Nothing online stays consistent for long. The world wide web is a fast-moving place. Web design trends are no exception. If a consumer lands on a website that looks like it was made in the 1990’s, they’re unlikely to take that business seriously. In order to keep your website looking legitimate, professional, and up-to-date, you need to stay on top of the web design trends of the day.
Looking at today’s web design trends can help provide a glimpse of where the web is headed. And knowing what types of design features other websites are using and experimenting with may give you some ideas for ways to spruce up your own.
Top Web Design Trends of 2021
To stay knowledgeable about the latest in web design and gain inspiration for ways to keep your own website looking great, we bring you 25 popular trends for 2021.
1. Responsive Design
Responsive websites are not a new web design trend in 2021, but they’re an important enough one to still include at the top of our list. As mobile usage continues its upward climb—it first surpassed desktop a few years ago—making sure your website works at least as well on mobile devices as it does on bigger screens is crucial.
Visitors quite simply won’t stick around if your website provides a disappointing mobile experience. And if even if you didn’t care about visitors clicking away (which, you really should), it’s also bad for SEO (search engine optimization). Google’s less likely to include your website in the rankings if it delivers a disappointing experience for anyone on a smartphone.
While you could create an entirely separate version of your website for mobile users than desktop ones, for most businesses the better option is to make one website that’s responsive.
On a responsive website, each page has all the same copy, images, and elements no matter what device you view it on, but they’re arranged differently based on the size of the screen. An image that shows up next to the text on your desktop may show up below it on a smaller screen, for instance.
Making your website responsive ensures that your mobile users get all the same information and value from your website, while still having a user friendly experience.
As an added tip, if creating a responsive website sounds intimidating, consider a website builder that defaults to responsive design. Most of the work will already be done for you.
You’ve probably noticed in your own internet surfing that a lot of business websites now have a little window pop up at the bottom right side of the screen when you land on the website, giving you the chance to chat with a representative.
Adding a chat window like this to your website means any visitor with a question can have it answered immediately. But for many websites, having someone available to answer those questions in real time is too much of a challenge.
One possible solution: chatbots. You can program a chatbot to answer the most common questions your customers have so that most visitors still get their answer right away. For questions the chatbot doesn’t know, you can program it to provide details on how best to get in touch with a live representative so your visitor still knows what to do next.
Chatbots don’t make sense for every type of website, but if you have a business website and you frequently hear a few main questions from your visitors, they can save your staff time while still providing your visitors with a good experience.
3. Fewer (and Smarter) Pop-Ups
Web designers and marketers talk a lot about the importance of creating a good user experience. And yet, those same people are prone to a web design element almost all of their visitors hate: the dreaded website pop-up.
In one HubSpot survey, 73% of consumers said they disliked pop-ups. And Google’s popular browser Chrome now defaults to blocking annoying pop-ups. Websites that care about improving the user experience should give serious thought to doing away with pop-ups. Or if a total elimination of them seems unwise (for many brands, they’re very effective), at least change how they work so they’re less likely to elicit eye rolls.
People won’t be as annoyed by pop-ups that are less intrusive. Changing them to only show up once someone’s nearing the bottom of the page and almost done with the content is a good way to avoid blocking their experience right when it’s starting.
And having them show up over only a small part of the page, like the bottom corner, rather than blocking all or most of it is another way to minimize how intrusive people find them.
The LitHub website has a pop-up that shows up about halfway down the page, and to the right of the content. It doesn’t block anything. It doesn’t interrupt your reading. And it gives you time to confirm you like what the site has to offer before urging you to “Read More.” That’s a smarter way to do pop-ups, and we’ll likely be seeing more examples of ones that look like this in 2021 and beyond.
Autoplay videos are very much out—they’re about as popular as pop-ups. But that doesn’t mean your website has to be completely static. You can add some movement to your web design with simple animations.
A growing number of websites are working animations into the images or background of web pages. A good animation will draw the eye and capture a visitor’s interest, without distracting from the main information you want them to see on the page. It’s a web design trend that makes your website a little more engaging and adds some personality.
Here are two stills from a website using animation on their homepage:
These create a positive user experience because they hand visitors power over what they see as they interact with the site. Knowing your actions shape the design in front of you is a good feeling, even if it’s only in minor ways.
Microinteractions are becoming more common around the web, making them a good web design trend to have on your radar in 2021.
