A Cyberpunk Future Is Closer Than You Think

noun: cy·ber·punk: science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.

Portrait for EnvatoBy Envato  |  Updated June 6, 2022

Cyberpunk is a word you might have heard thrown around and, while you might not necessarily know what it refers to, you’re probably more familiar with it than you realize.

Cyberpunk: What even is it?

noun: cy·ber·punk \ˈsī-bər-ˌpəŋk\
1: science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology

Merriam-Webster’s definition is a good place to start, but I think it misses the stark contrasts of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk deals with a typically dystopian near future. Advanced technology is readily available and shadowy corporations have more clout than governments, putting profits before people. Think high-tech noir and you’re pretty much there. David Ketterer defined it as “high tech, low life”.

Cybernetic implants – technological ‘upgrades’ to the human body – are common. You could have stronger arms, faster legs, zoom lenses in your eyes, or jack the Internet straight into your brain.

Hackers are often the anti-hero protagonists, and they rule the roost in a society where information is currency.

It’s sci-fi, but there’s no aliens. Cyberpunk explores the intersection of technology and humanity, how easily we get lost in the first, and what it really means to be part of the second.

The Origins of Cyberpunk

The term itself was coined in the 1980s by author Bruce Bethke in his short story, Cyberpunk, and came to classify an entire genre of science fiction. Works such as Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (and the novel it was based on, Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer now epitomize the genre.

Ridley Scott's 1982 movie Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner helped set the visual tone of the genre. (The Red List)

Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner helped set the visual tone of the genre. (The Red List)

Bladerunner follows Rick Deckard through rain-slicked streets in his hunt for missing androids so realistically human-looking that sometimes even they don’t know whether they’re ‘real’. Neuromancer tells the story of hacker Henry Case working in a virtual reality matrix (not the same one as the movies). Both of these works were instrumental in defining the look and feel of the genre, though it can be argued that the visuals of Bladerunner were heavily influenced by the 1980s, considering the novel was written in 1968.

These helped inspire a spate of works in the 1980s and 1990s – a period when the science fiction was quickly becoming science fact – such as The Lawnmower Man, Hackers, and even Robocop, not to mention games like Cyberpunk 2020 and, later, Shadowrun.

 ED209 from Robocop 1987
ED209 from Robocop (1987) was the stuff of my childhood nightmares. (Villains Wikia)

ED209 from Robocop (1987) was the stuff of my childhood nightmares. (Villains Wikia)

The dense, artificial urban setting is characterized by bright lights and deep shadows, the flashing neon signs all pitching their messages to a bustling public steeped in technology.

Gibson once said that “modern Japan simply was cyberpunk”, and it’s not hard to see why.

Hong Kong aerial view
Okay, this is Hong Kong, but I think his point still stands. Image: Rawpixel

The World of Tomorrow, Today

The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

The thing is, Gibson is right. This future, dystopian or not (though the current climate, both political and environmental, suggests more dys- than u-) is much closer than we think.

Most of us already carry portable technology that is many times more powerful than the Moon lander. The vast Internet is merely a tap away, and augmented reality is bringing it up from our screens and putting it all around us.

The bright neon lights are everywhere, and we’re getting closer to live targeted marketing.

Big brother is watching, ostensibly for our own safety. Corporations hold much more information on each of us than we’d like to admit (and yet we continue to give it to them.)

Robots work on our production lines and patrol our malls (and our fountains). Scientists are warning of future job losses as robots become capable of filling more and more roles, likely leading to a larger divide between the rich and the poor.

We’re already cybernetically enhancing ourselves: 3d printing has made artificial limbs cheaper and easier to produce, while bionic eyes have been around for years. We’re even close to being able to move mechanical limbs with our thoughts. Heck, digital tattoos are closer to becoming a real thing, too.

