2021 Ad Design Trends for Your Marketing Strategy
Explore the most important styles and trends in ad design that can help you create perfect ads in 2021.
Table of Contents
Learn everything you need to know about the hottest ad design trends, and which styles can make the best match for your brand.
Ad design evolves very quickly. If you look back on the ads you used 5 or 6 years ago, you’ll probably notice that they already look quite outdated.
This is especially true of digital advertising, since some more traditional advertising forms such as TV or print design for small businesses, usually have a slightly longer expiration date.
However, if you want to stay relevant and create ads that will help you convert leads into customers, here are some trends and styles of ad design today that you need to know about.
Long gone are the days where if you didn’t have access to a professional photographer, your only choice was stock photos.
Illustrations come in so many different styles and variations, that it’s practically impossible not to find one that would suit your business. However, when it comes to something “trendy” there’s no way around flat illustrations.
For example, take a look at these colorful illustrations created for NatWest bank’s 2016 rebranding. Although they add a touch of youth and modernity to the bank’s image, the crisp flat design style retains a sense of professionalism and a more “corporate” look that is suited for this type of company branding.
By Dmytro Repei
On the other hand, they can also add a touch of luxury to any digital marketing asset, including lead magnets like ebooks or digital brochures.
What kind of content performs best on social media? There is no doubt: videos. The majority of consumers (64%) have made a purchase after watching branded social videos and videos generate 1200% more social media shares than text and image content combined!
However, hiring a studio or professional video equipment can be very costly. Video editing is a tricky thing, although to be fair there are plenty of beginner-friendly video editing software, some of which you can even use for free!
A great way to create captivating video ads without breaking the bank are motion graphics. Motion graphic design refers to any type of design that includes moving images: from animated logos and moving text, to 3D animation.
Explainer videos are great and can be done very well with text and simple motion graphic design. In fact, according to a Wyzowl survey, 96% of consumers make a purchase after watching an explainer video.
Here’s a good example from Slack. Although they probably have the design resources to create much more complex video ads, this simple video pitch works perfectly for a number of reasons. One: it feels genuine. It begins with the company CEO identifying common problems; not smearing the competition, but simply taking an interest into a common problem with internal communication within companies/organizations. Two: it’s backed by data. This is where the text-heavy video works really well. As you’re presented key information in both audio and visual format so that there’s a higher chance of remembering them. Finally, it provides a solution. This great structure and simple, accessible themes and language make it very impactful.
Muted color palettes
For the better part of 2020, we were all stuck indoors, but the thing that really helped most people’s mental health was getting out into nature. For that reason natur,al materials and repurposed outdoor spaces are dominant design trends in 2021.
When it comes to design, this is perhaps reflected in muted color palettes that lend designs a more soothing, “organic” look. Neutral colors such as white, grey or cream will help designs “breathe” and are often more pleasing to the eye than aggressive bright colors.
Web designers know that these color schemes can help ensure a positive user experience, as the white space allows visitors to concentrate on important points and take away key information.
I suppose it’s fair to say that retro is always retro, in the sense that there is often at least one vintage style that’s back in fashion.
So which design styles are especially prominent in 2021?
Well, perhaps thanks to the whole “return to nature” moment that happened last year, a few styles associated with the hippie culture of the 1960s and 1970s are making a comeback.
We’re going to see a lot more of the 1960s psychedelic aesthetic, as a way of showing freedom, creativity and exploring new frontiers in graphic design. Of course, any good designer or creative director knows that it’s not just about copying what has been done in the past. For example, you’ll notice a lot of these modern designs have more muted color schemes than the originals, include elements from different eras or give psychedelic designs a more toned down look, which reflects our modern affinity towards minimalist styles.
Another huge conversation that has been started in the public space has been the spreading of fake information and fact checking. As you might know, the best performing ads are usually those that educate users, or provide some informational value (as opposed to blatant selling), so this is a trend you should definitely try to embrace.
