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The Best App Design Trends 2021

Kirk Thompson

Director

Author Image: Kirk Thompson
App Design 2021
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In 2021, apps are finally being recognised as great marketing tools. They can help you to target certain demographics, offer unique features and show off what you do – no matter the size of your business. Once you know how your app will work, you can decide how it should look. We’ve collated ‘The Best App Design Trends 2021’ here to give you some inspiration.

Why Use Apps for Marketing?

Public facing apps are coming thick and fast in all industries, from clothing brands such as H&M and Nike to healthcare, education and travel. Apps are an accessible format for engaging with the public because they are easy to download. Let’s not forget they’re designed for convenient use too.

By encouraging your target audience to download your app, your brand begins to hold space on their device, which is great for building brand loyalty. You can deliver exclusive content such as games and videos, or target app users with special offers. Apps can also be used to maximise sales, streamlining checkout flows and offering a personalised experience to your customers.

However, to hold this space, your app needs to be useful, engaging and aesthetically pleasing. The app design trends we’re watching in 2021 are about calming aesthetics and addictive usability.

App Design Trend: Neomorphism

This term comes from ‘new skeumorphism’. What this means is that app designers are bringing the app logos up to date by making them 3D. These neomorph logos ‘jump off the screen’, encouraging users to engage with the app more frequently.

The Best App Design Trends 2021

App Design Trend: Better Visuals

We all use technology throughout our busy days. This has increased through home working and Netflix-binges. Our eyes can get weary. Constant focus on bright screens can affect concentration, stress levels and sleep patterns. So surely there must be a way to avoid being overwhelmed by screen use?

Recent visual design for apps has involved a stripped-down minimalist approach. This creates an image that’s soothing instead of tiring. This app design trend extends to natural imagery and earthy tones. Perhaps technology can even give us a break from itself?

Already, more devices have dark mode to lessen glare, which is a great step in improving our relationship with technology.

App Design Trend: Engaging Swiping Experiences

Let’s face it, swiping is addictive. Think Instagram or Tinder. Developers know this, and they’re leveraging the engagement factor to make swiping more enticing than ever before.

Better engagement means more time spent on the app. If your app is a source of information, people are more likely to read or watch all the info if they enjoy using the app.

If you are trying to sell something, they will stick to an app they find easy to use which holds their attention – they love the shopping experience so are more likely to make a purchase.

Simple tricks like adding animations can increase swipe activity, in much the same way flashing Banner Ads used to. So what of banner ads, I hear you ask? Well, it’s reported that the click-through-rate for banners is now less than 0.1% and up to 60% of those clicks are in fact accidental.

Banners were popular because they grabbed attention and fitted neatly on sites. Now, users have learnt to tune them out, so what’s left is an annoying and useless box that overlaps other content.

Seamless swiping has the opposite effect and gets back to the origins of what made Banner Ads appealing – novelty. With great design, apps which optimise scrolling through animations can gamify the user experience, and make even dull, practical apps much more engaging. They look great too, so don’t be surprised if this app design trend explodes in 2021.

App Design Trend: Depth Through Shadows and Layering

The quality of colours and image sharpness available to app designers has significantly improved over time, helped by much higher quality screens on more powerful devices. Apps can be used in a really in-your-face way, so that images jump out of the screen which is great for getting people to engage with your brand.

Alternatively, designers can subtly layer an image with muted tones to create a really powerful visual effect, which helps create an engaging effect as users are drawn into the imagery for a more immersive experience. As well as leading to an action, this just makes the app more appealing which is great for growing a brand.

The Best App Design Trends 2021

App Design Trend: 90s Inspiration

While many apps are highly technical and visually striking, in some design circles there is a countermovement to create a low-tech style that’s nostalgic and straight-forward to use.

Technology like this isn’t basic – these are high tech apps that just look retro. This is similar to what the designers of Minecraft did a few years ago, creating imagery that plays on the pixelation of games from the early 1990s, for a high-budget game, powered by state-of-the-art-technology.

It is an approach that is great for modern app design, as some people (whether through nostalgia or ease of use) would rather a basic calendar or diary app that does one or two things well than a complex software offering. This is evidence that no single app design is right for everyone and the best app design trends of 2021 need to be experimented with.

Many of the App Trends in 2021 are based on better graphics. These are often 3D or do something new. For many people though, functionality is key. What if simple functions and design are what users prefer? Then looking to an earlier digital age is a good way to meet their requirements.

App Design Trend: Abstract & Geometric Art

The other side of any art form has always been abstraction. This kind of art is a chance for all artistic people, from app designers to oil painters, to express ideas more creatively with total freedom. Abstract art is a push back, a reaction to academic painting or realism, and in the same way, abstract app design is about saying ‘the technology is great, but what is the most inventive way to use it’.

This app design trend includes more geometric shapes, patterns and animated illustrations in place of photography. This is currently more stylistic than anything else, but there is potential to tie this in deeper with the actual functionality, so we might see some new and exciting user experiences through 2021 and beyond.

App Design Trend: Unexpected Angles

No, not just ‘taking a different creative angle’, this trend is about angling blocks on the screen or dividing lines between two halves of a page. This simple, subtle change is going to be big in the app design trends of 2021.

