Year in Review: The Top Design, Web and Video Trends of 2020

We look back on the year that was to recap the biggest design trends, web trends and video trends of 2020, from social shopping to retro design.

Year in Review 2020
Portrait for Kelsie RimmerBy Kelsie Rimmer  |  Updated December 22, 2020

And just like that, another year has come to an end. Between the global Coronavirus pandemic, environmental crisis, and various social and political movements across the world, it’s safe to say that none of us could have envisioned what this crazy year would bring. 

While 2020 changed and challenged many of us in unpredictable ways, it also spurred on a ton of exciting new creative trends, ideas and perspectives. Now, as we prepare to embrace the year ahead, we thought it was time to take a look at the top themes and trends that have emerged in the creative world over the past 12 months. 

Ready to recap one of the most unforeseeable years in history? Let’s take a look back at 2020 and talk about the trends we expected, the ones we didn’t, and the trends that no one could have ever anticipated…

Key Themes

2020 has been one crazy year! Discover the themes that influenced not just the creative industries, but the world over the last 12 months…

1. Global Crisis

As the defining event of 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic has had a massive impact on all of our lives – and the creative sphere was not exempt. With many people social distancing, pivoting their businesses to digital, and working from home, the global crisis had a big influence on the kind of visual content being created and consumed. 

This includes content about the pandemic itself. For example, since March 2020, we’ve seen COVID-19 related search terms trending heavily on Envato, with keywords such as “coronavirus”, “quarantine”, “social distance”, “medical mask”, and “stay home” in particularly strong demand.

“It would be unthinkable not to mention how the current pandemic impacted demand for specifically 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.” 

Woman shopping in a supermarket with a face mask

In lockdown, out entertainment came via our social media feeds, streaming services, online shopping, gaming and video calls. As a result, both the creation and consumption of online content has increased and changed dramatically.

“Information sharing is more important than ever during COVID-19,” says Envato Graphics Specialist Kate McInnes.“Graphics have been made to inform people of rules and regulations. Infographics are accompanying articles and news stories. Icons are being created for app and website designs.” 

We’ve also seen an increase in uplifting content from our creative community. Kate added, “It’s been a stressful time. One of the things that has cheered me up is the wonderfully warm and delightful illustrations from the Envato community. Topics including, families spending time together, indoor yoga and work from home arrangements have brightened up my day.”

2. Environmentalism and Sustainability

hands holding a green plant with leaves

Environmental issues are continuing to impact both the planet and our everyday lives and there’s been an increased focus on driving awareness this year. As a result, terms relating to nature and the environment are fast becoming an evergreen content area for photos and graphic

“During these challenging economic times, many are still very preoccupied by environmental issues and raise valid questions around the importance the environment should have in the global economic recovery (renewable energy, air quality, natural resources, etc),” says Gaby.

Since mid 2020, searches for “environment” in graphics and photos have been up 50% and 60% respectively, while terms such as “nature”, “recycle” and “sustainable” are growing even faster as sustainability becomes an increasingly pressing topic for businesses.

“Over the past year I’ve seen a shift in thinking from reduce, reuse, recycle to adopting a low carbon, plastic free lifestyle,” says Kate. “It’s great to see more and more people make sustainable lifestyle choices and use graphic design to share the message with others.”

Go green with this Nature web banner concept design, these Zero Waste Objects by plahotya, and this Organic Food Labels Collection by PureSolution. Or explore the fusion of eco-consciousness and commerce in our eCommerce trends blog.

3. Activism

Woman holding a sign at a protest

With many social and political movements gaining momentum this year, activism has been one of the biggest themes of 2020.  

As a result, brands have been more vocal about their values and beliefs through their products, branding and visual content. Reebok, Nike, Netflix and many more took a stand to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Pure Gold launched their 6 For 6-Pack program to support organic farming, and Ben & Jerry’s teamed up with the Climate Council for their latest ‘Unfudge our Future’ campaign – a new range of products urging the Australian government to ditch fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy. 

As a result of this increased activism and awareness, the creative industries are showing growing demand for images that reflect this. In fact, searches for photos containing the word ‘protest’ were up 78% this year, with similar results for graphics.

“Less of a trend and more of a social responsibility, activism is on the rise with brands speaking up about social and environmental issues that resonate with their consumers,” says Envato Social Media Specialist Jo Birleson. “It shows that brands are committed to the issues that people care most about, often driving people to become activists for the first time, which is incredibly uplifting.”

4. Diversity and Representation

This year, we’ve seen an increased demand for images that illustrate a more diverse and authentic society, with key search terms driving content around diversity, inclusivity, and mental health awareness.

