimonials as quotes beside their images. This technique works great as social proof.

So practically, these are the design trends that will define 2022 and shape the upcoming branding strategies.

Wrapping Up

So all said and done, be ready for the future graphic design trends while keeping up with the graphics and visual trends of this year as a reference. Because one year’s trend gives birth to another year’s standard norm. So, who knows if retro-futurism will be a standard for all automobile or tech giants, or symbolic visual techniques be a norm for all luxury beauty lines.

Or maybe serif fonts will continue to be the king of all typefaces from now on. Or images that talk about social issues, inclusiveness, and diversity be the standard brand material for big, medium and small brands alike.

Well, nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen in the future. But at least we can be future-ready and gear up for the next big year to come!

So, what other biggest graphic design trends will we see in 2022 that would dominate the graphic design landscape of the years beyond? Share with us, and we’ll talk about it in our next Blog post. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!