Top 10 creative trends: Imperfection, authenticity, and escapism top themes for 2021

Jan 20, 2021 | Content marketing, Marketing transformation, Online advertising, Viral and buyrals

Top 10 creative trends: Imperfection, authenticity, and escapism top themes for 2021
Tie dye, eccentric animations and classical and string music are among the key creative themes for 2021, according to a new report.

Shutterstock has announced the launch of the 10th anniversary edition of its annual Creative Trends Report, highlighting both global and local trends that will inspire creative expression and ingenuity in 2021.

The data analysed over the past year across images, videos, and music helped to determine the standout trends that Shutterstock believes are on the horizon and will globally influence creative direction and aesthetics in 2021. These are the visuals and sounds that brands and creatives will be tapping into when producing campaigns over the coming months.

Some of this year’s major trends include:

  • Tie Dye (graphic trend): the staple of at-home fashion is the new darling of digital design. Tie dye patterns are an instant throwback to 70s nostalgia with distinctive flair. With hundreds of dyeing techniques available, this trend is the perfect foundation for a brand’s unique point of view. Pastel tie dye searches have increased by 2,404% since last year and a new search term ‘pastel swirl’ has appeared.
  • Identity Unfiltered (photography trend): there are over 7.5 billion people on Earth, and authentic portraiture is helping us see the wide gamut of beauty across the world. Search for ‘non-binary’ models has increased by 2,300% and there has been a 133% increase in search for ‘authentic people’.
  • Eccentric Animation (footage trend): as the software behind VFX and animation gets more advanced, artists are developing unique approaches, giving content creators new ways to express their ideas. We’ve seen a rise in searches for playful animation styles and motion graphics in a time when produced footage is harder to come by.
  • Strings (music trend): there is a clear trend towards music that moves people. Both classic and modern, these tracks elevate and lift our spirits.

“After the year that was, we were encouraged by the positivity, originality, and resilience displayed by the Shutterstock community, which was reflected in their searches,” said Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock. “This year’s trends centered around individuality, imperfection, authenticity, and escapism — despite the obstacles we were forced to navigate, and the uncertainty we faced, there was no shortage of creativity and innovation. These trends, gleaned from billions of keyword searches by our users, lay the foundation for the content we can expect to see across creative outputs, B2B and B2C marketing in the year ahead.”

The 10 2021 Creative Trends fall into five categories: Graphic, Photography, Footage, Music, and the Trend to Watch.


Free-flowing Inkscapes, one-of-a-kind Tie Dye patterns, and twisting, line portraits depicting Surreal Faces, show the embrace of individuality—and imperfection.

Keywords such as pastel tie dye (+2,404%), alcohol ink (+381%), and face line art (+536%) are on the rise, as we see a surge of flaws, fantasy and distinctive flair among textures, backgrounds, and illustrations.


In alignment with the events of 2020, there was a demand for inclusion and representation, with searches such as non-binary (+2,300%) and authentic people (+133%) trending up. Identity Unfiltered encompasses authentic portraiture and the wide gamut of beauty across the globe. A focus on Inner Life and self care (+177%) has compelled many to shift focus in the coming year towards life’s simple pleasures.


Motion pictures have the unique ability to evoke emotion. The Sublime has seen an increase in searches for intense and intimidating scenes from nature: from stormy beach (+480%) to dunes (+394%), and mountain aerials (+1,396%).

Eccentric Animation has given content creators new ways to express their ideas, and to embrace more playful animation styles and motion graphics that are whimsical (+13,572%), and fun. This trend provides a lively, splashy and colorful outlet for creatives that doesn’t require a crew to produce, and steers away from the seriousness of 2020.


There has been an uptick in tracks featuring Strings — from the rippling notes of a classic cantata, to the electrifying, hair-raising sounds of an eclectic spiccato. Popularity has risen for music that is Uplifting and Playful — the sounds of brisk BPM, plucky instruments, and sweeping crescendos.The footage and music trends, when paired together, produce a distinctive sensorial experience — layer a track from Strings over a clip from The Sublime, sit back and enjoy.

Trend to Watch

After the events of the past year, creatives are on the hunt for the Unexplored. From biodiversity stemming from the wildfires and natural disasters, to 2020’s SpaceX launch and the fascination with space, and the upswing in yoga, meditation and the uncharted phenomena of our mind-body connection.

In addition to these 10 global trends, the 2021 report outlines the top search terms from 26 countries around the world, from fairy tales lifestyle in Australia, to colorful landscapes in South Africa. This year’s report not only offers hand-curated collections for each of the trends from Shutterstock images, video and music, but also images from Offset.

Looking at the search terms with the highest growth year-over-year, the annual Creative Trends report analyzes data gathered over a 12-month period from billions of customer searches for images, footage, and music content. The data, combined with analysis from Shutterstock’s internal Visual Intelligence Panel, determines patterns and styles that are unique and reflect cultural trends from around the world.

Explore the full 2021 Creative Trends Report here

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