One way to do it effectively is to use data visualization: presenting complex data, concepts or processes in an accessible visual form.
There are many ways to use data visualization in your ads. For example, you might present the key issues your clients are facing, such as this simple pie chart we’ve used in our research on the key issues with getting design work done. It shows that you take an interest in your clients needs which then organically introduces your service as a solution.
Crisp and minimalist sans serif fonts have long dominated the professional sphere, but in 2020 we’ve seen a resurgence of artistic and modern serif fonts. Unlike some of the old classics, these beautiful types can really help differentiate your designs.
We’re used to seeing these types in logo designs in specific industries such as massage or beauty logos, but when it comes to ad design they can be a great way to make print materials such as brochures and flyers look more exclusive and encourage people to keep them.
Diversity & representation
It’s a little depressing that we have to single this one out as a trend rather than common sense, but in case you missed the news - here’s your reminder!
Representing people of different backgrounds is important, not only as a way of attracting said groups to your brand but as a way of showing existing clients that you care about these big issues.
Many big brands all moved in a more positive direction regarding this recently, however as a small business owner make sure you take this matter seriously, rather than just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it (a big brand that gained notoriety with this is Pepsi and its infamous Kendall Jenner Black Lives Matter ad).
Make conscious decisions to keep your ad design inclusive. This example from Uber is a great one to learn from. Instead of showing just one figure, the different character designs make a powerful case for inclusivity, without being “too obvious”: women of different races, religious backgrounds and ages should learn about safety guidelines and this ad conveys the message perfectly.
Another one on the “obvious” list, eco-friendliness and sustainability have been in the public discourse long enough that it’s practically impossible to ignore them.
When it comes to ad design, this is particularly important for packaging design. A recent report shows that 74% of consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainable packaging, so spending a little more to create it can help you build some brand loyalty and perhaps even boost sales.
Packaging design is part of your brand identity, but also a form of advertising, so you need to make it appealing as well as eco-friendly. If you’re unsure about a design: keep it minimalistic. Not only is this a good way to ensure you aren’t using an unnecessary amount of packaging materials, but also provides a trendy look.
Contrasts and imperfections
Natural and artificial. Modern and retro. Pantone’s 2021 colors, grey and yellow. Last year was a year of disruption, so the trend in 2021 is going to be thinking forward and innovating.
To be fair, this trend covers some of the ones we’ve already mentioned: bold, psychedelic designs or stark contrasts in font pairings.
Forget about textbook graphic design principles and create ads that deliver a punch. If we’ve learned something about ourselves last year, it’s that life can be messy and ugly, and there is still a potential to find beauty in it. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and try to create ad design that genuinely speaks to your target audience.
Probably one of the most striking changes from previous design trends is the more common use of geometric shapes over flowy abstract ones.
Geometric shapes can help create a sense of order and coherence, however, in line with the previously mentioned use of contrast, they can work very well in different contexts, and be playful and creative as well as professional and serious.
For example, our own rebranding that took place at the beginning of the year relies heavily on geometric shapes (more specifically the square representing a single pixel). It’s a simple way to give a vast variety of different visuals (from blog covers to website banners) a coherent look that still reflects the youthful and vibrant nature of our company.
We’ve already mentioned the timeless and simple flat illustrations, but another style that we’re going to see a lot more of is 3D illustrations. They come in many different variations, from combining with photography to blur the line between reality and fantasy to playful animations and motion graphics—this type of design can help you engage viewers and decrease bounce rates.
It’s by no means a new trend, but the move to bolder, quirkier aesthetics is going to give this design style a much more prominent role in ad design.
Unlike the very versatile flat icons and illustrations, these 3D designs might not immediately fit every type of business or ad; but if your audience is predominantly young, then this is definitely a design route you should explore.
In terms of general graphic design trends, 2021 is a year to be bold, innovative and observant to the needs and values of your clients. It’s more important than ever to listen, as well as create new ways to engage and interact with your clients through good design.
Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.