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The internet has developed into an oversized information apparatus which is evident in the design innovations that have changed the appearance of the world wide web over the years. Above all, the mobile revolution has forced web designers to radically rethink their approach. Today, they are supposed to showcase the internet on the smallest of screens without withholding valuable information. But even on a more specific web design level, new trends emerge which offer a glimpse of what the internet of tomorrow will be like. We present 11 of these trends so that you can prepare yourself for modern web design in 2021.
- What does web design mean in 2021?
- Trends and counter-trends in web design
- 11 trends that will influence web design in 2021
- Trend 1: Interactive 3D elements
- Trend 2: Neumorphism
- Trend 3: High-quality graphics with SVG
- Trend 4: Micro-interactions
- Trend 5: Socially and ecologically motivated designs
- Trend 6: Long/infinite scrolling
- Trend 7: Personalised user experience
- Trend 8: Virtual and augmented reality via WebXR
- Trend 9: Chatbots
- Trend 10: Dark mode
- Trend 11: Speed/performance becomes even more important
- Web design trends: a path to success
What does web design mean in 2021?
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a shift in web design practices towards a greater emphasis on mobile adaptations. Websites are now supposed to be even more efficient and user-friendly in order to keep up with the competitive online market, and they must be suitable for all screens – whether a PC, a tablet, or a smartphone. The bulky and slightly overloaded designs of the 2000s are long a thing of the past; the human eye is fed up with them now. The new maxim is a focus on the essentials.
Websites must be “user-friendly”, but “usability” is just as important in 2021. Responsive web design is an important trend for the mobile market. It emphasises technical flexibility while also taking the user’s device into account. Modern web design therefore means that a website “reacts” effectively to the user’s device and presents itself accordingly. Responsive web design is consciously designed so that websites can react well to new or previously unfamiliar systems. Web designers no longer develop sites just for browsers anymore – many of the best-known website providers enable easier mobile use via their own apps.
Some web design buzzwords are following us into 2021. On the one hand, there is the Internet of Things, which sees an increasing digitalisation of everyday life and wants to offer users even more interaction possibilities. On the other hand, there have been significant advances in artificial intelligence research resulting in automated web services improving; web designers are likely to fully exploit this area as well.
Among the most important new trends is the more targeted integration of interactive 3D effects and VR/AR elements. Both techniques make web projects more interactive with cool optical illusions. However, the principle still applies: less is more! Another important point that will also have a decisive influence on web design in 2021 is the increasing social and ecological awareness. The huge social and media interest in topics such as climate change or the Corona crisis shows how important it is for companies to get involved accordingly. With all the technical progress, topics like these consequently also shape the design of websites.
Trends and counter-trends in web design
Web design trends don’t exist in a vacuum; counter-trends have emerged pulling certain design elements in a different or opposite direction. Sometimes counter-trends develop from a reaction to certain trends as they become more apparent. Web designers often rely on counter-trends in order to stand out as the internet designers of the future. Here are some examples of trends and corresponding counter-trends that we will encounter in 2021.
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Individual or authentic images: that radiate closeness and show people or companies as they really are to connect with visitors on a more personal level.
Symmetrical shapes: box shapes, flat grids e.g. horizontal-vertical web pages that are very easy to navigate; these pages follow the proven and familiar “rectangular” nature of HTML and CSS.
Asymmetric shapes: experimental designs, “broken grid”, just innovatively designed web interfaces, which go against common conventions and stand out through individualism and playfulness.
One page designs: all the important information is presented on a single page and the user is spared as many clicks as possible; it is better to let the (increasingly mobile) user scroll rather than click. Certain standard layouts are gaining acceptance, especially for digital companies.
Web-nostalgic design trends: bring back the principles of the internet interfaces of the 2000s (“web brutalism”, minimalism, text-based) or technical innovation menu bars and buttons that are still necessary to navigate the website but are not too bulky for mobile use (hamburger menus, micro-interactions).
