2021 Visual Trends

January 15, 2021
4 min read

In January 2020, with no idea what lay ahead of us, forecast trendsetter, Rikke Skytte of Denmark, made some eerily prescient remarks at a presentation on sustainable design. 

“It’s our humanity and everything related to it that we are afraid to lose, like connections with our inner selves, with others and nature. Around this powerful core, all trends rotate in almost every industry, from fashion, to design, to food, and information.

Although this presentation occurred before the pandemic took off in earnest, it seems to me that, if anything, this point became more relevant as 2020 took one unpredictable turn after another. Reconnecting with our humanity, community and nature became inescapable as we came to a collective standstill. We have been compelled to embrace new perspectives, new ways of living and working, and new expectations for our future. I’m struck by the contrasts we’ve been presented with, and the contrasting needs that have arisen. We have lived with more fear of the unknown and, simultaneously, a renewed gratitude for the more simple things that we had taken for granted. We have needed safety & grounding, but also yearned for spontaneity and fun. More than ever we have seen ourselves as part of a global community, while also developing a deep appreciation for local community, and an awareness of the ways in which it’s all connected.

For me, it comes down to four themes that sum up our experiences and contrasting desires and, I believe, will come to define 2021: Sanctuary, Humanity, Nature and Novelty. 


Rikke Skytte said that feeling good is the new looking good. With 2020 throwing curve balls at us from all angles, we have been forced to find sanctuary at home and within ourselves. We have started to prioritize our mental and emotional well-being. This reinvestment in ourselves has reverberations through interior design, fashion and graphics. Look out for calm, muted tones in color palettes, monochrome layouts and subtle accents, soft comforting textures, and an abundance of “breathing room”–in fashion, think oversized pieces and garments with plenty of flexibility. In graphic design, think minimalist layouts with lots of negative space.


There wasn’t much to do in 2020 and many of us took up a new hobby. There was the banana bread phase, the sourdough phase, the tie-dye phase...the list goes on. But not everyone left their hobbies behind in 2020. We’re beginning to see the fruits of the labor of many hard-working individuals who stuck with their new hobby or developed those side projects they’d never had time for before. Expect to see local artists, crafters & makers take center stage and a renewed appreciation for human touch in products. We’ll see this reflected in design with the use of organic textures and shapes, purposeful imperfections and elements with a hand-made feel. 


This last year we were all forced to direct our attention in new ways to what was just outside our front door (apart from the local dive bar). With the pandemic putting a stop to all our normal indoor activities, there was no choice but to turn to nature. Hiking, swimming, local vacations, solo sports and picnics were the new happy hour–a pretty great silver lining! And it’s not just our local surroundings that have come into focus. We’ve become more aware of the ways we are connected globally and the direct impacts of the way we behave on the environment. With this increasing recognition of, and gratitude for, a fragile world, we should expect to see motifs inspired by the natural world–leaves, trees and flowers–a color palette of rich greens, calm blues and neutral, clear tones, and natural-feeling textures that reflect a care for the environment and the materials we use.


One thing that was seriously lacking in 2020 was novelty. It might sound like a frivolous thing, but research has shown that novelty makes us happy. It’s important to break routine, be presented with new options and find different forms of mental stimulation in our day-to-day. As the walls of our homes became a little too familiar, many of us have craved newness and have sought ways to introduce that into our lives. Not to mention, we’re more glued to our devices than ever before, between working from home and remaining connected to friends and family from a distance. This constant online barrage of information and visuals is leaving many of us fatigued with the same old thing, over and over again. In 2021, watch for the ways that design will be used to inject some excitement and playfulness into our lives! Expect bold & vibrant color palettes that will jolt you awake, unexpected, distorted compositions & typography and playful combinations of organic and geometric shapes.

Reflecting on these themes and our collective perseverance over the last year, I can’t help but notice that many important and wonderful things can come out of difficult times. 2020 has taught us that nothing is black and white–we can be sad and happy at the same time, we can seek calm and novelty simultaneously, we can want it all and be grateful for very little. Whatever happens in the next few months, I hope we can hold on to the important lessons we learned this last year, and push to create unique, curious & meaningful work going forward.

© 2024 Soubriet Byrne & Associates, Inc.