Now halfway through 2021, we thought it was about time to check in to see what creative trends have emerged over the last six months.
It’s that time again when we get to take stock of the design trends, video styles and web design innovations we’ve seen crop up so far this year. While 2021, like 2020, has tested and challenged many of us in ways we never expected, it’s also encouraged the development of many new ideas, perspectives and creative trends. Now halfway through the year, we thought it was time to take a look at the top themes and trends that have emerged so far.
With the world still in and out of lockdown, the global crisis is undoubtedly having a big impact on many lives, jobs and industries, which results in new creative trends as well as how brands are going about executing their marketing activity. However, the pandemic isn’t the only thing impacting trends in 2021. The past year has seen many big social, environmental, and political movements unfold, as well as a rise in the popularity of NFTs and Crypto Art, and the introduction of new social media platforms and features such as Clubhouse, Revue, YouTube Shorts, and more.
At the start of the year, we predicted where trends would go across the creative industries. So, we thought it was time to check in with our forecasts and review what new creative happenings have unfurled over the last six months.
Plenty of exciting visual trends have already emerged in 2021 so far. From retro photography to 3D illustrations, here are the top trends to catch our eyes over the last 6 months…
1. Pandemic Recovery
Over the last year and a half, much of the world has been social distancing, taking their businesses online, working from home, or battling with COVID-19 directly, and this has had a big impact on the kinds of photos that are being both sought after and created.
“It would be unthinkable not to mention how the current pandemic has impacted demand for related content,” says Envato Photos Specialist, Gaby Jalbert. “This includes medical research, hygiene best practices, working from home, online education, online shopping, delivery services, social distancing, economic issues, mental illness and so on.”
Since March 2020, we’ve seen COVID-19 related search terms such as corona, quarantine, working from home, stay home and virus trending across Envato, with photos and graphics related to the Global Crisis in strong demand. However, as many areas of the world begin returning to normality, there’s also been an increase in pandemic-recovery related content.
“Photos representing vaccination but also relief, happiness, and return to “normality” should see a sustained demand in the next 6-12 months,” predicts Gaby.
2. Diverse & Inclusive Content Becomes the Standard
“Whether it be religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, culture or location, the world is composed of people from all over the spectrum and we can always use more authentic content reflecting that,” says Gaby. “Now more than ever, businesses are looking for photos that authentically reflect the world we live in – content that their customers can relate to.”
2021 has already become a pivotal year for increased diversity in visual spaces, with many photos and designs now representing people of all races, backgrounds, body types, religious beliefs and sexual orientations, destigmatizing mental health, and standing up for social, political and environmental issues and creating for a greater cause.
3. Retro Photography
Retro trends from the 60, 70s, 80s and 90s are now dominating all areas of the creative industries, but photos and graphics are one of the biggest categories to be impacted by the retro reawakening.
Throughout 2021 we’ve spotted more and more retro photography and imagery dominating the online design space, with many photographers and designers combining the nostalgic familiarity of the old with the modern edge of the new to create this evocative and romantic trend.
The popularity of vintage cameras and retro photography styles has absolutely skyrocketed over the last few years, which has driven a comeback of nostalgic aesthetics, warm tones and analogue-style photography.
Often featuring beautiful light leaks, flares, scratches, grainy photo quality, date stamps and even Polaroid frames, the retro photo aesthetic has become a massive trend on social media – with huge stars such as Ariana Grande and Olivia Rodrigo even employing the retro look in their photos. This has spurred on the development of retro photo editing apps, and an increased use of Photoshop Actions and Presets – such as this Analog Film Photoshop Action from GraphicRiver – which allows anyone to replicate the retro look digitally.
1. 3D Illustration
3D illustration has continued to increase in popularity this year. This illustration style is now being used everywhere – from graphic design and website design, to digital interfaces and social media platforms.
