As a web designer you should know current web design trends. A modern website mostly uses these web design trends. Or should a professional web designer follow any web design trends at all? In this article I show you the current web design trends 2021 and if you should use them.
Is it even possible to create a fancy and user-oriented website – without using current web design trends? Is there a timeless website that will still be as impressive in 15 years as it was at launch? From an aesthetic point of view: Maybe. From a technical point of view: No.
Technology influences web design influences trends
Web technologies have evolved tremendously over the years. And with new technologies, web design could also go new ways. At the same time, you could always observe an oversaturation of a trend. Maybe you can still remember Flash – and what strange web design layouts came out of it.
Since web design does not exist in a vacuum, but also has to be implemented technically, web design trends are strongly influenced by technical innovation and possibilities. And vice versa.
Some of these “web design trends” based on technical innovations make a lot of sense. Therefore, one should not speak of a trend. Trends are temporarily bound to a time and disappear afterwards. But for example Responsive Web Design is not a trend. Responsive web design was a reaction to the surfing behavior of users and has (deservedly) secured a firm place in modern web design.
Other trends are rather smiled at today. A critical approach to some web design trends is essential for sustainable web design. Therefore, as a web designer, you should always remain innovative and not adopt everything one-to-one. Think about trends critically and also give your own creative input. Web design trends are all well and good, but they should also make sense and support your goals.
Some trends turned out to be absolute failures later on, and yet these web design trends were adopted and used by many web designers over the years. A good example for such a fail is the Metro Design from Microsoft (which was later adopted by many others). Latest studies prove: Metro Design was a mistake. And still a hyped web design trend at that time.
Web design trends – good or bad?
Should you follow the trends when creating a website? This question can certainly only be answered by everyone for themselves. But before you answer, I want to give you a few thoughts on the way: Certainly, a web designer should be very well versed in web design and should always be informed about technical and creative developments. He should know the web design trends.
Many customers expect from a web designer a modern website, which is oriented to the current web design trends. Some customers even associate a certain competence with it. You can’t do much wrong on the trend trails and you don’t need a great aesthetic sense. Design was thought out in advance. It doesn’t stick out, the customer has already seen it and the user quickly finds his way around because he already knows it from other websites.
However, it may happen that in a few years the website comes across as hackneyed and copied. Some trends are smiled at today and the unconditional imitation of a trend can be clearly seen on some older websites. And yes – at the beginning of my web design career I also copied trends shamelessly. Today I am ashamed of it. Surely there is the learned behavior of the user. To use this to make the website as intuitive as possible should be the main goal.
But please always remember to only adopt elements and trends that make sense. In this respect, I would summarize:
Web design trends are important. However, you should use them with caution and incorporate your own design as well.
But now enough lamenting. Here now the current web design trends 2021:
Serifs on the web
Every web designer knows (or knew): serif fonts belong on paper and sans-serif fonts on the screen. Then one guy came along and just did it! And many were to follow him. Now you see serif fonts on many websites – yes, I even saw Garamond on the web the other day. This font was developed for letterpress printing and really has no place on the web. At least if you ask all typographers over 40. But apparently we’ve already reached all the limits on the web and now old rules have to be reconsidered.
Fortunately, normal body text on the web remains mostly sans serif. These fonts are more readable for long texts on the web – but serif fonts are just very decorative and are now used as decorative headlines by some web designers. Personally, I’ve never found serif fonts particularly chic – but that’s just an opinion.
high contrast gradients
Those who are believed dead live longer! In the past, color gradients were frowned upon after an absolute oversaturation on the web. Today they are acceptable again. And who now thinks it’s all about subtle gray gradients is wrong. The more gaudy the gradient, the better. On Gradient Hunt or Grabient you can get inspired yourself. These new gradients look dynamic and by combining retro colors they create an emotionality. Usually, these gradients are combined with a sober, clean design. This combination is new. In the past, color gradients were celebrated and used in all possibilities. Today, they serve more as a contrast against the clean rest of the respective website – for example, in the header
But not only as CSS3 backgrounds these color gradients appear. Also as icon color or logo color gradients with strong contrasts are increasingly used. As an example here the redesign of the Instagram logo from 2016 or also the logo of Chatter.
Colors! Colors! Colors!
Like the Metro Design of the time, the Web Design Trends 2021 make use of a color palette that is partly their own. This color palette is not necessarily characterized by concrete colors. But muted as well as bright colors have become design tools in web design 2021. Dynamic image overlays and colorful animation are becoming more and more popular. This web design trend is not likely to disappear anytime soon.