With the rise of movements such as Black Lives Matter, mental health awareness, LGBTQI+ rights and many more, we’ve seen growing demand for authentic and diverse imagery, as well as content that reflects a broader range of ethnicities, body-types and abilities. This includes growth in search terms such as “autism” and “down syndrome”, and content that challenges stereotypes around gender, sex, work and relationships. 

“Now more than ever, businesses are looking for photos that authentically reflect the world we live in. Content that their customers can relate to,” says Gaby. 

5. Ecommerce

Ecommerce icons

Ecommerce has been a big focus during 2020. While this trend was sure to have grown on its own, the increased number of businesses pivoting to digital and consumers shopping online has only fuelled the fire. In fact, at Envato, searches for “eCommerce” are up a massive 119% YoY.

And with the introduction of Facebook Shops, Instagram Shops and Pinterest Shopping this year – as well as many brands and businesses moving their sales online due to the global crisis –  social commerce is set to be the next big thing. 

With 55% of online shoppers now making purchases through social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and 71% of consumers turning to social media for shopping inspiration, social commerce and shoppable posts are becoming the new normal. 

“Earlier this 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 in 2020, this could be an interesting alternative for many brands looking to connect with customers.”

To take your business online, check out this Instagram Fashion Banner by uicreativenet or these Instagram Stories by Therealist_Shop.

Plenty of new exciting design trends have emerged in 2020, with many pushing onwards and upwards into 2021. Ranging from retro design to organic design, these trends took the design world by storm this year…

1. Retro

Spurred on by our love of nostalgia, the retro graphic design trend – particularly 60s, 70s, 80s and 90’s design trends – made a massive comeback in 2020.

Retro design and nostalgic creative have been adopted by brands such as Nike, Pepsi, Gucci over the past year, as the world navigated unpredictable and unprecedented times

And as a result of this collective nostalgia obsession, ‘80s’ and ‘90s’ related keywords dominate this year’s video and graphics searches, and analog effects, 8-bit pixel textures and videos of VHS static have also become increasingly popular. Last year, Envato’s Graphics Specialist Kate McInnes predicted 70s design styles to be the most popular – and she was right on the money. 

Far Out 70s Typeface

“Bold color choices, flower motifs, paisley patterns and curvy serif fonts,” Kate predicted. “It won’t be as kitsch-y as the original designs were, instead it will evoke a nostalgic, relaxed and cheerful aesthetic.” 

And while we very much experienced a return of the 1970s in 2020, a whole host of other decades came along for the ride, too.

2. Bright & Bold Colors

Adding some much needed vibrancy and positivity to 2020, bright and bold color have been a massive trend this year. Vivid color palettes have become extremely popular in all areas of design, but especially in terms of photography, product packaging and website design. 

Influenced by graffiti, murals and pop art,  bright and bold color palettes  are known to create a mood of optimism and youthful exuberance. So, it’s no surprise that this trend has been adopted across disciplines such as fashion, interior design and branding, in an effort to raise spirits and hope. 

Among Envato’s most popular colors of 2020, we saw plenty of bright colors pop up – such as Red, Pink, Orange and Yellow, as well as Azure (93% year on year growth) and Indigo (61% year on year growth). Even one of Pantone’s Colors of the year for 2021 – the effervescent, warm and luminous yellow shade 13-0647 Illuminatingis bright and bold, which suggests this trend is set to continue. 

“I was guessing that the 2021 Pantone colour of the year would be a dusty pastel color to convey a soft and reflective mood. Instead, we got two colors, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Yellow,” muses Kate. “I think that this pairing makes sense. The two colors used together sets a mood that is reflective and optimistic. Gray and Yellow work well for a variety of styles and designs too, most designers will find a way to add these two colors to their creations.”

Pantone Color of the Year collection

3. Organic Design

On the flip side, the more muted tones associated with organic design have also been a big trend for 2020. Influenced by our increased focus on sustainability and environmentalism, organic design is all about using natural, tactile elements – such as organic textures, natural shapes, botanicals and neutral colors – to evoke the experience of being immersed in nature

Searches for terms such as “nature”, “organic” and “sustainable” have all grown significantly this year on Envato, as organic design has been widely used across various segments of design – including fashion, product design, interior design and graphic design. 

“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,” says Envato Lead Digital Designer, Sophie Dunn. 

Neutral colors have also become particularly popular, as they directly replicate our environment’s natural palette. The color beige has seen 60% year on year growth in searches at Envato, while other neutral colors such as Light Blue (50% year on year growth) and Gray (43% year on year growth) have also risen up the ranks, alongside earth tones such as Olive (27%), Brown (39%), and Orange (32%). 

