What are the current trends in web design? The entry of 2021 comes with renewed optimism and a haul of exciting developments. Web design is headed to a change in both strategy and form. Upon navigating the events that transpired in 2020, which include COVID-19 and an ongoing community quarantine period, nascent ways to search will come to the fore. Web design trends that have been gestating since the mid-2010s will become the norm. Advancements, as indicated in these machine learning statistics, will tailor each website to the individual user.
During these heady times, it’s easy to overlook why a website looks (and feels) the way it does. Major design philosophies and principles are in play for every change, whether it’s to make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for, or to convert leads into sales. This is why this article exists, so you can understand the mechanics of what’s trending in web design and leverage them to make your website more fluid, appealing, and functional.
While you can hire a web designer for cutting-edge web design, you can certainly do it yourself with little to no coding or design experience. Our picks of best website builder software will make it easy for you to lay the foundation for your website—or even make a fully-featured e-commerce platform.
With the global internet penetration rate covering 63.2% of the world’s population (Internet World Stats, 2021), we can expect consumers to judge a business by how its website looks. 2020 also saw 319 million new unique internet users (DataReportal, 2021). With these numbers, it’s easy to see that making your website attractive, easy to use, and quick to load has a ton of benefits.
After all, if a website doesn’t load within three seconds, 40% of users will abandon it (SocialMediaToday, 2021). Another study revealed that only 11.5% of website visitors are willing to wait for a page to load if it takes more than 13 seconds (Unbounce, 2020). And that’s not all. People form an opinion of your website (and by extension, your business) in 50 milliseconds (WebsiteBuilderExpert, 2021).
Over 13 seconds11.5%
Source: UnbounceDesigned by
This is why leveraging the latest trends in website design is as useful as any marketing effort. Putting these ideas to work, drawn from the authorities in web design, such as behavioral analysts, SEO, and developers can allow you to make a website that will give your target customers what they need quickly and effortlessly.
Minimalism isn’t new per se as far as web design goes, but it’s come to the mainstream public’s consciousness with the rise of Apple’s design ethos. Minimalism or flat design is as much an aesthetic choice as a practical one, too. Websites with flat designs often load faster than other sites with more complex shapes and ornate designs, thanks to their simple geometries and monochromatic palette.
Flat design isn’t just about simple shapes as well. Strictly speaking, flat design is a concept that uses simple silhouettes and sparse elements, but it also employs clever tricks. For example, flat websites often use hidden navigation bars and minimal buttons. Material design (Toptal, 2020), popularized by Google, will also have increased adoption because it’s at home with minimalist websites.
In 2021, designers will take these concepts to the next level. Gone will be the days when minimal means black and white. Designers will move toward more experimental layouts like overlapping elements, 3D or lifelike components, and organic or natural shapes.
Corollary to the first trend, white space allows the readers of your website to rest their eyes as they peruse the content.
Strategic use of white space on your website serves as a breather, which is useful in single-page, dynamically scrolling layouts. It also improves readability, which is highly useful when you need to impart information to an audience quickly. Breaking up a text-heavy page with a profusion of spaces keeps the reader from being tired out by long strings of letters.
White space comes in two sizes: macro and micro, and can be used either actively or passively. Macro white space refers to the space between graphics and copies on a website, while micro is the space between text lines, letter spacing, and other small elements. Meanwhile, active white space is the intentional use of white space to lead readers to a conversion (or to a CTA). Passive, on the other hand, is the white space that happens naturally, not by design.
White space isn’t exactly white; it can be any shade, as long as it’s empty. “Empty” in this sense means it has no contextual meaning, which is why it can also be called “negative space.”
Wix, a website builder, has a website that uses white space to great effect.
In 2021, ecommerce web design trends are expected to push the envelope. This is all to make the user experience feel as seamless as possible.
One such trend these sites are banking on is the use of micro-animations, either through GIFs, HTML5, or CSS (Design Shack, 2020). With recent years’ instant gratification mindset, using animations above the fold or embedded on your hero image allows the user to see precisely what your website is and, by extension, what you can do for them. Images, after all, convey much more than words ever could, and moving images even more so.
And there is a reason for this. In 2009, a study (Alsudani & Casey, 2009) found that consumers judge a website’s credibility in as little as 3.4 seconds when the home page loads. Technology has rapidly advanced since, so now all it takes is a mere 50 milliseconds for people to form an opinion of a portal (WebsiteBuilderExpert, 2021). And once that opinion is formed, 38% of visitors will leave should they find the design unappealing (99 Firms, 2021). Clearly, design and loading speeds can make or break your website’s appeal.
