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The Aesthetics of Technology

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While the uniform and interior designers of Enterprise apparently had the blues, those of the other vessel had clearly done a little too much LDS. Everything from the handrails to the bright panties of the female yeomen was a psychedelic display of primary colours. Instead of plasma screens there were lights that blinked on and off for no apparent reason, while scanner images were just paintings of starfields and nebulae.
Farce Contact, a Star Trek: Enterprise Parody Fic.

The Aesthetics of Technology is a manifestation of The Coconut Effect dictating that if something looks more advanced according to the viewer's own personal standard, it is more advanced.

The viewer's own standard might, in these cases, not actually map directly to the viewer's own life-experience, but might be surprisingly weighted toward Zeerust: high technology is expected to look high-technological, so a visually complex special effect implies more technology than a visually simple special effect. Robby the Robot has lots of flashing lights and moving parts, so from a retrofuturistic standpoint, he looks more advanced than Commander Data, who just looks like a plain old human with a funny skin tone.

In the Digital Age, doing an image search for "technology" or "high-tech" does not result in pictures of Robby the Robot. Instead, you get mostly abstract imagery of Holographic Terminals, High-Tech Hexagons, sleek smart devices, binary code, connected dots, or Tron Lines and Extreme Graphical Representation in the form of concentric arcs/circles or printed circuit board patterns to denote that something is "advanced" or "futuristic." And it usually tends to be blue.

As a more modern equivalent to the "Robby vs Data" example, a gaming PC with a sleek case with lots of RGB lights appears to be more advanced than a PC with a plain exterior but the same processor and graphics card on the inside. Visual complexity is still a key factor here; for another example, a flashy sci-fi interface with lots of animated circles and hexagons looks more advanced than graphical user interfaces found in real life, even if they are designed to perform the same function and the extra circles are only decorative.

In real life, form follows function, but only up to a point; once the requirements of function are met, the rest is cosmetic. Function decrees that Gizmo-XYZ has to have an outer casing of some sort, but whether that casing is sleek and curvy like an iPod, full of straight lines and hard angles like a 1980's home computer, partly transparent to leave some of the nifty inner workings exposed to view like Robby the Robot, or made of mahogany and covered with curlicue carvings like old-fashioned radio sets (which were designed to look like attractive pieces of living room furniture) is completely arbitrary. None of those aesthetic design choices (except perhaps the transparent one) have any bearing on how advanced the tech inside the device is.

For fans, this tends to come up with Long-Runners or Series Franchise, where something built to look "futuristic" by a modern design aesthetic does not look "futuristic" by the previous one.

Note that this is completely inverted by Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology, where extremely advanced technology appears deceptively primitive in the form of stones, crystals, idols, monuments or ancient ruins.

For reasons that ought to be obvious, this fallacy is largely absent among fans of Steampunk. See also Shiny-Looking Spaceships, Used Future, Excessive Steam Syndrome, Raygun Gothic, Everything Is an iPod in the Future and High-Tech Hexagons. See also Cosmetically-Advanced Prequel. Compare to Technology Marches On, which has to do with the substance and capabilities of technology, rather than what it looks like.


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    Film — Live-Action 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • This has actually popped up in a lot of the fandom for the Iron Man movies, where Obidiah Stane's Iron Monger suit is less "advanced" than Tony's suit since Tony fought it and won while only at 17% of power. The suit uses conventional weapons and is bigger and "clunkier" than Tony's more streamlined suit.
    • This could also apply to the "briefcase suit" that Tony uses in the 2nd movie. It is more portable, and looks a little fancier than his normal suit, but it is apparently less powerful and protective, and it isn't established that it can even fly. This is because the suit is exactly what it's used as in the movie: An emergency measure. It's something Tony can slap on real quick to deal with smaller, sudden threats mostly to his own person.
    • This appears in other Marvel Cinematic Universe films as well. In Captain America: Civil War, when Tony Stark talks privately with Peter Parker, he kids him on his makeshift homemade-looking Spider-Man suit (calling it a "onesie") and the fact that the only computer Peter can afford is an old Apple MacIntosh he salvaged from the trash. On the other hand he expressed admiration that Peter was able to synthesise spider silk. When Tony convinces Peter to join him in Germany against Captain America and his fugitive Avengers, he upgrades Spider-Man's suit, making it more high-tech and also more closely resembling the webspinner we all know and love.
  • In Oblivion, the people we are led to believe represent the remnants of humanity all use shiny white technology that also has a lot of moving parts, while the Scavs that are supposedly alien Planet Looters who blew up the moon have disheveled tech that appears cobbled together. This was probably intended as a big hint that it's actually the other way around. The Scavs are humans while the hero is a cloned astronaut being used by the alien entity that really blew up the moon and is sucking up the oceans.
  • Star Trek:
  • Star Wars:
    • Fans will no doubt recall that Episode I featured, among other things, chrome spaceships. While the ships of these halcyon days of the old Republic did look, in their ways, more advanced, we are reminded of the similar use of generous amounts of chrome on, say, '50s cars to make them look futuristic (George Lucas has always been a rabid car buff, so this may indeed be intentional). There is another reason for this: as the Galaxy enters the Clone Wars, the ships become more and more boxy and utilitarian in design, presumably because it would be better for the Clone Army to have something that was functional rather than something that was pretty. It was also meant to reflect that as the galaxy falls under the grip of The Empire, the only thing still spiffy and clean are the machines the military uses to keep the populace in line, and those look better when they look mean than when they look pretty.
    • One notable bit is that the Republic Venator-class Star Destroyer is notably more advanced looking than its successor, the Imperial-class (the iconic "Flying Triangle") Star Destroyer, with a more effective placement of fighter bays, engines, and bridge, and an overall "sleeker" appearance. On the other hand, the Imperial is a triangular box with a box on the top and 3 engines.
    • The yellow speeder that Anakin and Obi-Wan use while chasing Zam Wesell was inspired by the yellow '32 Ford coupe from Lucas' American Graffiti. All it needed was flames painted on the side.

  • Aeon 14: Zig-Zagged. In Building Victoria and Destiny Lost, Time Dilation due to accidentally flying through a dark energy stream sends the main protagonists forward in time from the 5th millennium to the late 9th. It's noted several times that 5th millennium ships and technology tend to be prettier than 9th millennials', which goes with the fact that a lot of 5th millennium technology is Lost Technology due to the intervening FTL Wars. On the other hand, in certain areas 9th millennium tech is more advanced: Artificial Gravity generators are much smaller and more precise, which led to advances in Deflector Shield technology and the invention of Faster-Than-Light Travel... which led to the FTL Wars.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are sent several million years into the past and end up aboard a spaceship. To Arthur the control room looks like a spaceship control room should look, to Ford it looks thoroughly antiquated.
  • In Johnny and the Bomb, Jonny refuses to believe a time machine disguised as a shopping trolley can be one because it doesn't have flashing lights. "Why would a time machine need flashing lights?" "To flash!"
  • Discussed in-universe in The Lost Fleet, as recently-defrosted Human Popsicle John Geary comes to grips with just how bad things have got while he was gone:
    He shifted position slightly, clenching his hands tighter against the cold that welled up from within, as one knee brushed against the rough edge of the small desk this stateroom boasted. He stared at that edge, trying to grasp what it meant. The future was supposed to be smooth. Smooth and clean and bright. It wasn’t supposed to be rougher and more worn than the past. Everybody knew that. But then, wars weren’t supposed to be apparently endless, going on and on and draining the smoothness and brightness from a future that could now only afford efficiency.
  • The Revelation Space universe created by Alastair Reynolds hand waves this problem with the Melding Plague which attacks nanotechnology, forcing society to revert to more primitive forms of computer interface.
  • In The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, originally published in 1898, the narrator and main protagonist is one of the first at the scene of the fallen 'meteor' which turns out to contain a space-going artificial cylinder. To open, the cylinder slowly unscrews, the height of imagined spaceship door technology at the time, and evidence of the aliens' technological sophistication (from a late 19th Century perspective at least).
    • Also it is mentioned earlier in the story that telescopes aimed at Mars had picked up some odd flashes of light, implying that the Martian ships had actually been launched at Earth via gigantic cannons.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • While this is generally true with the Centauri, the Minbari, the Vorlons, several League and independent races, etc. However, Narn ships are a subversion, as background material says that the Narns deliberately try to invoke this trope with their fancy looking ships, but weapons tech captured from the Centauri aside, are not all that advanced (they don't even have gravity).
    • One of the League races, the Brakiri, does this too, their ships are made to look like organic technology even though they aren't that much more advanced than other League races. According to the supplementary material in the B5 Wars tabletop game, they actually are one of the more advanced League races, having artificial gravity, but their government is too divided to form an effective military force, which is why they tend to be on the receiving end of any stellar butt-whuppings.
