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Biggest Website Design Trends Of 2021 (So Far)

11th June 2021

Now we’re at the mid-point of the year, it’s a good moment to sit back and reflect on where web design trends have taken us so far. We posted back in November 2020 (which seems a lifetime ago already!) about the directions we thought web design might take – but have we been proven right so far?

Back then, we thought improved UX, dark modes, virtual assistants and animated 3D elements would be the big noises in 2021 web design. We were right, on balance – but there have also been a few additional trends that we didn’t see coming.

In part, this is because 2021 web design has been developing at an unusual pace. Web development is always a fast-moving discipline, but – perhaps because due to the pandemic we have all been spending so much time online – this year, designers have been moving faster than ever to enhance and improve online experiences.

So, for example, we were spot on (if we say so ourselves) to identify animation and 3D elementsas oncoming trends for 2021: realism in web design has been a big thing so far this year, and everything from splashes of colour to representations of physical products has been given a decidedly three-dimensional sheen this year. This adds real depth to any website, and visual interest to boot. Both help sites retain users’ attention and get them interacting.

But what of the trends we didn’t see coming? Of these, horizontal scrolling has been the biggest surprise: perhaps influenced by the proliferation of landscape-formatted tablets, developers have been making the most of flipping pages side-to-side rather than from top to bottom. Not only does this mimic the familiarity of a book; it creates beautiful wide spaces on pages that can be filled with really attractive content.

The only note of caution here – given that the trend, and 2021, is still only half-developed – is that switching something as fundamental as the scrolling method can lead to confusion in users. Will they adapt to horizontal scrolling readily enough? Only time will tell, so it’s probably a good idea to restrict for now any implementation of this trend to sites that are used by more tech-savvy users.

Similarly interesting is the development of parallax effects in web design this year. This involves the building-in of layers to a website which – when a user scrolls – display themselves sequentially. The page, in a sense, does not move on scrolling: rather, the users cycle through the layers. This can give a site a lot of visual flairs: words might appear one after another in a banner motto, for example, or a picture may slowly coalesce like a jigsaw puzzle.

Alongside the use of horizontal scrolling, parallax effects are giving websites a serious facelift – which can help refresh the jaded pallets of web users getting bored with the same old sites. But, like any new trend, parallax can be over-used: it is always better as a subtle additional flavour to a website, rather than the whole dish. Too many layers can get frustrating, after all – sometimes users just want to scroll to their content, not the next effect!

Finally, and this trend in fact links to one of our predictions in 2020, web design has gotten comfortable, with colours that are easy on the eye and fonts that are decidedly retro. Back in November last year, we said dark mode was here to stay – because users who are on screens a lot need a break for their eyes. Similarly, softer colours and familiar typefaces make life a lot easier for users: no only do they help the eyes, but they make everything just feel a little more welcoming and comfy, like a pair of faded old shoes.

So: comfort, space and scrolling are the three big trends so far this year. Given how much more we are all using the web, perhaps that’s no surprise. We saw this coming, but perhaps not quite in some of the shapes, they eventually took. Developers are shifting their methods faster than ever, so these are very much only the biggest website design trends of 2021 so far!

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