The future is looking a lot like the past: The return of Y2K aesthetic
by Tobias van Schneider
The backlash against minimalism has sent 2020, once considered “the future,” searching for inspiration in the past. Specifically, to the year 2000.
The early 2000s were a hopeful time. We’d survived Y2K – the programming bug that threatened to throw the world into chaos – without touching our bottled water and canned food in the basement. The internet was booming but hadn’t yet busted. The future looked promising and shiny. Literally.
Those of us who lived through the new millennium remember it: When a translucent, colorful iMac made our hearts jump. When we wondered if we ought to get a long, black leather jacket like Neo’s. When our devices (and our Winamp skins) were shiny, frosted blue and blobby. If you’re not familiar with the visual style of that time, just watch TLC’s “No Scrubs” music video.
They call it the Y2K aesthetic. And it’s coming back.
After a decade or two of cold, sterile minimalism, we are returning to the personal, the colorful, the indulgent, the excessive – the heart.
For the older generation, it will look like Art Deco. For the younger generation, specifically Gen Z, it looks like the “futuristic,” tech-forward, frosted plastic aesthetic of the early 2000s.
You can see it today in fashion. You can spot it in video games. It's present in design. You'll hear it in music. It’s woven its way into the Crypto Art movement. It’s a bit grunge, a bit anime, a bit pop, a lot of tech. It's has a cheap feel to it, in the most endearing way possible.
"Maybe, just like the early 2000s when this style first emerged, we are feeling optimistic about the future."
The movement may at first be understood as nostalgia, and that certainly factors into it. But Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, were too young at that time to have anything to be nostalgic for. Yet they are embracing the cyberpunk, techno-utopian style that a past generation once considered the future.
Perhaps it’s only a trend answering to another trend, as trends do. Perhaps it’s the work-in-progress style of Y2K aesthetic that feels ownable and personable to a generation still finding their way. Perhaps it’s the pure love of the internet revived by a generation raised by it. Maybe it coincides with a renewed interest in art, which is certainly a component of Y2K aesthetic.
Maybe, just like the early 2000s when this style first emerged, we are feeling optimistic about the future.
Whatever it is, I am here for it. Give me translucent, exposed technology. Give me funky devices with personality. Give me detailed, beautiful interfaces (maybe even some skeuomorphism). Give me bright colors, rounded corners and expressive typography. Give me WIP, raw and organic.
Give me some heart in fashion, technology and media again. And let it be even more fluid, hopeful and impractical than it was before. Let's bring back the future.