Aesthetic qualities aside, one of the best things about 3D illustration is its versatility. The uses for 3D illustration are wide and varied, with the style often featured in magazines, product design and advertising campaigns. On the other hand, 3D illustration is also regularly used for websites, billboards, flyers, animations and even interactive content, to give assets a modern and creative flare.
“After a long run of flat vector website illustrations, we’re starting to see more 3D in the graphic design space. This 3D work has kept the cheerful style and playful metaphors of the flat illustrations which is nice to see,” explains Envato’s Graphics Specialist Kate McInnes.
We’ve seen 3D illustration used in abstract art, visual data renderings and infographics, and even Envato author Amrit Pal’s Singh’s Toy Faces series in which he has illustrated the likes of Daft Punk, Frida Kahlo and even God himself. There’s no denying that 3D illustration is an incredibly flexible and popular craft that has plenty more creative mileage.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been making design assets and doing client projects as a 3D illustrator,” says Amrit. “Now, I can also sell my illustrations as a work of art which is a huge deal for me personally. My Toy Faces Library started as a design asset, and is now being sold as an NFT, one Toy Face at a time. That’s very empowering because of the love it’s getting from the community and collectors.”
2. Retro Minimalism
A style that combines two of the biggest trends of the past few years, retro minimalism has become a big visual trend in 2021.
A creative response to an increasingly cluttered world, minimalism is all about stripping graphic design down to its most essential elements. It often features muted color palettes, white space, and minimal design elements. Now, designers are fusing this paired back style with some of the iconic elements of the retro design trend – including warm colors, natural textures, shadows, and rounded shapes.
“Think serif fonts, warm dusty tones, soft shadows and natural textures,” says Kate. “This style works particularly well with product mockups and graphic templates.”
3. DIY & Crafty Design
“The DIY aesthetic has to be one of my favorite trends, and it’s become increasingly popular as brand and customer preferences shift towards supporting local and conscious consumption,” says Envato Lead Digital Designer, Sophie Dunn. “The typically earthy, natural, organic tones and materials this aesthetic is known for has a way of making you feel you’re supporting the greater good, and embracing the beauties and perfect imperfections of human craft.”
Influenced by crafts such as collage, scrapbooking and printmaking, the crafty illustration trend features textures such as brushstrokes, ripped paper edges and woodblock prints, bringing real world textures into the digital realm.
“Whether this trend has developed from people spending more time at home and picking up crafty hobbies, or is an extension of mixed media design trends – I’m here for it,” says Envato designer, Taylor Conacher. “Envato Elements’ Crafty Collage Collection takes me back to afternoons cutting out magazines and creating collages in my sketchbook. Oh the nostalgia!”
For many years, video and audio have been the bread and butter of engaging online content – and 2021 has been no exception. From kinetic typography to abstract ambient electro, here are the top multi-media trends to catch our eyes and ears so far this year…
1. Carpe Diem
From the COVID-19 pandemic to the growing environmental crisis, there’s no doubt that there has been a lot of negativity floating around over the past year. However – while the last 12 months have challenged and tested many of us – this trying time has also spurred on a surprisingly uplifting video trend we’re calling ‘Carpe Diem’.
According to Envato’s Video Specialist Mark Brodhuber, there has been a big increase in the amount of positive, inspirational and aspirational video content being created and consumed – suggesting that people are looking for a strong dose of hope and optimism.
“After the year we’ve all had, footage themes seem to be shifting heavily towards positive, uplifting, wondrous and inspiring imagery,” says Mark. “We’re seeing a lot more videos highlighting connections between friends and families, traveling, and just making the most out of life.”
2. Video Portraits
While by no means a new trend, video portraits are once again gaining traction. As the name suggests, video portraits are videos designed to capture a person’s character. They generally involve a person looking into the lens, and are often filmed in a setting that conveys something about the person, their personality or experience. Many forms of film and video use video portraits – from promotional videos to feature films to corporate videos to charity or appeal videos.