    • Inverted and played straight among Earth ships. The Hyperion-class cruiser looks more advanced than the Omega-class destroyer, but the Omega is the de-facto replacement of both the Hyperion and its contemporary Nova-class dreadnought (from which it borrowed the hull) and has superior speed, carries heavier weapons and simulates gravity with its rotating section. Then we have the Warlock-class destroyer and the almost unknown Marathon-class cruiser, who both look more advanced than the Omega and are its intended replacement (the Warlock as a heavy fleet unit and the Marathon as a general-purpose fleet unit), featuring improved armour, weapons and speed and actual Artificial Gravity, eliminating the need for the rotating section. According to background material, the Warlock is actually supposed to be a one-to-one match against the dreaded Minbari Sharlin-class warcruisers, but they're still few in number (about 50).
    • Merging of technology from different cultures tends to produce... different results. The White Star (Minbari/Vorlon hybrid) has the organic look of Vorlon ships and the fins the Minbari love so much, however, some have compared the look to that of a plucked chicken. The controls are all crystal-based. Meanwhile, the prototype Victory-class destroyers (human/Minbari/Vorlon) have the triple-finned Minbari look but are more functional in general appearance, including the typical human battleship-grey color scheme, losing the White Star's Vorlon-inspired organic look. Another attempt at marrying human and Minbari design practices has produced the butt-ugly Valen, nicknamed by one Minbari as a "flying brick". The later Valen-class cruisers have nothing in common with the original Valen and look like a sleeker version of the Minbari Sharlin. President Clark's regime has also attempted to merge some Shadow technology with human tech, producing the experimental "Advanced Omega" class, which looks like a typical Omega, but with the organic skin (and spikes) of Shadow ships.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Both because of how long the series has been running, and because of what a tight budget it was on for most of that time, it's extremely common in the original series for devices that are supposed to be insanely high-tech to look quite clunky and primitive, especially to a modern audience. The new series has consciously and lovingly embraced this, to the point where it's almost rare for a high-tech device not to look deliberately old-fashioned. For example, when Rose dismissed K9 for looking "a bit disco", and the Doctor replied that K9 was actually cutting-edge design in the year 5000.
    • In the original series, one of the most notable instances of this was in "The Keeper of Traken". The Trakenites show Adric the Sufficiently Advanced Technology that runs their world, and he comments on how amazingly advanced it looks. It's a pile of very clunky-looking late 1970's electronic parts sitting on a cheap metal cabinet. It's both adorable and sad.
    • "The Waters of Mars" has the Doctor using a spacesuit that's from humanity's future but doesn't look like it, making the comment from the base crew about its advanced technology rather odd. It's possible that this is because it's noticeably less bulky tharin the suits they're using, so of course they'd wonder where it came from.
    • The TARDIS is kind of a subversion of this. It's obsolete by the standards of Time Lord technology, yes, but it's still an insanely powerful and infinitely reconfigurable dimensionally transcendental time (and space) machine... but it also quite often looks like it's either made of junk, or at the very least fairly low-tech switches and levers and buttons. Partly this is an aesthetic choice in-universe (the TARDIS can look like anything it wants and the Doctor has a vaguely retro steampunk aesthetic) and from the production team (the Doctor dramatically flipping levers and toggling switches is a lot more visually interesting than him using touch panel controls, and the visual effects are cheaper). It also avoids the situation from the classic series, where the TARDIS was supposed to look like an ultra-high-tech machine, but now often looks hilariously dated.
  • Firefly mostly revels in the Space Western aesthetic, and for the majority of the series we're only seeing what looks like run-down ships and scattered, low-tech societies and villages, with the occasional episode in a high-tech locale like "Ariel" or "Trash". What this doesn't show is the presence of background technology far, far more advanced than what is otherwise shown; e.g. large-scale terraforming technology, gravity manipulation technology, and starship engines that put out enormous amounts of power. Even the battered and old starship Serenity puts out enough energy in its drive to make the Tsar Bomba jealous.
  • Parodied in Red Dwarf: When Kryten believes Lister to be a Mechanoid, the fact he looks perfectly human is evidence he's a less advanced version — the human-looking Mechanoids creeped actual Humans out too much, so the range was discontinued.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The depiction of the race called the "Nox" is a subversion. Their entire culture's technology is completely salient and has been completely integrated into the surrounding environment in a manner which makes the the technology virtually indistinguishable from the natural terrain. Mind-bogglingly advanced technology (capable of resurrection), and you wouldn't have the first clue how they did it because they look and act like a hunting and gathering society; they are small tight-knit groups which exist largely in harmony with the local ecosystem.
    • This is subverted a lot. Goa'uld technology looks like stuff out of ancient times, ancient Egypt especially (Pyramid-ships, staff-weapons, sarcophagus, ugly crystal-technology). The Asgard do have the typical "advanced" look in their technology; but the Ancients, who are at least equal to the Asgard in technology, all have angular-shaped technology which overall looks, well, ancient.
      • The Ancients are particularly interesting, as their civilization lasted long enough to produce several substantially disparate sets of artifacts: Alteran ancients produced technology primarily in the form of high-technological devices apparently made of stone. Lantian ancients adopted an aesthetic more typical of contemporary "advanced alien" sensibilities, heavy on crystals and lucite, though on a grandiose scale. The builders of the Destiny, purportedly the earliest of the bunch, had a much more "industrial" aesthetic, including a Excessive Steam Syndrome. When Doctor Rush identifies Destiny's design as "clearly Ancient," we just have to take his word for it. Though we see comparatively little of the technology of the Ori, it seems similar in scope to Alteran technology, but with conscious minor aesthetic differences and heavy use of Light Is Not Good (their ring transporters, for example, are white marble with glowing inlays).
    • In addition, we have Earth's gate-dialing system: Large computer consoles with seemingly random lights and buttons filling up entire rooms. The system is slow, has things constantly going wrong, and has massive power requirements. The Ancients, on the other hand, invented the DHDs, which are far smaller and streamlined and much more convenient.
    • While the control rooms of the Goa'uld ships look basically empty except for a throne and an altar-like console, the Earth ships are chock-full of screens, buttons, and glowing lights. The contrast between the two was intentional: the set designers wanted them to be more interesting than the existing Goa'uld ships. The look of the Earth ships' interiors are also based on actual battleships and aircraft carriers.
      • The Asgard ships are about in the middle: their exteriors are silver and streamlined, and the interiors are white and smooth, with a fair amount of screens, lights, and control interfaces. And rocks.
    • We could mention the stargates themselves; the third generation of stargates that the Ancients used in the Pegasus Galaxy look more advanced than the ones they used in the Milky Way Galaxy. Yet they also lost some functionality because they do not have a physical moving "rotary telephone" ring, which means they cannot be manually dialed - an interesting parallel to a lot of Real Life examples where a supposedly more advanced technology is less versatile or at least resilient than what it replaced.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise was widely criticized for how much "more advanced" the NX-01 looked compared to its Original Series counterpart. Which is to say that the Enterprise had computer displays, exposed wiring, and all-around better special effects. Of course, the interior design of the NX-01 was inspired in part by modern NASA designs. The NX-01 is meant to look, to an early 21st century audience, about 150 years in advance of current technology. The NCC-1701 was meant to look, to a 1960s audience, about 300 years in advance of current technology. Because of the shift in design aesthetics, "300 years more advanced than 1966" looks less advanced than "150 years more advanced than 2001". But, of course, no one knows how design aesthetics will continue to shift in the future. "In a Mirror Darkly" shows the NX-01 crew encountering an Original Series-era ship, and they clearly think it looks far more advanced. The standard explanation is that the Original Series era designs show a far greater level of "comfort" with the technology, form factors simplified and exposed wires hidden away behind walls. Put another way, the NCC-1701 was the product of a sort of "Art Deco" period of starship design.
    • A related problem was that communicators on the show were made smaller than those in the the first show, due to cell phones being much smaller. Again, it was a matter of finding some sort of balance between the "futuristic" and bulky technology of the 23rd Century and still making the modern series appear futuristic by modern standards.
    • The NX-01 looks very similar to the Akira-class ships from the Next Generation era (first seen in First Contact), which caused a rift among the fans. In-Universe, Starfleet cannibalized and repurposed old designs for years (the Excelsior class was, at least in ship design, used for over 80 years), thus allowing the Akira to be retconned as a spin-off of the "old" NX-class design, but the fact that viewers saw it first "in the future" was all that counted. Officially, behind-the-scenes the NX was designed independently from the Akira, and the similarities were more incidental than intentional, in reality the only similarities between the designs as far as Starfleet ships go is the overhead silhouette.note 
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation took this even further, with the sets specifically designed to downplay the functionalist, technological aspects in favor of a livable-looking design aesthetic (in order to demonstrate the superiority of 24th century technology and because the Federation had been in peacetime for so many years); as such, the bridge of the Enterprise-D incorporates leather chairs, carpets, gently-sloping ramps and even wooden surfaces with only minor instrumentation and work stations, the entire bridge is usually populated by only 5 people. In a number of alternate timelines, and eventually in Star Trek: Generations, there are more work stations and thus more people crowding the bridge and making it feel more utilitarian.