Earth Tones Collection

4. Illustration

While by no means a new trend, illustration and digital art has continued to grow in popularity throughout 2020. Businesses are now including digital illustrations and hand-drawn elements in their designs, websites, and branding more than ever before.

In particular, illustration trends such as flat design, 3D illustration, hand-drawn typography and “odd bodies” have really left their mark on 2020, with many designers now dabbling in these illustration styles. 

“3D illustrations can be used to breathe more life to a normally static or flat design,” explains Aurenia Permadi, UI Designer at Envato. “It is also specifically useful to visualize complex ideas and blend the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds,” she adds.

Well known across Envato for his eye-catching 3D illustrations, Elements author and illustrator Amrit Pal Singh offers these words of wisdom for his fellow illustrators: “Play to your strengths and stick to your natural style. As an illustrator, your unique style will make you stand out. Don’t worry about what’s trending or what other people are doing, just master your style and try to be great at it. This is going to take time, be consistent and things will eventually flow.” 

5. Procreate

2020 was a huge year for Procreate. While there are plenty of digital painting and illustration apps on the market, Procreate is fast becoming the go-to program for many artists and designers, due to its intuitive interface and affordable price tag. 

What Is Procreate?

Procreate is a digital illustration and painting app designed exclusively for the iPad. Best known for its flexibility, usability and intuitive workflow, Procreate allows designers to easily sketch, save, organize and export their artwork in a variety of file formats – as well as offering a wide range of brushes, layers and effects. 

As seen in Google’s search trend growth, Procreate’s popularity has absolutely soared in 2020 – perhaps because the program helps hands-on artists to adapt their skills to digital quickly and easily. Envato Elements author Pixelbuddha puts the “pro” in Procreate, with their beautiful Procreate brushes

“Thanks to Procreate, making Procreate brushes has become one of the priority fields we work in,” Pixelbuddha explains. “Our illustrators almost immediately fell for the app’s convenience and handy features. Along with multiple illustrators and creators worldwide, we were hooked by the creative freedom possible with Procreate. On one hand, it’s simple and intuitive. And on the other, using Procreate allows customers to experiment and combine brushes any way they like — you can even create brand new brushes!”

Which web design trends took the web by storm over the last year? From dark mode to interactivity, here are the top web design trends that dominated in 2020…

1. Illustrations for Web

Alongside hand-drawn elements in graphic design, illustration has become a huge trend in web design. Plenty of brands are now integrating illustration into their digital experiences – including health insurer AHM and luxury fashion brand Gucci.

Working with illustration has the benefit of adding a crafty, authentic touch and welcoming feel to your site design. However, Envato’s Content Specialist for Websites and Themes, Stephen Cronin, says it’s more important than ever to ensure those digital illustrations are as high quality as possible. 

“Illustration is and will continue to be a popular trend,” says Stephen. “Although, site owners will become more aware of the performance impact now that Google is making their Core Web Vitals part of their ranking signal. Cool illustrations? Yes please! But let’s make sure the file size is optimized.”

To integrate illustration into your web designs, check out this collection of 3D illustrations, or  take a look at some of the great illustrations on Envato Elements – such as this Order online – colorful flat design style banner by BoykoPictures, this Program coding landing page website illustration by nanoagency, or this Website Illustration – Landing Page by TanahAirStudio.

2. Animation & Interactivity

A video style that connects with everyone – from children to the elderly – animation is a simple and easy way to make an otherwise ordinary web page exciting and engaging.

Used everywhere in 2020 – such as Alter Mind, Gridspace and even SEEK’s career advice page – plenty of web designers are now looking to animation and motion to take their websites to the next level. Fluid animation in particular – a type of motion animation with persistent movement, often characterized by having an appearance akin to liquid – is trending big time.

Many businesses have also begun adding interactive elements to their websites, including quizzes, games, polls and surveys, with beauty brand Estee Lauder even launching an interactive arcade game called ‘THE ANRCADE’. 

“Animation may have been a little overused in 2019,” says Stephen Cronin, Envato’s Content Specialist for Websites and Themes. “In 2020, we’ve seen it used more cleverly, with more subtle animation and interaction employed to support user engagement and more obvious animation used to draw attention to just one or two calls to action.”

If you want to delve into the magical world of animation, check out this Abstract Colorful Fluid Background of Vibrant Neon Colors and Patterns by maxvvebb or this Quick Logo Animation by DuneFilm

3. Anti-Design

Spurred on by the resurgence of Brutalism in 2019, anti-design has been a huge web design trend throughout 2020.