No matter where or how they’re used, video portraits are great for helping an audience connect with a person or character. They can also enable viewers to identify with the content of the video by creating a portrait of the person or people who have been affected by an issue or who have taken part in an activity. Video portraits are a great tool for adding depth, humour and humanity to any video project. According to Envato video specialist Mark Brodhuber, video portraits have evolved this year to be more cinematic, intimate and personal.
“Footage portraits are by no means a new thing, but the style has evolved to take on a slightly cinematic tone, while still being intimate and personal,” says Mark. “This style helps viewers connect to the material and portraits generally work really well in vertical orientations.”
3. Kinetic Typography
Fusing video with the tried and tested communication method of the written word, kinetic typography is incredibly popular on social media. It is also a wise choice for high-energy, upbeat ads and marketing videos, because it’s eye-catching, visually and auditorily stimulating, improves message retention, and can convey ideas in a clear, simple and dynamic way.
The rise of this trend has seen a lot more kinetic typography items popping up on Envato Elements this year, with these fun animations becoming more energetic, colorful and brutalist than ever before.
“This popular animation trend from a few years back has experienced a resurgence in recent months,” Mark explains. “This time around, the animations are more dynamic and the design feels more raw, borrowing design principles from the brutalist style.”
1. Happy Upbeat Vibes
With our 2020 audio trend predictions consisting of sports and travel, music is clearly a category where you can never truly know what’s around the corner! But, even amongst the craziness and chaos of the last year, one of our biggest audio trends for 2020 was actually ‘happy’ – proving that even in dark times, people will always listen out for the light.
Throughout 2021, we’ve seen this demand for happy upbeat audio continue to grow – showing that people are still doing their best to look on the bright side of life.
“This trend keeps carrying on,” explains Envato’s Audio Specialist, Adrien Gardiner. “The happy joyful vibe drives so much of what customers need to project, it’s no wonder it seems it’s always here to stay at the top of the charts.”
He continues, “The upbeat audio trend could be hinting that in the midst of our ongoing Covid-19 reality, as the months have worn on, a shift has taken place where people and projects have sought to cling to hope, to reminisce or make memories of happy times, deflecting slightly away perhaps from the otherwise everyday business as usual.”
2. Inspiring Travel
While this prediction couldn’t have been more wrong for 2020, ‘inspiring travel’ has become an increasingly popular audio trend this year as some parts of the world have begun adapting their travel habits to the new normal.
“The world has been opening up over the past months,” says Adrien. “Travel is another timeless trend carrying, hopeful, inspiring themes that let people seize the day, a la Carpe Diem.”
As the world attempts to go back to some sense of normalcy, travel audio has started to re-enter the arena – being used inspirationally for some countries and aspirationally for others.
“At different paces, at different rates, the world is looking ahead to the future again, where borders are beginning to open up and travel begins to be an attractive concept once more,” Adrien continues. “As a result, the familiar sound of upbeat, happy, “take me anywhere today” tunes are creeping back onto the musical map in 2021 – pun intended.”
3. Abstract Ambient Electro Hybrids
In a stark contrast to ‘happy’ and ‘travel’, the rise of abstract, ambient, electro audio has seen audio take a futuristic turn in 2021.
While the past couple of years have been heavily focused on warm retro vibes and nostalgia, this year, trends have also started looking to the future. In 2021 so far, we’ve seen the rise of Crypto Art & NFTs, an increased focus on sci-fi, futurism and technology, and even the continued popularity of the retro 80s Cyberpunk aesthetic. Many creative fields such as design, film, photography and interior design have begun adopting this abstract, futuristic style – and audio trends are now following suit.
“Sci-fi, documentary, and all things tech and crypto, are looking ahead to cutting edge advances in a blazingly fast environment,” explains Adrien. “These types of experimental rhythmic electronic and ambient hybrids are catchy and memorable, and uniquely excellent for driving the pacing of visual imagery.”
