Jan 31, 2020, Design

The Next Big Thing: Illustration trends for 2020

Joanna Babulewicz UI Designer

The background

Last month my colleagues wrote about our expectations in UX and UI design for this year, also mentioning illustration. As a UI Designer, but also an illustrator, I try to keep up with new trends. Of course, it’s not necessary to follow them – but it’s great to see what other illustrators create, what new tools they use. It’s not only about scrolling through Dribbble or Behance though! We can get inspired by new music videos, mobile games, performance art, culture or even current events.

Let’s get into some of the biggest illustration trends for 2020 with my commentary and, of course – some of my favorite examples. 

#1 – 3D is here to stay

As the years 2018 and 2019 progressed, we had a chance to see more and more 3D graphics. Glass, metal, fur or plastic – 3D textures are getting realistic and it looks awesome. 

Big brands like Spotify or Huawei incorporate them into their campaigns, especially mixing 3D elements with photos, videos or typography. My personal favorite is Joseph Melhuish – in the recent project he used beautiful, expressive 3D render with photos of bottled water called “Arto Lifewtr”. 

I also really enjoy seeing vivid textures on unrealistic, deformed, fantasy-like shapes and it’s definitely something that’s creating the wow-factor we always strive for. 

The 3D effect is especially desired for commercial campaigns and innovative real-life products. Using them in mobile apps and websites is more than welcomed.

#2 – Isometry is not dead yet

Remember that episode of Bold and Beautiful where we all thought Ridge Forrester died in flames, but he actually survived and was better than ever? That’s how I see the isometric trend we all got tired of in mid-2017.

3D hype also impacts other styles of illustrations – the isometry we see today is refined to more realistic forms, shapes and perspectives. As a designer, I’m not quite ready to brush off my isometric illustration skill – I’m looking forward to improving it with some realism and complex textures. I’m truly inspired by the amazing work of Andrew Nye as he pays attention to the composition and palette of the whole visual, but also polishes every detail. His illustrations definitely captivate the viewers and let them immerse themselves into the small world of each piece.

Isometric visuals are great for explaining abstract technological concepts, as well as companies or product advertisements. What’s really awesome about this style is that with the right grid we can show the complexity of a city or detailed product – all with semi-3D effect, but with lesser effort than it would take to create real 3D render. 

#3 – Shapes! In all forms

Simple shapes still inspire us in 2020. Don’t be afraid to have fun with a new color palette, because the result can be unique, fun and fresh. It could be a safe choice or a crazy one, depending on how you use this style. The great thing about it is that it’s easily scalable and easy on the eye. 

If you want your product to seem simple to use, or fun and youthful – it’s a trend for you. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will evolve throughout 2020. 

#4 – Big, Bold and Beautiful

One of the most interesting trends these days is using creative typography in brand identities. Strong sans-serif fonts can really upgrade your company’s slogans and, when used in an interesting way, can either replace or enhance illustrations. This typography trend is expected to evolve and flourish in 2020. Don’t hesitate to play with letters and remember – thick is beautiful.

#5 – Heavy metal 

Remember old heavy metal covers with metallic elements and crazy typography? It comes back in a big way. The metallic effect in typography and illustrations adds elegance and confidence to whatever text or idea you illustrate. This trend is sometimes used in poster design or in branding and looks well with a minimalistic design. My favorite example is &Walsh branding by Jessica Walsh. Seemingly simple typography is mixed there with beautiful metallic signs.

Used in print, it can truly enhance your business card, packaging and, of course, album cover.

Plus, it’s super cool.

#6 – Flat but realistic

2019 was the year of geometrical and linear characters and a new year is a great opportunity to try something different! Stripping down the illustration to its essentials – minimal palette and simpler shapes – can create elegant and captivating visuals without unnecessary details. Don’t forget about shadows – it also adds to the atmosphere and sometimes focuses on the user’s sight on more important elements.

#7 – Include and inspire

One of the best ideas 2019 has brought us is inclusiveness in illustration. It really shows that beauty and creativity come in different forms and colors. You can play with proportions and geometry of a body, clothes your character may wear and much more. It’s cool to show each character’s personality because diversity is real and it captivates the viewer. 

Consider this idea especially when creating brand illustrations. 

Be yourself

I think it’s important to remember that while creating illustrations for apps, websites or brands trends come and go. You don’t want to create (as an illustrator) or buy (as a client) something that is going to be outdated in a year. 

My solution is to be yourself. Come up (or let us come up) with something that truly represents your brand, even if it will take longer to create – like Alice Lee for Slack, Mailchimp drawings or… our one line illustrations!