What Is Anti-Design?

A controversial style that has now seeped into the realms of social media, pop-culture, and graphic design, the anti-design movement is all about embracing chaos and ugliness. It features experimental and asymmetrical layouts, exaggeration, distortion, layering and traditionally ‘ugly’ elements. 

Many web designers delved into anti-design this year, as seen in the chaotic web designs of Dutch brand Roze Bunker and design studios Play Type and XXIX

“The anti-design style has been a great outlet this year for designers to experiment and blow off steam in what’s been a very turbulent year,” says Envato Digital Designer Camilla Anderson. “It also came off the back of years of design becoming more and more minimal, and for some, just plain boring – I don’t think this phase of experimentation is over just yet.” 

If you’re pro anti-design, break the rules with this Sambat Creative Digital Portfolio HTML Template by esensifiksi, CHAOS Instagram Social Media Kit by dirtylinestudioon and this Photocopy Glitch Poster Photoshop Action by bangingjoints on Envato Elements!

4. Template Kits

In the last few years, self-serve website builders such as Elementor and WordPress Gutenberg have allowed anyone to create a professional website in no time. And throughout 2020, their popularity absolutely skyrocketed. 

With many brands, businesses and freelancers being forced to take their services online this year, there was an increased need to build websites quickly, cheaply and easily. And as a result, many people have turned to page or website builders that are fast, code-free and fully flexible.

Launched in May 2020, Envato Elements Template Kits for Elementor, offer a wide variety of professional and cohesive website designs and templates for everything from your homepage to your contact page. Designed to go hand-in-hand with your WordPress page builder, Envato’s new category of pre-designed templates make it super easy to get a website up and running in no time, with or without design and coding knowledge. 

Which audio trends caught our ears this year? From podcasts to sound effects, here are the top audio trends for 2020…

1. Podcast Tracks

From film reviews and sporting analysis to true crime and business advice, podcasts have absolutely exploded over the last few years. And throughout 2020, podcasting has continued to grow as both an audio trend and an industry in its own right. 

Not only is the sector booming — podcast mobile app usage has risen 60% since January 2018 — podcasting was also our highest trending cross-category search term in 2019, and it only continued to grow in 2020. Meanwhile, background music, intro themes, and short ‘stings’ are all growing sound searches on Envato Elements.

“If you have any kind of hobby or interest, there’s a podcast about it,” says Envato Audio Content Specialist, Adrien Gardener. “Podcasts are natural fits for all kinds of audio, various musical styles and countless sound effects, for mood, impact and branding. With the explosion in this niche showing no signs of stopping, there’s going to be an ongoing increase in demand for podcast audio for a long time to come.”

Choosing a catchy audio track is paramount when it comes to creating a successful podcast. So if you’re looking for the perfect podcast accompaniment, check out this round up of the top 10 best podcast tracks or follow our step-by-step podcast guide.

To catch the ears of your podcast audience, try out this Upbeat Podcast Intro by JBlanks, State Of Advert by petrenj or this Heavy Rock Intro by Wolf_Music. 

2. Motivational & Epic Music

man staring at the sunset

With our 2020 audio trend predictions originally consisting of sports, travel and corporate soundtracks, this category perhaps best represents that you can never know what’s just around the corner! But, according to Envato Audio Specialist Adrien Gardner, one of the biggest audio trends for 2020 was actually happy, motivational and epic music. 

“It’s interesting to see that “Happy” has overtaken “Corporate” as far as what’s most in demand,” says Adrien. “This 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.”

If you’re looking for a happy and motivational audio track, try Be Happy by Lowtone, or Happy by raspberrymusic

3. Corporate Tracks

image of skyscraper from below

While the corporate genre has been labelled ‘boring’ and ‘generic’, there’s been a big demand for corporate audio throughout 2020. And even in the face of a global economic shutdown and the move to remote working, this trend has remained strong. 

Employees may be working from home, but many businesses have been trying to stay afloat as they adapt to the digital landscape, which means that promotional videos – and the audio that accompanies them – are more valuable than ever. 

“Growing numbers of corporate projects continue to define this subgenre as legitimate,” says Adrien. “Not many corporate works get done without the optimistic sound of uplifting melodies, motivational beats, and an inspirational feeling of unbridled exuberance.”

To inspire your customers with some inspirational corporate tunes, try Corporate Music by GentleJammers or That Corporate by TimCat

4. Sound Effects

Used in film, videos, music, video games and even podcasts, sound effects are essential for creating mood and atmosphere. And throughout 2020, they’ve become one of the most in demand online audio trends. 