      • This is explained as Galaxy-class starships (like the Enterprise-D) specifically being designed not only as Starfleet's flagship class, but for long-term exploration and diplomacy missions, even carrying entire families to live onboard for years at a time. As such, they're designed to have less of a science-y feel and more of a 'home' feel. Intrepid-class ships, though, are for science (but not For Science!) & exploration, and only designed to be used by a small crew for a few weeks or months at a time, and as such less attention was paid to aesthetics, and are covered in computer screens. The Enterprise-E, a Sovereign-class starship, has a more "futuristic" appearance than the Enterprise-D, and is more of a battleship than an exploration ship.
      • Of course, the Enterprise-D was lampshaded on TNG itself as being a "Flying Hotel" compared to other less luxurious starships like those of the much more numerous Excelsior class. When Scotty from TOS era visits the ship he is placed in a standard guest quarters, he remarks that such a spacious room in his time would be reserved for an Admiral.
    • The same ordeal happened with Star Trek: Discovery, meant to take place after Enterprise but before TOS. Technology clearly looks more advanced than ENT, but much of its functionality is more advanced than what was shown on TOS, including tech that wasn't shown until TNG and DS9 (such as ubiquitous holo-communication, holodecks, and casual site-to-site transports). In a deviation, though, many of the handheld devices like the phasers and tricorders were translated very faithfully only using slight ergonomic design changes and more modern construction methods.
      • This winds up being explained away as the fancy new technology not meshing well with the Enterprise, and Captain Pike having everything downgraded to less advanced, but more mature and stable technologies such as viewscreens instead of holograms.
      • Klingon design aesthetics seem to have shifted towards the gothic, with ships that look more ornamental (one ship is literally lined with coffins of their fallen warriors) and the interior looks almost like a church. They will, apparently, go back to their boxy designs in less than a generation.
  • One of the myriad complaints against Team Knight Rider was that the cars "did not look nearly as advanced" as KITT of the original Knight Rider — that is, they were visually different from ordinary cars only by the addition of a single multi-function computer display. The original series had described KITT's interior, by contrast, as "Darth Vader's Bathroom", a possible indication that it looked a bit Zeerust even by the standards of the time.
    • Thing is, except for the instrument panel, the original KITT's interior was pure stock thirdgen F-Body.
    • Knight Rider 2000 utilises a similar display to Team Knight Rider' for the Knight 4000, but retains a limited number of buttons for important functions and a separate speech indicator in the same panel, although the exterior is a unique and much more "futuristic" design for the time, due to the 20 Minutes into the Future setting.
    • The 2008 pilot movie features a simple screen in KITT's dashboard that pulled double duty as both KITT's speech indicator and a display. In the following series, released later the same year, the screen is replaced by a spherical speech indicator mounted higher in the dashboard and multi-function holograms displayed over the windshield.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, it is mentioned that the Solars built Artifacts to be both functional and beautiful. When the Dragon-Blooded took over, they couldn't do both, so they decided to just go with the functional. Turns out, they couldn't do that quite as well either...
  • You can decide for yourself in Genius: The Transgression, the roleplaying game of Mad Science. Geniuses can make their Wonders look like pretty much anything they want, and 'Aesthetic' is a signature trait for most. It lists a number of sample Aesthetics, ranging from Steampunk (the currently most popular style) to Raygun Gothic to 'iPod' style. Some of them can be quite unusual, such as the Stone Age aesthetic one character has.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The main faction is the Imperium of Man, and much of their technology features function over form for the small scale, and thus has a robust, industrialized design. As they scale upwards, the form-function ratio tends to move further towards form, but never overtakes function. Things like starships or titans are awash with Gothic ornamentation, but never lose their distinctly Imperial look. The catch is that most of the Imperium uses fairly crude technology by many sci-fi standards (even their own human standard from thousands of years ago). On the other hand Imperial tech is very reliable and durable, to the point that many items, from ships to titans to well-made small arms, being in reliable service for millennia, though in many cases the age does tend to show.
    • On the far end of Imperial tech are recovered old technology that qualify for Clarke's Third Law or are practically Magitek for incorporating Warpspace mechanics into them. These items are usually one of a kind or very close to it in the difficulty in recreating them, or the knowledge to create and replicate them have been lost.
    • Many assume Tau technology is more advanced than the Imperium because it looks more futuristic. The trope is actually zig-zagged.
      • The real explanation is culture. The Tau society is like ours. They practice science. Advanced machines are mass produced, tested, and refined. They are improved according to sound engineering and scientific principles. The Tau have not quite figured out yet they live in a cosmic horror story. The average Tau's possessions and quality of life are far better than the average Imperial citizens, and when the Tau's hot new gear gets blown up, they just figure out how to make the next set better while ordering the factories to replace the destroyed gear. They behave like a modern army. Extremely rare Tau weapons are not sacred relics, but prototypes handed out to elite soldiers for testing before they go into mass production.
      • The Imperium is like a caricature of the Dark Ages. Everything great was in the past, erected during a golden age. The top end relics from that golden age are better than what the Tau has now, but they are treasures from an ancient world and cannot be replicated today. Nor does the Imperium really have a culture of science; superstition and religion have mostly done away with it. The average Imperial citizen lives worse than the quality of life of most humans today, and the average soldier of the Imperium would be awed by Tau technology. The very lucky, very privileged few who get the awesome relics of the past - or who can get one of the knock-offs produced by rote replication of the achievements from before - have things the Tau would love to get. The elite of the Imperium have things the Tau can only dream of, but they are few, and the culture doesn't really have ways to further refine the designs. Imperial special gear tends to be relics from thousands of years ago that can't be replaced.
      • Humanity's ancient past was a time when they would easily outstrip the Tau, but humanity has fallen. Due to Schizo Tech, the elite Imperials have things Tau would dearly love to have, but the vast bulk of humanity does not have access to it. Tau culture is forward-looking and progressive, and even in game they tend to premier new units as a "technological refinement" of their earlier units. The Imperium is forever clutching the relics of the past and stagnating. That's why the Tau look like a streamlined mix of retro and anime science fiction while the Imperium looks like gothic horror Recycled IN SPACE! - the visuals of each society tell you their relationship with technology and science.
    • Averted with weapons. For example, plasma weapons: in the Imperium they're rare but not uncommon (which is relative - thousands of plasma guns are made each year, while trillions of lasguns are made), and hand held. Tau have hand held plasma weapons in the form of the Pulse Rifle. But are nowhere near as powerful, the closest can only be mounted on Mini Mechas or tanks and are still less powerful (but don't overheat).
    • While a Tau's pulse rifle is less powerful shot-for-shot than an Imperial Guard or (especially) Space Marine plasma gun, the plasma gun is an over-engineered death trap quite capable of blowing up the user on a misfire, it has a slow firing rate, AND the most effective designs are long-lost. Tau pulse rifles shoot much faster, don't have the same overheating issues, and (for the Tau) are as easy to mass-produce as Imperial lasguns. Really the only reason they haven't been drafted wholesale into the Imperial Guard and Space Marines is because they're heretical Xenos tech that any member of the Imperium is obliged to destroy. Also the Adeptus Mechanicus believes everything that has ever been invented already has and work to find Standard Template Constructs (which also have the benefit of usually not being corrupted by Chaos like the Mars archives were during the Dark Age of Technology and the Horus Heresy). Making it less engineering and innovation and more a matter of archaeology instead.
    • Then there are Imperial weapons and equipment from the Great Crusade/ Horus Heresy era. Looking closer to Modern equipment and some relics of the armory are even more iPod like and futuristic. Mainly because they have access to stuff from the Dark Age of Technology.
    • On the other hand, Eldar stuff is inhumanly clean and elegant, and their tech is indeed more advanced than the humans'. The Necrons are the most advanced of all and are decidedly ancient and look it... basically, the rule in 40k is older=better.
    • And THEN there are the Orks, who have the most fun with this trope: since the Orks are mainly scavengers, their technology looks like it is straight out of Mad Max, cumbersome, improvised, rusty and dirty, much like their owners. But Orks can do research as well when they bother to, and so far have invented flame throwers that double as welding torches, surprisingly elegant Death Ray artillery and a device that teleports small goblins straight to hell and literally into enemy units, or it malfunctions and plobs demonic, all-destroying slime on them instead. Ork airplanes, meanwhile, look surprisingly "normal" (if obviously super-charged). Lastly, many Ork players take the army's theme of "lootin'" to heart and build contraptions out of vehicles from other factions or wholesale new, which thus can look as crude or advanced, and as improvised or original, as they want. When given the time to re-remember their Genetic Memory, an Ork's heap of scrap metal he calls technology is actually lightyears ahead of the Eldar's sleek, physically impossible weaponry and roughly equal with the Necron's. Given they were purpose-made to fight said Necrons by the impossibly advanced Old Ones, and given their afforementioned genetically-encoded blueprints by the same, this should come as no surprise.

