A look ahead at the Visual Design Trends for 2020

Phillip PeetUX/UI/Web Designer

Great visual design is a vital part of creating digital content, whether you’re building a website, developing a mobile app, or producing a high-value blog post — and to get ahead of the competition, you need to keep up with the most prominent trends.

2020 has finally arrived, bringing with it a near-boundless opportunity for growth as well as further twists and turns in worldwide trends. Every industry will change somehow, driven by the spread of knowledge, improvements in technology and technique, and mostly-arbitrary shifts in opinion.

In this piece, we’re going to focus specifically on the visual design world, looking at some of the core trends that are already in effect and set to prove influential as the new year unfolds.

Natural shapes

There’s a reason why digital designers have traditionally gone for rigid straight-edged shapes (typically with right angles): they’re easier for computers to handle, smoother to place and tessellate, and faster to serve because a straight-edged vector shapefile is notably small. OK, that’s technically several reasons, but you get the point.

These days, though, the average smartphone is vastly more powerful than the average desktop computer was when the internet first hit the mainstream, and this has affected every facet of the design process. It’s now possible to create smooth vectors with ease and extreme precision, and a combination of stronger connections and better renderers supports them with no issues.

There’s also the point that companies are more willing to experiment with their visual designs. They worry less about being considered unprofessional for using ovals instead of rectangles, or using an irregular background pattern instead of evenly-spaced elements. This year, why not think about introducing some curves to your website?

Minimalistic layouts

The minimalist design trend has been around for quite some time, but it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, I expect it to pick up even more pace this year. Why? Because there are still so many websites and interfaces out there that don’t reflect this design philosophy — partially because they’re just behind the times, and partially because it’s surprisingly tough.

Sure, certain aspects of it have become extremely common: everyone knows the value of cutting things back, whether they’re blanking out backgrounds for fashion photography or trimming their paragraphs to look great on mobile screens, but design minimalism is broader than that. It’s about including only the essentials on a site-wide basis. No wasted space, no unnecessary elements — just vital navigation links, useful features, and irreplaceable visuals.

Subtle animation

Showy animations are rarely advisable in the online world. They take up huge amounts of space and processing power, yes, but more importantly they tend to irritate people. Internet users visit sites or open apps to get things done, and having to wait for an elaborate animation to play out first can feel like dealing with a full-page ad that somehow can’t be closed.

Subtle animation, though, can work incredibly well. Background elements that waver slightly as the visitor scrolls through the page. Buttons that move to indicate they’re accessible. These things don’t take up much space or drain performance significantly, and they add a lot to user experiences by making pages feel more vibrant. Look for them to become even more common.

Depth indicators

VR may still be looking for an entry into fully mainstream appeal, but you don’t actually need three-dimensional data to give the appearance of depth. This isn’t some new discovery, obviously — artists have been toying with perspective since time immemorial — but Google’s introduction of Material Design back in 2014 played a big part in pushing designers towards embracing the importance of depth, and that process is ongoing.

This year, look out for the use of complex 3D modeling to create 2D designs that seem to leap off the screen (or page, if in print). Now that artists don’t need to painstakingly figure out the angles to get something that passes muster, it’s easy to bring depth to a page: combine this practice with the aforementioned use of animation and you can do interesting things like creating pseudo-holographic images that shift perspective with screen movement.