top of page

Ukiyo-e in Modern Design World

Remember last time we discussed about how Minimalism is taking over all of the design industry? We also talked about whether Minimalism would maintain its prime in the next 10 years. The question then expanded to whether or not there are other “design movements" or “design trends" that will replace it. As the industry progresses, there seems to be a new trend in the prime, a trend of “nostalgia". However, before we discuss about nostalgia in design, let's talk about “Ukiyo-e", an art movement which plays an important role in this new genre.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Ukiyo-e means “Pictures of the Floating World”. The art genre flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. In Ukiyo-e, the works (paintings from black inks and wood-block prints) often depicted the life in urban cities, and portrayed the beauty of the women. The genre did not only stop there but also associated its theme with folktales, landscape, etc. Ukiyo-e art suggested a new perspective in viewing the “world", somewhat of a connection between the reality and a “dreamy" perspective of life.

When our society moved to the era of technology, the pictures of “future" were often depicted in films, paintings, architecture and commercial designs. The future was painted in relation to a neon color scheme and a flat-world imagery. Following the same opinion with Michael Saba, a philosophy discussion channel on YouTube, as we move toward the “future" of the past, we tend to not “create" a new image for the future anymore. Instead of that, we seem to move back. We adore stuff that is “retro" or “vintage". We see this in fashion, interior design and graphic design. With the new generation of Gen Z, the word “aesthetic" (or correctly typed ‘A E S T H E T I C') became a representation of a depiction of “past-future".

To be more clear, the generation does not only prefer vintage aesthetic but also into the idea of the depiction of the future that the past had depicted. Combining the idea of a “floating world"—a flat and “unrealistic" view of the future—with the nostalgia of the “loneliness" effect, the idea of the New Aesthetic was born. For example, we see this trend the most in Lofi Music or Vaporwave. All of the videos' images are cut from anime with futuristic visual effect (neon, tall glass buildings, etc.) All these images also create one same mood for the consumers—a lonely, “lost in a floating world" feeling.

The trend of “New Aesthetic" first seemed to just stop at social media “memes" or music. However, we start to see more designs carry the element of this “aesthetic" in focus to target Gen Z consumers. To replicate the idea of Ukiyo-e and Futurism nostalgia, some banner designs have that “glitch" element, stores using bold neon color (press on red and pink tones), etc. With that said, will this “New Aesthetic" become a new dominant in commercial design or will it just stop at “short-term fine art trend"?


Work Cited:

Victoria & Albert Museum. “Ukiyo-e: Pictures of the Floating World.” Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL. Telephone 44 (0)20 7942 2000. Email, 16 Aug. 2013,

Saba, Michael. “Philosophy of AESTHETICS: The Floating World of Ukiyo-e.” YouTube, Michael Saba, 25 July 2018,

452 views0 comments
bottom of page