UX is often best when it goes unnoticed, but once a year, we get to spotlight the UX design trends that are too innovative to be ignored. In preparation for 2021’s UX trends list, we reached out to our community of UX experts from around the world, and their predictions appear to share a common thread.

While strict minimalism has been the driver of seamless experiences up until now, the future of UX design is integrating a lot more realism back into the mix. Whether this is through AR interfaces, lifelike animations or windows of escapism, the UX design trends of 2021 are blurring the line between the digital and the real like never before. To see what we mean, let’s explore the top 8 UX design trends coming our way in 2021.

The top 8 UX design trends in 2021

  1. Anthropomorphic animations
  2. Advanced micro-interactions
  3. Individual learning
  4. Escapism
  5. Brand transparency
  6. Live collaboration
  7. 90s retro UI
  8. Augmented reality

1. Anthropomorphic animations

Web page design for a museum with subtle character animations
By Ekaterina Ushakova via Behance
Web page design for a museum with subtle character animations
By Ekaterina Ushakova via Behance

Given how long we spend looking at our screens, it was only a matter of time before those screens would start looking back. Luckily, we’re not talking about self-aware computers (yet), but as 2021 approaches, many interfaces are taking on the appearance of life through anthropomorphic animations.

By tubik via Dribbble

By Tran Mau Tri Tam via Dribbble

By SLAB Design Studio via Dribbble

By Zajno Crew via Dribbble

This refers to animations that mimic human movements, such as blinking eyes or nodding heads. It stands in contrast to flashier animation trends, namely the morphing shapes of motion graphics that pervade digital design.

Instead, the power of anthropomorphic animation lies in its subtlety. You may be deep into reading a product description before you notice that the character next to it just brushed her hair out of her eyes. The effect is all the more immersive, as though the design itself is only marginally conscious of its own movements—they way real humans are.

2. Advanced micro-interactions

By Zajno Crew via Dribbble

By green chameleon via Dribbble

By tubik via Dribbble

By Quinton Lodge via Dribbble

While the general purpose of design is communication, digital design can accomplish a literal back and forth: that of interaction and feedback. These moments in which a user takes an action—such as clicking on a button—that causes the page to respond, are generally referred to as micro-interactions, and their purpose is to foster a feeling of tactile satisfaction.

By Fireart Studio via Dribbble

By MakeReign via Dribbble

By Boan Mesar via Dribbble

By Interactive Labs via Dribbble

While page responses like these are nothing new, in 2021, we are seeing micro-interactions become a lot more macro. Designers are intensifying them through extreme animations and page transitions. This can range from sudden zooms to a complete reshuffling of the page layout.

Although a less-is-more approach has been the law of the digital land for ages now, these over-the-top transitions do not come across as intrusive since the user is causing them to happen. The end result is UX that responds to input in increasingly dazzling and creative ways, maximizing the user’s connection with the page.

3. Individual learning

UX design for marketing individual learning app
By K. Pavlov

By RonDesignLab via Dribbble

Online education has been one of the greatest benefits of the internet age, making learning a new skill or pursuing a new career path more accessible than ever before. But the drawback (compared to traditional schooling) is that it is solely dependent on the individual: the student must both motivate themselves through every step of the coursework while simultaneously assessing their own work. But in 2021, UX is moving to the front of the class to offer learning tools that actually empower students.

Designers accomplish this through individual learning, in which educational apps use matchmaking technology, psychological tests, remote feedback and scheduling tools to tailor the learning experience to each user. These typically come in the form of a robust dashboard, that makes it easier than ever to track progress, set goals, and learn from mistakes. In this way, the UX design trends of 2021 are bringing online education that much closer to simulating the one-on-one experience so hard to come by in crowded lecture halls.

4. Escapism

ux design trends example: nature web design
By DSKY

Mapping a user’s journey is a crucial step in any software design. And in 2021, that journey is looking a lot more scenic as UX embarks on a virtual vacation. Which is to say, we are seeing UX designers make exotic locations and wanderlust lifestyles the centerpiece of their layouts, instilling a sense of escapism in viewers.

UX trend example: Travel company UX website design
By Daria Moroz via Behance
UX trend example: Travel blog UX web page design
By Martin Briceno via Behance

This trend can express itself through organic and lush color schemes, gallery-laden scrolling or oversized hero images where layered copy creates realistic depth. Minimalism in the UI elements is a key technique here, giving these images the full spotlight.

By Balkan Brothers via Dribbble

Winery company UX website design
By Daria Moroz via Behance
UX web page design for travel education brand
By 99fella

It is likely no coincidence this UX trend has sprung up in the wake of stay-at-home orders that have forced people to live vicariously through digital worlds. Lucky for us, the UX designers of 2021 are making those worlds feel more like places we’d actually want to live in.

