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The 6 UI Design Trends That Will Dominate 2021

The UI is the gateway for users to see who you are, what your products are all about, and what your user experience looks like. That’s why you have to keep it in constant evolution

10 min read

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Though a lot of people like to see the user interface (UI) as just the part of the software with which users interact, it’s much more than that. The UI is the gateway for users to see who you are, what your products are all about, and what your user experience looks like. That’s why you have to keep it in constant evolution – because you need to show your audience that you’re in perpetual progression.

Naturally, you have to keep an eye on the newest trends to adjust your products’ UIs accordingly. So, if you’re looking for a refresh to your interfaces or are looking for ideas to develop the UI for a new product, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the 6 UI design trends that are already signaling a direction for designers to take during 2021.


1. Skeuomorphism is Back (with a Twist)

When Apple released the first iPhone back in 2007, it certainly revolutionized the mobile world. But, aside from that, it cemented the company as a major trendsetter. That’s because the iPhones popularized skeuomorphism, a design trend that relies on visual elements that mimic real-life objects.

As it always happens with design trends, the following years saw designers move away from skeuomorphism to favor a more minimalist approach. But everything is pendular in the design world, so it was only a matter of time before minimalism started to feel generic. The solution? Designers began adding depth to those flat designs while keeping some of their minimalist aspects.

The result was a new form of skeuomorphism called neomorphism, which uses the stylized design of minimalism and adds depth in certain details. This new skeuomorphism is the perfect example of what UI designers can expect during 2021 – flat design has a twist that adds depth and generates different attention points.


2. The Revival of 90s Gradients 

Skeuomorphism isn’t the only thing that’s making a comeback. Gradients, which were a staple of 90s design, are also back and aiming to be as popular as 30 years ago. To do so, designers are using them in a less dramatic way to highlight elements and offer directions for eyes to follow. If you paid attention to the work designers have done over the last couple of years, you surely noticed that gradients have been reemerging for quite a while.

But, in 2021, those gradients will have drowned contrasts and very soft transitions. The idea aligns with that slow breakaway from flat designs that ruled the 2010s. By using these less-dramatic gradients, designers can underline certain elements and take the user’s gaze from point A to point B. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as using gradients can be a little tricky.

To jump on this trend, you’ll need to carefully consider the color wheel and master the use of complementary colors while also limiting the number of tones. Yes, you read that right – stick to 2 or 3 colors for your gradients. The 90s might be back but they want to do things a little differently now.


3. The Everlasting Enchantment of 3D Graphics

You surely don’t have to think that hard to remember one of the many times 3D graphics promises to revolutionize a particular field (from video games to cinema). So, it shouldn’t surprise you that designers are eyeing an increase in popularity for 3D graphics in UI design. In the pursuit for depth, 3D always appears as a valid resource, especially today, when achieving a realistic design is more attainable than ever.

You can thank the rise of virtual reality and augmented reality for that. Now, anyone can enjoy three-dimensional objects and immersive worlds just by downloading an app and running it on their phones. With the increasing presence of VR and AR in our everyday lives, it’s only natural for designers to try to embed 3D models and effects websites and apps.

It’s not just a visual gimmick, mind you. 3D views can help users better understand products (i.e. like a 3D model of a car can help them rotate it to access different information). The objective is to use 3D graphics to create a sense of the “real world” that allows consumers to “jump into the screen” and get immersed in the experience.


4. A Celebration of Briefness with Micro-interactions

You might not notice it unless someone draws your attention to them, but every time you use some type of software, there are little interactions when the application “reacts” to your interaction in some way. A simple example could be an icon getting a little animation when you hover your mouse over it. It’s a small detail that feels like a nice little feature and nothing else.

Yet, micro-interactions have become incredibly important for the user experience and, hence, for UI design. Through those micro-interactions, the user can confirm that a certain action has taken place (in our example, that the cursor is indeed on top of that icon). It’s the interface’s way of saying “I’m hearing you.” 

You might be thinking that micro-interactions aren’t new things – and they aren’t! Windows has had that swooshing sound in its recycling bin for decades which serves precisely that purpose. But the 2021 trend here isn’t micro-interactions in themselves but rather the delayed recognition of their importance. As companies struggle to stand out from the competition, little details like these can provide an edge.


5. Apple does it Again with Glassmorphism

Just like it happened with the first iPhone and skeuomorphism, Apple is leading the way in the UI design world with the introduction of Big Sur, the latest major release of macOS released in 2020. There are plenty of design elements to discuss in that operating system but one of the standouts is glassmorphism.

As its name suggests, glassmorphism is about introducing a “glassy“ look to the interface that creates the effect of a transparent layer between the user and the objects with which they interact. This “see-through” effect allows designers to create hierarchical structures, especially if they work them against colorful backdrops. 

That transparency tricks users into thinking that there’s a certain depth behind the elements that use them. This pops out the “glassmorphed” elements out of the screen, providing relevance and adding a nice 3D look that aligns with the rest of the trends we’re discussing here. 


6. Data Visualization gets Reinvented

Finally, there’s a trend that’s directly affected by the huge rise of data science efforts across the board. Given the companies’ need to crunch vast amounts of data into understandable visualizations that can quickly inform their decisions, designers have begun devising new ways of presenting that information—and they are as useful as they are eye-catching.

The results are more than just animated charts – there are products using unique graphs, different characters mixed with shapes and colors, and wild abstractions that use numbers as design elements and not just as information. One of the most popular elements of this trend is wave patterns, which create hypnotic effects that are immediately captivating.

What’s more interesting about this trend is what isn’t designed yet. While you can go ahead and copy some of the innovative designs for data visualization, the objective of the trend is to understand that data plays a major role in most modern businesses, which ultimately means that designers have to find ways to make visualization engaging and even fun. In other words, people don’t expect the same old charts and graphs anymore – they want something fresh.


A Great Year for UI Design

A couple of months already passed us by in 2021, showing us that the trends highlighted here are clear leaders of the new UI design. As companies are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic and design new ways to captivate consumers, these trends can prove very helpful to create exciting new experiences that customers will love and value.

Because, in the end, that’s the most important thing about UI design – it’s not just about the looks, it’s about making memorable moments, something you can definitely infuse in your software development with these trends. 

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