Designing 2021: A Look Into Upcoming UX, UI & Product Design Trends

Aug 27 2020
4 min
UX/UI Designer

2020 showed us what a Pandora’s box looks like, due to everything that’s going on.

But fortunately, a new year is ahead of us, and we get the chance to design it our way.
2021 brings an opportunity for business owners, designers, marketers, and developers to bring it on in terms of great experiences, and in a way, is our job, as individuals and professionals alike to proactively tackle each challenge for the good of the users.

The rise of ethical design

Ethical design is and has been the focus of designers in the past few years. But recently, there’s been a lot more talk about this and that makes me a happy kid. In 2021, we’re going to see a huge increase in how we, as designers, approach ethics in our discipline.

So what exactly is ethical design?

And no, I’m not talking about Dark Patterns in UX (that’s just the basics).
Ethical design is more intertwined with personal data and how we can provide the same great experience in an app, but without making the user ask themselves: “why do they need so much from me?”.

In many cases, designers, marketers, and business owners overlook this aspect of ethics when building an app. And that’s something that’s slowly changing. Ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal personal data is becoming more and more valuable, and many say that in the near future, personal data will become fully controllable by us, as users, which is really awesome! So, we have to encourage that and provide a safe space for our users when using the apps we build. With these said, how can we design better, more ethical products? Well, next time you design an app, ask yourself: “Do we really need this information from the user? Does the user really need an account to use the app?”. If the answer is no, then you can just get rid of that!

Well, what if you actually need that information from the user? How can you make that more ethical? And that’s a very valid question. We have to keep in mind that a great designer is able to satisfy both the users’ needs and the business’ needs. A great example of how you can make your website or app more ethical is found on WebMD’s symptom checker. They make it very clear from the beginning what information they might collect and give the users complete control and transparency on what data they want to share with them. Pretty awesome, right?

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WebMD Symptom Checker Privacy Control Panel

Digitalize this, digitalize that

I know, I know, nothing new here. Or so you think.
Looking back at how 2020 unfolded, we know better than ever that going digital is the right way. And business owners along with designers & developers did a really great job at adapting to this.

“But Cristian, why did you include this in a design trends article?” you may ask. Well, digitalizing only works when done right. We are living in a time where users habits change from one day to another, where services had to be digitalized, and as we well know how people cope with change (it’s not pretty), we have to be very creative about how we can make this transition to digital, while also keeping the familiarity of the experience the users got familiar with.

And here is where a well-designed onboarding and simple flows win and if you combine it with ethical design, your users will be able to embrace your new digital business a lot quicker. In UX design, Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics of User Interface Design are crucial, especially good when you’re transitioning to the digital. This will help business owners and designers alike to make a smooth transition to a digital product, and some can even be applied to improve existing services, digital or otherwise.

Even more 3D elements

In 2020 we’ve seen a transition from flat to 3d elements and with neomorphic gaining traction, more and more apps chose to incorporate more 3D elements in their design. This can be especially useful when showcasing a product or for storytelling purposes.

Take a look at Revolut. They did a great job with 3D interactive elements in Revolut Gifts.

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Revolut 3D Animation — Security — Dribbble

They also do a great job using 3D elements to showcase their awesome and colorful cards. Which makes the user more comfortable ordering the product once they had a look from all angles. Awesome, right?

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Revolut — Order a Card — 3D Animation — Dribbble

Storytelling & UX Writing

Now, storytelling is something we’ve talked about in my last article on trends for 2020, but for 2021 it’s expected that good storytelling combined with great UX writing can help skyrocket people’s experience using your app.

Since these two complement each other, designers can create even more meaningful & memorable experiences in a digital product, and since most businesses are choosing the digital path, UX writing is becoming more and more crucial when we talk about the rate of adoption amongst users who have been familiar with using this particular service in person.

UX Writing focuses on using human language rather than a more technical approach, while also making the User Interface and the interactions between users and your product more personal and less chaotic.

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The value of UX writing by Justin Tran for Dropbox Design

Key Takeaway

Looking at 2020 *sigh!*, we are living weird times, due to everything that’s going on and…you know…the one its shan’t be named, the design definitely made a huge positive impact to help businesses and business owners overcome and sail through the stormy waves of this year, and 2021 is our chance to prove 2020 how things are done.

And to sum up, the main points discussed:

  • The rise of ethical design — Design for the user before business gain. This will create a more trustful view of the brand and keep your users coming back to your app.
  • Digitalize this, digitalize that — Most businesses were faced with a needed digitalization due to the crisis we’re going through. If done right, your clients won’t feel like they’re making a big change and still get that same vibe as in a physical store.
  • Even more 3D elements — 3D graphics have seen a rise in 2020, but in 2021 it’s expected to bring even more value to the message your brand sends and make the user’s interactions within your app more meaningful.
  • Storytelling & UX writing — To keep the same familiarity in your app, we have to be careful with the language used. A well-written set of labels, instructions, and content will add up to a more engaged, easy to use, and meaningful experience for your app’s users.


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