Every year has its “next big thing.” And when the “next big thing” proves it’s here to stay, it evolves from trend to an opportunity for long lasting success. If you don’t want to miss out on the fun, you need to spot these trends as soon as they emerge.

At 99designs by Vistaprint, we’re in the unique position to see which industries are on the rise through the tens of thousands of creative projects launched on the platform by entrepreneurs and small businesses starting something new. Each year, we publish a forecast for what we predict will be some of the year’s breakout industries based on our data. And when you read more about them, you’ll quickly see why these industries are gaining traction right now.

Reviewing the latest trends in the design briefs we received, these are the cutting-edge industries that stand out from all the rest:

When we look at this year’s top emerging industries, we’re discussing trends that are already happening. Mushroom products, alternative alcohol, digital health and branded merchandise are thriving and the data shows these industries are only going to keep growing through 2021. Expect to see more and more of these products everywhere: on ecommerce sites, on store shelves, in ads, in subscription boxes and in your friends’ and loved ones’ homes.

Mushrooms

Maitake. Shiitake. Cordyceps. Lion’s Mane. These are just a few of the mushroom varieties that are rocking the health and wellness industry this year.

cutting edge industry 2021: mushroom products
Mushroom product branding and design demand rose 525% in the past three years. Design by šaška™.

From 2019 to 2020, the demand for mushroom product branding and design rose 100%. And in the past three years, this demand has risen a whopping 525%. Simply put, people are gushing for mushrooms right now. They want mushroom extracts, mushroom supplements, mushrooms blended into coffee and even mushroom jerky.

Why now?

Emerging trends rarely exist in a vacuum. When you look back at our top emerging industries for 2019 and 2020, you’ll see a big emphasis on health and wellness. CBD products, biohacking, plant-based foods and AI healthcare were a few of the big players, and with these in perspective, it’s easy to see why buyers and entrepreneurs are embracing mushrooms in 2021.

Though your mind might immediately jump to the push to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in many parts of the US, this is actually just a small component of the emerging mushroom industry. Rather, much like the CBD explosion, mushrooms are seeing a mainstream rediscovery of their therapeutic and medicinal effects, like improved focus and a strengthened immune system. And with a recent global study of 4,000 consumers revealing that 62% of people are open to trying mushroom-based products for their health benefits, it’s a trend that looks like it’s here to stay. (Research from 99designs via Corus, February 2021)

Design trends for mushroom products

When you look at the packaging and other design work for mushroom brands, you’ll see a few overlaps with CBD product design: illustration-style imagery, modern geometric patterns and an overall “modern, edgy health product” look and feel. Only the difference here is, green isn’t the main color like it often is with CBD products. Instead, you’ll see a lot of warm and uplifting tones, with gentle pinks and soothing browns taking center stage.

Minimalist geometric logo and wordmark logo in pink and pale tan and hands holding long-stemmed mushrooms
Logo and brand design by oftheFOREST
small bottle with a pink cap and geometric dots design on the label
Product packaging design by AnChY.MaT
Logo design by mac xiu
brown paper mushroom packaging design
Packaging design by CathyD
two product labels displaying illustrated mushrooms, one with a purple cap and the other with a blue one
Label design by Wg3.mil
vintage-inspired illustration-style logo showing wide mushrooms
Logo design by drawdrainer
Logo design by Gwydion
black and white illustration of a mushroom styled to look like a UFO
Logo and branding design by B I M O 83
round logo showing a pink-hued rainbow over line-illustrated mushrooms
Logo design by TheBluebird
four black packaging pouches side by side, each with a different colored moon
Packaging design by _Ossobuko_

Alternative alcohol

Another component of the health and wellness trend is that an increasing number of people (largely millennials and Gen Z) are eschewing alcohol. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to enjoy tasty drinks—they just want to enjoy tasty zero-proof drinks like non-alcoholic beer and gin.

cutting edge industry 2021: alternative alcohol products
Alternative alcohol design demand rose 257% in the past three years. Design by šaška™.

Requests for alternative alcohol designs rose 257% in the past three years, shooting up 215% between 2019 and 2020. By alternative alcohol, we don’t mean soft drinks. These products are all about creating non-alcoholic versions of typically alcoholic products like vodka and cocktails.

