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UX UI Design | What trends can we expect in 2021?

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What does the future of UX UI design look like? What trends can we expect in 2021? That’s what we have been asking ourselves over the past year at WoD. 2020 will go down in the history books as the year of one of the biggest health crises ever, but what will happen in 2021? It’s all very uncertain. For UX/UI designers, it’s important to approach trends in the near and distant future. Not only for inspiration, but also to discover and benefit from opportunities.

Which UX UI trends can we expect to see in 2021?

New interactions (5)

Many techniques are possible to improve the product-user interaction or to make it more interesting. In 2021, the following interaction techniques will take the lead:

1| VR & AR: Virtual Reality (VR) provides a computer-generated 3D environment and Augmented Reality (AR) projects computer generated objects in a real-life environment. VR & AR are well-known from gaming, but they became more than just entertainment. For example users are able to explore 3D products or 3D environments (e.g. Ikea place app) via their smartphone or desktop.

AR Example
AR Example

2| Chatbots: In 2021 there will be more chatbots that connect customers to support services via chat (e.g. Hello fresh chatbot). The chat lowers the threshold for users to ask for help.

Chatbots example
Chatbots example

3| Voicebots: In 2020 remote working and learning became the standard because of the lockdown. The screen time of many people increased dramatically. As a result, a shift was seen from visual to voice interactions (e.g. voice message, Siri). According to the GlobalWebIndex Voice Search Report, 27% of the world population already uses voice-based search.

Voice note Example
Voice note example

4| Touchless interactions: Touchless interactions like gesture control (e.g. BMW), face id (e.g. Apple) and voice control are becoming more common. The COVID-19 crisis boosted the touchless interactions because of the strict hygiene measures (e.g. boost contactless payment) and the increased screen fatigue when working or studying at home (e.g. boost voice control).

Touchless Interaction Example
Touchless Interaction Example

5| Swipe only, no buttons allowed: Buttons are not required to use an app. There are more and more apps that are only controlled by swipe interactions. For example, bottom navigation could be replaced by bottom sheets that show more options when swiping up an icon instead of clicking on the icon (e.g. Dribbble concept). Excluding buttons creates more space on the smartphone screens.

… (Even more) 3D (6)

3D effects and designs become even more detailed and popular in 2021. It attracts the user’s attention and makes the experience memorable. There are many possibilities to create a 3D look. The most popular ones of 2021 are:

1| 3D models or product visuals (e.g. Peter Tarka, Apple RED)

3D models
3D models

2| 3D typography (e.g. Coca Cola)

3D Typography example
3D Typography Example

3| 3D animations: 3D models come to live through 3D animations. For example, turning the 3D model around to have a closer look at the product or object (e.g. Adidas x Footlocker).

3D animations model

3D animations

4| 3D colors: Yes, 3D is also possible for colors (e.g. Apple Big Sur). Color gradients, shadows and saturation bring the color to another dimension.

3D colors example
3D Colors Example

5| Neumorphism: Neumorphism is based on minimal design with a subtle, extruded plastic look. Shadowing and layering is used to create more depth which makes certain interface features stand out.

Neumorphism example
Neumorphism Example

6| Voxel art design: Voxel art is the art of making 3D models out of pixel blocks to create a retro videogame effect.

Voxel art design example
Voxel art design Example

… Material design

Adding unusual and fun material textures to 3D or 2D models is another trend within UX UI Design. Examples of frequently used textures are: gold, holographic, liquid or glass (e.g. glassmorphism).

Material design example
Material design Example

… State-of-the-art animations

Animations and page transitions will become more extreme and advanced in 2021. State-of-the-art animations make the experience more playful and absorb the user’s attention (e.g. Dribbble concept ). For example: advanced landing pages (e.g. parallax animation), swiping experiences (e.g. liquid swipe), scrolling transformations, creative loaders and creative data visualisation. So, ‘Less is more’ is not always the golden rule.

Watch the Video

… Easy-on-the-eye interfaces

As mentioned earlier, the screen fatigue has increased in 2020 due to remote working and learning. In 2021 we will see an increase in easy-on-the-eye interfaces in which minimal layouts are combined with one-job-at-a-time interactions to avoid eye strain. Other trends that will protect our eyes are:

1| Realism: Bright colors and artificial designs are very tiring for the eyes. To avoid this, soft colors (e.g. natural colors) and realistic images (e.g. nature landscapes, escapism) or textures (e.g. bamboo) are used.

Realism example
Realism example

2| Dark mode: More and more digital platforms are offering the option to switch from light to dark screen mode. Dark mode doesn’t only reduce eye strain but also the energy consumption of your device.

Dark mode example
Dark mode Example

3| Colorless design: A black and white effect isn’t necessarily boring or dull. Most digital platforms are full of colour, which makes the black and white effect stand out. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘colorless’. It is certainly not forbidden to use colours to highlight some things.