    Video Games 
  • The five factions of Battleborn have different aesthetics when it comes to their technology.
    • The UPR has a modern military look to them and their tech. They are rather ulitarian as they prefer function over fashion in this regard. They're however not as advanced as factions like the LLC and the Jennerit whose tech are just as sophisticated in level as they are in appearance.
    • The Rogues have a duct taped together look to their tech which fits in line with their principles of freedom. It's all scavenged and cobbled together from tech from other factions such as the UPR and doesn't have a real sense of uniformity. With such a look that's all over the place, their technology is likewise as such and can't exactly be considered overall advanced.
    • The Eldrid use Organic Technology and the like that harmonizes with the natural laws of the Universe. As such their technology has a very natural and ancient looking aesthetic to it. Due to their millennia worth of history, it's actually more sophisticated than it appears to be. It's just that they refuse to exhibit their technology's sophistication in a way that clashes with nature like the other factions do.
    • The Jennerit are one of the more high tech of the factions and are capable of using dark energies to bend the universe's laws to suit their needs. As such the aesthetic of their technology reflects how both advance and dark it is. The aesthetic's best described by Word of God as "Gothic Tron" which mixes dark foreboding Gothic art with the art visuals from TRON.
    • The LLC are the most technology oriented of the factions. They however value fashion just as much as function in accordance of their wealth showcasing principles. Thus the aesthetic of the LLC's technology is extremely clean and shiny with a lot of Victorian inspired ornate designs decorated about. It's best described by Word of God which states that if the aesthetic of the Jennerit is "Gothic Tron" then the LLC's is "Steampunk Tron".
  • Borderlands 2 distinguishes each gun manufacturer with different attributes, appearances and names. For example, Maliwan favors a Space-Age-y look with blue/silver stocks and glowing orange lights. They also use battery-like powerpacks instead of conventional magazines. On the other hand, Bandit-made guns are an aggressive red (or at least what you can see underneath the coat of filth and duct tape), not to mention most guns made by Bandits have jury-rigged extra-large magazines onto their guns (this throws the accuracy right off, but what do they care? They just like spraying bullets everywhere.) The other companies can be read about on the Borderlands 2 page.
    • The idea that things that look higher-tech are automatically better is averted, though - the Jakobs corporation makes guns that look very old-fashioned, with wooden stocks and Wild West aesthetics, to the point of having pistols where fanning the hammer speeds up rate of fire. Their sniper rifles are considered the best for a dedicated sniper character, due to their massive critical hit damage bonus.
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth has three technological affinities (Supremacy, Harmony and Purity) that the player's faction can adopt later in the game. Supremacy units have a sleek Cyberpunk look and feel, the Harmony forces have a Organic Technology vibe while Purity units have a very retro-Diesel Punk look to them. This look is intentional on the part of the Purity engineers as they are trying to recreate and honor the past glories of Earth and it doesn't mean the Purity units are any less capable or technologically advanced. The DLC adds hybrid affinities that feature different aesthetic: Harmony-Purity tends to go with the "ancient Greek god" look, Supremary-Purity is of the Everything Is An I Pod In The Future style, and Harmony-Supremacy barely even resembles anything human.
  • Command & Conquer
  • One fan of Cortex Command has complained that the technology isn't very advanced. The technology looks modern rather than futuristic, but considering that this is a game where humans are brains in jars that travel through space, cloning has been completely perfected, everyone has an unlimited supply of clones and robots that they can remote control, that jetpacks have been perfected, batteries can recharge themselves from thin air, that tools that can literally disintegrate dirt, but leave gold unharmed and that humans have spread themselves all across the galaxy the fan's complaints are ungrounded. In fact, the only sleeker technology at this point is the laser guns and the dummy robots. The dummy robots are cannon-fodder and the laser weapons are only effective against unarmored opponents.
  • A good example of this can be found in the training mission of Deus Ex, where one of the rooms is a small "museum" showing the history of artificial enhancements. The old electro-mechanical enhancements make their users look like cyborgs; but if someone is equipped with the new enhancements based in Nanomachines, they will look like pretty much any other human.
    • In fact, a small part of the story revolves around two agents with UNATCO who have the old-style cybernetic enhancements. They are, understandably, extremely miffed about the fact that the "next generation" of augmented humans are not only superior to them in most respects, but they look human, so they don't have to deal with the stigma of looking like a science experiment Gone Horribly Wrong. There is also an ex-UNATCO bartender in New York who has some "pretty heavy augmentation" and while her customers don't seem to mind, she's a bit touchy when it's brought up.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution features the "old style" mechanical enhancements. They look far more advanced than the 'newer' ones in the original games, even when taking the improved graphics into account. Part of the justification for this comes in the stated mission by the designers to give the whole game something of a cultural 'Renaissance' feeling, which also reflects in the color scheme and clothing designs.
  • Each faction in Endless Space 2 has a distinct aesthetic:
    • The United Empire ships are black and red in colour with a bulky and imposing shape and a chisel-like prow, and even their non-combat ships have cosmetic missile ports. As befits your typical evil militaristic/xenophobic human empire.
    • The Vodyani (hyper-religious space vampires) have sleek gray ships with glowing yellow highlights, and many of them have Eva Fins.
    • The Sophons, Badass Adorable high-tech space lizard people reminiscent of the Kerbals, lean towards smooth-white ships seemingly devoid of visual intimidation.
    • With characteristic eccentrism, Horatio ships are segmented mechanical Space Whales that slowly swim through the cosmos, covered in bronze-gold plating etched with intricate geometric patterns. Naturally, such elegant fragility pays through the nose both at the shipyard and in battle.
    • The Cravers (very hungry mechanical Planet Looters) had to scavenge their way back into space and it shows through their ship designs; patchwork plates of brown metal barely covering rough internal sections. Exposed pipes and reactor spheres are common, suggesting a haphazard throwing-together of functional systems.
    • The Lumeris (space mafiaso criminal types) have their ships being divided almost evenly between smooth, colorful sections of hull and exposed sections of piping or engines. This makes more sense if you consider their navy to essentially be comprised of re-purposed civilian ships.
    • The Riftborn crew very similar ships to the Lumeris and the Sophons, but their extra-universal nature reveals itself in their floating, geometrical modules.
    • The Unfallen vessels are vaguely biological and have leaf-like solar sails. The Unfallen themselves are a beautiful and gentle race of spacefaring tree-aliens.
    • The Vaulters (spacefaring viking nomads) build ships that are grey and sturdy in line with the Standard Human Spaceship, although they tend to be wide where the United Empire is tall. They also have a fondness for mounting thick sheets of metal to the hull via girders which gives their ships the impression of hiding behind walls, reflecting their hardy, defensive military doctrine.
    • The Hissho, as a highly artistic Proud Warrior Race, build ships covered in elaborate Mesoamerican-style engravings detailing past acts of valour and significant events. They kill and they look good while they do it. Their ships also have elegant wing-like fins at the back and pointed bill-like protrusions at the front, a nod to their avian ancestry.
  • In Grey Goo (2015), human technology goes in deep on the Everything Is An I Pod In The Future look: curvy and pretty, everything either hovers or flies, and all their weapons are directed plasma projectiles. The alien Beta, by contrast, use blocky and industrial-looking vehicles, ones that are coated in thick plating and get around on mechanical legs, and as one human character notes with exasperation, "they still use bullets in their guns!" The Goo are nanomachine Starfish Aliens.
  • Halo:
    • The Covenant mostly have sleek, brightly colored weapons and armor, and largely fire plasma instead of bullets. Human weapons are blocky and drab (with many looking like modern-day real-life ones), and mostly fire projectiles. In-universe, standard Covenant weapons are generally considered better. Plasma melts armor and ignites clothing, and on a larger scale boils through ships and can reduce much of a planet to cinder and glass within hours (and with not all that many ships). Additionally, UNSC spaceships usually need to outnumber their Covenant counterparts by at least three-to-one in order to have even a slight chance of winning. The main thing holding the Covenant back is that they're reluctant to improve or even better understand their own technology, due to having reverse-engineered it from Forerunner tech (which they consider holy relics). That said, human tech can still hold its own in the right hands; in the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved, one (AI-controlled) human ship takes on 12 similarly-sized CCS battlecruisers and manages to destroy four of them and cripple at least one other, though the books reveal that the Covenant were trying to board and capture the ship rather than just obliterate it.
    • Gameplay-wise, the Covenant's weapons are simply different rather than better. For example, their plasma rifles take down shields more reliably, but usually don't have the firepower of human rifles, and the two sides' sniper weapons are basically identical. In vehicle combat, the player with the UNSC one will often have the advantage.