In a way, this emerging industry stems from the same desire that fuelled the alternative meat industry: many people who cut one category out of their diet want ways to replicate the same sensations without the guilt, like the texture of a beef burger or the ritual of mixing a cocktail after work. Alternative meat and alternative alcohol give consumers the opportunity to have the same pleasurable experience without compromising their commitment to a healthier lifestyle.

Why now?

The science is clear: alcohol isn’t great for your health. And as part of the growing consciousness around health and wellness, 60% of people globally are planning to change their drinking habits this year—with 1 in 4 wanting to cut out alcohol completely. (99designs via Corus)

But they’re less interested in giving up the thing most commonly paired with alcohol: socializing. So to step in and fill that gap, new brands are cropping up and providing non-alcoholic versions of the spirits and beers people love, offering up a healthier way to party. And for the folks who still want to enjoy a buzz now and then, there are promising new products in research and development designed to elicit alcohol’s desirable effects like a boosted mood and reduced inhibition without its negative effects like hangovers.

Design trends for alternative alcohol products

These alternative alcohols look almost identical to their full-proof counterparts, using high-end designs that are either extremely modern with bold shapes and colors or classically gorgeous with intricate gold accents.

In most cases, you have to read the label to see that a product is booze-free. Their entire purpose is to replicate everything positive about alcohol while eliminating its negative aspects, and one of those positives is beautiful, eye-catching bottle, label and can design.

Knowing that consumers often like to display their bottles on shelves and bar carts, designers in this space generally design with the goal of creating something display-worthy, whether on its own or alongside its alcoholic counterparts.

clear bottle with a pale green label with an image of a spiral shell in metallic copper
Label design by Kirill D.
Clear bottle with a white label displaying a geometric gold logo
Product packaging design by The King Jewels
bottle label in pink, blue and white with an image of a wolf
Product label design by WolfBell
black can label with vintage-style logo and text
Packaging design by Asael Varas
black can with one row of different-colored letters and one large set of white letters
Packaging design by AnaHola
collection of white cans, each with minimalist font and different-colored geometric design
Packaging design by PLVD
pink can showing pink berries and leaves with green limes
Packaging design by VoiceDesign
black and gold non-alcoholic beer can design
Beer can design by Encephalon

Digital health

In 2020, we had to adapt to doing everything online, even the things we weren’t used to doing like happy hours and commencement ceremonies. Going to the doctor and staying healthy was no different. As the pandemic forced people to stay home, the use of digital health services surged—driving us to see a 103% increase in projects from 2019 to 2020.

Though digital healthcare was spurred on by the pandemic, it’s not a flash-in-the-pan trend. Over the past three years, we’ve seen the demand for design work in this space rise 176%.

cutting edge industry 2021: digital health
Digital health design demand rose 176% in the past three years. Design by šaška™.

Why now?

As we mentioned above, industries don’t emerge out of nowhere. With so many people around the world still under stay-at-home orders, having access to at-home healthcare and wellness services delivered via screen is essential. In 2020, we quickly realized that some things can totally be done virtually, including things we might not have thought about doing digitally before.

This is one trend that’s here to stay: 93% of people who have used digital and online health services in the past year are planning to continue using them in 2021 and beyond. (99designs via Corus)

Alongside fitness classes and medical appointments, another specific area where digital has become a great go-to is the field of mental health. As people struggled with the difficulties that accompany a global pandemic, the demand for therapy grew. And because face-to-face interaction was significantly limited, the demand for virtual therapy and support exploded. According to Medical News Today, many therapy patients actually prefer online therapy to face-to-face. Because the screen can help therapy sessions feel more confidential than those conducted in an office, the rise of digital can also help break the stigma that still surrounds mental healthcare for many.

