Skip to content Skip to footer

Creative trends for 2021 look promising but what’s Shutterstock’s prediction?

Creative trends for 2021 look promising, but what are the real vibes? The Shutterstock 2021 Creative Trend Report might just have the answer.

In a globalized era, we take for granted the power that digital communication has granted. Not to mention our disregard for credibility and, or, different perspectives.

For good or for bad, we have seen action and people coming together because of digital communication. People being able to relate with each other now more than ever because of the closeness that the internet provides. Being united by a single cause. 

Thus, perhaps there is no better time to learn about all different realities, to see the world through the eyes of its citizens rather than just the media industry. A time for creators

With a network of more than one million contributors from all different countries of the world, Shutterstock is able to provide high-quality visuals that reflect the reality of all corners of the world through diverse perspectives.

It is a leader for businesses and creators to get licensed visual content. 

What is Shutterstock? 

Shutterstock is a global creative platform offering full-service solutions and high-quality visuals and audio content and tools to help creatives and brands tell their stories.

It is the market place helped businesses around the world; license photos, vectors, illustrations, videos, and music that they need for communication including marketing material. 

They are constantly innovating and finding fun ways to inform and inspire all creators around the world; from creative directors to bloggers and small business owners. And, unlike any other microstock platform, their core mission is to empower creativity through their high-quality content. 

They also enjoy a network of one million contributors which ensures that their brand always delivers really fresh campaigns and content that speak to the here and now. This not only allows them, but their clients as well, to stay relevant, relatable, and creative. 

In fact, Shutterstock has a content team in charge of analyzing each year’s visual trends and how they evolve through the year. This not only helps to provide insights about the type of content clients can use for the upcoming campaign or social posts.

And, essentially, allows both clients and themselves to share content that is not only eye-catching but also on-trend. 

“Our site is viewed by global users: not just the creatives, we also have social media managers and small business owners, and even journalists from all over the world in different countries. So our search data report is not just a reflection of what is going on in the creative industry, it’s also a reflection of cultural changes globally”

Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock

These trends mirror not just what is going on with society at the moment, but what would happen next. And, in a way, they allow businesses, creative or not, to enhance conversations with their communities.

Shutterstock 2021 creative trends report clue us into what visual demand currently looks like.

What images, videos, and visual aids are people looking for in order to tell the stories we read or news we consume? What are the realities we are exposed to? Is there a common denominator? How are people creating content? What gets them inspired? How can businesses relate to clients?

All these are questions that can be answered by analyzing the type of visuals we are consuming. Understanding not only what the audience is looking for, but why are they related to these type of visuals, can potentially reveal larger cultural shifts.

At first glance, what these trends truly reveal is a more colorful, brighter, sincere look to a new year

Surreal Faces

Shutterstock Creative Trends Report 2021
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021


Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

This trend is composed of current and translucent hues snaking metallic swirls, and foamy sprays of color that shape the landscape of these free-flowing textures.


Tie dye has not only become a staple of at-home fashion, but now is the new darling of digital design.

“Although not surprising, tie-dye has become one of the most interesting Creative Trends for 2021.” According to Flo Lau, Head of Creative at Shutterstock, Tie Die is expected to grow hugely in 2021 especially in the fashion world in particular.

tie dye data
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

Identity Unfiltered

Shutterstock Creative Trends Report 2021
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

Representation matters. The past year has been eye-opening in a way that has shown the power and importance of representation. Thus, it is important and, perhaps encouraging, to know that brands, businesses, and people are taking action over it.

Shutterstock Creative Trends Report 2021
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

Inner Life

inner life trends
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

Eccentric Animation

animation data
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

According to Flo, this trend has around 13,000% over year increase in terms of search.

Particularly in 2020, people being trapped at home and all video productions become more challenging. Animation and other forms of illustration have been a huge solution.

For one, not only is animation much cheaper than an entire set production, but it is an effective way to communicate a strong and clear message.

The Sublime

sublime data
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

Strings and Uplifting Playful

Shutterstock Creative Trends Report 2021
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

The Unexplored

“One of the most surprising, but not really because we knew it was coming,” admitted Flo.

Shutterstock Creative Trends Report 2021
Courtesy: Shutterstock Creative Trends 2021

“We have biodiversity: people trying to break out of their day-to-day social media and use media consumption and get back in nature and get an understanding of evolution. There is also a rise in mental health and people realizing its importance .”

Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock

Perhaps this trend is one of the most revealing ones.

It mirrors a combination of everything that happened in 2020 and, at the same time, it encapsulates the internal reaction that people are having. The societal reaction to the reality of 2020 and its uncertainty.

Maybe it comes as a surprise, but stock image relevance goes far beyond the media industry. It creates a connection between people from all over the globe and brings representation of everyone and every corner to light. It helps people connect with each other and bring attention to situations that matter.