Learn More

… Non-conformism

Non-conformism is the opposite of the easy-on-the-eye interfaces. Bold and unusual designs are at the core of non-conformism (e.g. unusual color or font combinations, optical illusions, unusual angles, large text). The goal is to design something unique and unexpected.

Non conformism example
Non conformism example

… 90s retro style

Modern is not always better. In 2021 the retro style is back with old skool layouts (e.g. collages), pixelated typography, glitch art, retro animations (e.g. videogames) and analogue images. Retro reminds us of the days when UI design was still in its infancy.

Watch the Video

… Visual driven interfaces (3)

In 2021, large images and illustrations are used to take advantage of the increasing size of smartphone screens. Visuals are a good addition to text, as they are easily recognisable and often speak for themselves.

1| Custom illustrations: Many brands are moving away from standard stock visuals and opt for custom illustrations. It gives a brand more character which makes it more memorable for users.

2| Anthropomorphic illustrations: Our screens start looking back at us. Anthropomorphic illustrations are illustrations or images of humans to attract our attention.

Anthropomorphic illustrations
Anthropomorphic illustrations

3| Abstract and geometric shapes: Geometric shapes are popular and many designers use them to create abstract illustrations and art. In addition, geometric shapes are also easy for the brain to process, making it pleasant for people to look at.

Abstract and geometry shapes example
Abstract and geometry shapes example

…Design for speed (2)

The human attention span is on average only 8 seconds and it will decrease more as people are over-stimulated by digital products. Users drop out when a digital product requires too much effort and time (e.g. too slow loading). Some trends in 2021 help to tackle this problem:

1| Clear and simplified user experience: Installing a new software or learning to use a new online tool is not always easy. In 2021 designers will focus on faster and better user guidance. For example, simplifying the user experience by eliminating unnecessary steps. Or reducing multiple steps to one action which makes the interaction more seamless for the user (e.g. touch ID payments, Google automatic log-in). Watch the Video

2| Creative loaders: Web pages need to load e.g. when you make a payment or refresh a web page. If this takes longer than 8 seconds, you lose users. To bridge these 8 seconds you can use creative loaders that distract users from the waiting time.

Creative loaders example
Creative loader

… Brand transparency

Due to the overload of digital information and market supply, users became more critical of products. How do we win their trust? Transparency! Users appreciate clear information about the price, how the product is made, where the materials came from, etc. If, for example, you charge extra costs during the checkout, it will frustrate the customers and you will lose their trust.

Brand transparency example

Brand transparency

… Advanced personalisation is a must have

Personalisation has been a trend for some time now, but AI and big data gave it a boost. In 2021, personalisation will be a must have rather than an option. It’s necessary to better understand users and to help them faster (e.g. Youtube recommendations).

UX UI design :  Advance personalisation example
UX/UI Advance personalisation Example

… Inclusive design

Not only the health crisis was a strong topic in 2020, but also racism, bias and sexism. Many digital products are not yet inclusive enough. E.g. fashion web shops that only show white models or websites that are not accessible for the blind. In 2021, there will be more focus on inclusive design or designs for everyone.

Inclusive design example  UX UI design
Inclusive Design

But what happens after 2021? What does the future of UX UI design look like?

The future of UX UI design is all about the collaboration between artificial intelligence (AI) and UX/UI designers. Futurist Thomas Frey said in a TEDx talk that AI and robots will replace 2 billion jobs by 2030 (e.g. Uber self-driving cars). Nevertheless, AI is an opportunity rather than a threat for UX/UI designers. AI cannot replace human empathy and creativity. AI is rather a technology to support designers. For example, AI is ideal for repetitive tasks which gives designers more time for other tasks. Some examples of what the tasks of AI and designers could be in the future:

Responsibilities of AI

  • UI generators automatically make designs
  • Automatic testing (e.g. A/B testing)
  • 1000x more iterations possible
  • Advanced personalisation

Responsibilities of designers

  • Select the best designs
  • Management: how to use different technologies and tools?
  • Creative thinking
  • Study of human behaviour and cognitive neurosciences
  • Study of ethics

We are already seeing a shift towards this kind of design automation. For example:

  • Wix website generator: generate website through templates
  • Airbnb code generator: generate codes from low fidelity wireframes or sketches.
  • Heatmaps: analyse what users click on the most to understand user behaviour.

An open mindset towards the future

New technologies and tools make more possible within web design (e.g. VR, AI, 3D tools, prototyping tools, etc.). Design and technology evolve together. Innovation and trend analysis became crucial within web design because of the rapid evolution of technology. This does not only apply to web design. Would you like to learn more about how to better anticipate future opportunities as a company? Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.

Written by Sofie Willems


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