2021 is going to be surreal, at least when it comes to creative trends

Tie-dye, inks, surreal faces, candid portraits and authentic human images including non-binary people are increasingly in demand and “will define creativity in 2021,” according to Shutterstock.

The photo provider analyzed the most searched images, videos and music on its platform to predict which trends would be a mainstay in 2021. The company looked at trends in both photography and graphics for its 10th Annual Creative Trends Report.

In photography, Shutterstock reported, there has been a growing movement towards presenting the world and the people who inhabit it, in a more authentic and unfiltered way.

Searches for “non-binary,” “candid portrayal” and “genuine people” were major trends that Shutterstock plans to support throughout the year.

Swirling pastels and translucent hues

In research for graphics, tie-dye quickly became “the new darling of digital design” thanks to the pattern’s uplifting ties to ’70s nostalgia, the company said.

In particular, Shutterstock said research trends point to pastel tie-dye, tie-die shibori pattern, and pastel swirl patterns. It seems consistent with the company color trends report for 2021, released in November, which predicted calm colors would dominate this year.

In contrast, its color trends report for 2020 predicted that a bold “maximalism and saturated hues” would define the year.

Fluid “inks” made of translucent hues, meandering metallic swirls and foamy color sprays will also make a mark in 2021, Shutterstock predicted based on its analysis of search terms.


Surrealist, avant-garde and “Picasso-esque” faces were also gaining momentum, Shutterstock said, with “face line art,” “face painting” and “contemporary portrait” in demand.

This year’s trends focus on individuality, imperfection, authenticity and escape

Flo Lau, Creative Manager at Shutterstock

Reflecting the uncertain realities of 2020 and 2021, Shutterstock has also seen an upsurge in searches for ‘information overload’ and ‘body and mind’ as well as more exploratory terms, such as ‘biodiversity’ and ‘spatial HDRI’ (image high dynamic range) —Which, together, the company has called “the unexplored.”

Flo Lau, chief creative officer at Shutterstock, said the report aimed to “educate and inspire all creators, from creative directors to vloggers and small business owners” with “data-driven trends.”

“Shutterstock users perform billions of searches on our site each year, looking for the perfect picture, video or music for their projects,” she says.

On video, data from Shutterstock showed an increase in video searches for quirky and playful animation styles as well as spectacular natural beauty, including beaches and stormy mountains. In music, “stimulating and playful” strings were popular as the creators sought to produce “a distinctive sensory experience”.

“We see that creators are looking for content that reflects a sense of breaking away from the everyday, to gain a better understanding of the unknown,” said Lau. “This year’s trends were centered around individuality, imperfection, authenticity and escape.[and] Despite the obstacles we have been forced to overcome and the uncertainty we have been faced with, creativity and innovation abound.

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