    • Within the Covenant itself, Brute weapons often look ancient and scrapped-together, and tend to fire projectiles instead of plasma. Additionally, they tend to favor metal blades over plasma ones. The Brutes themselves are generally considered simple-minded primitives by the rest of the Covenant, but their weapons can hold their own against standard Covenant plasma ones. Interestingly, they also seem quite happy to use looted human weapons such as the shotgun.
    • The M12 Light Reconnaissance Vehicle, better known as the Warthog or the Puma, doesn't look like it should be used in 2552, but has seemingly unpoppable tires. Also, it doesn't need gasoline; it actually runs on water.
    • In games from Halo 4 onward, UNSC weapons, though they're still mostly blocky and projectile-based, have taken on a considerably shinier and more futuristic appearance, and it's stated that the UNSC has been able to close much of the tech gap with the Covenant, even surpassing them in some areas. This is also particularly apparent with the visual evolution of the Spartans' MJOLNIR Powered Armor; the earlier MJOLNIR favored by S-IIs and IIIs tends to be blocky and utilitarian-looking, while the current and more advanced MJOLNIR favored by Spartan-IVs tends to be smooth and rather fancy-looking.
    • Played straight with Forerunner technology, especially from Halo 4 onward. Forerunner constructions tend to be a shiny gray-silver and highly ornate, often with glowy highlights, and their guns fire Hard Light and other exotic energies. Their technology is consistently stated to be far beyond what the current races of the galaxy have, and gameplay often reflects this, with Promethean weapons being among the most powerful in the game.
  • The original Homeworld plays with it. In terms of look, Turanic ships are the less advanced, Kushan ships look a bit more advanced, Taiidan ships looks a little more modern, and Kadeshi and Bentusi ships look much more advanced. In terms of performance, Kushan and Taiidan ships are identical to their respective counterpart (barring a better turret emplacement of some Taiidan ships and the better hangar protection of Kushan carriers and Mothership), Turanic attack ships are the worst but their capital ships are better armed and armored than the playable races, Kadeshi fighters and frigates can dish and take a lot of damage but sacrifice respectively fuel capacity and speed, and the Bentusi are implied to be powerful but tend to get into situations that are barely survivable even for them.
  • A lot of things in the Mass Effect series play this trope straight. Word of God states that they wanted to deliberately invoke a clean, futuristic look, especially in the most civilized areas. On the other hand, it is averted in the seedier places (like Omega, which still has an enormously advanced level of technological development, despite being the epitome of a Wretched Hive) and by the really advanced people—consider the Collectors' ships, which look more like a chunk of rock with a spaceship engine than the sleek and cool-looking Normandy or Destiny Ascension.
  • Played with in the Mega Man (Classic) and Mega Man X series. While the hero character had a simpler-looking design than the bosses, said hero was the one who can copy bosses' weapons for his own use, supporting a wide arsenal of powers. X is literally described as having unlimited potential, and throughout his series, developed abilities that were previously seen after he picked up armor parts or health upgrades; it's like the concept of Weapon Copy was taken to its logical conclusion and turned into an Ability Copy.
  • Overwatch uses technology to subtly unify a cast of twenty-one characters who are diverse in both appearance and culture. Every last one of them has some form of wearable tech—the samurai archer has sleek metallic boots that fit his otherwise traditional outfit, the two wastelanders both have tech clearly scavenged from somewhere similar to the rest of the cast's outfits... These also serve to provide a visual explanation for most of the character's unique abilities.
  • In Sword of the Stars, aesthetics are not always indicative of how powerful a faction's ships are. The dish-dash, slapped-together Zuul craft can be as effective or moreso than the sleek Morrigi ships.
  • Warframe: There are different design aesthetics for each of the different factions. Corpus technology is boxy and gray, Grineer weapons are crude and industrial, and Infested weapons are biological. All Orokin technology is covered in silver and gold but still ridiculously powerful, while Tenno technology archaic and hand-made designs based off of whatever they can still figure out from the old Orokin weapons.
  • In the X-Universe games, aesthetics are not very reliable on how powerful the ships are. The Terran ships are by far the most advanced and powerful ships, but look essentially like sleek Space Shuttles, or in the case of their capital ships, flying white bricks - while their even more advanced AGI Task Force ships are very ornate and boxy. The Teladi, who buy or reverse-engineer all their equipment from the other races, have very cobbled-together designs (often likened to "flying junkyards"), but they are very effective and much more versatile than Terran ships. The Boron have the most aesthetically refined and elegant ships in the game, of the kind that would make you think "unbeatable awesomeness" in other games, but here their fighter craft are little more than glorified Joke Characters, and while they have extremely powerful capital ships, they are sorely lacking in flak cannons. Played straight with the Pirate clans' ships, which are often cobbled together from half a dozen ships, and show it in their stats, which are usually flat-out inferior to a new ship bought from a shipyard, though Pirate ships have a great deal of cross-compatibility with different races' weapons, such as their Brigantine-class destroyer being able to mount Boron Ion Cannons, Teladi Gauss Cannons, and the Pirates' own Incendiary Bomb Launcher.

    Web Original 
  • Lampshaded in Freeman's Mind episode 57. After puzzling for a while over the purpose of some holograms and rotating platforms, Freeman concludes that they're just there to impress funders who expect to see lots of flashy effects and moving parts.
    "Okay, I think I've figured out what this place is. This is where we take all the VIPs looking to fund the place. We have labs, but they're all a little too clean. … We take the VIPs here, we show them the energy balls; they don't know anything, so they're impressed and give us more money. … There's a certain percentage of the public that believes unless you have robots or glowing lights, that science isn't happening. But we have both; that's why we're so well-funded! Some people expect chemistry sets and dry ice fog, but I think we have some rooms for that too."
    • What's funny is that according to the Real Life section, some science facilities actually do use things like smoke machines, green lights, food coloring, etc. for news crews and the like, so Freeman's hypothesis isn't far-fetched at all.

    Real Life 
  • The streamline school of design during the Art Deco period in the 1930s was built on this. Many railway engineers disliked streamlining because it didn't do much for performance, unlike the mechanical improvement under the surface.
    • Ironically, "streamlined" design for indoor household goods did have a function. The Twenties in the West had been the first time in human history that goods were cheaper than labor, meaning that many upper-middle-class households who were accustomed to one or more maids had to do without, while many working-class families could afford good design. Simple, streamlined lamps, radios and small appliances are easier to dust than what came before.
    • Of course, with the train example, that was several decades before the mechanical improvements under the surface would make the trains go fast enough for the streamlining to become significant. Nowadays, we do have streamlined high speed trains, and even commuter cars can have their MPG noticeably impacted by surface design.
      • When hauling freight by rail the objective isn't getting it there as quickly as is possible. It's getting massive amounts of cargo from point A to point B cheaply with the minimum of fuss and in a reasonable amount of time. As such, freight locomotives and the cars they pull aren't streamlined. They don't go fast enough for aerodynamic drag to matter. Streamlining them would be counterproductive because it makes freight handling more complicated and reduces freight capacity.
    • Compare the controls of the 1860s Jupiter with the 1941 Big Boy and 1961 Evening Star - the newer locomotives have more features to control, but the major components such as the throttle are easy to recognize.
  • The Boeing 787 is the most advanced airliner ever designed and is built using truly exotic construction techniques. It looks just like any other jetliner.
    • That's true for EVERY new airliner, for good reason. The basic shape of airliners is defined by aerodynamics and physics constraints (particularly the area rule). Engineers have known what the right shape for an airliner is since the 1950s or 1960s. Most of what's changed is underneath the shiny aluminium (or now, less-shiny composite) skin. (This may be changing, though; a $1.5 billion NASA program to design the airliner after the next saw every designer involved submitting a flying wing or blended-wing aircraft, rather than the venerable ME-262 profile.)
    • Another reason they look the same is that they need to be compatible with all the existing airport equipment.
    • One factor that most people miss is a blended wing aircraft's difficulty in meeting FAR regulations. In a traditional tube fuselage, emergency exits are evenly spread and accessible for everyone. In a blended wing body, you are left with people in an auditorium-like setting, with exits only at the front. (FAR regulations forbid any kind of exit that requires one to climb a ladder or stair to qualify as an emergency exit, so no exits to the roof.)
  • A new spacecraft intended to take over with the Space Shuttle being discontinued is called Orion (not THAT Orion), which is... the 1960s Apollo "moon rocket" program with microcomputers. This makes the decision to destroy the Apollo production facilities look pretty stupid.
    • The problem here is returning to the capsule design, which does look more primitive than the kind of mini-shuttle concepts that were being mooted a few years ago.
    • A British company is having some success working on an SSTO spaceplane which might actually work this time. It plays this trope pretty straight.
    • In some respects, this is similar to the example of airliners above, at least for the actual spacecraft - a conical capsule is pretty much the most-proven shape for re-entry at translunar velocities. The Orion capsule, however, will be bigger, carry more people (4-6, as opposed to Apollo's 3), and be capable of 'loitering' unmanned in orbit, so all the astronauts get to go to the moon, which is a distinct improvement from Apollo.