In addition, smart and economical use of animation is paramount because these elements are often heavy in terms of bandwidth. Compromising your website’s loading speed in favor of animated graphics will only do more harm than good. Also, if the animation is more than 5 seconds in length, consider embedding a video instead.
SEO pundits often say that auto-playing videos when a website loads is detrimental to your dwell time, but 2020 might have changed that.
Dwell time—the metric that measures how long a user spends on your website based on a search—is one of the important factors in any website. You usually improve dwell time by making the site load faster, putting relevant information at the user’s fingertips, and making navigation pain-free. Smart video, on the other hand, leverages video marketing principles to pique the user’s interest.
Video marketing statistics are in agreement.
Visitors spend 88% more time on websites with videos (Home Business, 2020), especially catchy ones. Like micro-animations, however, length is one of the biggest constraints here. Videos should be no longer than two minutes, with the highest engagement in the first 30 seconds of the clip (Vidyard, 2019).
Source: Wyzowl 2021
Minimalism doesn’t always translate to a website that’s devoid of color. Instead, 2021 and beyond will embrace the use of bold colors and, specifically, gradients.
The use of color (Hosting Tribunal, 2020) naturally links with the use of emotional design. This principle uses elements on a page, primarily color, to evoke certain feelings that you want your customers to have. For example, a charity page may use subtle colors to stir feelings of pity and sadness. Similarly, an e-commerce website may opt for vibrant shades that call for action.
Color theory plays a big role in making a website feel more emotional. Designers can use the color wheel that corresponds to certain emotions, as described below. In 2020, using colors to highlight emotions had become more critical than ever. After all, 90% of opinions formed on a website are based on its color scheme (Quicksprout, 2020).
A web page is normally laid out in invisible grids, which allow elements of a page to be organized. Not so in the coming years.
We will see seemingly chaotic or disorderly elements on a web page coming to a website near you. This doesn’t mean, however, that the user should fend for themselves navigating through the “mess.” Instead, the new layout will eschew the traditional grid base and make the elements in the page float on their own. Rules for user-friendly navigation (Quicksprout, 2020) still apply, however.
This trend will likely incorporate other movements. These include the use of unconventional typography, organic shapes, and custom illustrations, and graphics.
Responsive websites aren’t just a trend anymore. Since 2015, mobile searches accounted for 52% of all Google searches worldwide (Google, 2015). And 2021 saw this trend drastically accelerate with the current rate at 93.22% (Statista, 2021).
If anything, it’s high time that websites should have adapted to a more mobile-friendly world.
It’s more than that, however. Responsive web design trends toward a more unified adaptive design in 2021. It wants to put responsive web design on steroids by making the user experience even more convenient for the mobile user. One way they can do this is to use a thumb-friendly layout, as illustrated below.
Mobile users often use their thumbs to flick through websites or scroll down pages. Designing a site, page, or app with content that’s within the green zone shown above can make the experience easy and even enjoyable.
Adaptive design also touches on the concept of how a page looks like in different sizes of screens and resolutions. This trend incorporates elements like scalable vector graphics (SVGs) and CSS grids (W3Schools, 2021), which can boost mobile responsiveness.
Accessibility isn’t just to accommodate people with disabilities. In 2021, this trend will also feature web design that can be searched using voice, VR, or other non-keyword-based input.
And just in time. According to eMarketer, there will be a projected 132 million US voice assistant users in 2021 (Statista, 2020), penetrating 39.4% of the US population (eMarketer, 2020). Moreover, the adoption of smart speakers is also on the rise with a projected 23.5 million units sold in the US in 2021 (eMarketer, 2020) and an ownership rate of 34.7% in the US (Voicebot.io, 2020).
Speech recognition algorithms are also catching up. For example, Google’s voice recognition already scores 95% accuracy (DBS Interactive, 2021), which is already on par with human listeners.
What this means is that this year and in the future, web designers should make websites that can be searched, indexed, and experienced without the use of traditional means. With the rise of VR and augmented reality, interaction with websites shouldn’t just be limited to typing. The whole UX should also involve other senses.
Source: eMarketer 2020
Chatbots are becoming more commonplace. These are programmed to learn from human conversation and apply solutions based on the conversation.
These bots give customers instant response, unlike traditional human support. Even ecommerce businesses can benefit from chatbots because queries can be filtered and organized to actionable items for human oversight.
During the latter half of this year and in the coming years, we will see more chatbots replace customer support, especially in social media. Technical support, where highly complex problems require human intervention at present, is not far behind. We’re on a trend where we’ll see chatbots handling 85% of human interaction with businesses by 2021 (Smallbizgenius, 2021).