5. Brand transparency

By green chameleon via Dribbble

Agriculture company UX website design
By deandesign

Good UX is a silent teacher. It shows users where to find menus or buttons without them needing to ask. Navigation, however, is not the only lesson UX has to impart. Recently, we’ve seen a rise in UX that is centered around demonstrating a brand’s ethics, showing the user how exactly products are made or services are rendered.

Ethical journalism UX website design
By Adam Muflihun.
Web page design for modern herb planters
By Herman Scheer via Behance
Content moderation UX popup with 3D illustrations
By Vitality Studio via Dribbble

This might include labels highlighting the sustainable materials used or social media popups or overlays that express transparent policies around how content is moderated. Brands are beginning to realize that the first thing visitors to their website want these days is not necessarily a CTA button shoved in their faces. Instead, many are conscientious users who need to know that the brand shares their values.

Through clear product breakdowns and transparent labeling, the UX designers of 2021 are demonstrating that an app exists both in the digital sphere and in the real world its services affect.

6. Live collaboration

By Shay Cohen via Dribbble

Just when it seemed like work couldn’t get any more digital, a pandemic made work-from-home a global standard. As a result, it’s no surprise that there’s been an increase in online collaboration features, and we expect this trend to continue through 2021.

Work management collaboration UX app design
By Maria Filatova via Dribbble
Product designer collaboration app UX design
By Niclas Ernst via Dribbble
Repair technician workshop collaborative app UX design
By PurrWeb UI via Dribbble

Examples of these kinds of features include live viewing, editing, commenting, messaging and tagging—culminating in a resounding death knell for local files. UI designers, for their part, are representing these simultaneous users through vibrant color coding, creative cursor designs and snazzy avatars.

While collaborative apps are common enough in the tech field, we are also seeing them extend to other industries: take, for example, PurrWebb UI’s collaborative dashboard for automotive repair technicians pictured above. All in all, collaborative interfaces like these will be more than in demand in 2021—they will be the norm.

7. 90s retro UI

Retro 90s style UX web page design for shoe apparel brand
By GrafiKing Ex via Dribbble
Minimalist retro 90s style web page design
By Nodar Okruashvili via Dribbble
Minimalist retro style UX website header design
By Max Osichka via Dribbble

In recent years, brutalism made ugly design chic through jarring color schemes and glitch art. In 2021, this trend is evolving into something much less brutal and more nostalgic. Specifically, there has been a rise in 90s inspired, retro interfaces.

By MakeReign via Dribbble

90s retro style brutalist UX web design
By Anton Tvinenko via Behance
90s style animated website banner
By felipe_charria

This style can incorporate a number of techniques: including VHS pixelated typography, screen tearing, glitch transitions, primitive 3D animation and Memphis design. While the retro flair can be as subtle as you want to make it, we expect this trend more commonly on interfaces that can afford to be a little adventurous—for example, musicians, artists and street apparel brands.

The effect is UI that feels both avant garde and comfortably familiar at the same time, reminding us all of an era when digital design was in its infancy and the possibilities were endless.

8. Augmented reality

By Pontus Wellgraf via Dribbble

By Sajon via Dribbble

Although augmented reality (AR) has existed in some form since the 90s, the evolution of the smartphone camera has firmly launched it into the mainstream. Up until now, it has largely been dismissed as gimmicky tech—the most common iteration of which we encounter in Snapchat and Instagram selfie filters. But in 2021, AR apps are expanding to become more practical and commonplace.

By Wimble via Dribbble

By Pontus Wellgraf via Dribbble

Camera AR app for book reservation
By Pouriya Rezaie via Dribbble
Camera AR app for museum tours
By Pegah Navid via Dribbble

We’re seeing AR applied to everything from property rentals to museum tours to nature walks and beyond. This rising popularity will lead UX designers to focus on interfaces that can be easily adapted to a camera overlay: unobtrusive buttons, dynamic labels and 3D pathing.

Given that mobile phone usage has already surpassed desktop browsing, digital experiences have long been integrated into daily life. And UX designers are providing us signposts through this brave new virtual world through smart AR interfaces.

Tell us your predictions for 2021 UX design trends

At the end of the day, a new year of UX design trends is an opportunity to look forward to smarter tools—the little things that will make our lives that much easier. And the UX design trends for 2021 are looking more useful than we could have imagined. From the immediacy of live collaboration to the accountability of brand transparency to the individual-empowered learning, these trends are a promise of the grounded user experiences yet to come.

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