The color palette should professionally complement the other elements of the website to relay the targeted message. The most commonly used colors are light blue and soft purple. An example of these colors can be found here. So that not all websites look the same, you should omit these colors.
Standard layouts / design templates
The web is becoming increasingly complex and fast-paced. Good web design must adapt to all device sizes. This would be a very high technical effort if you want to reinvent the wheel with every new web design project. So that customers with a small budget can afford a modern website there are templates and frameworks. These are – simply put – ready-made code modules, from which the respective website is then assembled. The result is that many websites look the same.
On the other hand, there is now also a learned user behavior. Navigation is usually at the top right. Users know this and can find their way around more quickly on websites with a similar structure. This increases user guidance. The user does not have to spend much cognitive capacity on navigation and can therefore concentrate more on the content. If every website looks the same, the operation of the individual web pages is also the same. So you see, there are not only disadvantages to having a uniform look.
The established layouts have prevailed because they work. However, this is only partly true. After all, the slider in the header is still standard today, although there are already studies that prove that such sliders are not noticed by the user.
From a design perspective, of course, the standard layouts are a horror. Today’s web designer doesn’t seem to have much creative freedom other than the header image and color palette. This is a pity, but the economy forces the competitive web designer to resort to pre-made themes and frameworks.
Home Page Slider / Hero Images
You see it again and again: sliders in the header of the home page. Unfortunately, the user consistently ignores these sliders. Actually, these sliders should build more emotionality. Meanwhile, the header sliders belong to the standard repertoire of a website. And the user has become accustomed to finding no real information here. Nevertheless, it is still a trend to integrate a header slider into the website. There is no WordPress theme that can’t do without such a header slider.
In general, with sliders, people hardly pay attention to the second or third slide, and if your slider or hero image looks too much like an advertisement, this element won’t get any attention from the user. The user can’t look at everything on a website. What happens now is selective attention. The user focuses on the things that seem useful to him. A header slider without real content or a marketing hero image will not get attention from the user.
What was once a real innovation is now hardly noticed like the right sidebar. More interesting info (in English) in this video:
Users are now surfing on the move. The conventional desktop PC is increasingly being replaced by mobile devices. However, some web designers still create their screen designs for FullHD screens, which are hardly ever used by users. Even Google is gradually converting its search index to mobile. That’s why there is now also the mobile-first approach. While responsive web design used to ensure that desktop websites also appear a bit mobile optimized, today it should be the other way around. First the website is developed for the smartphone and this website should then adapt to larger screens.
But mobile first doesn’t just mean adapting graphics and div boxes. Pagespeed has become an important ranking factor today. In addition, mobile users also have a different need for information than desktop surfers. Thus, content should be prioritized better and possibly mobile-important content should be presented more prominently (e.g.: opening hours, address or even contact forms).
The mobile-first approach is not a conventional web design trend. This would mean that Mobile First will soon be history again. But this concept will accompany you as a web designer for a long time.
Who doesn’t know it? The three lines – usually in the upper right corner of the smartphone. By now, even the last one should have gotten used to it – the hamburger menu. At that time, this element was created because the desktop navigation is not displayable on small screens. And because it’s so nice, the hamburger menu is now being used more and more often on the desktop.
This always means one more click for the user to navigate. In addition, the individual subpages are not visible from the start page. The advantages are obvious: the user knows the burger menu by now and the website is consistent in terms of navigation. In addition, the menu items in the middle can be better grasped by the user.
Is this trend now recommendable for the next website project? In terms of mobile first, it makes sense to use the mobile menu for desktop navigation as well. However, an important disadvantage is that navigation always requires one more click and users are becoming more and more click lazy (in times of long-scrolling websites). User-centered web design should be measured by the user – that’s why I wouldn’t recommend using the Burger menu on the desktop in many cases. If you think differently, express your arguments in the comments.
Long Pager Scrolling / Mass Content
Surely you have already noticed pages that seem endlessly long. In the past, the credo was “above the fold” and the user is lazy – today, the opposite is true. Users are click-lazy but scroll-afin. This is because no decision has to be made when scrolling (Where do I click? What comes next?) and the user is now used to being guided by the website.
This web design trend leads to the fact that contents are not divided on several web pages (which is also suboptimal from the SEO point of view) but much takes place on one page.
Thus, the web designer has more possibilities to tell a story (due to the linear penetration of content) and also has more leeway in the design of the website. But be careful! A long-pager must be consistent in structure. The theme of each subpage must be recognizable and logical. If the user doesn’t suspect the content he’s looking for at the bottom of the page, he won’t scroll any further. Additionally you should think about a “fixed naviagtion” for such long pages.