Colourful design: strong complementary colour and colour gradients that give the website a certain flair; in addition there is a deliberately used colour symbolism or colour association (blue for digital products, green for charitable companies, pink for cosmetics, etc.) to subconsciously “pre-colour“ the page for the user.
Colour minimalism: and lots of white space to distract a little as possible from the information provided. Strictly two-colour websites (“duotone”) focus on user-friendliness and forego complex colour design. In contrast, more attention is often drawn to brands and symbols.
11 trends that will influence web design in 2021
Overall, web design continues to evolve in the same direction that it has for years: a focus on mobile devices (responsive web design), snackable content, purpose-driven interfaces, and reactive or interactive user interfaces. At the same time, developments in artificial intelligence have an increasing impact on web designers and new technologies are becoming more accessible. 2021 will see the continuation of various web design trends from previous years and the internet landscape will not radically change. However, some trends indicate further improvement when it comes to user experience on platforms and will help shape the internet of tomorrow today.
Trend 1: Interactive 3D elements
Three-dimensional figures or graphics have not yet played a major role in web design. Those wanting to decorate their web project with 3D effects would primarily use videos for this purpose. An exciting new web design trend is about to replace the static integration of three-dimensional content – it’s become more and more common to find websites with 3D elements that can be moved by mouse click or finger touch. For e-commerce in particular, interactive objects like this offer enormous potential: customers can conveniently view a product from all sides and from every angle in order to gain an optimal impression of the product so it’s very similar to buying in a local shop, where it would be normal to pick up the object and inspect it before purchasing it.
Trend 2: Neumorphism
Three-dimensionality also plays an important role in the next web design trend for 2021. Neumorphism brings more realism to website designs, some of which have become very abstract. This new modern approach should give more life to very flat, card-based layouts. For this purpose, the various UI components look 3D due to the use of lighter and darker shadows using CSS. As a result, the individual elements seem to emerge from the screen until they are selected by the user and thus – at least visually – indented, which leaves a realistic impression.
Classic graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator are best suited for implementing these 3D effects. Alternatively, you can find lots of offers online, such as Neumorphism.io, which help you get on board with the neumorphism trend.
Since shadowing is the basis for neumorphism design, the web design trend doesn’t work well with web apps in dark mode. Here, you need to specifically work out which strategy better suits your project.
Trend 3: High-quality graphics with SVG
The SVG image format is not new, but it comes with advantages that are becoming more and more important. It has a small file size, is flexibly scalable, and the thing that makes the format a web design trend in 2021 is that it can be formatted with CSS. Since SVG is basically an XML file format, the source code (and therefore the graphics themselves) can be modified directly with the stylesheet language. This combination allows web designers to incorporate graphics onto their website that flexibly adapt to the display being used or can even be changed directly by the user. Alternatively, you can find various ready-to-use vector graphics on the web (free and fee-based) or simply create the graphics yourself if required.
Trend 4: Micro-interactions
Micro-interactions is a trend in UX design where selected user interactions are accompanied by small animation effects. For example, this could be a like-button that makes a user’s smartphone vibrate when they click on it. For UX experts such as Dan Saffer, these are the details that distinguish the user experience.
Trend 5: Socially and ecologically motivated designs
Social and ecological issues have gained so much more importance in recent years. Due to this, more and more companies are connecting with customers or users more intensively and on a deeper level. The Corona pandemic has highlighted the necessity and importance of active participation online - be it on social media or in the form of a website.
Sustainability efforts and social commitment have a significantly greater influence on web design than they did a few years ago. Prominently placed photos, videos, visualisations, or simulations are just as trendy as a concrete design when used to show your company’s participation.
Trend 6: Long/infinite scrolling
The mobile trend is already having a resounding impact on web content. One of the most important developments in this context is the transition from clicking to scrolling. In principle, the scrolling website is an old friend. However, design concepts such as infinite scrolling or the parallax effect continue to enjoy great popularity and will, therefore, remain in trend in 2021.