We all know that technology trends move at the speed of light. So which tech trends are taking the world by storm this year? From NFTs to eCommerce, here are the top tech trends for 2021 so far…
1. NFTs & Crypto Currency
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and cryptocurrencies have been in the spotlight over the last year. One of the biggest tech trends of 2021, NFTs and crypto have become particularly intriguing for digital artists, with some art collectors spending as much as $200 million on NFT-based artwork, memes and GIFs in the past few months alone.
“With crypto currencies now in wild volatility, there’s an increased level of attention on them,” explains Envato Web and Code Specialist, Stephen Cronin.
NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain, which also supports cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. But unlike bitcoin, NFTs are totally unique and can be anything digital – such as videos, photos, music or digital art.
For artists and digital creators, NFTs provide an alternative way to sell their work online, allowing them to ‘mint’ their artworks as non-fungible tokens, which other people can then buy, sell or hold while they gain value. As a result of NFTs’ rise to popularity, both collectors and creators are investing in these digital artworks, in some cases shelling out huge amounts of money to own them. In fact, digital artist Mike Winkelmann recently sold his NFT artwork ‘The First 5000 Days’ for a record-breaking $69 million. For more on NFTs, check out our summary.
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2. Remote Meetings & Video Conferencing Software
We’re sure it comes as no surprise that there has been a drastic increase in the amount of video conferencing and remote meetings taking place over the past year.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2019, many people around the world have been working from home, social distancing, and doing their best to adapt their businesses to the digital world. Naturally, this has had a big impact on the number of people using remote meeting software, call managers and video conferencing software to stay connected – particularly Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack.
In fact, statistics show that video conferencing saw an enormous 535% rise in daily traffic throughout 2020. Furthermore, 55% of companies now allow for remote work, and 30% of employees are now full-time remote workers, meaning that there are more people using remote meeting and video conferencing software than ever before. And, with remote work set to increase by 77% by 2022, this trend isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
3. AI, AR and Programmatic Advertising
While the concept of AI has been sensationalized in films and television for many years, this futuristic technology is now at the forefront of many industries – such as social media, marketing and advertising. From fun Instagram and Snapchat filters to fully immersive online experiences such as IKEA’s AI shopping app or National Geographic’s Zion National Park Augmented Reality Experience, AI and augmented reality is quickly taking over the digital world.
This rise of AI has also spurred on the development of programmatic advertising. Artificial intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) are essentially just intelligent machines that can respond to real time data, analyze consumer behaviour and patterns, and identify consumer trends and preferences better than humans ever could.
Programmatic Advertising uses AI and Machine Learning to buy and sell digital advertising space and connect with large audiences across multiple platforms in a split second. Allowing advanced audience targeting and driven by real-time data, experts are predicting that 88% of all display advertising will be done via programmatic advertising by the end of 2021 suggesting that this kind of technology is going to continue to play a big role in marketing.
While eCommerce has been around for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. In fact, the global crisis has increased the shift to a “storeless” environment by as much as 500%.
The rise in popularity of eCommerce has driven the usage of platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce, and has also spurred on the development of social commerce trends such as shoppable video, AR and voice commerce, as well as new platform-based shopping features such as Facebook Shops and Instagram Checkout.
Introduced in mid 2020, Shops on Facebook and Instagram enable businesses to establish simplified online stores that run through the apps of these social giants. Optimized for any platform or device, Shops make it super easy for customers to make an in-app purchase while they scroll. With 55% of online shoppers now making purchases through social media channels, a lot of brands are now choosing to sell their products via Instagram and Facebook, with many moving towards using eCommerce and social commerce as their main sales platforms.
“Last year, Facebook announced its latest eCommerce play, Facebook and Instagram Shops,” says Envato’s Content Marketing Manager Julia Fernandez. “Given that many brick and mortar businesses have pivoted to online this year, social commerce is fast becoming the best alternative for brands looking to sell their products and connect with their customers.”