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The biggest trends in graphic design for 2021, as predicted by leading creatives

By Tom May, Creative Boom

As we reach the end of this tumultuous 12 months, it seems (fingers crossed) like there's some light at the end of the tunnel. So it's time to look to the future. But what exactly does it hold for graphic designers?

To answer that question, we've teamed up with Shillington, which knows a thing or two about the graphic design profession and where the discipline is heading. In this article, we share six broad trends we expect to see in 2021, with insights from some leading lights in the creative community.


Obviously, no one can predict what will happen in the new year to any degree of accuracy right now. So don't take any of this as gospel. Instead, we hope it will give you some idea of how to navigate the year ahead, and help keep you looking forward, in optimism and solidarity.


Trend 1: Sustainability

The idea of developing a new, more sustainable relationship with our environment has been growing steadily throughout the 2010s. But in 2020, a year when many of us got to spend more time outdoors, enjoying wide open spaces and plane-free skies, it all started to feel a little more real and achievable.


"Behind all the suffering and economic hardship of the coronavirus pandemic, international lockdowns have helped the environmental cause," says Astrid Stavro, partner at Pentagram. "We've all had a glimpse into what a greener world might be like, and hopefully, 2021 will be the year in which we heed lessons from the collective action used against coronavirus to effectively respond to climate change and other social inequalities."


Positive Packaging

This approach is increasingly visible in the design and packaging industries. It can be seen, for instance, in &SMITH's designs for herbal tea range Kib, inspired by the notion of ‘circular living', and OMSE's identity for Grounded, a sustainable packaging brand that literally decomposes.


Another good example from 2020 was Horse's branding and packaging for Good Things Brewing, which claims to be the world's most sustainable brewery. And note there's no empty 'greenwashing' here: the company is completely energy-efficient and off-grid, with everything recycled and reused from water to grain.


Practical Action

"The global awareness towards sustainability has led to a huge shift in how we think about design," says Eve Warren, designer at Robot Food. "And it's now more than ever that big brands have to step up and lead the way. Consumers are more mindful of their social responsibility, and this extends to packaging design."


Most importantly, such words are now being matched by action, at both a personal and macro level. "In lockdown, I made the shift from bulky plastic cleaning and laundry products to the amazing eco-friendly detergent subscription service Smol," Eve adds. "They claim to use the world's first 100% plastic-free, child-lock packaging for its washing up and laundry products.


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