Bots now operate on a neural network, where the bot is not a single instance that interacts with the human user. Instead, it’s part of a singular entity that learns simultaneously from all human input, on top of the massive information it’s supplied within the beginning.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the idea that they can personalize certain elements of an online business. And interactivity will use artificial intelligence to do that in 2021.
Interactivity means tailoring the website’s landing pages and user experience based on the individual. Like chatbots, interactivity employs machine learning and neural networks (ExplainThatStuff, 2020) to learn your browser habits or activity while you’re on that site. It then “guesses” what you may need from the website and presents them to you more obviously than those you don’t. This means two users may be on the same site but see drastically different content because their activities are different.
2021 will see platforms like Azure Machine Learning, Adobe Sensei, and Cloud Machine Learning come to the limelight. These artificial intelligence software solutions will help businesses build and deploy AI to their websites for improved human interactivity.
Scrolling is not dead. And it’s back with a vengeance. 2020 has seen the rise of websites with a single page that you can scroll to the bottom as well as parallax websites (Impact+, 2021), and so the trend will continue in 2021.
The use of single-page scrolling (or dynamic scrolling) means it’s perfect for websites with a story to tell. This is ideal for web design in 2021 and in the future, where there is an increased focus on brand storytelling (Google, 2020). It also captures engagement and interest, as users don’t need to do anything but scroll to interact with the story. Parallax scrolling, on the other hand, will persist given how it adds depth and aesthetic value to a webpage (Impact+, 2021).
Besides, because mobile users now outnumber desktop users, dynamic scrolling captures the same experience as they would on a smartphone.
With the turbulent changes in store for search, in general, and web design, SEO itself will likely need to adapt to the changes in its ecosystem. Chief of these is the increased importance of snippets, knowledge cards and graphs, and PAAs (People Also Ask) in Google.
Search engines, primarily Google, are also looking toward more non-keyword-based search, like voice. Long-tail keywords and natural language will, thus, be more prioritized over artificially sounding traditional keywords — most people voice search by how they speak, after all.
Local content will also become more important in the coming years. 46% of Google searches (HubSpot, 2020) already look for local information, which will be even more critical later on. Searches with the “near me” or “close by” modifiers have increased ninefold in the last two years.
SEO software can help your website utilize SEO best practices moving forward. Alternatively (and especially for e-commerce websites), a website building software like BigCommerce has SEO integration to ensure you’re taking advantage of the most effective techniques in SEO.
Source: eMarketerDesigned by
Dark mode has been here for a few years, but it’s become the rage these days since it makes for easier reading and improves nighttime visibility (Techliance, 2020). Besides its prominence in mobile operating systems, it has also become a go-to UI structure.
Delving further, dark mode makes use of negative space above to create a stylish aesthetic and highlight important elements in a web page. Beyond style points, however, using dark mode has plenty of practical applications. For example, YouTuber PhoneBuff has tested that dark mode in iPhones can save up to 30% of your battery life (Business Insider, 2021). (Note, however, that for phones with LCD screens, dark mode has negligible benefits; only OLED-screened phones seemed to save energy using dark mode.)
In web design, expect dark mode to make a bigger mark in 2021 and beyond. With the rising prevalence of bold colors and white space, dark mode allows certain elements to pop out. This is useful if you want to highlight a call to action, for example, or to emphasize your branding.
In B2B web design, the easiest way to make “eye candy” is simply to add stock photos on your website, and you’re done. In 2021, you will risk making your site look generic and bland. To inject your place on the internet with your characteristic flavor, you have to use unique illustrations that not only portray what you do and what you’re about but talk to the heart of the matter.
These can come at a higher cost than simply looking for appropriate stock images, but they can do so much more. You can customize the illustrations to tell a story, for example, which is where narrative illustration shines. You can use illustrated figures of people, animals, objects, and even abstract things to make them more relatable and personal. For example, Trussle, a popular online mortgage broker, features a homepage embellished with original illustrations.
People in illustrations now also tend to be colored purple. After all, it is a hue commonly associated with inclusivity and acceptance (Michael Page, 2020). Using purple would likely solve diversity problems or people-of-color portrayals. Expect this trend to become even more commonplace in 2021 with a broader array of illustrated types.
What’s better than data? Data that can be imagined and understood, of course.
Data is useless if it’s not interpreted correctly. Some data visualization tools, a subset of business intelligence software, already exist to automatically make sense of data. However, this is usually only available to businesses, and for your readers, they’re rather esoteric and inaccessible.
