The Future is...Purple?

Trends / Technology
Artur Debat
Reya Sehgal
Feb 1, 2023
Over the past decade, aesthetics have shifted to follow the course of our tech‑enabled lives. Where technology was once seen warily as futuristic, often leaning into a dystopian style of sci‑fi visuals which signaled machines as a sinister all‑controlling apparatus (think: HAL 90001), as computing power has been placed in the hands of people across the planet, visuals have grown softer, friendlier, and more hopeful.

A Shifting Color Palette
If we travel back in time, technology‑related visuals tended to follow certain conventions—rectilinear shapes, cold blue lights, code appearing as a mysterious language system, and infinite impenetrable server rooms. Influence was certainly derived from popular sci‑fi films, from the green‑and‑black command line stylings of The Matrix (and its antecedents)2 to the grey‑blue hovering visuals from Minority Report.3
However, these dystopian views of technology, which emphasize control rooted in white male institutional power, have given way to a new vision that is more feminine (or genderfluid) and less threatening, signified by a change in the use of color. In 2022, visuals related to technology, from gaming to artificial intelligence to the metaverse, started leaning away from the dark and unfriendly blue, green, and black, and toward gentler illuminations in pink and purple.

Now this color shift is a long time in the making. References date back to the neo‑noir cyberpunk4 stylings, with their glowing neon accents, as well as the Vaporwave5 and Synthwave6 movements, which directly reference the colors and shapes of the 80s. Visual artists like James Turrell7, known for his immersive and perceptually‑challenging light compositions, have influenced major pop musicians (see Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video8), and these lighting styles have found their way into more media and branding. The “bisexual lighting” found in Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer videos9, Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode (arguably the show's least dystopian vision of the future)10, the colorful stylings of HBO's Gen Z drama Euphoria11, and the recent resurgence of Y2K iridescence12 and rave culture all move away from hard blue light into the possibilities of pastel pink and purple, in all their shiny glory. Even Pantone’s Colors of the Year point us in this direction of change: 2022’s color being the purple‑tinged Very Peri, and 2023’s bold Viva Magenta13—both associated with optimism and creativity. These colors are somewhere between the real, meaning naturally‑occurring, and the other‑worldly, bringing to mind an imaginative, dreamlike space of play.  
The Look of Tech, Today and Tomorrow
As the internet grows more immersive and ever‑present, visualizing our tech‑enabled future is moving toward more colorful and expressive representation writ large, using nostalgic color palettes from the 80s and 90s, wavy lines, swirling shapes, gradients, motion, and a more seamless aesthetic blending of the physical and digital. According to our global consumer survey, nearly 2/3 of people believe that, in the future, the lines between the virtual and physical worlds will blur, so people expect a shift toward the immersive, and likely want a world that looks more creative, fun, and approachable than the sci‑fi visions of the early 2000s.

In the past year, trending search terms related to futuristic technology are deeply associated with this new color palette. ‘Metaverse’ (+727% globally) visuals tend to highlight immersion into colorful pink‑and‑purple‑tinged spaces, whether neon or pastel, as creators begin to imagine what this new virtual space might look like. New concepts related to our oncoming digital transformations, such as ‘web3’ (+2953%), ‘blockchain’ (+32%), ‘NFT’ (+142%), and ‘virtual reality’ (+21%) are seen in abstract representations using blue‑to‑pink gradients and connective threads. Jumping on the bandwagon of these aesthetic trends, customers have also been searching for ‘cyberpunk’ (+61%), ‘futuristic’ (+14%) visuals, and ‘scifi’ (+38%).

When picturing technology, futuristic concepts, or even our increasingly connected lives, riding the purple wave is not the only way to communicate with customers, but selecting more colorful, personable, and inspiring visuals can help shift everyday attitudes towards technology from critically distant to emotionally resonant and creative.
[1] 2001: A Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968), clip
[2] @NetflixFilm, a tweet thread
[3] Minority Report, dir. Steven Spielberg (2002), trailer
[4] "Cyberpunk," Aesthetics Wiki
[5] "Vaporwave," Aesthetics Wiki
[6] "Synthwave," Aesthetics Wiki
[7] Ganzfelds, James Turrell
[8] "Hotline Bling," Drake (2015), music video
[9] "Make Me Feel," Janelle Monáe (2018), music video
[10] "Black Mirror season 3, episode 4: 'San Junipero' is the show's most beautiful, most hopeful episode yet," Vox
[11] "Euphoria Cinematography Analysis," Studiobinder
[12] "The Y2K Aesthetic is Fully Back, but Can It Stick Around?," AIGA Eye on Design
[13] "Color of the Year 2023: Viva Magenta," Pantone

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