Silver linings and design trends to watch out for in 2021

Despite the chaos of 2020, it was an incredibly important year for design and designers. To kickstart 2021, we’d love to share some silver linings and inspiring design trends that we hope to see more of this year.

Over the summer break, this article from Quartz caught our eye. It’s about how 2020 was actually a banner year for design: “At no other time have we witnessed how much the built environment has a direct bearing on our health and well-being … In 2020, designing wasn’t about styling or embellishment but about coming up with down and dirty solutions. Thinking creatively and collaboratively became a survival skill.”

As designers, it’s such an inspiring reminder of the impact we can have.

Despite the grief and chaos that set 2020 apart, we saw so many innovations and life-saving designs. Wayfinding designers raced to create visual cues that remind people to socially distance. Graphic designers turned their talents to creating face masks. Industrial designers figured out ways to manufacture ventilators to address a global shortage. Experiential designers are working to reconfigure offices, campuses and schools to keep people safe, and make them smile with colourful graphics and art installations.

There is plenty to celebrate, starting with a few of our favourite silver linings from 2020.

Silver linings: car-free streets, healthy cities, DIY urbanism

In the darkest times, there is always hope, kindness and clarity. We loved seeing all the different ways people tried to brighten up each other’s lives in big and small ways, from drawing colourful chalk pictures on pavements to cheering on healthcare workers.

We are big fans of the car-free streets movement. Around the world, major streets closed to traffic and opened up to people as a result of coronavirus lockdowns. It has sparked a rethinking of our cities: why should so much prime real estate be devoted to cars?

We’ve also seen a surge in cycling and outdoor recreational activities. The City of Sydney raced to open temporary bike lanes to encourage more people to ride. With fewer people driving or flying for business, carbon emissions are down. In fact, we’re likely to see the largest absolute drop in emissions ever recorded. According to the Global Carbon Project, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel and industry dropped by around 7% in 2020.

Design trends we hope to see more of in 2021

There are several emerging design trends we’ll be watching closely this year.

Tactical urbanism is a citizen-led approach to urban planning. Also known as DIY Urbanism, it involves small, temporary, low-cost changes designed to improve local neighbourhoods. It’s all about action, which we love. In the midst of the lockdowns, we saw temporary bike lanes, quirky dining pods, and new gathering spaces pop up all over the place. Whether led by governments, residents or grassroots organisations, tactical urbanism is creating “a profound shift in how communities think about project development and delivery”.

As wayfinding designers, we are interested in the rise of the touchless workplace. We are implementing touchless kiosks and digital screens to guide people around with minimal human contact. We are also experimenting with people-counting sensors and spatial intelligence platforms. These technologies will reduce the risk of overcrowding in schools, campuses, airports and offices.

Most importantly, we are hopeful that COVID-19 will spark a shift towards healthier cities. We’d love to see more green spaces, more opportunities for socialising outdoors, walking and staying active. And we’d especially like to see cities designed with wellness in mind – not just “functional and economic concerns”.

In other words, we’re excited to see what 2021 has in store for us all. Together, we look forward to shaping safe, welcoming and inspiring built environments. Let’s get started.