Remember the 2010s? The last decade wasn’t that long ago, but in many ways, it feels like a lifetime. In a pre-pandemic world, things felt a little more orderly, predictable, and structured. And that was reflected in contemporary design, with the clean lines, simple colours and streamlined geometry of the iPhone and iPad interfaces spreading throughout digital design and into the analogue arena too.
In contrast, the early years of the 2020s have been characterised by upheaval and uncertainty. And so we’re not at all surprised that the vaporwave aesthetic, which is much more random, diverse and chaotic, is rapidly gaining ground within graphic design and looks set to become a huge trend in 2023.
So what is vaporwave, and how can you start using it in your own work? Read on as we explain everything you need to know.
What is vaporwave?
Vaporwave grew out of the electronic music scene, but it’s since become primarily a visual movement within the arenas of art, design, fashion and entertainment. It’s visually chaotic, but it’s not totally random. The overall approach is to mash together various neo-vintage elements in a dynamic, modern way, evoking nostalgia while breathing new life into the past. In other words, it’s techno, retro and futuristic, all at the same time.
The vaporwave trend combines retro visual elements from the 1980s and 1990s: such things as VHS tapes, 16-bit gaming graphics, pixellated text, classic clothing brands such as Nike and Adidas, old school logos such as Adidas, Pepsi and PlayStation, vintage anime and cartoons such as Sailor Moon and The Simpsons, and 90s computers and electronics.
But rather than just wallowing in nostalgia for its own sake, these disparate elements are combined with other visuals to create something vibrant, exciting and new.
Other elements of vaporwave design may include such things as video glitches, cyberpunk themes, Chinese and Japanese characters, Greek and Roman busts, roads, city skylines and panoramas, and broader geometric grids, lines and shapes. All this is pulled together via a distinctive palette, usually based on pastel colours such as pink and teal or bright, eye-catching neons.
Vaporwave in popular culture
This scattergun approach might look confusing to older people. But for a generation used to tech like Snapchat filters, which layer digital elements onto often discordant real-world scenes, it’s the water in which they’re already swimming. So we’re now seeing the influence of vaporwave spread throughout the creative industries.
The fashion world, of course, is never one to miss a trick, so the vaporwave aesthetic is rapidly gaining ground here. At street level, startup vaporwave brands such as Vapor 95 have been causing a stir. And that’s been prompting bigger names to get on board. Nike has released a vaporwave collection, including the Men’s Zoom Streak Spectrum Plus shoes and the Nike Vaporwave Woven Half Zip jacket. JW Anderson’s London Fashion Week show this year showed clear vaporwave influence. And Louis Vuitton’s limited-edition PVC Monogram Christopher Backpack was a riot of vaporwave colours.
Vaporwave is also dovetailing nicely with the rise of virtual reality, which Facebook, now renamed Meta, is currently popularising through its Oculus 2 headset and Horizon Workrooms meeting app. The virtual environments of Horizon Workrooms are heavily influenced by vaporwave colour palettes, and if you want to take things further, there are VR games on Steam such as Vaporwave Road VR that allow you to fully immerse yourself in a vaporwave world.
The gaming world, in general, has also caught the vaporwave bug. Vaporwave-inspired games include the walking sim Sunset Mall (see below), the neon racing adventure Data Wing and the interactive art game ISLANDS: Non-Places.
Vaporwave in video
And as you might expect, Vaporwave is becoming increasingly popular in the world of motion graphics and video. After all, if you want to attract an audience, this unusual, eye-catching, and overwhelmingly vibrant style is sure to grab instant attention.
If you’re looking for Mograf inspiration, the first place to start is the vaporwave loops of motion designer Kid MoGraph. There’s a huge gallery of loops on his website, so you can quickly see just how versatile and enticing the vaporwave style can be. Meanwhile, for examples of vaporwave in a music video, check out Ed Sheeran’s Cross Me, Hotline Bling by Drake, and this official lyric video for Cool by Dua Lipa (below).
The influence of the vaporwave trend can also be seen in popular TV shows, such as Black Mirror, Maniac, and Love, Death & Robots, and movies, such as Blade Runner 2049 and the Robert Pattinson thriller Good Time.
And the best news is, it’s easy to get on board with the vaporwave trend in your own video editing projects. Because Wondershare Filmora, the powerful and easy-to-use video editor, has some great resources to get you started.
Get started with vaporwave with Wondershare
More than 100 million video creators around the world use Wondershare Filmora, and for good reason. Its intuitive software offers a wide range of features and functions that are easy to use, regardless of your skill level and experience. And they also do an impressive line in on-trend, aesthetically pleasing video effects. So it’s a great choice for anyone looking to create impressive, professional-looking videos.
Now, to help you out further, Wondershare has rounded up a collection of creative elements based on the vaporwave trend.
The company has just launched its first Wondershare Visual Trendbook: a quarterly collection of creative elements to use in your next video project, including effect packs, visual effects, filters, transitions, and more.
This first edition focuses on the vaporwave design trend and allows you to fully explore vaporwave through carefully curated design assets that evoke a feeling of retro-futurism in your work. The collection consists of the following:
- Images and animations
- Audio effects
Free to download, these elements enable you to instantly add a vaporwave aesthetic to your designs by combining bright pastel colours, neon lights, glitchy fonts, and geometric shapes to breathe new life into classic imagery.
And that’s not all. Should you be willing to share what you’ve created online, you could win a great prize to help propel your career forward!
Wondershare is inviting creatives to share designs they’ve created with these vaporwave elements on social media, using the ‘CreatewithWondershare’ hashtag and tagging @Wondershare. The best entries will receive a creative fund of $200 for their next project, have their content and channel featured across Wondershare’s social media and website, and earn an opportunity to work with Wondershare as an ambassador or freelancer.
To get started with vaporwave designs, head to The Wondershare Visual Trendbook today.