Web designers try their best to identify and understand who their target audience is when building a site. You want to create a website that appeals to the specific people you’re most trying to reach. But your target audience will always be made up of individuals who have different preferences and priorities.
So how do you build a website that appeals to all of them? Give them a chance to tell you who they are and what they’re interested in.
A growing trend in web design is to create websites that serve up a questionnaire or other interactive feature that lets the visitor tell you what they want, in order to deliver them the content or products that best match their interests.
7. Original Illustrations
Stock photography’s easy, but it doesn’t add any personality to your website. That’s why many website owners are now turning to original illustrations for the images on their pages.
Custom illustrations do come at a cost – artists must be paid – but they can transform the style of your website and create an entirely unique experience. Custom illustrations often feel playful, while still doing the work of communicating something about your brand.
You get to choose the colors you want to include and can craft imagery that might be hard to stage in a photo. If you can find a good artist for your website, they’re a good way to inject some extra personality into the website experience.
8. Including Social Proof
So far, most of these website design trends come with a fairly hefty price tag that may be out of reach for small businesses or websites devoted to passions rather than profit. This one is much more affordable.
Social proof is a way to convince new visitors that you’re awesome by showing evidence of your success with other visitors. For a business, it could be logos of companies you work with or testimonials from other customers. For a blog, it could be publishing the number of email subscribers you have.
You can (and should) tell other people how awesome your website is in your copy, but your words aren’t going to mean as much to visitors as proof that other people like them think you’re awesome. Find a way to work social proof into the design of your website to better highlight your value to new visitors.
This is a controversial web design trend that’s commonly used on apps and mobile websites because it’s an easy way to provide a menu that takes up very little space. The hamburger icon itself is very small, and it opens up your main menu when you click on it. As it’s become more familiar to internet users with the growth of mobile, its use has started to spill over into the design of desktop websites as well.
A hamburger menu removes the list of pages in your main menu from all the pages of your website and puts them behind the hamburger icon. If you want a website that has a very clean design, it allows you to include fewer elements on each page while still providing the navigation items your visitors need.
As mentioned though, it is a controversial web design trend. It may not be right for your audience. This is a trend you should be very intentional about considering – only use it if you have a good reason.
10. Rounder Edges
For a while buttons, windows, and containers on websites tended to have sharp corners. Recently more web designers are starting to shift their website designs toward softer, rounder edges.
This is a web design trend you can see in buttons and chat windows around the web.
Plenty of websites still maintain their sharp edges, and some use a mix of both. This isn’t a trend that’s outright replaced the former way of doing things. But if you want to keep the shapes on your website a little softer, you’ll be in line with one of the web design trends of 2021.
11. Tactile Design
Another common trend of the past was keeping web design flat. Many websites are now starting to buck the old trend by adding more shadowing and depth to the images on their pages.
Tactile design can bring the images on your website more to life for your visitors. In addition, it provides a way to add emphasis to your images. The difference is often subtle, but it changes the user experience of your website and adds a little more realism.
12. Unique Fonts
Choosing a unique font is an easy way to add some personality to your website and make it stand out a bit more. Fonts are part of a website that many visitors don’t really notice, but you can use your font choice to add some additional style to your website and draw more attention to important words.
Make sure that any font you choose is easy for your visitors to read. Style shouldn’t trump clarity here. But as long as you keep the text on your website legible for all your visitors, you can use your font choice as a way to add some extra personality to your site.
A bold choice that’s showing up on some websites now is asymmetric design. Using asymmetry in your web design provides a unique experience for your visitors, especially as it’s still not a particularly common design choice at this stage.
This web design option definitely isn’t for everybody. Because it’s uncommon and unexpected, it might be less intuitive for some visitors. And it can complicate a website’s ability to remain responsive. But if you want to provide a website experience that’s outside of the box, going asymmetrical can do that.
14. Accessible Design
If you don’t have any disabilities yourself, you’ve probably approached web design in the past without thinking about how people with disabilities will experience your website. That’s unfortunately normal – many web designers just haven’t had accessibility top of mind in the past.
But that’s beginning to change. One of the web design trends of 2020 is working to make websites more accessible for everyone. Design magazines and blogs have started to provide tips for more accessible web design.
