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Seven Design Trends for 2021

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From new skills to the surprising resurgence of VR Dallas Bude, art director at Hardie Grant Media, on the top design trends to get ahead of

Seven Design Trends for 2021
It goes without saying that these are extraordinary times we're living through. It's very rare in life that something affects us at this scale on a global level; yet here we are.

As people struggle to get their home desks set up, share images of their new pet co-workers, and mass unsubscribe from email databases they didn't remember they were on until the company shared its Covid-19 policy, we are all here in the same boat, trying to establish the new norm where #FOMO has been replaced by #JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).

Over the last few weeks, I am sure there have been many crisis management video calls between marketing teams and senior management trying to decide what messaging, if any, they should be going to market with. Many would have wondered if they should be promoting their business at all.

The short answer is that they absolutely should still be marketing their businesses. It will ensure they are in a stronger position when this is all over. Now is not the time to stop but instead to be more considered and strategic with your messaging. During the last GFC in 2008 those that continued to invest in their brand recovered the quickest.

But creating content and messaging with everything that is going on can be a challenge, especially if you want to ensure you are hitting the right tone and not coming across as thoughtless or opportunistic. While you may not want to create demand-driving content, there is still an opportunity for you to maintain and build your relationship with your client base through offering value.

In the first video from Tribe's Lockdown Lunch and Learn series Marketers in Pyjamas, Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and one of the founders of Thinkerbell, said that we're suffering from a natural optimism bias. People don't want to think of the reality as it's anxiety-inducing but it is a serious situation. There is a role for marketing as a distraction to appease anxiety.

There is a role for brands to play. In a recent global survey of over 25,000 people by Kantar, a global insights and data consultancy, it was demonstrated that people don't mind being marketed to during this time, but what they want is for you to 'talk about how your brand is helpful in the new everyday life'. Creating brand value at this time is still okay in the eyes of consumers if you are being purpose-driven and creating content for good.

And let’s not forget what the role of content marketing is in your mix. Content marketing is never meant to be about immediate results. It’s about nurturing, being valuable and having a long-term view while always having the customer at the centre of everything you do. What we know is that this will pass..when? That's the unknown.

At the start of the year our strategy director, Kate Thompson, looked forward into 2020 and encouraged everyone to consider four content marketing concepts that we believed would define the year ahead:

  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Creativity
  • Integrity

While this was true at the time, it seems even more pertinent now.

With everything you are doing just make sure you create content that's valuable, relevant and fills a gap. Think about how you are adding worth to the conversation or to your audience. You have ideas and your audience is looking for inspiration and to be entertained, so find ways to be creative and connect. Ultimately nothing can replace the warmth of human connection, but we can still deliver human messages by showing empathy and compassion. How would you want to be spoken to? The golden rule still remains: put the consumer at the centre of everything you do.

Here are some examples of brands doing this really well at the moment:

Nike: The brand is pushing its 'Play Inside' message and giving its audience useful exercise and healthy eating videos to explore on its website and social media channels. The messaging itself is beautiful and considered: It's when the game stops that we realise we are all one team. And right now, teamwork is more important than ever. To help support athletes around the world, we're offering daily inspiration and information to help everyone stay active, positive and healthy – together.

Pret A Manger: The UK high street sandwich shop started with a random act of kindness, offering all NHS staff free hot drinks and 50% off everything else in their stores. Now, with its stores closed, the brand asked loyal customers which products they'd like to make at home themselves and is now giving them the recipes to do just that.

Those are just two instances where brands are continuing to be relevant and build affinity with considered messaging.

Until this passes and an as-yet-unknown normality resumes, use this as an opportunity to experiment, test and discover. None of us has gone through anything like this. Let's just keep learning as we go. While we're doing that and finding our feet, stay inside, stay safe and embrace the #JOMO.

Here I look at how the pandemic may have influenced graphic design going forward and what trends to look out for throughout 2021.

1. New digital skills 

Many designers have been out of work or their hours reduced during the pandemic. As a result, smart designers will have used downtime to upskill and embrace new technologies and developments. For example, I’ve been learning about Adobe’s creative suite updates and features highlighted by 2020's Adobe MAX seminar

We are likely to start seeing designers adopt an array of new tricks unleashed from software updates for Adobe After Effects and Photoshop. Designers will also start using Adobe's new artificial intelligence tool, Sensei. This development will bring the power of AI and machine learning to enhance creative expression, accelerate tasks and workflows and reduce the need for outsourcing. Prepared to be amazed by clever social media posts and high-end animated concepts.

With the sudden rise in remote working, we’ve had to adopt digital workflows, work across the cloud and rely on collaboration tools. As restrictions ease and we return to the office, it’s likely we’ll continue using these systems and honing how we use them. Designers will, more than ever before, gravitate towards digital tools that allow teams to more easily access files and assets, without necessarily relying on traditional systems and hardware. The efficiencies met by working remotely throughout 2020 will help reshape the future.

2. Inclusive design

The Black Lives Matter movement grew to a fever pitch in 2020. News organisations showed us alarming police brutality and violent protests followed. The words “I can’t breathe” haunted us all. 