At the same time, the fact that there is a wide range of contributors allows the platform to provide an unbiased representation of the different realities of all corners of the world. And the 2021 Shutterstock Creative Trend Report proves that.

“It is important for [clients] to see and understand what is happening in the world in order to communicate it effectively through their campaigns. Documenting different realities through images or videos, and capturing cultural and societal trends, is not only powerful but necessary”

Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock

Screenshot from Hair Love

Why ‘Hair Love’ is all the representation we need to get ahead

We have a firm belief that representation matters deeply,” said Karen Rupert Toliver, drowned out by applause in her acceptance of best animated short at the Academy Awards Sunday.

Toliver was accepting the award for her part in producing the short film, “Hair Love,” a delightfully sweet story about a Black father struggling, and then succeeding in doing his daughter’s hair.

Former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry wrote and directed the film, and joined Toliver on stage.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hair Love (@hairlovemovie) on

“Especially in cartoons, because in cartoons that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world,” Toliver continued.

“‘Hair love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation. We wanted to normalize Black hair,” added Cherry. Cherry also dedicated the award to the late, great Kobe Bryant.

While “Hair Love” is a beautiful portrait of a father-daughter relationship and a message about working together to overcome an obstacle, it is also a call for action of a serious issue that discriminates against people of color.

In his acceptance speech, Cherry mentioned the CROWN Act, a law and acronym that stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” This law “prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture.”

It was first introduced by Governor Newsom of California on July 3, 2019, and went into effect on January 1, 2020. New York was the second state to introduce the CROWN Act, and New Jersey followed suit.

Twenty-two additional states are considering the CROWN Act and are looking to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills.

DeAndre Arnold, the Texas 18-year-old who was forced to cut his hair or else not be able to graduate from his high school, was Cherry and Toliver’s guest at the Academy Awards. Arnold’s situation is heartbreaking, but even more disconcerting is that his story is nowhere near an anomaly

In the Spring of 2018, the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman named Chastity Jones had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

Also in 2018, a 6-year-old boy was barred from school because of his dreadlocks.

These obstacles and interferences are issues white people do not have to worry about, and it is not a mystery as to why. The rules prohibiting certain hairstyles are not to increase productivity or promote inclusiveness that will eventually optimize the school or work’s capabilities.

They are discriminatory, they are racist, and solely against people of color.

Cherry and Toliver’s delicate and touching Hair Love short film is one more step into spreading awareness of this serious issue into the public’s consciousness. The short film was beautiful, moving, and fully deserving of the academy award.

Image result for hair love short film gif

It is not enough to fight back against discriminatory rules and practices. People must consider the question as to why these obstacles are in effect in the first place and then remedy the situation from there.

Only through deep understanding, honest reflection, and diligent action will injustice be fully eradicated. Hair Love, in essence, is about loving your hair and yourself.

The story also contains a message about love and labor between a family, as the father works hard to do his daughter’s hair. Wherein both father and daughter rush to see their wife and mother in the hospital and make her feel better.

This message can be carried over to the action that needs to take place, in line with the CROWN Act. Lead with love, and be diligent in finding a way for everyone to be happy and find peace.

Lead designer on ‘Story of O.J.’ video tells us what it’s like to work with Jay-Z

Jay-Z’s visuals for “The Story of O.J.” feels like an important moment in the history of rap music.

The second track off of Hov’s controversial album 4:44 serves as an educational, racial, and financial depiction of the identity of African-Americans.

The video, which was exclusively available on Tidal, went public on YouTube last week allowing wide access to the content. If you haven’t seen it yet please take some time to peep it below. Warning: You need to watch this.

Directors for the video Mark Romanek and Jay-Z collaborated over the course of six weeks with a team of animators, 3D modelers, and designers to produce this mind-boggling masterpiece.

Can you imagine working on a project that holds so much racial subject matter? Rustam Hasanov, lead character designer on the project, can.

Not sure how long this will be up. I was the lead character designer, weirdest gig I ever had #SToryOfOJ

— Rustam Hasanov (@RustamHasanov2) July 6, 2017

In an exclusive interview with Kulture Hub, we asked Rustam about his experience working on Hov’s latest masterpiece.

According to Hasanov, who has worked on the Game of Thrones intro concept design and as art director on the animated Netflix movie Trollhunter, “The Story of O.J.” was a special project,

“It was definitely different. More than anything else, the timeline of this was really tight and the budget was pretty tight. Basically, the whole project was finished in 6 weeks and if you are familiar with animation that’s a very fast turn around on something like this, especially for something this sensitive in terms of the subject matter.”