Design trends for digital health products

One of the first things you’ll notice about the digital health designs this year is the use of the color green. Shades of green (and other cool colors) read as calming and soothing, which puts peoples’ minds at ease when they’re receiving care (especially when they’re receiving it digitally, something that’s completely new to most patients!) Green is also the color of rejuvenation and life, which emphasizes the entire purpose of healthcare: wellness. You’ll also see a lot of warm and comforting illustration-style imagery that doesn’t feel perfect, but organic—particularly for mental health apps.

illustration of a woman looking out a window, surrounded by plants and books
App design by Katrin Chern
wordmark logo in teal with a leaf between two letters
Online psychotherapy logo design by Elen Bar
teal and white logo showing a dog with a speech bubble in the negative space behind its tail
Pet health logo design by Mikael_Art
mental health tech company logo
Mental health tech company logo design by wielliam
pet health logo
Pet health logo design by CrankyBear
collection of screens from a mental health all in white and pastel colors
App design by Emmanuel®

Merch

People have always loved stuff. But in 2021, people are embracing “stuff” like they’ve never embraced it before, showing brands just how valuable it is to invest in high quality merchandise.

Sure, there will always be a need for inexpensive swag like pens and branded sticky notes, but there’s a growing demand for pieces that foster brand engagement for the long haul like sweatshirts, mugs and hats.

cutting edge industry 2021: merchandise
Merchandise design demand rose 134% in the past three years. Design by šaška™.

In the past three years, we’ve seen a 134% increase in project briefs for branded merch on 99designs, and from 2019 to 2020, the category jumped 32%.

The merch trend isn’t limited to just one industry. All kinds of businesses, from hair salons to bars to bookstores, are sending their brands home with their fans through expertly designed merchandise.

In fact, it isn’t just brick-and-mortar businesses who are getting in on the merch game—we’re also seeing digital brands like influencers release their merch on the market to build communities and boost engagement.

Why now?

When you’re forced to stay home every day, you start to miss the things you took for granted: your local coffee shop, the public library, restaurants you dined at frequently and even the places you had to drag yourself to, like the gym (well, some of us at least).

2020 made us appreciate those businesses more, triggering the need to show our support for the brands we love and to own a piece of them. In fact, more than half of us (52%) purchased branded merchandise of some kind this year—and a whopping 81% of those purchases were to support a small business during the pandemic. (99designs via Corus)  Simply put, merch feels more meaningful when it’s the only connection you’ve got to a brand you love.

Design trends for merch

When people buy merch, they don’t want something generic with a logo slapped on it. They want a work of art. And as you look through the design trends emerging in the merch space this year, you’ll notice that as widely as they vary style-wise, the most successful and effective feel like they were designed by artists, rather than generated for pure brand exposure.

Though many items of merch do incorporate their brands’ logos and colors, there are no hard and fast rules in this space—lots of the best merchandise instead takes a more fun, less overt approach and incorporates brand elements into the design in a subtle way.

baseball cap with a red and blue logo showing mountains and a setting sun
Baseball cap design by stevenmink
blue, white and yellow tshirts all with the same slogan and dog design
Tshirt design by elXcro
minimalist geometric plant design on a green sweatshirt and tshirt
Apparel design by GUTSY
all white geometric design of a person walking a dog against a background of trees and a bridge
Tshirt design by Prasetyadavid
square text slogan in red and white on black tshirt and hat
Merchandise design by 2ndfloorharry
logo of a black van with an orange, red and yellow image of a setting sun behind trees in the windshield
Logo design by dudeowl

Want to get a closer look at these emerging industries?

Every year, new industries and consumer trends gain traction and manage to capture our attention and our credit card details. 2021 will be no different.

This year, we’re seeing the health and wellness industry continue going strong, but with a few new top players thrown into the mix. And right there alongside them, we’ve got the merch industry carving out a bigger, more prominent spot for itself as brands find new ways to engage with customers and fans where they are right now: at home.

Want to learn more about these four up-and-coming industries for 2021?

Download all of this as a beautiful infographic!
We've created one for you right here.

Methodology:

Industry growth data sourced from design contests and creative branding projects completed on the 99designs by Vistaprint platform between January 2018 and January 2021.

Consumer trends and behavior data sourced by 99designs via market research company Corus in February 2021. 4,178 responses were collected online from North America (1,169), Australia (1,006), DACH (1,001) and the UK (1,002).