Infinite scrolling enables website visitors to discover new content by scrolling, rather than clicking. When the end of a section has been reached, the next part is automatically shown. Social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Quora, have long since employed this method to present their users with content in a continual newsfeed. Infinite scrolling has also been a common tool used in blogs for some time now and is sure to play a large role in the future.
Infinite scrolling is ideal for websites with a wide range of information. While a blog with 100 to 200 posts can still be easily paginated, the benefits of page splitting on large web projects decreases as the amount of information increases. It’s unlikely for a reader to search for page 812 from a total of 5782 pages, for example. Infinite scrolling, on the other hand, is typically used with sophisticated algorithms that pre-filter information and present users with the most relevant blog posts first.
Website operators, who want to jump on the infinite scrolling bandwagon in 2021, should, however, ensure they do so in a search-engine-friendly way. While Google initially struggled with crawling scroll websites, infinite scrolling can now be implemented without worry thanks to detailed design guidelines from the search engine market leader. The following points should be taken into consideration:
- Individual URL for every subpage
- Overlapping content should be strictly avoided
- Visitors should be able to easily locate the sought-after information
- Loading time should be reasonable
An example of implementing infinite scrolling in a search-engine-friendly way is featured on the demo website by webmaster trend analyst, John Mueller.
Parallax scrolling effect
Although parallax scrolling may not be among the newest web design trends, the next years will still prove to be important for the increasingly popular function. This motion parallax has been an essential building block for modern websites over the past few years. The special ability to move various levels of a website at different speeds creates depth perception. These special visual effects keep the fascinated visitor scrolling and, as a result, they stay on the page longer. These effects are ideally combined with elements that prompt the visitor to carry out a desired action. For this reason, parallax scrolling is an excellent feature to use in tandem with interactive storytelling. A particularly illustrative example of this sort of use is the website, “Every Last Drop”.
Trend 7: Personalised user experience
Targeted presentation of web content is one of the basic principles of modern web design. Especially in e-commerce, the selection of content and its presentation should be based on the requirements of potential customers. In the past, the focus has been on abstract groups of people, but in 2021, the focus has shifted to the user experience.
A web design trend of 2021 will be personalised websites where visitors see content that matches their usage habits. Web analysis tools such as Google Analytics and Matomo provide the foundations for personalised user interfaces. They give content providers a comprehensive overview of how web users interact with web content.
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Trend 8: Virtual and augmented reality via WebXR
Most users are aware of virtual reality (VR) within an entertainment context. Computer and mobile game developers, for example, invest many resources into VR technologies to create VR glasses and games. In recent years, more and more apps have also come onto the market that not only have augmented reality (AR) as a fun concept, but also use the technology for practical purposes. For example, a real environment is mixed with digital input so that the interior design of an apartment can be planned out, or clothing can be tried on virtually. The World Wide Web is following these trends. The fault-ridden WebVR technology has now been replaced by WebXR technology which displays VR and AR content in browsers.
Users can already view specially programmed websites in three dimensions using VR glasses. Much like navigating a room, they can move between menu options and content. The technology holds much promise for the future of e-commerce allowing online shops to replicate the in-store experience online. Those who own VR glasses can already test WebXR by Mozilla.
Trend 9: Chatbots
Communication programs are nothing new. Chatbots originate from the research area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and are already used on corporate websites or online shops. Usually, these are small dialogue boxes that accept user questions and automatically generate responses. The machine’s learning algorithm creates personalised answers, which gives the user the impression that they are speaking with a human. Chatbots are used as virtual shopping assistants or as an alternative to the classic FAQ section.
Chatbots are rarely intrusive but are usually operated via small interactive elements. The user, therefore, gets the impression that they are being contacted in real-time by an employee of the web service. In most cases, the user can respond to the request without leaving the website. The distrust of AI-controlled dialogue partners has probably subsided somewhat since the success of Siri, Alexa, Cortana, etc. In most cases, however, chatbots are (still) nothing more than search bars that react more dynamically to search queries. It will be interesting to see how chatbots develop in 2021.
