The Abstract Tech aesthetic consists of design motifs, such as concentric arcs, hexagons, or circuit patterns, that are intended to evoke a sense of something being futuristic or technologically advanced.
This aesthetic can be found in user interfaces, depictions of cyberspace, and other technological imagery in science fiction media of the Digital Age, such as the interfaces from Minority Report (2002) and Iron Man (2008), or the video game TRON 2.0 (2003) and the film TRON: Legacy (2010), as well as stock images and backgrounds/wallpapers related to keywords like "technology," "high-tech," "digital," or "cyber."
Because many aspects and concepts related to software and digital technology are intangible, many people have resorted to using common abstract symbolism to signify the use of said technologies. An early example would be TRON (1982), which depicted a digital world with glowing lines and circles. The Matrix (1999) is also notable for representing a simulated reality as green raining digital code, which became associated with computer hacking.
According to designer Chris Noessel, the color blue became common in late-20th-century science fiction as it was associated with unnatural or artificial things. However, the use of this aesthetic in its current form to portray the concept of "technology" would not become widespread until the 21st century with the increasing popularity of the Internet and the influence of sci-fi anime like Ghost in the Shell and live action movies like Minority Report.
Abstract design motifs often described as "high-tech" include:
- Glowing lines, usually blue or white (or glowing blue backgrounds)
- Transparent or holographic touchscreen interfaces
- Segmented concentric arcs and circles of varying thicknesses
- Hexagons, a simple, yet advanced and efficient (higher area-to-perimeter ratio, and tileable) shape
- Printed circuit board patterns, found in most electronic devices
- Binary numbers, the basis of most digital signals and data, or other forms of computer code
- Dots connected by lines, representing the Internet or connectivity
- Concepts of robots or robotic body parts
In stock images, symbols such as locks (representing cybersecurity) or the shape of a brain (representing artificial intelligence) may be combined with the aforementioned motifs as well. The use of technology in business may be portrayed as a businessperson tapping a floating touchscreen with the associated design elements. By the late 2010s, some commentators considered this stock imagery to be cliché.
Graphical user interfaces like these only appear in science fiction (known as "fantasy user interfaces" or FUIs), stock images, or in user-customized desktop skins and widgets using software such as Rainmeter. Most default GUIs of tech products today tend to lean more towards the Cyber Minimalism aesthetic, which is intended to be more simple and user-friendly.