Designing an accessible website requires broadening your perspective and doing a little work, but when you commit to it, you open up your site to an audience that was left out before.
15. Data Visualization
“Big data” has been a buzzword for a few years now and businesses in all industries have seen the growing influence of data on the tools and latest trends that shape how we do business. Perhaps it was only a matter of time until the influence of data made its way to web design as well.
Many websites are now incorporating data visualization into their design. In some cases it becomes a part of the main website, in others they launch a separate site to highlight valuable data they’ve created.
In either case, data visualization becomes a part of the story the brand tells and the visual identity they have on the web.
16. Bold Colors
In past years, bold colors were a popular choice as a way to stand out and make a website more memorable. But in the midst of a global pandemic, when people’s anxieties are high, more websites are switching to cooler colors that visitors will find calming.
Cool colors can provide an aesthetic experience that visitors associate with more relaxed emotions.
This is another website design trend that isn’t for everyone. Some brands will want to stick with bold colors that draw more attention. But for many types of websites and products, cool colors make sense in 2021.
Most of the websites you visit have their navigation in the same place: across the top of the website. Some websites are experimenting with different options though. We already talked about the hamburger menu option, but another possibility is floating navigation.
Floating navigation stays visible even as you scroll down the page. It provides a unique experience, but also offers the practical benefit of keeping all the navigation options present and visible no matter where your visitor is on the page.
You can see an example of what that looks like on the Anchor and Orbit website. As yet, it’s not a particularly common web design trend. But for any website owner looking for another way to stand out, it makes your website a little more distinctive.
18. A Focus on User Experience
Offering your visitors a solid user experience should be at the top of your list. If your website is confusing and hard to use you’re not only going to be annoying your visitors, but it’s going to cost your business money.
This is doubly true if you’re directly selling anything through your website. The act of finding a product, adding it to the cart, and completing the purchase should be entirely seamless.
In the past, some websites neglected the journey of the user and instead placed a focus on having a trendy design. No matter how “cool” your website looks, there’s really no point unless it’s converting your visitors and they’re actually enjoying their experience.
As competition online continues to grow more fierce, expect websites that place a focus on user experience to see more success.
19. Clean and Clear Design
Having plenty of whitespace has been an important web design trend for years. However, recently it’s grown in its importance and application.
The biggest reason whitespace continues to be a dominating trend is because it makes your website much easier to use. By incorporating a lot of whitespace into your design you’re not bombarding your visitors with too much information.
It also gives you the room to focus on important areas of your site. Or, direct your visitor’s attention to areas that are the most beneficial to them.
Having plenty of whitespace is a central tenet of minimalist design. Minimalism will continue to be a dominating trend well into the future. By having a minimalist design you make it easier for your users to find what they’re looking for.
20. Adherence to Web Standards
Many of the items on this list are about standing out and experimenting with creative design styles. There’s a place for that in the world of web design. But for many websites—especially those for eCommerce brands and small businesses—doing something unique has less value than providing something familiar and intuitive.
That’s why, in 2021, a key web design trend is to understand and stick with the main standards your audience expect from a website. Think about what you see the most often on the websites you visit:
- Where do you expect to see the website menu? Probably across the top of the website.
- Where do you automatically look for contact information? Most likely in the top right.
- Where do you usually see the brand’s value proposition (e.g. what the business does and what makes them unique)? In most cases, high up on the home page.
You don’t have to adhere to every web standard you see, but an important part of functional web design this year (and every year) is understanding what people expect, and making sure you’re delivering something close enough to meet those expectations.
21. Embedded and Integrated Video
Video’s popularity online is hard to deny. Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are doubling down on video content. And YouTube has long been the second largest search engine in the world.
If you haven’t embraced video, it’s not too late. In fact, one emerging web design trend is embedding video into your website.
When used well, video is an incredibly engaging medium. We’re not talking about annoying video pop-ups that you can’t seem to turn off, no matter how hard you try. We’re talking about creating intentionally engaging videos that act as a natural part of the design of your site. Instead of standing out, they play an integral role in keeping users on your site and informing them about your products and services.
These don’t have to be incredibly long videos either. Think of them as moving design elements whose goal is to intrigue and capture the attention of your visitors.
Adding videos to your website and content can also improve your site’s search engine rankings. Google tracks user engagement metrics, which act as indicators of a quality site. When users spend more time on a website, it signals to Google’s algorithm that the site is delivering value. And that suggests it’s a worthy site to include in the rankings.