      • It also mean you don't get any Challenger-like failures between parallel components, because there aren't any, (unless you're using booster rockets).
    • In the same vein as the F1 cars mentioned below, Soyuz capsules were first created for the Soviet Moon program in the late '60s. Now, some forty years after, they still look almost the same from the outside — while on the inside it's a completely different spacecraft.
      • But technologically advancing at a very slow pace. The Russians didn't put in an LCD "glass cockpit" until the TMA model, in 2002. This was approximately 20 years after the first such cockpits were installed in production aircraft.
    • The "step backwards" moving from the Space Shuttle to the Orion capsule is more of a purification. The Space Shuttle was, from its inception, an ungainly ship that was intended to do every possible orbital mission in one reusable package, a design choice that ended up making it a Master of None of its assigned roles. Orion is designed to put astronauts where NASA needs astronauts, and leaves most of the complicating factors from the Space Shuttle mission (heavy lifting especially) to unmanned rockets. Also, unlike Apollo, Orion is supposed to be semi-reusable; thanks to its modern shielding, an Orion capsule can launch and return to Earth at least five times before having to be discarded.
    • Just to be clear: Pretty much all the designs for new human spaceflight vehicles are capsules. Much of this has to do with the aforementioned streamlining, as a capsule is the most efficient way to put a sizable payload in front of a sizable rocket engine that must fly through the atmosphere into space. This includes:
      • The aforementioned Orion, as part of a pared-down version of the Constellation program called the Artemis program. Its launch vehicle is the Space Launch System, which appears to be a skinnier version of the Saturn V, but with the Shuttle tank’s orange foam and longer forms of the white side boosters. Orion had its first successful unmanned test in December 2014; its first unmanned mission as a complete system took place from November to December 2022; and its first crewed mission is set for about 2024.
      • The private SpaceX Dragon, a capsule with a capacity of seven currently fulfilling a NASA contract for shuttling astronauts (taking over part of the old role of the Shuttle and relieving pressure on Soyuz) and (in an automated configuration) supplies (relieving pressure on the automated Russian Progress, Japanese H-II, and European ATV) to the ISS. However, the CEO of the company had ambitious plans to send the thing to the Moon and Mars before replacing it with a giant bare stainless steel-skinned bullet-shaped spacecraft called “Starship”, with its internals essentially being a fully autonomous rocket stage with a megasized capsule on top, its hexagonal heat shield tiles being glass on black ceramic, and its flaps being intended to mimic the role of wings in the Space Shuttle’s re-entry and atmospheric descent.
      • The Boeing-Bigelow Aerospace CST-100, essentially a private, Low Earth Orbit-focused version of Orion, fulfilling the same ferry/resupply role...except that because it's focused on servicing the International Space Station, it doesn't need the extra crap for going farther away and can thus handle 7-person crews, like the Shuttle.
      • The Russian "Rus"/"Orel"/"Federatsiya" project, which looks like a cross between Soyuz and Apollo.
      • The Europeans have a vague notion of converting the Automated Transfer Vehicle—an unmanned resupply craft—into a manned capsule. This would entail changing the shape of the thing from a cylinder to a cone. It's unclear where this plan is going, especially now that the ATV is to become the basis for Orion's service module.
      • In the late 2000s, the Japanese had the same plan as the Europeans, adapting the H-II Transfer Vehicle into a manned capsule. A decade before that, there was the cancelled HOPE spaceplane.
      • The Indians are developing an indigenous launch capability; the "Orbital Vehicle" is to be a three-astronaut vessel similar in shape to the Dragon, but only a bit larger than Gemini and significantly smaller than Apollo. Like Orion, it had a successful unmanned flight test in December 2014.
      • The SNC DreamChaser is the odd man out among next-gen manned-spacecraft designs, being a derivative of NASA's cancelled HL-20 Personnel Launch System, which was a proposed "space-taxi" designed to launch vertically and land on a runway like the Space Shuttle, and carry up to 7 astronauts like the Shuttle, but without expending fuel for all that extra cargo-haul capability.
  • Most people would probably agree that most cars from the 1980s, especially early '80s Japanese imports, looked less futuristic than American cars from the preceding decades, especially the '50s.
    • This is complicated because car design is far more driven by fashion than a lot of other technology. From the mid-'80s through the late-'90s, car design was driven by aerodynamics; the resulting vehicles were seen as futuristic. There was eventually a backlash against the "aero" designs, which tended to make everything look the same; this led to a rise in "retro" designs. Combine this with strict European pedestrian safety standards, the weight and bulk of modern passenger safety systems, and the rise of SUVs and the "Freightliner" aesthetic, and suddenly, flying bricks are back in vogue. Futurism can still sell, though: see the Toyota Prius and similar vehicles.
      • Not that a massive rectangle can't look futuristic. Look at the Chevy Avalanche. It's a pickup that looks like it was built to fight COBRA.
    • The Pontiac Trans Sport. First marketed in 1990, in its default all-white colour scheme it would not have looked out of place in a 1970's science-fiction program.
  • Try looking into the cockpit of an 'eighties Formula One car in a museum. From the outside, it looks like a Super-Deformed version of a modern Formula One design; but inside, there's a plain fiberglass and steel honeycomb, analogue dials, a H-pattern gearshift — no headrests or safety padding, no computers or telemetry, no tiny on-board TV cameras, and much less aerodynamic detail in general. Then there's the dated tobacco branding...
    • An F1 race car from the 1980's isn't all that much slower or less safe to drive than a modern F1 race car. The biggest difference between a modern F1 race car and one from the 1980's is that modern F1 race cars are subject to a lot of rules meant to slow them down that F1 race cars from the 1980's weren't subject to. It should also be noted that manual gearboxes and foot operated clutches give drivers a whole lot of flexibility that modern automatic transmissions aren't capable of.
  • Futuristic buses from the 1950s laid great emphasis on "aero" shapes, shiny aircraft-inspired outer panels, large panoramic windows. Modern buses are aerodynamically cleaner, with better interior space and larger glass areas, and look like a high-tech brick.
  • Aviation gives us a partial subversion: the Su-47 Berkut has badass forward-pointing wings, making it look more advanced, or at least more exotic and interesting, than fighter jets with standard wings (this very plane was the basis for Starscream's alt-mode). The wing design confers upon the plane increased maneuverability, the ability to take off and land on a shorter runway, and the ability to fly slower without stalling.
    • The "partial" part comes from the plane being a one-of-a-kind technology testbed for, among other things, seeing how well and how cheaply current advances in technology can handle the problems introduced by the design, which standard, less advanced(-looking) wings don't suffer from. The conclusion was "not very well" (and probably also not cheaply) — performance gains were smaller than expected, turbulence problems were larger, and so this particular path isn't going to be pursued.
    • As it turns out, the Grumman X-29 pre-dates the S-47 by about a decade.
  • Something of an actual subversion with the SR-71 Blackbird. It was made in 1964. It looks futuristic even by modern standards. It still holds the record as the fastest piloted air breathing jet-engine aircraft. The problem with this "subversion" is that the USAF never desired a faster aircraft, one not really being necessary, and since only the USAF has the budget to fund a faster aircraft, we don't know what aircraft engineers could produce using more modern techniques. We know that they thought it was better to bring it out of retirement in the 90s than to design something new, with its operating costs as approximately a hundred thousand dollars an hour
    • Played straight for the pilot. The front cockpit's instrument panel is populated entirely by round analog dials. No digital readouts, no cathode-ray tubes, no flat-panel LCDs.
      • The backseat cockpit, on the other hand, is where the Reconnaissance Systems Operator's instruments are, and while the vast majority of that instrument panel's content is STILL classified top-secret, we do know that the communication radios were controlled by the RSO, and not the pilot, which many Blackbird pilots admitted they initially found frustrating, since in any other plane, the pilot talks directly to air-traffic control himself, without a middle-man.
    • For a bit of perspective, consider this: a titanium-skinned spaceplane that expands up to three feet (one meter) in flight, has fuel so exotic it was also used as a coolant, read the stars to find out where it was (no GPS) and the engine and oil tanks had to be lined with gold because of the sheer amount of thermal-conductive cooling needed. Its engines were a mix of a standard turbojet and a ramjet, a mostly passive engine that requires you to be going half the speed of sound for it to even work. It could go from New York to London in just under two hours. Now consider that it was designed in the '60s — today we have mathematical analysis tools like MATLAB, R and Python's many libraries that can run on any personal laptop, whereas back then all we had was extremely expensive FORTRAN mainframes and slide rules.
      • It also had one of the most advanced air-conditioners of its day to keep the crew from cooking in the cockpit and special paint for better cooling.
      • Also, the final one set a new world air-speed record on its way to the museum... just because it could.
