How to Incorporate the Emo Aesthetic Into Design


With the Y2K aesthetic making a major comeback, especially in design and photography, the emo subculture is also on the rise.

The emo aesthetic is especially nostalgic for millennials, as they were at the core of this trend in their teenage years. In the early aughts, emo was a major juxtaposition for the vibrant styles within pop music, which included glittery textures and bubblegum colors. Now, the aesthetic has made a comeback, which is known as e-boy or e-girl.

In the 2000s, while emo was at its peak, the internet shook up teenagers’ worlds, thanks to emerging social media networks giving them spaces to express themselves.

This was a major foundation of emo style, which you can see in the aesthetic’s pixelated imagery and design elements. Having fun with early internet imperfections is what makes the emo style interesting to work with in our modern day.

Images via Eduard Valentinov, Ryan Boey, giedre vaitekune, Larina Marina, and Larina Marina.

The photography during this time also had a distinct style, which is making a comeback, as well. Imagery is essential to recreating this trend, as it was the cornerstone of where this aesthetic originated from.

With any trend making its comeback, there are new and compelling ways to put a twist on its design elements. There are refined ways to bring this subculture back with various color palettes, fonts, and textures.

Follow along for specific ways you can create an emo aesthetic.


Closeup of eucalyptus on moody red background
Image via Edalin Photography.

Embrace Emo Color Palettes

An emo style is all about the dark and monochromatic color palettes. Black and darker tones are a major theme here, in imagery and all other design elements. You’ll often see tiny pops of color here and there, too.

You can also add touches of neon that tie back to Y2K-era fashion. Pops of red and burgundy were also popular during this time. Both work well with monochromatic palettes.

The key to creating an emo style is having black or dark gray tones be the primary color in whatever you’re creating.

That said, you can always put your own twist on it by experimenting with bits of color as a secondary focus in your palette.

The most important way to stay aligned with this style is to make sure black is the main character. Not only does it create a dark and moody look, but black is more than just a color for this style, it’s a symbol of the emo lifestyle.

Images via V.Lighter, Noise-Daily, Veronica Varos, ANGHI, PandaBanda, krupinina, and Greens and Blues.

Using black or dark backgrounds in your designs can help these tones dominate as the primary color. On top of that, you can use white or contrasting text that will come alive against the black.

It’s also important to make sure this color palette stays consistent not only in design elements, but also in any photography you’re using.


Closeup of black and white backpack with ghost rabbit emblem
Image via Jessica Siegman.

Pick Punk-y Fonts and Typography

To incorporate emo-esque fonts, it’s essential to think back to the Myspace days. Traditional web fonts and McBling-inspired typefaces both call to this era.

Album covers for 2000s emo and pop punk bands can also offer inspiration for your font choices. If you look back on these, you can see the handwritten, jagged typography used.

You can combine the more playful fonts here with a more modern, refined text to create contrast and ground your designs.

Images via A.S. Zain, local_doctor, RoseRodionova, RoseRodionova, RoseRodionova, Mott Jordan, NSTIvectors, and Blueee77.

Combining fonts is all about creating juxtaposition to allow your style to come together. If you’re going to use the more playful, handwritten fonts in your project, pair them with sans serif fonts to allow your main font to stand out.


Knee down view of emo girl in red and black striped socks and black shoes againsted distressed black wooden floor
Image via Natalia Klenova.

Go All-In on Grunge

The emo aesthetic is all about grungy textures and patterns. To incorporate these, you can use ink blot textures, distressed patterns, or paint dripping elements.

Another way to gather inspiration is (again) by looking at album covers and observing their prominent patterns and textures.

This Rolling Stone list of the “40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time” is a good place to start.

Images via OlgaLis, Anna Timoshenko, Carabus, saicle, Alex Gontar, and Milano M.

A quick and easy way to add more of an emo aesthetic to any design is compiling these subtle, distressed textures on top of your photos or final project. This looks best on logos, social media graphics, or even your own album art.


Flat-lay pattern of bronzed bird skulls
Image via IKagadiy.

Imagery

As mentioned before, photos played a major role of this trend during the early 2000s. As Myspace was dominating most teenagers’ time spent online, it was all about posting photos with a certain moody style.

Nowadays, people are spending more time on social media—TikTok specifically—where tutorials on how to create the “emo photo aesthetic” have nearly 41 million views.

Images via woodpencil, Satit Wongsampan, Gromovataya, Veronica Varos, Stock Holm, MDV Edwards, Alexander Cher, hurricanehank, FrimuFilms, Fatal Sweets, Bildgigant, and Mihail Guta.

Call back to the early days of camera phones, when most photos were pixelated, gritty, and unrefined. Dial photo saturation and contrast way up to create images that are reminiscent of early Internet editing tools and cyberpunk trends. Add in those aforementioned distressed textures.

The emo aesthetic is nostalgic for many people who grew up during the 2000s. Thanks to the accelerating trend cycle, it’s made a comeback, and a refreshed take on emo is beloved by Gen Z.

Use these tips to your advantage! Amp up the nostalgia and breathe a new, moody life into your creative direction.


Cover image via Larina Marina and Luria.



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