The web design from the 90s and 00s was characterized by table layouts. These grid layouts looked very rigid. But also today people work with grids, which mostly produce box-like web pages. To break with this (involuntary) design rule as well, some websites now make use of natural, organic shapes. Organic shapes usually have no symmetry and can give the web page depth. This allows page elements to be better emphasized and the user to be better guided. It also makes websites look more lively and natural
The oversaturation of the typical grid layout of websites created a counter-trend: asymmetric layouts. They scream to the world: I don’t use a grid and I’m completely gridless. Technically, of course, these websites are based on a grid. The user just can’t see it at first glance. This web design trend used to be state of the art and actually only reserved for purist companies or institutions (theaters, galleries, museums). Meanwhile, this web design trend has arrived in the mainstream and so there are also WordPress themes with asymmetrical layouts. You can find more examples here.
For set and serious companies, this trend is probably not interesting. Personally, I have never been able to get excited about this trend. Going out of the proverbial box by any means possible – usually at the expense of usability. And so users are left alone with content and now have to fight their way through a confused layout. The difficulty with such asymmetrical layouts is user guidance. Certainly, breaking out of the grid gives certain web elements more attention and makes the layout interesting. On the other hand, it is easy to overdo it with this gridlessness and content gets lost.
In the meantime, the top right navigation has become accepted. This means for the web designer less leeway in the layout but the user knows this conventional structure of the website / navigation. Thus, the user is optimally guided and does not have to look at each visited website on the new how he can navigate. However, some web designers try to reinvent the navigation wheel. With experimental navigation concepts they try to be particularly innovative. And sometimes it works – the user has to “think” his way into the website. This creates a special interactivity. You can find more examples here.
However, this experimental navigation is not suitable for every project. If it is a conventional information website, which should provide the user with information as simply as possible, an experimental navigation may be a hindrance. Here, the user does not want to discover anything new, but just wants to pick up information quickly. With innovative websites, the special form of navigation can involve the user in a special way. In this case, experimental navigation has its advantages.
Spilt screen design
A very nice web design trend is the split-screen design. Here the web page is divided into two vertical sections. This sometimes looks like a print magazine. The design of the two vertical halves is often different. Sometimes one side is used for navigation and sometimes one side is used for a full-size image. This increases the emotionality, but can only be used for websites with little content.
Unfortunately, this design cannot be used consistently on particularly small screens – in most cases, the full-format image material is then omitted. Especially in combination with the scrollytelling or scrolling effects, the split-screen web design is very beautiful and offers unique user experiences.
Fully arrived in the mainstream: Fixed navigation. Fixed navigation means that the navigation remains at the top of the screen, even if the user scrolls into the website. The fixed navigation is always visible. This has almost only advantages: The user does not have to scroll up again (especially on very long pages) to navigate the website. In addition, he always has an overview of the subpages and can thus orient himself better.
The disadvantages of the fixed navigation are manageable: The navigation is now always part of the screen design. In addition, a few pixels of the actual content are always used for the navigation. However, since fixed navigation is usually only used on larger screens, this disadvantage is negligible.
Parallax scrolling is now old hat. Born as a web design trend, parallax scrolling is now part of many websites. With parallax scrolling, the foreground and background are scrolled at different speeds – this creates the impression of depth or three-dimensionality. This effect is often used on modern websites – but beware: too much parallax scrolling can also distract from the content!
As with all effects: Less is more. Therefore, you should use the Paralx effect with caution and sense
Hover effects / microinteractions
When you perform an interaction on a website and something happens as a result, it’s called a microinteraction. The most prominent example would be the mouse-over effect and animations. This motivates the user to explore the website and dive as deep as possible. Some hover effects or microinteraction are just for showmanship (which can also be very entertaining) other effects are for better user guidance. In any case, the animations and intercations (mostly with CSS3) are becoming more and more detailed.
Personally, I like this animation because it invites the user to interact with the website as much as possible and discover the content. Moreover, a website with microinteractions looks more interactive and engages the user better.
Videos! Videos! Videos!
Videos on the web are now standard. Hero video headers, Youtube and other services make sure to provide the user with videos. And users gratefully accept these videos. I have already highlighted the benefits of video marketing in another article and even created an infographic on video marketing. Nevertheless, this web design trend continued to expand in 2021!
Videos add variety to your website and now even decision makers watch a video at least once a week. Explainers, employee portrait videos, branded storytelling clips and mood videos are just a small excerpt from the different types of videos on the web. The video is aimed at a very specific target group. They don’t have time for long texts and prefer to watch a video to consume content.
