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Animated Gifs, pixellated fashion design, the Chiptunes music trend using the sound chips of early video game consoles. Trend companies have been tracking it since Spring 2011.

The Future Laboratory calls it “Netstalgia”, the Really Interesting Group call it the “New Aesthetic”, call it “Dial-Up Design.” Trend Analysts are picking up on a visual styling that on the surface seems like a return to the early days of the internet.

In a recent presentation by The Future Laboratory, Martin Raymond flagged a trend as a reaction to slick corporate web design, noting that 20-something creatives were:

  • reviving the aesthetic of the 90s digital revolution
  • reverting to the home made look of the early days of the net
  • making GIFs
  • using the sound and colour palette of the dial-up web

Max Reyner, Head of Insight at Trend company collated many examples of “Dial-Up Design”, pointing to blogs such as Gold Card which curates a stream of early internet relics, with overly-colourful graphics, nineties style fonts and images of primitive virtual worlds.

Another example is the graphic design work of Daniel Swan creating a work for London art collective Lucky PDF, in an identity for Lucky PDF TV at the last Frieze Art Fair. This pioneered a jarring, colourful aesthetic that draws heavily on early internet styles but exaggerates it further, making it look like it was born from eighties post-modernism. No surprise, Lucky PDF have been nominated for the Samsung Art Prize.

And finally, in this trio of trendwatchers taking us back to the dark ages of 1990s pixel technology, the Really Interesting Group named the trend for pixellation and digital-retro The New Aesthetic  - an ironic name for culture looking to the internet stone age.


Like 1980s Post-Modern design, which played with styles of previous eras, there’s no doubt that some element of this trend has the feel of ironic hipster kitsch. And there’s the whole Chiptune culture and the increasingly popular Blip Fest which this year featured multimedia group Omadaka performing 8-bit Kabuki Theater. Or this cover of 1980s band The Smiths, delivered in the style of Super Mario Bros.

While trend watchers may be right in seeing this visual trend as nostalgia for simpler times, or a desire for self-expression, we think there are other dynamics driving this. What’s interesting about the new aesthetic is that the image-making it calls attention to isn’t really an aesthetic at all. It’s about breaking down pictures into data components, colour as blocks of information and colour, pixels. It’s the image as raw visual matter.

So what does this mean for pictures and picture-buyers?

  • We see it as the digital equivalent of the craft trend, the interest in print, letterpress, and the handmade, of designers fascinated by the craft and tools of image-making. Let’s call this trend Craftronics, expressed in the kinds of photography that invites mistakes, that isn’t perfectly composed. Unlike perfectly mass-produced objects, craft-produced objects, and images allow for mistakes to enter the creative process, like lens flare or the not fully resolved image.
  • This fascination with pixel trend also suggests there may be taste of abstraction in images, for colour and pattern to dominate.
  • As with the trends noted by companies like The Future Laboratory and, don’t be surprised to see a version of the “new wave” image-making of the 1980s eulogized by Michael Bierut recently in the Design Observer:

    “For me, this era of design wasn't about communicating messages, or serving society, or even problem solving. It was simply about manipulatingcolors and shapes, about engaging in the pleasures of the surface, as if these things had meaning in and of themselves.”

Another explosion of colour, pattern and geometrical shapes in picture-making may be near at hand.

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