The Best App Design Trends 2021

First up, this is a great artistic device for doing something different, layering images and putting your app on the cutting edge of design – a powerful signal of your intent to move ahead of rival brands.

Then there is the really cool practical application for these quirky angles. The user’s eye follows lines…to wherever app designers want you to go. Think of these angled lines as roads which help you navigate the app. If there is a new feature the company wants you to see on the app, developers can highlight it through angled colour blocks and users will naturally gravitate towards it.

App Design Trend: Immersion through VR & AR

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have had a lot of coverage in the media in recent years as a way to immerse users in the technology they access and offer a more immersive view of people and places than with photos or other documents, such as virtual tours of company offices for new starters and this kind of technology is already being used for staff training.

App Design Trend: Virtual Reality (VR)

VR is the creation of a virtual world in which the user is immersed through a virtual reality headset. Although often mobile phone holders which look and fit like goggles are used to create a similar effect on a budget. This kind of footage is possible in an app too. This means there is an opportunity to really grow this kind of technology over the next few years.

App Design Trend: Augmented Reality (VR)

AR takes the real world and overlays aspects of virtual reality within it, for example you may look at the world ‘through’ your phone (utilising the cam) and virtual assets will come into view. Good examples of this are Pokémon Go and the advanced features of Google Maps Street View.

Augmented Reality can be used for online sales. The best way to bring products to life is with an app. You can hold a mobile up to your own living room and use the technology to project an image. You could see how a sofa would look in your house before you make a purchase, for example.

At KIJO, we have developed apps and web extensions for this purpose. Read our case study here.

The future of AR marketing will see another key application.

Soon you will be able to use your phone in a shop and receive extra data like prices or colour options when hovering over a product and looking ‘through’ your screen. This will become even more commonly used when AR Glasses break through into the mainstream.

App Design Trend: VR + AR? Great for Recruitment

You can offer potential staff (as well as customers) a tour of your beautifully designed offices. How? With virtual tour guides or arrows popping up to help look around. This kind of tour would actually be a VR experience (the tour itself) with AR aspects (the added animations). This is also possible as a fully-AR experience for new starters. They just need to hold up their mobile devices at various points around the office to get extra information.

App Design Trend: Creative Data Visualisation

Data visualisation can be very boring (sorry maths fans), but it’s necessary for loads of different jobs and also has an academic application, so it’s here to stay. But can’t it be more fun? With the right app it can!

One of the things that puts people off data visualisation, is that it is forever a process of presenting spreadsheets and a few autogenerated pie-charts, which don’t really hold anyone’s attention.

This is bad news for businesses as employees may get distracted and miss key points. Thanks to new app designs, the visualisations are now fun, use better colour and shading and look more like art than work.

A final thought is that in a world where we all have a symbiotic relationship with technology, data visualisation isn’t about work at all. If you use a fitness app, data visualisations will be something you are used to, when comparing your best runs or rides.

Storage and performance across all your devices are made clear through visualisation as well, so great data visualisation apps are likely to be much bigger in future.

The Best App Design Trends 2021

What else is new in App Design?

That list has covered the main trends, but what else are we likely to see more of in App Design throughout 2021?

There are three more trends in app design to be aware of, which also apply to design in a wider context:

  • Glassmorphism
  • Simplified Design
  • Ethics.

Glassmorphism is a striking visual style based on an effect called ‘background blur’. This effect creates the impression that users can see through the app features when it is actually a frosted glass effect with no AR function. This effect looks great and shows the potential design has in tech.

The Best App Design Trends 2021

Simplified Design is getting big, as we saw with ‘better visuals’, but that’s just part of a larger trend. 2020-21 has been a time of increased online collaboration and sharing, so software has needed to be simpler.

Design like this isn’t just implemented to look good. It’s easier to share and follow ideas. From sketching out rough ideas to detailed plans, creating something that’s easy to share and collaborate with in an app is essential. It needs to work across all platforms too.

When we’re working from home or with a team across the world, collaboration should be carefully planned and regularly assessed to see if it is fit for purpose. The right apps can deliver this and are updated over time. So remote working looks to get better throughout 2021.

Ethics have been a big topic for discussion in recent years, but it doesn’t just apply to data-breaches. When privacy settings notifications and online sales processes are designed, it is increasingly important to ensure that the process is clear, and that customers are not being accidentally misled.

This is best achieved through a great user experience (UX), meaning that any important information is clearly displayed, and users do not accidentally buy things they were just considering. Getting this right in app design means building trust and avoiding any legal claims – so it’s win/win.

What’s right for me?

Do you want minimalist design, or just good usability?

Is your app just a tool, or is it there to promote your brand?

These questions can guide you as you begin your app design. It is also a good idea to keep a list of apps you like and to come up with some ideas for applying their successes to your brand. Then speak to some app designers and work out how their design skills and practical approach can bring your vision to reality.

Why have we created the best app design trends 2021? Because this last year or so, every business has woken up to the reality that you need to go online or go broke. Make sure you invest in the right app and keep your customers happy. Because their numbers are only going to grow.

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