The chaos and emotion of this time could have been translated into a harsh graphic design trend where typography and design could be chaotic, abstract, unfinished and sometimes difficult to read. We saw this in the David Carson grunge designs of the 1990s featuring Ray Gun and Beach Culture magazines. While this “grunge” style of design re-emerged to a lesser extent throughout 2020, the Black Lives Matter campaign will instead give rise to a completely contrasting level of design.

Black Lives Matter will prompt designers to be better and also more accountable. Designers will slow down to ensure that designs do not carry racial bias and that they properly correct any unintentional assumptions. 

Designers will address cultural diversity, equality and accessibility and this will result in better design. Band-Aid have demonstrated that this is necessary and have embraced diversity with their products. Nike has even created its own anti-racism campaign. Others will strive to do the same and will revisit product lines, marketing campaigns and design in general to better reflect our world. Black Lives Matter is not a design trend but as a consequence of this movement, design will improve.

3. Calm Colours

If there's one thing we've all established this year, it's the concept of cherishing the things that are most important to us. Our homes became the epicentre of our lives, and it’s this space that will influence our colour choices for 2021.

Calm colours will rule, particularly those that provide a sense of renewal, optimism and comfort. Dulux has developed a group of potential palettes for their 2021 Colour Forecast that reflect this sense of calm. 

Pantone’s colours of 2021 are grey and “Illuminating” yellow, which are also calming choices. While these relate to our home design colours, we anticipate these being reflected back into design work in social media posts, advertising, magazine layouts and books.

4. Illustration

As we couldn’t send photographers out during lockdown periods, our designers at Hardie Grant Media needed to find new and inventive ways to bring portraits to life. For Australian Unity’s Flourish magazine we reached out to illustrator Sara Hingle for a range of realistic portraits. Sara was able to illustrate subjects for the issue at a time when we weren't able to enter aged care facilities and private residences for photography.

And for Dan Murphy’s Magazine, we had various staff portraits illustrated for the same reason. The results in both instances were refreshing and gained positive responses from the clients, to the extent that these publications may keep using portrait illustration in future. We expect this design trend of illustration, particularly for portraits, will continue throughout 2021 as designers embrace this creative style and continue to benefit from any cost efficiencies.

The 2021 design trend of illustrated portraits as seen in Flourish magazine

5. Minimal product photography 

When it comes to product photography, clean lines, hard shadows and simplicity appears to have dominated in 2020. 

Dan Murphy's has embraced this simple approach, along with bold colours for many of their magazine and social shoots to create a strong identity. This design trend was also seen by brands such as Four Pillars and Good Pair Days drink subscription service. Expect similar effects throughout 2021, with the variation of more natural lighting and shadows applied. And look out for levitating objects: it’s thought that this effect is on the rise (literally), too.

Good Pair Days' product photography features clean lines and deep shadows

6. Natural design

In line with the calm colour trend, natural design elements will blossom throughout 2021. After the year of being mostly at home, it’s not surprising that many have had the sudden urge to get out and experience nature.

Commercial designers may reflect the tone and mood of natural elements. The idea of mimicking nature, whether it be earthy colours and tones, or natural gradients and patterns, will come as a deliberate way to provide calm and encourage regeneration. This graphic design trend may be delivered via our online experiences or in the products on our supermarket shelves.

The 2021 design trend of highlighting natural elements as seen in food packaging

7. AR and VR

Before the pandemic, the market for VR headsets was expected to decline 6.7%. But in 2021 it’s expected to grow to 46.2% in 2021, according to the International Data Corporation. 5G is coming and the power behind this technology will greatly enhance augmented reality and virtual reality capabilities. 

While the jury is still out about whether 5G will be affordable, the idea of using VR and AR away from wi-fi access changes the ballgame. AR can already be used in live, outdoor environments but its speed will be improved. 5G will allow for better VR experiences with fewer latency issues too.

The release of untethered headsets has also been important, and means that VR hardware is now closer than ever to being more commonly adopted in the everyday home. And if you’re not excited about untethered headsets, then surely Tesla’s release of the Teslasuit must excite. This is a full body enclosed device that mirrors human interactions, meaning VR experiences will become more real than ever. 

VR has been picking up pace in creating innovative solutions to design problems, especially as a prototyping tool. Already, VR is being used by Transurban to assist with the review process for the Westgate Tunnel Project and to allow the public to experience sections of the project.

Virtual reality appears to be lagging in the commercial stakes, whereas augmented reality is already a commercial success. Faced with diminished international travel, many believe that COVID-19 might be the watershed moment for VR for tourism marketing. If the time has finally come for commercial use of VR technologies, creatives will need to find ways to build and enhance user experiences that lean into gaming experiences.
We may even begin to see the influence of VR-related haptics extend across to our other everyday experiences, for example how we interact with our devices. If you had thought VR was never going to fully come to fruition, 2021 will demonstrate that you were wrong.

The wrap up

Predictions are not always easy to deliver, and never more so than now. But the world doesn’t stop and neither does the need for anticipating the next big thing. These design trends of 2021 may not pan out but they could provide inspiration for your own work. We can’t wait to embrace 2021 the design trends of the year.
From Hardie Grant's blog, The Lead.
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SHERPA, Fri, 29 Jan 2021 10:00:00 GMT