Jay-Z The Story Of Oj GIF by Universal Music Africa - Find & Share on GIPHY

Hasanov continued,

“There was a ballpark, a gray area, of what we could hit and if we didn’t quite get it right I knew it could be catastrophic and that it could be misconstrued and misinterpreted in terms of what the intention behind the video was. So, we were very careful about how we were going to address all the stereotypes and how we were going to clarify exactly what the designs were going to say.”

What was the biggest challenge? Hasanov had to imagine what it would be like to be a 1930s cartoonist.

“Imagine doing these horrible racial stereotypes and turning them into entertainment for children. If you are an artist you know exactly what you are doing and you know that it’s bad, but they did it anyway. That’s exactly what we were doing too. That was the part we were nervous about, are we just repeating the same thing and are we fetishizing these stereotypes or are we making a statement? To us very much, we were on the side that we are not regurgitating this content, we’re making a statement about it.”

Hasanov had no idea what he was getting himself into. All he knew was that he always wanted to work on something that had meaning behind it.

Rustam Hasanov

One day, Hasanov received an email from his colleague Lisha Tan, the creative director on the project.

Tan and Hasanov worked on projects together before and she knew he was the right fit. His experience creating environments and characters, as well as working with tight deadlines was exactly what the project called for.

It was when Tim Delvin, art director of “The Story of O.J.,” pitched Hasanov the project, showed him the storyline, and said it was for Jay-Z he knew that it was a great fit.

“I found out from Tim Delvin who was the art director. I basically came in, he pitched the project to me, what the idea was and said, ‘it is for Jay-Z.’ At that point, I didn’t know the song and I thought, ‘God this could go very wrong’ because he just showed some imagery – the racist references and cartoons were shown to me first. Yeah, that was a little unnerving.”

Rustam Hasanov

Hasanov continued,

“But, I was excited because this is exactly the kind of thing I should be working on. Up to that point, I was really anxious to work on something like this, something that had a lot of meaning behind it. As soon as he said that I was a little bit nervous, but then I was like, ‘Oh man! This is going to be great.'”

I wondered what it was like to see the imagery for the video before hearing the song that would go with it. I asked Hasanov what he felt like after he heard the whole track. This was his “Oh shit” moment.

“Once I listened to the song and understood what the message was, I was like, ‘Ok I have to do everything I possibly can to make sure this is done right because if it’s done right, this could be an incredible and powerful message.’ I think after I listened to the song that was my holy shit moment because that’s when I realized what the potential of this song could be.”

A lot of potential indeed. Race is definitely a very touchy subject. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be white and work on a project that brings racial tension to light like “The Story of O.J.” does.

Rustam Hasanov

Hasanov doesn’t think being white is an excuse to opt out of the conversation.

“If you’re white I think it’s kind of a way to opt out of the conversation just by using the excuse, ‘I didn’t have these experiences, so I shouldn’t have an opinion about it.’ And I think that’s completely wrong. I just think racial relations or just race and the context and the history of all that is so important to the entire identity of this country. If you’re someone that doesn’t have an opinion on it or if you don’t want to have the conversation, I think, it’s almost irresponsible.”

“The Story of O.J.” is very complex and has a lot of underlying messages. It took me a couple of views to understand the context of the video.

One thing that stood out to me and Hasanov was the Nina Simone sample, “Four Women.” The four women represent four different generations.

Nina Simone is represented as the last generation in the song, the archetypal black slave woman that was taken from Africa brought to this country and sold on the block. There’s also the burlesque dancer and the Scrub Me Mama character.

Story of Oj
Rustam Hasanov

In relation to the four generations presented in the video, Hasanov explained,

“We tried to echo the song with those characters and how they represent continuing generations, from one to the next. The song suggests that Jay is really speaking to the fifth generation. How do we build on what we learned from history and use that to define and own this new identity?

Hasanov wasn’t a fan of Jay-Z, until this project. Working on “The Story of O.J.,” Hasanov learned how to approach a sensitive subject in the right way and that you cannot side step away from the truth.

He found a new respect for the Marcy artist saying,

“One thing that made me respect Jay-Z a lot as an artist is there was a moment where we had an early version of the storyboard for the music video that we gave to him. We were waiting anxiously on a response and the response he gave us was ‘it wasn’t hard hitting enough.’ He wanted more of a gut punch with the imagery. That made me feel like ‘whoa, he really wants to say something intense he doesn’t want to side step anything'”

The song and video made Hasanov develop a new understanding of a culture that he stands outside of.

slavery Story of Oj
Rustam Hasanov

There are no real solutions provided in “The Story of O.J.” but to Hasanov, what’s most important is that it starts a conversation.

“To me, I don’t necessarily think there are any solutions provided in the video of how we can move on but the power in the video is that it’s going to start a conversation and its going to make people more self aware of how to go about doing that. That’s very powerful.”

Peep more of Hasanov’s work over at his Instagram.