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90s Aesthetics in Modern Tech

Approaching a blank canvas, 16x16 pixels at a time

This post was originally published on the Offline Camp Medium publication.

I have the following goals for my personal projects:

In my lightning talk at Offline Camp Oregon 2019, I share how my personal project goals led me towards 1990s aesthetics.

“90s Aesthetics in Modern Tech” as presented at Offline Camp Oregon, September 2019

These design principles have guided several of my recent projects. For example, my pixel art emoji stickers are clearly inspired by the 90s aesthetic.

Pixel art emoji stickers

Likewise, I craft the HTML for my personal website by hand, similar to what folks did in the early web.

My personal website

In the next sections, I will explain how I was drawn towards the 90s aesthetics. In what ways do they support the goals that I outlined?


I write blog posts for people to read. I don’t want to distract the reader with banners, ads, or even navigation. Forcing myself to use handwritten HTML helps me feel less temptation to add unnecessary fluff.

The reason that I draw cute pixel-art emoji is so that my friends and family members can enjoy and use them.

It's been argued that pixel art is not approachable to the modern audience. In my experience, however, even the generations younger than me have developed an appreciation for it. Minecraft and indie games have kept the style alive, despite it no longer being necessary due to hardware restrictions.


It's clear that some projects require more mental energy to progress than others. I find it quite easy — relaxing even — to pull out my iPad and draw, whereas making progress on a computer programming project requires few distractions for long stretches of time.

Even as an artist, I struggle with a blank canvas. Having too many options causes me to freeze up. It takes mental energy to decide what to do next. A common strategy to overcome this is to boost creativity by using design constraints.

Why make pixel art? It's a restriction, based on discrete mathematics and the past. Restriction makes sharing my art a little less intimidating. There's only so far you can take 16 by 16 pixels.

Why make a blog post with static files? It's a restriction. I can spend less time configuring and more time writing.


In stepping back to a 90s aesthetic, I'm developing works that would have been more-or-less usable on the software of 25 years ago. It's my hope that this means my HTML, GIFs, and PNG images will be usable for at least another 25 years.

Modern technology

Dat and IPFS are ideally suited to sharing static files. This means that it's easy to share my site with modern peer-to-peer technologies.

I'm hopeful that as these technologies develop and gain popularity, the chance that my work disappears will go down. So long as someone finds what I've made useful, it can stay alive on the distributed web.

Editor’s Note: Participants at Offline Camp Oregon 2019 had diverse backgrounds and interests, ranging far beyond the Offline First approach that we came together to discuss. Through short passion talks, campers shared with us some of the hobbies, projects, and technologies that excite them. We’re sharing a taste of that passion with you here as a preview to our upcoming events.