The start of the year is always a good time to reassess priorities and consider new approaches, but 2021 is more of a reset than we expected this time last year. 2020 is unlikely to go down in anyone’s autobiography as the best year of their life, but it has done something positive: it’s prepared the ground for rapid change in the next 12 months.
More than any other year in our lifetimes, 2021 is set to be revolutionary, with emerging trends that will last well into the new decade. Here’s what we think you can look forward to around the next corner.
1. The End of Minimalism
Minimalism has been the de facto approach to web design for the last decade because it works.
But design reflects the zeitgeist. Where minimalism once felt clean and fresh, it’s starting to feel dull and uninspired. There have been a few false-starts breaking out of the long-term trend, but thanks to the pandemic, 2021 will be the year minimalism finally folds — at least for a while.
Prior to coronavirus-mandated lockdowns worldwide, there were already signs of a more vibrant, more decorative, more joyful approach to design. Simple typefaces have been replaced with more decorative examples — faces that use ink-traps to fake 3D effects are surprisingly popular.
trends are cyclical, and the wheel always turns
One of the biggest aspects of this blossoming trend is the move away from Material Design-style flat color not just to gradients but to multi-color gradients and even animated gradients. Even Apple, the last bastion of the clean white-box approach, jumped on the gradient bandwagon with its Big Sur branding.
One of the few things COVID-19 hasn’t slowed is the adoption of new web technology, and CSS, in particular, has had some major developments in the last year. CSS Grid is now a practical technology, and our ability to code standards-compliant designs that aren’t dependent on hierarchical boxes is greatly enhanced.
After more than a year of pretty grim news for most people, much of the world will be vaccinated over the next twelve months, and life will rapidly return to normal. The last global crisis on this scale was the 1918 influenza pandemic, and it led directly to the decade known as the Roaring Twenties.
Minimalism was already dipping in popularity — trends are cyclical, and the wheel always turns — but lockdown, or perhaps more precisely the end of lockdown, is the catalyst for significant change.
2. The Decline of WordPress
In Autumn 2020, something entirely unexpected happened: The W3C announced the platform its new web presence would be built on, and WordPress — the previous choice of the web’s steering committee — didn’t even make the list of finalists.
Due to accessibility concerns, the W3C development team opted to migrate away from WordPress to Craft CMS. The decision was met with a mixture of glee and outrage. But whether you agree with the decision or not, it’s hard to see it as anything other than yet another symptom of WordPress’ decline.
WordPress faces a triple threat: there are web builders that do an adequate job for low-end web projects; there are newer rivals like Craft that outperform WordPress as a CMS; there’s a growing interest in alternate approaches, like Jamstack.
So will it all be over for WordPress in 2021? Not even close. There are myriad reasons WordPress will continue to be the choice of designers and developers for years to come. Tens of thousands of professionals worldwide have invested their whole careers in WordPress; there are millions of themes, plugins, templates, and build processes that are tightly woven into the WordPress ecosystem. What’s more, there are millions of sites with substantial content archives powered by WordPress [WebDesignerDepot is one such site].
WordPress reportedly powers approximately 37% of the web, and it will still be the dominant CMS in 2022. But it’s unlikely to grow beyond that 37%, and by 2030 its market share will be in rapid contraction.
2020 was the high-tide mark for WordPress
But for all its faults — and it’s undeniable that WordPress is full of faults — WordPress is the best of the web; it has given a voice to millions of people, launched countless careers, and empowered entrepreneurship worldwide.
2020 was the high-tide mark for WordPress, but it’s not an extinction-level event — even the much-maligned Flash, which was killed dead in a matter of months by the first generation iPhone, limped on until a few weeks ago.
WordPress will have to find a niche and accept a smaller market share; in doing so, it will address the single biggest complaint that anyone has about WordPress: that it’s trying to do too much.
WordPress is one of the great success stories of the web. In a decade, it may have to settle for powering just 10% of the web — a level of failure most of its rivals can only dream of.
3. The Digital Currency Explosion
2021 is undoubtedly the year that cryptocurrency goes mainstream. In 2020 Bitcoin grew by almost 400%; currently valued at around $35k, conservative predictions for a December 2021 valuation are $100k, with five-year predictions as high as $1m. And Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency; the value of developer-friendly Ether has jumped by more than 50% in the first few weeks of 2021.
In the US, the incoming Biden administration is preparing a multi-trillion dollar relief package, which many believe young Americans will invest in cryptocurrency. Perhaps more importantly, large investment banks are now pumping hundreds of millions in digital currencies. PayPal and Visa are both in the advanced stages of adopting blockchain technology.
The biggest threat to the new digital economy is the volatility of cryptocurrency. You cannot price services in XRP if XRP’s dollar price could crash at any time — as it did a few weeks ago.
And so there are two routes in which this trend will unfold for ecommerce. Either pricing will remain in dollars, and the equivalent price in various cryptocurrencies will be calculated in real-time. Or, transactions will make use of stablecoins like Tether that are tied to the value of the US dollar.
Cryptocurrency is the latest gold-rush, and whether you think it’s the chance of a lifetime or yet another Ponzi scheme, it will become increasingly high-profile in ecommerce throughout 2021.
4. No More Video Calls and also More Video Calls
2020 was the year of Zoom. Its growth from bit-player to overtaking Skype is a material lesson for entrepreneurs that every obstacle is an opportunity.
every obstacle is an opportunity
Over the last year, we’ve discovered two things: meetings are more creative in person, and office costs are significantly reduced when staff work remotely.
There’s going to be a shift in the business landscape this year. Remote working will continue to be normal for years to come as businesses enjoy rent savings. Video calls will still be common for quick update meetings. But expect to travel to physical meeting places periodically for in-depth strategic planning.
Expect to see major cities with deserted office buildings and a rapid expansion of co-working spaces, especially those with meeting spaces — if WeWork can hold on a little longer, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
As a web professional, you’re in a unique position to thrive in the new business world, even more so if you’re a freelancer. Remember, if you’re working onsite, be mindful of your physical health, and if you’re working remotely, be mindful of your mental health.
What Do You Think?
No one saw 2020 coming. Sometimes world events are outwith our control, and we have to hang on and hope it gets better. It’s been a tough 12 months, and the truth is we’re not through it yet.
But the 2020 coronavirus pandemic is the first pandemic in human history that we’ve had the technology to shorten.
2021 offers the opportunity for enormous change. Will designers look for new, more decorative approaches? Will we replace our technology stack? Will you be billing clients in Ether this year? Will you suffer the misery of a packed evening commute ever again?
Featured image via Unsplash