Your app’s not modern unless it looks modern. That’s why it’s so important to keep tabs on the hottest app design trends, including what’s in store for 2021. The question is, how do you predict tomorrow’s popular visual styles today?
Who would know better than app designers themselves? We asked the 99designs community of freelance app designers what trends they’ve been noticing lately. Here are the top app design trends you can expect to see more of in the coming year and beyond.
The 9 best app design trends of 2021 are:
- Visuals that are easy on the eyes
- Engaging swiping experiences
- Depth through shadows and layering
- Analogue inspiration
- Abstract & geometric art
- Unexpected angles
- Immersion through VR and AR
- Creative data visualization
Icons and buttons have become extremely simplistic in the past years. In 2021, designers are aiming to make them more interesting. How are they going to achieve that?
The answer is called “neumorphism,” short for “new skeumorphism.” This hot new app design trend takes the style from the early 2010s and gives it a 2020s makeover—same concept of using real-life imagery, but with new and improved 3D-like graphics.
Neumorphism typically takes flat icons and buttons and gives them a lush dimensional makeover. It still retains much of flat design’s cartoonish simplicity, but with an eye-popping realism that makes it jump from the screen. Not quite photorealistic, but a lot more life-like and tactile.
2. Visuals that are easy on the eyes
App design shouldn’t just be beautiful, it should also be a joy to use. Nowadays, with so many of us glued to our phones and staring at screens all day long, this is more true than ever. App designers are sensing users’ cravings for a more comfortable viewing experience that reduces eye strain, creating easily comprehensive designs paired with soothing colors and visuals that are easy on our eyes.
These app designs use soothing, natural colors and simple layouts that don’t overwhelm users, enabling them to look at the screen for longer without getting uncomfortable.
“Our worlds are noisy, Zoom fatigue is a thing,” says Claire Taylor, Senior Product Designer at 99designs. “This trend is about stripping back app design to ‘one job at a time’ and employing super-minimalism design to avoid distraction.”
3. Engaging swiping experiences
Swiping has always been one of mobile’s greatest advantages over desktop. Although clicking is quick-and-easy, swiping is just much more… fun! App design trends in 2021 encourage playing to that advantage by making swiping more interesting, engaging and memorable.
There’s plenty of different approaches to enhancing your swipe experience, so your only limit is your imagination. This can be as fundamental as adding an animation to your swipes that gives users a more satisfactory “turning the page” experience, or something more deeply rooted in the functionality of your app to streamline user tasks.
App design by John Karlsson via dribbble
4. Depth through shadows and layering
If you can’t make a graphic pop out of the screen, try pushing everything else back. One way to achieve the powerful depth effect that’s popular in app design right now is through techniques like shadows and layering.
This app design trend isn’t about subtlety. Designers are going all in on bold, dark shadows.
Adding strong shadows and contrast to photography, graphics and other design elements is a quick-and-easy shortcut to visual depth. An equally effective technique is to layer your elements, with parts overlapping each other to create an internal hierarchy. What’s more, you can add shadows to your layers to augment the effect, adding a whole new dimension to your app.
5. Analogue inspiration
The rule for app designs used to be the more modern the better. In 2021 however, we’ll see app designers going against the grain and bringing analogue inspiration back into their app designs. These apps incorporate design elements reminiscent of the analogue world: paper and cardboard textures, collage inspired layouts, slightly yellowed backgrounds instead of pristine whites, retro typography and button designs.
We’re seeing app designs in the style of newspapers and magazines as well as old school calculators and board games, giving high tech apps a familiar and approachable vibe.
The beauty of this app design trend is the warm and comfortable experience this style invokes. It’s all about making apps feel more real, homely and satisfyingly tactile.
6. Abstract & geometric art
Despite how many of the 2021 app design trends promote realism and dimensional effects, some brands will benefit from more abstract and artistic styles.
According to Tristan Le Breton, Creative Director at 99designs, this style is “commonly used for startups and apps as an alternative to photography.” It draws attention with bright colors and simple abstract shapes, and provides easy viewing without distracting from an app’s functionality.
This app design trend is finding the delicate balance between intricate detail and simplicity, with lots of variation and artistry woven in. In 2021, we’ll see more and more app designers experiment with more complex abstract imagery, that is extremely simplified and intriguingly delicate at the same time.
7. Unexpected angles
Gone are the days of apps with nothing but right angles. In 2021, app designers are making things more interesting by incorporating unusual angles into their designs. Whether it’s design elements set at an angle or backgrounds that don’t follow the usual right angle rules, this app design trend is drawing users’ eyes in new directions.
Designers are literally and figuratively breaking from the confines of tradition to stand out. Unexpected angles add interest and make app designs even more dynamic. The result is an app design trend that feels explorative, playful and a little bit rebellious.
8. Immersion through VR and AR
In the times of lockdowns when leaving home isn’t an option, virtual reality and augmented reality become more than just entertainment—they provide a much-needed vacation. This app design trend of immersion is set to continue in 2021, with more emphasis on these interactive, immersive experiences you can have from just a mobile device.
The key to this trend is that designers are creating app designs that make you feel like you’re inside the app through subtle yet engaging design elements, useful supporting information in the right places and a gamification of the whole experience. Using these apps is supposed to feel like an immersive game that draws you in as you’re playing it.
Think outside the box for more creative ways to apply it, and aim for improving not just the visual experience, but the utility for the user as well. For example, IKEA’s AR app lets you see how furniture looks in different places in your room, saving users the trouble of heavy lifting to find the right spot.
9. Creative data visualization
After years of being bored in math class, the popularity behind the data visualization trend leads to one conclusion: graphs don’t have to be boring.
Whether you’re designing an app around data presentation or just have some figures you want to communicate in a fun way, data visualization can add a little creativity to your analytics. Using unique types of graphs, animations and colors in correlation to your data can make it more stimulating and provide users with information in a more engaging way. For example, wave patterns are a popular choice as they create a fascinating hypnotic effect that’s a pleasure to watch.
App design by Kokopako via dribbble
Looking forward to 2021 app design trends
The app design trends of 2021 all follow the shared goal of making app usage more comfortable, engaging and pleasurable. Apps aren’t merely tools anymore, they’re evolving into pocket-sized companions that we like to spend time with. App designers understand this tendency and know how to ensure that the app designs of 2021 are not only easy to use but also enticing and fun. We can’t wait to see what else they come up with!