  • The F-117 Nighthawk "Stealth Fighter" was actually a light bomber. Looks futuristic. Each one was built by hand with electronics from other more mundane aircraft (including the C-130). One was shot down over Serbia. When it was retired there was an outcry in the defense press. Why was such an advanced craft headed to storage? It was obsolete: the program that designed the faceted shape was decades old, and its hand-built construction made repairs and upgrades difficult because each airplane is an Ace Custom.
    • In fact the design aesthetic of the F-117 was so bizarre that one Air Force official who first saw it in flight reportedly said that he thought it was changing shape as it flew.
      • The F-117 was an aerodynamic abomination designed and built at a time when the most powerful supercomputers in the world weren't capable of calculating the radar return signal from curved surfaces. When the F-117 was designed, practically all aircraft in the world could be tracked by radar.
  • The B-52 Stratofortress = Tube with wings (made in the 50s). The B-1 Lancer = Slender tube with swing wings (made in the 70s). B-2 Spirit = Flying Wing (made in the 80s). The B-1 and B-2 were supposed to replace the B-52, but the B-52 is planned to be used until 2045. (This has more to due with role. Simply put, the B-52 can haul more bombs than the other two. Sometimes stealth is needed, sometimes speed, sometimes you just need to flatten a couple of city blocks.)
    • Also, Tu-95. Same time, same class, same retro style — now with the propellers! Current airframes, though, are newer than American, being mostly built in 70-80's, while for B-52s there are still some original birds in commission.
    • The B-52 being pretty much Nigh-Invulnerable may have something to do with it, as well. There are reports of B-52s returning to base with nearly half of the plane missing, or their entire tail assemblies shot off.
    • The development of stand-off weapons like cruise missiles also certainly helped the B-52's lifespan, allowing the BUFF to either launch attacks from relatively safe distances or to wade into enemy territory once it was safe enough to just drop large numbers of bombs on them. It's important to recall that no single combat vehicle is designed to operate by themselves. The B-52 would be supported by the same cruise missiles, drones, and jet fighters that support its more advanced (and expensive) stablemates.
  • Speaking of subversions and slide rules: Calculators have become so ubiquitous and slide rules have become so outdated that no-one would confuse even the simplest calculator for being inferior to a slide rule (though some people prefer slide rules anyway).
  • Actor and closet engineer Robbie Coltrane noted in a book on engines that public trust of propeller and jet planes has almost swapped since the 1950s. "People used to be scared of jet planes because they couldn't see the propeller going round. I was in a turbo-prop recently and this woman sitting beside me said 'Look at the propeller going round, it's really scary isn't it!' Obviously the once-alien jet engine has proven itself over time, and the prop has come to be viewed as old-fashioned and unreliable — even if it's a modern propeller design.
    • It has something to do with the current noise restrictions. Propellers can easily be more effective than jet engines depending on what you're doing and how fast you're going, but they're oh so much LOUDER — while it's relatively easy to silence a sheathed turbine, one can hardly do anything to the vortices dropping from the blade tips. On the other hand, modern turbofan engines are essentially turboprops — those huge barrel-shaped attachments in front of them are just outer shells for what is basically a ducted propeller.
      • Yeah, but I can't imagine bird-strikes doing as much harm to turboprop as to a jet, unless the bird managed to get right in the duct.
      • Another thing that many laymen fail to consider, is that many modern propeller engines (the aforementioned turboprops) are in fact a jet turbine engine being used to turn a propeller. The main difference between those and "old-fashioned" piston-driven propeller planes is the use of a turbine instead of a set of pistons to produce the torque to turn the propeller. And of course, piston-engine design continues to advance as well, so even the piston-driven propeller planes are more advanced than the ones of previous decades.
  • Sailing ships are universally considered primitive and old-fashioned. But the latest concept in cargo ship design is to use a giant sail for auxiliary power, to have oil tankers go windsurfing. (10-35% less fuel used, at that!)
    • The fastest sailboats in the world are anything but primitive. Under the right conditions some of those boats can outrun modern warships.
      • Sailing yachts meant for racing on the open ocean get alot of their speed from being designed specifically for horrible weather conditions that modern warships aren't designed for. A modern warship can't chase a racing yacht through a Gale at "all ahead flank" because, unless it is Nuclear Powered, it will run out of fuel and be left stranded and in distress.
    • Novelist and engineer Gene Wolfe once suggested that nuclear submarines could be replaced by a fleet of fibreglass sailing ships: one missile per ship, so they couldn't all be taken out at the same time, and they wouldn't show up on radar as they wouldn't be made of metal.
  • The A-10 Thunderbolt II can reasonably be called the best close-air-support aircraft in the modern world. It is highly maneuverable, always has enough firepower for the job and is extremely durable. It is considered one of the pinnacles of modern combat aircraft design. It looks like the bizarre lovechild of a P-51 and a 747.
    • It's not called the Warthog for nothing.
      • Interestingly enough, the Air Force has been trying to retire the plane for YEARS, because it's not a multi-million dollar superjet like the F-22 or F-35. Never mind the fact that it does its job better than anything else could ever hope to do, never mind that the money they're spending on the new, futuristic looking and highly advanced planes could probably refit the entire fleet of aging and falling apart A-10's, and never mind the fact that it's so tough that even when riddled with bullet holes, hit with anti-air fire and has bits of the wings and the engines falling off it's still able to take out its targets and return to base safely, and if any other jet tried to fly as low as the A-10 does on a regular basis, it would become a multi-million dollar piece of flaming wreckage. No, because it's "old" and looks "ugly" it is therefore "obsolete" by newer aircraft.
      • That has more to do with attitude of the Congress/USAF than the actual technology fielded. The F-22 and F-35 are marvels of technology in their own right, but the Warthog is the king of close air support. Simply put, no true replacement design has ever been created for the Warthog - the F-22 can replace the F-15, and the F-35 can replace the F-16, Harrier and older F-18 variants, but neither of them (and no other plane, for that matter) can fit the low, slow, heavily-armored, heavily-armed gunship role that the A-10 so perfectly fulfills. Hence, the ol' Hogs have received some upgrades, and are planned to fly at least up 'til 2025, if not beyond. Like the aforementioned B-52, the 'Hog is a blunt hammer of an instrument, a workhorse, while the stealth jets are precision scalpels, different tools for different jobs.
      • One valid (and yet incredibly silly) reason why the A-10 is to be retired is its own complexity. The special polymer that is used to make an A-10's hull cannot be produced anymore, the recipes of which had been stored on old computers (which no longer function) and the US Air Force has stated that nobody among its ranks still knows the recipe or has any notes left. And the manufacturer isn't going to be any help, either—Fairchild Republic went under in 2003 and its successor company hasn't retained much. The Warthogs still in service always have to be repaired by canibalising parts from others which were already retired, which will eventually deplete the whole fleet... but it will take a while since the A-10 is known to be absurdly sturdy.
      • One more valid concern regarding the Warthog is that against any enemy with modern air defenses, the Warthog is incredibly vulnerable, even considering it's famed durability. Against enemies lacking modern air defenses, the A-10 is expensive overkill, especially taking into account advances in aircraft weapons technology (smart weapons were still the exception rather than the rule when the Warthog was conceived). In short, the argument is in favor of either a cheaper aircraft or one more capable of avoiding enemy Anti-Air, especially when any fighter jet can bullseye a tank with a smartbomb while sprinting over the battlefield at 20,000 feet up. And for that matter, the same could be said for a Cessna Caravan armed with Hellfire missiles (a Real Life attack plane used, for example, by the Iraqi Air Force) against enemy tanks lacking Anti-Air support.
    • This is a rather common thing among ground attack planes. The Su-25 looks just like a cross between the Sea Harrier and a cropduster, and that's a plane that is able to fly missions with a half of it blown cleanly off.
  • On the topic of aviation, though, it has been a trend for military aircraft to look sleeker and more advanced as technology progresses, which is perhaps part of the reason why people expect more advanced technology to look 'advanced'. Start with the flimsy biplanes of WW1, and continue through the propeller-powered fighters and bombers of WW2, the early Korean War-era jets, the first supersonic jets, the Vietnam era fighters, the '4th-generation' fighters, and the relatively recent arrival of stealth designs. It does indeed look at least partially as if there has been a general trend towards sleeker, more advanced looking designs over time.
    • This is in no small part due to the peculiarities of aerodynamics. It might be a cliche, but "If it looks good, it flies good" is a very real phenomenon for fighter aircraft. The single wing on a WWII monoplane provides more lift than the two wings on a WWI biplane due to a pair of wings interfering with each others' lift. The swept wing was developed in Germany precisely due to the better performance it allows at high speed. Current fighters (from the F-16 all the way to the F-22) tend to use a variant of the delta wing, which itself is designed for higher speeds yet than the standard swept wings. So looking faster and sleeker in this case really is faster and sleeker. There is some certain design practicality here, too. The A-10, despite being powered by turbofans, has straight wings that allows it to maneuver far better than contemporary delta- or swept-wing fighters. The huge transports follow the general civilian aviation rule of swept wings for jets, straight wings for props. Interestingly, aside from the A-10, what's one of the best close-support aircraft in US inventory? The AC-130, a C-130 Hercules turboprop tactical transport plane modified to carry two 20mm Vulcan cannons, a 40mm Bofors gun, and a 105mm artillery gun. No special computers to guide missiles or bombs onto targets, just the equipment to aim a bunch of big guns at whoever's marked as a bad guy (or something that's marked as harboring bad guys) and shoot. Repeat as necessary.