22. Broken Grid Layouts
You might already be familiar with grid layouts. A grid is essentially a hidden series of horizontal and vertical lines that your website’s elements will adhere to.
You can see the classic grid at work on most existing websites. You have the logo in the upper left-hand corner, and the navigation menu extending across the top of the screen, along with any other elements arranged below it in an orderly manner.
But with a broken grid layout, you’ll see elements that make the grid seem broken. That can include an overlap of design elements, along with text and photos that don’t adhere to the traditional grid. Usually, this is done to give emphasis to certain elements of your website.
To be effective, a broken grid layout needs to be done intentionally. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a website that simply looks confusing or jumbled. But done well, the broken grid can provide a unique experience to visitors.
23. Nostalgic Design Elements
The 80s and 90s are back in full force, and we’re not just talking about shows like Stranger Things or the Saved By The Bell reboot.
A previous web design trend that’s been in place for years has put an emphasis on flat and modern design, creating minimalist websites that look like they were born in the future. But just as fashion trends always seem to come back around, so do web design trends.
This doesn’t mean you should create a 90’s site that looks like the first rendition of a Geocities page. Instead, you should take design cues from previous generations as a whole, by embracing color schemes and taking typography cues from generations past.
If this web design trend speaks to you, consider implementing color schemes from times past. Or keep an eye out for a cool old-school font you can use for your headers or your logo.
24. Sites that Encourage Scrolling
If you’ve been in the web design world for awhile, then you’re probably aware of the term “above the fold.” This means that all of your important graphic design and branding elements should be visible to someone when they first land on your site, so they can see them without having to scroll.
But today’s web visitors don’t mind scrolling. Possibly due to the presence social media sites now have in everyone’s lives, scrolling is a normal and expected way of interacting with websites.
In recent years, more websites have been comfortable using the full page, trusting that visitors won’t mind if the information they need requires a bit of scrolling. This gives you more real estate to work with when designing the style and layout of your website. Instead of trying to cram everything into the space above the fold, you can use your entire screen to create more logical and enticing pages that include more of the information and visual elements you want.
25. Intentional Data Collection
Many websites collect some form of data. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced a couple of years ago, exercising caution with the collection and storage of data have become even more important.
Website owners must evaluate how they go about collecting data, and be intentional with the kind of data they’re collecting. For example, if you have an intake form on your website do you really need location data or a phone number? Or maybe you require visitors to login using Facebook. Although this saves you time, it might not lead to the best impression for your company.
No matter if it’s a contact form, email signup form, or even tracking cookies on your site, you’ll need to be transparent about the data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, and what you’re doing with it. When thinking about any forms you have on your site, consider the minimum amount of necessary information you need.
Sites that place an importance on user privacy will not only ensure their sites stay compliant with the latest privacy guidelines, but will also be the sites that create a strong and trusting visitor relationship.
Which Web Design Trends Are Right For You?
This is a long list! Trying to do everything on it could leave you with a jumbled, mismatched mess of a website.
The point of following trends is less to view every one as something you definitely need to do, and more to keep your mind open to new ideas. When you have a larger toolkit of ideas to work with, you can make more informed decisions about which ones make the most sense for your brand and audience.
And while new trends arise and take hold each year, you don’t necessarily need to update your website that often. Doing an annual review of your website is a good practice. Sometimes you’ll realize you’re in need of a full overhaul, other times you’ll notice smaller tweaks you can make that will improve the visitor’s experience, and some years you may determine your website’s still working well enough for your current needs.
The most important thing is not to get complacent. Keep paying attention to your analytics, staying on top of the trends of the moment, and revisiting what’s working and not working for you.
What These Design Trends Mean for Your Website
The quickest way to lose your visitors’ trust is to have a website that looks old and out of date. Today’s web users are savvier than ever and, with the advent of smartphones and the advancement of the mobile web, spend more time online than ever before. Spend time analyzing the trends above to see if you can use any of them to enhance your website’s design.
And if you’ve decided it’s time to do a full web design rehaul, or if you’re in the early stages of building a new website, you can vastly simplify the process with the help of a website builder.
HostGator’s smart website builder applies web design best practices to the website it helps users create, and it automates most of the work so you get your website up and running faster.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.