As we move into the second year of the decade, the color trends for 2021 are amping up to be a drastic response to a lot of the trends that were slated to define the past year. In 2019, we thought the next decade would be defined by futuristic designs and bright, bold, colors. Then 2020 happened.
In 2021, the color trends you’ll see will largely feel calming and soothing. We’re not going to see a surge of neons or crazy contrasts. Instead, the upcoming color trends are softer and feel like they were picked for humans, not for computers. The past year pushed us to reconnect with our humanity, and in 2021, we’ll see that connection play out visually.
Think harmony, not dissonance. That’s 2021’s color trends in a nutshell. We’ll see lots of single-color designs, muted colors, colors found in nature and palettes that easily blend together. Ready to see them up close? Check out each of these top color trends that will define 2021:
Here are the top color trends for 2021:
- Super-saturated, juicy colors
- Human skintones
- Harmonious, analogous palettes
- Surreal and expressionist color
- Monochrome plus one
- Soothing colors that are easy on the eyes
- Worn & faded-looking colors
- Organically shaped color blocking
- Pantone’s Ultimate Gray & Illuminating
1. Super-saturated, juicy colors
One of the color trends we’ll see dominating designs in 2021 are saturated, juicy colors paired with much paler hues in the background to make the intense colors pop.
After a challenging year like this one, people are craving positivity, so designers are giving us the cheerful, vivacious corals, magentas and oranges we need right now. These deliciously juicy and rich colors have a rejuvenating and uplifting effect. They are warm, but not hot. Refreshing, not brash.
And the combination with pale pinks and creamy tones creates an intriguing contrast that just works. In these designs, the pale background is as important as the focal color, grounding it and making pop.
2. Human skin tones
When we said 2021’s color trends feel human, we meant it. One of the biggest color trends coming our way is color palettes focused around the beauty of human skin tones. In 2021, brands and designers are getting under your skin with human-hued designs. And not just a tiny range of human skin tones like we used to see on bandaids and other products labeled “nude” or “flesh-toned”. In 2021, designs will work with every color of our organic rainbow, frequently making one or more human figures the focal point.
3. Harmonious, analogous palettes
In 2021, people will want harmony. We’ll want the comfort that comes from unity and togetherness, and that will extend to the color trends you’ll see in new designs. One of the upcoming color trends we’ll see a lot of is analogous color palettes; palettes that easily blend into each other.
Trends evolve over time, and we’re seeing the gradient trend that has been popular for several years now morph into the analogous palette trend. As you can see, some of these harmonious color palettes are made up of shades of all the same colors while others are collections of shades that are located next to each other on the color wheel. In any case, they create a soothing gradient-like effect, but without the perfectly smooth color transitions we’re used to seeing from gradients.
4. Surreal and expressionist color
Adding to the list of harmonious, feel-good color trends we’ll see in 2021, we’ll be seeing a lot of designs that use colors in unexpected, even surreal ways to create dream-like images.
These designs make a statement by coloring objects in colors they normally aren’t. The goal here is to be playful and create escapist landscapes where people can find a few moments of solace away from our challenging reality.
5. Monochrome plus one
Monochrome palettes aren’t a new trend—we saw them really picking up steam in 2020. But here’s the difference between a 2020 monochrome palette and the 2021 version: in 2020, monochrome designs relied on using lots of shades of the same color to create depth and visual intrigue. In 2021, designers are dropping single contrast shades into otherwise-monochrome, greyscale designs to create the same effect.
The addition of one expressive, bold shade takes the design into the world of color without making it too colorful—a modern way of keeping things simple while being excessive at the same time.
6. Soothing colors that are easy on the eyes
In the past year, we spent a lot of time looking at screens. Sure, okay, we did a lot of that before, but in 2020, the year of Zoom meetings and socially distanced celebrations, we spent a lot of time looking at screens. And we learned that certain colors are a lot more comfortable to look at than others.
In 2021, those comfortable, easy-on-the-eyes colors will be trending. In fact, designs created for ocular comfort in general will be trending. That means subtle, simple designs and lots of cool, natural colors that make it easy to keep watching and scrolling for hours.
7. Worn & faded-looking colors
Another one of the upcoming color trends you’ll be seeing a lot in 2021 is colors that look lived-in. What does that mean, exactly? Think of your favorite pair of jeans or your favorite baseball cap. Their colors are long faded and the stress lines where they conform to your body are bright and visible. That’s exactly what designers are capturing with this trend.
There’s more to this trend than distressing colors to make them look well-loved. Designers are also using rough, frayed textures to further make objects and images look like they’ve stood the test of time.
8. Organically-shaped color blocking
Organically shaped color blocking isn’t just one of the color trends you’ll see making a splash in 2021. It’s also slated to be one of the year’s top packaging design trends.
The color blocking you’ll be seeing in 2021 won’t be like the color blocking you saw in the 90s. Now, instead of sharp angles and boxes creating a multicolored grid, we’re going to see imperfect, textured, squishy, squeezy-looking shapes working together in complementing colors.
9. Pantone’s Ultimate Gray & Illuminating
No color trends roundup would be complete without mentioning Pantone’s Color of the Year. This year Pantone seeks a sense of grounding and support for 2021 as they announce the duo of Ultimate Gray (Pantone 17-5104: think industrial slab of concrete) and Illuminating (Pantone 13-0647: a warm, soft sunset yellow) as their picks for 2021.
On one hand, Ultimate Gray feels solid, impenetrable and bleak. On the other, we have the lighter, hopeful and current Illuminating yellow. Bring these two together and you can recognise a warm resilience in Pantone’s color choice. A fitting combination that we’re sure to see a lot of in the coming year.
Get a great (re)design with the biggest color trends of 2021
It’s common for trends to develop in response to recent years’ trends and events, and 2021’s color trends are no different. After weathering 2020 and rediscovering what really matters, it’s no surprise the upcoming design trends we’ll see feel so human.
Whether you’re redesigning your current look or launching something completely new, give your brand a human touch by working with one or more of 2021’s color trends.