The only tropes we’re missing are neural interfaces, though if Elon Musk and some of the crew in Silicon Valley get their way it’ll be sooner than we think, and the shadowy corporations (there’s plenty of people who’d argue we’ve already got them, too.)

Technology is constantly evolving and, as it does, it expands the possibilities for our future. The far-flung ideas of the 1980s are now reality, and we’re witnessing the first truly global technological generation. Given the technological leaps and bounds of the last 30 years, who knows where the children of today will lead us?

Cyberpunk is big right now because while we were distracted, the days were lost to time like tears in rain, and tomorrow became today. At the risk of massive cliché – the future is now.

Cyberpunk in Design

If you’re looking to tap into the look and feel of an evolving technological present, try some of these.

A brilliant example of the future of advertising, this video template for Adobe After Effects has a modular structure to allow easy editing. Do yourself a favor and watch the minute demo; the text really highlights the projected exponential increase of technological advancements and proliferation.

And have a look at Taiga2’s other video templates, too: DNA Opener, Science Opener, and Digital Earth. They’re all awesome, and any could fit a cyberpunk theme.

Digital Glitch a video template for Adobe After Effects

Another great example of future advertising. Digital Glitch is a video template for Adobe After Effects that replicates the digital flickering caused by interference. It’s an effect often used in sci-fi movies to insert some fallibility to holograms and other digital displays.

It’s an effective and eye-catching technique, and this template will let you utilize it in your own videos.

3. Hologram Photoshop Action

This premade Adobe Photoshop Action will turn add a futuristic holographic effect to your images. If it’s holograms you’re looking for, Creator sevenstyles is your only hope.

4. Sci-Fi Photoshop Action

The premade Adobe Photoshop Action can turn your images into a futuristic sci-fi compilation. The pixelated effect is reminiscent of hologram special effects, and would be a great addition to a sci-fi portfolio.

Creator Eugene-design has a number of other Photoshop actions that could also fit your sci-fi brief: Broken, Low Poly Art, and Plasma. (The Burn, Burn 2, and Zombie ones are also pretty funky).

5. HUD Infographic

HUD Infographics, from creator PixFlow, is an Adobe Illustrator template offering modular high-tech HUD elements for use in your designs. These kinds of elements can be used for anything from monitors, infographics, and screen elements, through to holographic projections of planets, maps, and other sci-fi elements.

6. NETA Modern Virtual Instruments GUI Kit

Another set of HUD elements, this one for Adobe Photoshop. This editable PSD file contains over 100 different elements, everything you need to build digital instruments. This is a clean and modern design with highly detailed layer styles crafted on fine vector shapes for 100% resizing.

HUD Interface XT1 is another solid offering from this creator.

7. HUD Titles

Another set from PixFlow, these HUD titles will look good on their own or can be used with the HUD Infographics set above. These futuristic title designs throw back (or forward?) to the clean, straight lines the movies have taught us to expect from the future.

8. Press Play Flyer

With its hot pink neon contrasted with the cool metallic blues and grays, this futuristic flyer nails the cyberpunk feel.

This is an A4 sized Adobe Photoshop template with easily editable layers. All text can be edited as you need. The free fonts used above aren’t included in the file, but links are provided in the help file.

And if flyers are what you’re after, have a look at Shortcut as well.

9. Cyber Polygon Backgrounds

These abstract cyber polygon backgrounds are high quality and optimized for retina screen resolution (that’s 5120x2880px). There’s 12 provided, and they’ll be perfect for good for web design, apps, presentations, print templates, or even just wallpapers.

10. Glitch: Abstract

These abstract backgrounds can be used to simulate monitors and other screens, utilizing the glitch effect we’ve seen in some of the other examples.
The file comes with 30 high-res background images, for all your needs!

Bright neon lights are a staple feature of cyberpunk, so definitely have a look at the link below for more inspiration! And if you’re like me and want to try your hand at some of the awesome Photoshop Actions but have no idea where to start, we’ve got you covered too.

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