Trend 10: Dark mode
One major trend that’s not only apparent on the web but the entire software sector is dark mode. A growing number of users appreciate an alternative to bright displays. For example, operating systems like Windows offer a dark mode, and it’s also possible to enable dark mode in browsers like Google Chrome. Bright interfaces are especially distracting in low lighting situations. Although many apps and programs can be switched to dark mode, most websites are still configured for bright mode, which isn’t necessary.
Trend 11: Speed/performance becomes even more important
Not so much a trend as a basic principle of a well-designed website: Speed is becoming increasingly important. This is partly thanks to the mobile revolution, after all, website owners want their sites to be easily accessible on the go and not to use up too much data volume. The faster a website loads, the better the user experience – it’s been this way for at least ten years. In 2021, the trend of forgoing time-consuming and memory-intensive elements and working intensively with lazy loading will continue to enable faster website use.
Many other trends in web design stem from this one. For example, the increasing minimalism in many website designs means no more memory-intensive media, and many formats are chosen specifically to keep the memory requirements low. “Long scrolling” websites, which place all the necessary information on a single scrollable page, are often chosen because only one page needs to be loaded - and not several sub-pages afterwards. Also, the increasingly popular “white space” means there are no elements that could slow down the website’s loading speed.
Other current modern web design trends such as interactive animations, parallax effects, or dynamic backgrounds look eye-catching and can help the visitor absorb the information better (if used correctly). However, elaborate website designs often have a negative impact on performance. Web designers must therefore carefully consider which multimedia and interactive content offers added value for the user and which only slows down the website unnecessarily. Generally, less is more – which does not necessarily mean you have to return to flat design.
The performance of a website has a direct impact on the user experience. A distinction must be made between actual and perceived loading time. Delays are only problematic if they are perceived as such by the user. Web designers therefore rely on the following measures, among others, to compensate for longer loading times:
If the visitor must wait, they should at least know how long for. The progress bar doesn’t shorten the loading time, but it can make it more entertaining if it is designed in an interesting way. The aim is to keep the user on the site even if they are made to wait. After all, internet users today are becoming more impatient when it comes to accessing websites.
Load key elements first
Web pages should be programmed so that “above the fold” content is retrieved first and displayed in the browser. These are the parts of the page that are visible to the viewer without them having to scroll down. If this content is available, it doesn’t matter to the user whether additional content (“below the fold”) is loaded later.
Images embedded as progressive JPEGs do not build up from top to bottom in the final resolution when loaded. Instead, interlaced scanning is used: the viewer is first presented with a preview image that’s low quality, which is gradually refined until the data for the desired image quality has been completely loaded.
More tricks to improve website performance can be found in our article on website optimisation.
In summary, what applies to content also applies to videos, photos, and gimmicks: they should be of high quality, unique, and relevant to the user. In addition, it makes sense that content like this is only loaded when the visitor accesses it. Mobile device users or weaker internet connections benefit from well-structured websites that are free of unnecessary data burdens.
Web design trends: a path to success
The web design trends for 2021 combine usability and slim UIs with interactive highlights. 3D objects for illustration and visual three-dimensional control elements breathe new life into the sometimes very abstract online world. Fast access and being able to display optimally across all devices are of course also on every web designer's to-do list this year.
Modern web design offers an opportunity for web designers to create elegant sites that users enjoy browsing and engaging with. But it’s important to remember that trends do change, and new technologies continue to be rapidly developed. At the same time, the future user should always be at the centre of a good design strategy. Designs should match the user group and auto-adjust their content accordingly.
If you’re building your own website or would like to update your existing site, you can take inspiration from the web design trends in 2021 – preparing your website for the requirements and expectations of tomorrow.
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