      • Although newer versions of the AC-130 eliminate many of the guns and have added hardpoints for missiles and smart bombs. There's even an armed Marine Corps variant of the C-130, the KC-130J, which lacks guns entirely but retains the hardpoints for guided munitions and surveillance/reconnaissance gear. It also can refuel other aircraft in-flight, because only a Marine would look at a fuel tanker and think "Man it would be cool if I could kill someone with this."
  • Another real-life example is ENIAC, the first well-known (room-sized) computer. When photographers and TV crews arrived to film the super-exciting, brand-new machine in 1946, they complained that there wasn't anything happening. So the designers rigged up a bunch of flashing lights to give them something to look at. This is arguably where the entire idea of "flashing lights = computers" came from in the first place.
    • More likely the first commercial mainframes of the 1950s, like the IBM 700 and 7000 series, popularised this trope. In fact it's sometimes said that one of the reasons IBM became so dominant in the early computer market between the 1950s and the 1970s was because their mainframes had clearly visible, large, well-laid out light indicator panels – they looked like they were doing things, even if you didn't have the faintest idea what.
    • Its latest incarnation is the PCs with RGB lights trend, which consists of rigging your PC with as many rainbow lights as possible — initially just a few RGB LED strips here and there, but hardware manufacturers have caught up on it and are now selling variations of their stuff with RGB lights. This trend has become widespread enough to start garnering Hype Backlash, with RGB haters often mocking RGB enthusiasts as believing these lights give them more FPS.
  • Terry Pratchett has said that in his days doing news stories at nuclear power plants the news crews would rig up smoke machines and green lights because there really isn't much to see except a lot of plumbing. Considering that this is a nuclear powerplant, one would think it'd be best to hope that you wouldn't see anything exotic happening at all. Then again, this was pre-Chernobyl. This is pretty common in all kinds of science-y settings- at least one chem lab keeps food coloring on hand for journalists/promotional photos.
  • If you're wondering what's the aesthetic in vogue at the time of this edit, look no further than the iPod range, and the current crop of video game consoles. It's all about plain black and white, rounded edges, unobtrusive buttons, touch screens and folding, sliding or flipping. Of course, as we speak there's people following it and deliberately avoiding it—that's how aesthetics change. At the very least, iPods are available in a rainbow of colors, and for all we know, Steampunk is the next big thing.
    • So far the general direction of technological aesthetics has been towards increasingly invisible designs that can be used with as little direct interaction as possible. One guess for a logical conclusion of this trend would be a world where you can't see technology almost anywhere, since it's all been integrated into mundane objects, clothing and even inside people's bodies, and programmed to answer to subconscious cues or simple thought.
  • This expectation led to a Not Always Right entry.
    • That entry is doubly humorous considering that Macs started out as all-in-one machines and have actually returned to that basic design concept.
    • "This is amazing, young man!"
  • Consumer electronics were subjected to a variation of this trope around 2005: miniaturization. As electronic engineers started devising new ways of cramming more transistors in less space, product designers started going way overboard over how little they could build their devices, and as a result, the mid-2000s saw stuff like watches with a PDA and a cell phone, and cameras almost the size of a medium USB drive. These days are long since gone now that consumer electronics have mostly settled down to a more practical size, since one of the side effects of miniaturisation obvious to everyone except the companies doing this was that phones, cameras, mp3 players, and other devices too small to have sensible control buttons or clear displays on them are a pain to use, even if they are half the size of everything else.
    • In this same vein, we also have portable computers. The Macintosh Portable, one of the first portable computers in history, was almost 18 inches in size. Modern laptops might be able to go all the way to 10 inches (in fact, a modern netbook will be as small as ten inches, weigh less than 1 kilogram, have integrated WLAN, bluetooth and camera and still run for up to 7 hours while you are using it), but desktop replacements of 17-19" of size have recently been getting quite popular—and are still lighter than the first portables.
    • The earliest portable computers are sometimes retroactively referred to as "luggables" for this reason, since they were more a computer designed to be easy to move from place to place than a computer intended to be used while actually moving from place to place, and compared to modern machines were extremely heavy. Some of them didn't even have batteries.
    • It not unknown though for ergonomic to fall to aesthetics when economics is in its flavour. Most modern VCRs use fiddly 'futuristic' menus over traditional push button interface to do the same job. why? Buttons cost more money.
    • The trend towards miniturized gadgets is starting to turn around, with phones getting bigger and bigger (leading to "Phablets" such as the Samsung Galaxy Note line). Then again, smartwatches are beginning to come into vogue, designed as wrist-top phone interfaces.
      • With Smartwatches and the Fitbit becoming popular, it seems the next big trend is wearable tech.
  • A lot of people on the internet mocked the Chinese when their Space program finally put a man space, wondering about "what took them so long" and scoffing at how their space capsules looked little more advanced than the Russian Soyuz. Their plans to launch a space station in 2011 have also been met with similar snorts of "welcome to the 1970s." This is forgetting the fact that the electronics suites and equipment used in these vessels have benefited from the tech advances in the last three decades and are just as capable in terms of computing power and functionality as anything in most of the modules of the ISS. In fact, most of the modules of the International Space Station itself look pretty much similar to other space station modules launched decades earlier. Even the high-tech looking Crew Return Vehicle (think miniature space shuttle, except sleeker) was canceled for budgetary and design concerns and the ISS now depends on the old and dependable but ugly and "obsolete" looking Soyuz capsules.
  • Speaking of Soyuz, its launch vehicle is a direct and only-modified-by-necessity descendant of the R-7 launch vehicle that put Yuri Gagarin in space. If it's rocket science, don't fix it.
  • Played straight with virtually anything that Apple has made in the last two decades, starting with the original iMacs and iPods themselves. Their aesthetics have since taken ruthless advantage of this principle.
  • Pretty much the reason why people generally scoff at anything that NASA shows to the public at large about their computers and it doesn't really look like anything you'd see in more recent popular scifi at all. For example no fancy monitor interface, just a simple commandline interface because removing the need for any sort of fancy interface interaction and graphics beyond text frees up a lot of precious computing power. (More likely, CLI is just better than GUI wherever discoverability isn't one of top priorities.)
    • There is also a critical reliability issue with spaceflight computing - hardware has to be as reliable as possible, even if that means using very old equipment. If a brand-new processor that's currently on its way to Pluto turns out to be flawed, the replacement options are limited. Similarly, software used in space needs to be reliable, robust, and as simple as possible. Ask an astronaut if he wants to see a desktop-computer-style driver conflict error on his navigation computer.
  • Irritatingly for some, this seems to have been averted with the advent of car windows that close electronically, to the degree that some people can't remember the old crank-operated windows at all. Time was, only the front two windows had electric operation, and the back two were purely mechanical. (In some cars, the driver could control all four windows from his seat and each window had its own mechanical crank.) Why is this considered a bad thing in some quarters? Because wind-down windows worked whether or not the engine was on, whether or not the battery was full, and whether or not the car had leaked. Unlike the flashier but less useful electric windows.
    • Maintenance is also an issue. Power window motors can be much more expensive to repair or replace when they break. And if the rubber seal around the window wears down enough to let moisture inside the door, an electric motor can burn out while a hand-crank mechanism will keep working. This becomes more of an issue in vehicular accidents, especially if the car lays on its side or the roof. Survival options become limited if the car's windows do not utilize a hand-cranked mechanism; thus, the notion that newer technology is better than the old becomes disputable, as here, newer technology can be a liability if not taken into proper account.
  • Personal Computer enthusiasts, especially hardcore gamers, sometimes have fun with this trope with regards to Case Mods. Just look at some of the things they can do with their rigs.
    • On the other hand, some gamers remove the sides of their rigs, revealing the electronics within, since this improves air flow and keeps the computers cooler.
    • ...and lets in dust; some use mineral oil cooling, some use LIQUID NITROGEN cooling.
    • Removing the sides disrupts the designed airflow path, and in many cases decreases cooling effectiveness.
  • As an example of how this trope may evolve, the square, angular, boxy aspect of late 70's/early-to-mid 80's looks nearly primitive today. It's probable the advances in computer graphics during the late 80's and 90's helped to influence this perception.
  • One particularly infamous example of the more primitive-looking technology being the more effective is Windows Vista, whose interface included all sorts of fancy transparency effects and animated menu transitions, which looked very impressive but turned out to use up a lot of system resources for no particular benefit besides the aesthetic. Windows 7 and onwards dialed these effects back somewhat and simplified the process of turning them off entirely.