In 2021, web design will also incorporate some form of presenting data so they can be easier to understand for regular people. While you can be simply content to take a screenshot of a chart or graph that your data visualization software has done for you and embed it on a page, some sites take it a bit further. Sites like Codex Atlanticus use interactivity to its fullest with their utilization of various visualization modes (Codex Atlanticus, 2021). 2021 will see more of these become part of comprehensive websites as actual service platforms, not just repositories of information.
Google used to slay it with material design, which is still serviceable, but people are now slowly transitioning to web design that uses soft shadows and floating navigation.
In 2021, web design shouldn’t just be restricted to graphical elements. Applying this design to text as well can unify the design and make it “rise” from the flat background, creating depth and a pseudo-3D effect.
Floating menus are also useful here, where elements of navigation “stay on top” as you move through the site. Apart from practical reasons so the visitor won’t get lost and they have a lifeline anywhere they are on your website, it can also be tooled to provide a unique, appealing experience. You don’t have to limit yourself to top menus. However, as you can place them anywhere you can make a statement.
Its name is funny, but hamburger menus have taken over in website navigation design because they can save a lot of real estate space on any page. They, however, also come with challenges, chief of which is that navigation elements in a hamburger menu tend to be hidden.
In 2021, redesigning the hamburger menu to be more visible will take place. This means making the menu itself look like a button using soft shadows and layers (see preceding section). Removing call-to-action links in the hamburger menu and putting them out in the open and avoiding hiding the main navigation link in it, will also make it more useful and veer from the usual pitfalls of using hamburger menus.
Hamburger menus aren’t right for everyone, however. If you’re unsure whether they add value to your site or not, stick with floating menus, the regular grid, or the next one on our list.
Using a split-screen layout can also be counted as part of the “broken grid” movement, but this is an oversimplification. Split screens mean that two, usually equal halves of a page, can display different things but normally related to or caused by each other. A classic case of split-screen layout means the menus are on one side and the information on the left. These are exactly why e-commerce web design trends are using split-screen layouts increasingly.
2021 will also see an evolution of the classic split-screen design. Unlike the old split-screen, where two content types are split in the middle symmetrically, more asymmetric designs will happen. The dividing line itself will fade and will instead be replaced by interactive objects, even the menu itself (or light and dark mode switches).
Split screens are also inherently usable with the responsive format. For example, on desktops, they may look split, but on mobiles, they would look stacked, even layered on top of each other for a 3D effect. In any case, in 2020, where personalization of web content is the norm, allowing the visitor to pick a content type or path that suits them is exactly what a split-screen layout provides.
Minimalism is in fashion again in 2021 and beyond. And this carries over to the user experience, especially in how they interact with your website. A form is one such way to improve interactivity, but you can combine a minimalist approach with it by using either a single-field form or a full-screen form. Or both, for that matter.
A full-screen form may have a single field or multiple fields, but whichever the case, it will take up a huge amount of space on your screen, even taking the whole screen. The beauty of a full-screen form is that you can focus the visitor’s attention and get the additional information you need without unnecessarily cluttering the page.
Expect full-screen forms to be the norm in 2021, moving forward. Gone are the days when you need to input your answers in a questionnaire containing multiple items; now, you will interact with the brand in a focused, step-by-step full-screen form whose content changes dynamically as you answer.
It’s no secret that websites and companies collect data. This is for the purpose of business intelligence, which is used to gain insight into business operations for better performance. However, most consumers have become concerned that companies are using Big Data to push unwanted products or services, even compromise their personal information.
The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), data collection, and how they pertain to privacy has come to the forefront of the discussion. This limits and describes how websites collect and use data.
2021 will force websites to be more transparent on the data they’re gathering, and for what purpose. While this is not exactly a trend, as it’s a regulation, this means that people will become warier of sites that do not have their best interest in mind. Communicating with your visitors and letting them know how you’re using their data to improve their experience can go a long way toward building customer goodwill.
Source: IAPP 2019
To sum it up, 2021—and the years after—will turn to user experience more than anything. Trends will come and go, but what remains is the fact that websites are primarily targeted at consumers. We will, thus, see sites become less as internet real estate and instead as actual storefronts and information portals for customers, particularly considering the influx of internet users due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses, to take advantage of these trends, should know that web design is an evolving field. It may turn out that some of these predictions will not come to pass (or will do so, but in an unexpected manner). The writing’s on the wall, however. Search is changing, and with it, consumer expectations on what websites look, offer, and make them feel (UX Trends, 2021).
That said, taking charge of how users experience your site today can be more manageable with customer support software platforms. These applications will soon adapt to take advantage of advances in machine learning, and now is a good time as any to leverage them for your website and business.
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