Google also prefers audiovisual content more and more and so for some search queries videos are now shown preferentially in the search results pages
Emotional web design
Good web design builds a connection with the potential customer. In 2021, the first means of doing this is emotions. The emotional attraction can cause either joy, sadness or fear in the user. This creates trust or even distrust. It is important that the emotions fit the target group or the product. Emotional design can be a sales catalyst on the web.
Feelings or emotions are influenced by the choice of colors but also the image and text material. In any case, text, color and image should be in harmony and support each other. This creates a unified atmosphere that favors emotions.
Users become curious when your web design is emotional. In the next step you can use the aroused interest with the presentation of your offer.
Performance / Website Speed
This web design trend is here to stay: Website speed. Pagespeed is now a major ranking factor and is becoming increasingly important on the mobile web. From my own experience, I can say that a website with poor performance will rank much lower. Therefore, you should make sure that your pagespeed score is as good as possible. In my article Pagespeed Optimization for WordPress I show you how to make your WordPress website faster.
Actually not a web design trend as such but nevertheless in this list, because the stock photos appear again and again. Some companies do not have their own images and use stock photo agencies like Adobe Stock. Unfortunately, stock photos always look like stock photos. And what is supposed to create emotionality, serves only a cliché on some websites and seems impersonal. You don’t know if it’s a company in China or the regional company around the corner.
Moreover, many stock photos appear on the different websites. Actor Vince Vaughn makes fun of exactly such interchangeable stock photos as a promo action. However, if you dig a little deeper at such stock photo agencies, you can find natural photos here and there that don’t scream “I’m a stock photo”.
This trend has been around for some time. Similar to the architectural style Brutalimus, the web Brutalism is characterized not by a fine design but precisely with the break of it. Unharmonious color combination, system screen types and other (seemingly) undesigned elements look very “brutal”. This web design trend is the opposite of the delicate web layouts that currently characterize modern web design.
Mostly the web brutalism is set by web designers who are oversaturated by the current standard layout and just want to break all design rules in protest. As a trained designer (Master of Arts) I find this style of web design interesting but not aesthetic. Designing something new by simply doing the opposite of the old design is not innovative in my eyes. More examples for inspiration can be found here.
What began as flat design was soon to be pushed even further and ended in minimalism. Apple showed the way: The omission of unnecessary design elements and the use of white space as a design element. Some web designers took this style to the extreme and completely abandoned colors and other design elements. What was left was some type and a lot of white.
The focus should be on the content and the design should not distract from it. This sounds good in theory, but you should be careful because the user can be guided by color and design. If everything is equally minimalistic, it is also difficult to guide the user. Therefore (as with all web design trends) minimalism is good, but should be used with sense and understanding.
Animated GIF images
Those who are believed dead live longer: the GIF images. Animated GIFs got your renesaince in social media. Short animation loops were popularly shared with friends. Today, animated GIFs are also used on modern websites to attract attention or to present facts with a small animation without using a video right away.
In this respect, the use of GIFs is an alternative to videos and the animation gives the website visitor the impression of a dynamic website.
A web design trend that has also emerged as a result of the technical advancement of computer-aided AI: chatbots. Already widespread for several years, these chatbots now enjoy great popularity even on small websites.
The design of these chatbots will become more balanced and the interaction with the chatbots will also be more user-oriented. These chatbots are already indvidualizable and can no longer be compared with the efficiency of earlier days.
In times of cliché stock photos, many companies are looking for a way to create unique web design with individualized graphics. Isometric illustrations are a popular way to do this. They convey a certain accuracy, but still look illustrative. Especially in the tech sector, these isometric graphics are very popular.
Due to the abstractness of the isometric representation, they are suitable for many areas of application and can also be used in sotrytelling to convey emotionality and objectivity in equal measure.
Scroll position – position indicator
A very new web design trend are the position indicators or the percentage of how much the user has already scrolled. You can see examples of this trend here and here. This little gimmick in my opinion improves the user experience and shows the user exactly how much content he has already scrolled and how much is left. This trend is very good for blogs and especially long scrolling pages.
Modular web design: Atomic Design
The modern website is composed of many individual content modules. These can be repeated at will on the website and thus create the impression of a large website, although it consists only of repetitions of modules. Thus, no finished subpages are designed but only the individual elements from which then the respective subpage is composed.
Especially for larger content pages, this approach makes sense and ensures that the complexity of developing a website remains within limits. So-called style guides then describe the use of these individual content elements for the administrator of the website. As early as 2013, Brad Frost referred to this model as AtomicDesign. Atomic design refers not only to the web design but also to the technical implementation. The web code should also be modular.