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Top 10 UI design trends and techniques that will make your product stand out in 2021

The User Interface (UI) is more than a platform via which your product interacts with its users and shows them all the awesome stuff it can do. It is also the main access point to the product’s user experience, the outward representation of your brand, and what makes your product stand out from the crowd. You can guess that it’s crucial to get the UI design just right. There are tons of elements that make up UI design, and best practices change over time. Since we see customers use our software development platform, Qt, to create all varieties of UIs for devices of all different shapes and sizes, we wanted to provide you with an overview of what trends dominate today’s UI design and evaluate them, in no particular order.

Flat Design

Flat design is useful in medical equipment. Strong colors, contrasts and simple fonts increase the readability of Medec’s ventilator UI.

Flat design has been the dominant UI trend over the years. It uses two-dimensional elements, balanced and bright colors, and simple typography. What it lacks in frills, it makes up in efficiency that gives designers time to focus on other creative aspects. It forms a solid base, but its limitations offer opportunities to those who want to go the extra mile. See, a core mechanism behind the comings and goings of trends is people getting bored of seeing the same thing. If you want to stand out from the crowd, well, there are nine more trends to go that can enhance your current design. Like this one: 

New skeuomorphism (neomorphism)

Harman International won a Red Dot design award for the Mini Cooper’s digital cockpit design, featuring an instrument cluster that follows neomorphic principles.

Skeuomorphic design, in short, refers to visual elements that are created in a realistic style to mimic real-life objects. The UI design of the first-generation iPhone in 2007 relied on skeuomorphism and made it commonplace. After a few years, the design trend pendulum swung from the rich, realistic style to the minimalistic flat design. However, flat design has started to feel overly simplified, minimalistic, and a bit too generic. That’s why UI designs have been shifting towards adding depth to flat design without changing its main idea. Skeuomorphism returns with a twist! 

These so-called “neomorphic” designs render the main characteristics of an object in exact detail. In contrast, the rest of the item remains stylized. The different design elements support this philosophy, from light color palettes and subtle gradients, soft shapes such as circles or round rectangles, drop shadow or inner style glow effects — everything should draw attention to specific parts of the design.

Subtle gradients

The subtle gradients in the inflight infotainment units by Lufthansa Technik impart the UI a calming, balanced look and feel.

In design, gradients are the gradual transition from one color into another. In the hay-day of advertising, they used to be bright and flashy. Nowadays, we understand that bright and flashy attracts attention, but in a way that detracts from the message we’re trying to convey. Today’s gradients tend to be more subtle, with its role to give volume and depth to design or create an interesting background. They tend to follow minimalistic design principles, with no clashing colors and a definite light source.

3D graphics

3D graphics can enable certain features and increase the overall appeal of products, like in this automotive HMI by Mercedes-Benz.

3D graphics have fascinated designers and users for years. Unsurprisingly, and profiting from VR’s and AR’s rise in popularity, 3D elements are emerging in the web and mobile interfaces. 3D graphics can improve a product’s appeal in multiple ways. Because the real world is three-dimensional, adding depth can create a sense of realism in a design. 

Three-dimensional UI elements can add a premium feel to a product. You can observe this trend in the automotive industry, for example. Manufacturers equip their high-end models with 3D or 2D/3D hybrid HMIs and use 2D-interfaces on their lower-end cars. 


Form follows function with Toon, Quby’s smart thermostat, without sacrificing any of the visual appeal. A relatively large number of elements are displayed, considering the small size of the screen. Yet, the UI doesn’t feel crowded.


Micro-interactions are all of the brief moments when a product reacts to input in a small way. Think of an icon that highlights when moused over, or the satisfying “shunk” sound effect when a file is transferred to the trash. We may not actively perceive micro-interactions because they’re so discrete, but without them, it feels like something’s missing. 

Micro-interactions can confirm that the device recognized our presence or that we want it to do something. That alone feels reassuring! If done in a pleasant way, we will grow to enjoy and repeat those interactions. 

So, even though micro-interactions are often simple and nearly unnoticeable, they are essential for creating enjoyable and memorable moments when using a product. That makes them the unsung heroes of your UI’s user experience.

Unique illustrations

What counts as illustration? A sketch? A doodle? These plus line drawings, cartoons, 3D graphics, collages or even photos can count as illustrations.

Visual communication has evolved from mere decorations to communication tools. They can explain, complement, clarify, and render complex concepts, actions, or information in a way that’s easy to understand. The role of illustrations is to add originality and personality to your UI; to set the mood and increase brand recognition. Unique or compelling illustrations can evoke users’ emotions, causing a memorable “wow-effect.”


If unique illustrations can grab a user’s attention, animations have the potential to blow them out of the water. More so than static images, animations increase user engagement and make designs come to life. 

Both illustrations and animations support storytelling by helping visualize what a brand or product can offer at a glance. While illustrations require less effort, dynamic animations have all the advantages of illustrations, and are more effective at directing and retaining user focus.


We’ve touched on how sound can affect the user experience when we talked about micro-interactions. Sound is an essential part of sensorial design. It’s importance, however, is sometimes forgotten! 

You can use sounds to trigger a broad range of emotional responses. They can amplify feedback to users, notify them about events, and be a core branding element

We hope you enjoyed this overview of the world of modern UI design! Did you know all the UIs in the article were built with Qt? Qt is your software development one-stop-shop — from design, to development, to deployment. Make your apps work on any hardware/OS with just a single code base, and profit from tons of tools that make life easier for developers and designers alike.

If you want to know more, please visit www.qt.io.