“The fastest growing type of audio search out there is Sound Effects. It’s on fire,” says Adrien. “Anything you can think of (almost) makes a sound! Game sounds, nature sounds, human sounds, cartoon sounds and way way more… Oh and by the way, Envato Elements just happens to have the biggest subscription sound effects library – ever.“ 

Transition sound effects in particular are trending big time. In fact, four out of five of the most downloaded sounds on MixKit, Envato’s free video & audio platform, are transition sound effects – such as whoosh, swoosh, sweep and zap. Other classic sound effects such as game effects, applause, keyboard typing, and birds chirping are also in the top 10 most downloaded sounds. 

With a huge range of sound effects now available to everyone thanks to audio libraries, if there’s a sound you need, chances are you’ll be able to find it there with the click of a button. 

If you want to add some audio flair to your next video or podcast, try this Infographics Video Sound Effects Pack, Nature Forest Atmosphere by JiltedGeneration and this Fire Burning Loop by urbazon. Or head over to Envato Elements to browse our huge library of over 420k sounds.

Over the last few years, video has consistently been the most engaging form of content online – and 2020 was no exception. From live and vertical video to fluid animation, here are the biggest video trends of the past year… 

1. Live Video

With the rise of IGTV, Instagram Stories, YouTube Live and TikTok this year – as well as the effects of the global pandemic – we’ve seen the popularity of live videos increase drastically. In fact, the online live streaming industry grew 99% between April 2019 and April 2020.

Live videos are proving to be the most engaging form of video content online due to their authentic, relatable nature. And this year, for many industries, live video became a necessity. Plenty of brands and businesses went live on social media to connect with their customers, and even typically offline events such as Glastonbury Festival embraced live video and digital content during the pandemic, jumping on board with their Virtual Glastonbury Fest. 

“In 2020 consumers are watching more video than ever before. And now it’s all about going live,”  says Envato Social Media Specialist Jo Birleson. “From Facebook Live and Tik Tok to Instagram Live & Instagram Reels, it’s proving to be the best way to capture the attention of your social audience.” 

2. Fluid Animation

Just as our experts forecast in our Creative Trend Predictions 2020, fluid animation has been hot on the video scene this year.

Featuring persistent movement that has the appearance of liquid, fluid animation is a truly captivating trend. Ranging from complex and high-quality to simple and fast real-time animations, it’s a futuristic form of digital art which many creatives are combining with gradients and bold colours for a modern edge. 

“Fluid animation, bold colors and gradients have grown in strength and content creators have managed to blur the lines between all three, merging them together into a fresh new style,” says Mark Brodhuber, Envato’s Content Specialist for Video. “Animators use fluid to keep the pace while also smoothly transitioning between elements or scenes.”

To try fluid animation for yourself, check out Fluido by MIKO or Fluidum by JuicyHats.

3. Gradients

In a similar vein, gradients – another one of our 2020 create trend predictions – have made a comeback this year. Reminiscent of primary school art projects and early 2000s PowerPoint presentations, in 2020, gradients were used in a much more modern, eye-catching way. 

“Gradients fit really nicely into the retro, ‘80s, cyberpunk theme that’s been trending since early 2019”, says Mark “They’re being used as bold striking backgrounds, or to accentuate text and other elements, helping them to leap off the screen.”

4. Vertical Video

After mobile-first video truly emerged in 2019, we saw vertical video continue to thrive in 2020. While this trend was sure to have grown on its, the global crisis and lockdowns around the world certainly had a big influence on the amount of people creating and consuming content from their phones – leading to an increase in vertical video. 

While this trend may have started on social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, vertical video is now appearing outside the social media realm on both the big and small screen. Shot on iPhone 11 Pro, the short film “The Stunt Double” is a journey through cinema history reimagined for the vertical screen. And television manufacturers are now even making TV’s that can be rotated to support vertical resolutions

“At Envato, we’re seeing our authors producing content with vertical orientation in mind during production, which helps to get the framing and composition just right,” says Mark. “But it’s worth noting many items from our existing Stock Video library could easily be rotated and cropped to fit vertical orientations.”

If you’re ready to jump on the vertical video trend, check out this trendy, minimally designed Instagram Stories pack by therealist_network, or this awesome vertical video of looping fire!

And that’s a wrap on 2020! To look back on the year that was, check out our Mid Year Trend Review for 2020, or look ahead to the new year with our Color Trends 2021, Design Trends 2021 and Creative Trend Predictions for 2021! 

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