The murder mystery genre has recently been given a distinctively modern makeover for Gen Z and Millennial audiences. Here’s how to incorporate its looks into your own graphic design ideas.
The murder mystery genre offers the perfect blend of macabre horror and puzzle-solving whodunit. But the style found within the genre aren’t limited to Gothic mansions filled with dark paintings and hard-smoking, grizzled detectives. Modern mysteries range from color-saturated comedies to dark, morbid dramas inspired by Scandi Noir. The aesthetics of the modern murder mystery craze are diverse, blending traditional elements with eye-popping techniques to keep audiences engaged.
Here, we’ll explore the varied yet distinctive aesthetic of murder mystery in movies, TV, interior design, and fashion. We will also offer tactical guides on how to incorporate these looks into your own graphic design projects.
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Graphic Design Ideas Inspired by Modern Murder Mystery
Because the genre has a long history, the aesthetics of murder mystery are varied and diverse. Nonetheless there are some common stylistic traits shared amongst films and TV shows in this genre. The genre sometimes makes a nod to the Art Deco settings of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels. Characters may be brought together into a claustrophobic yet luxurious setting of an isolated house, exotic steamboat, or far-flung hotel.
Murder mystery-inspired design may feel like a dark art, but its stylish subgenres can be bright and visually pleasing. Below, read more about some of the core aesthetic traits of the murder mystery trend, including:
- Exceptionally Detailed Art Deco
- Country House Filled With Dark Paintings
- Embrace Alternative Art Styles Like Macabre Horror Art
- The Dark Art of Film Noir
- Cool Design Infused with Maximalist Color
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1. Exceptionally Detailed Art Deco
Art Deco is a design style of many murder mysteries. The look is lifted from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction during the 1920s and 1930s. It’s defined by jewel tones, geometric details, and opulent materials like velvet and gold.
Art Deco also acts as an additional cast member in murder mystery plots. In many murder mysteries, part of the fascination lies in watching wealthy and well-mannered people behave very, very badly. With this in mind, opulent and lavish Art Deco is the perfect stylistic scene-setter, and makes grisly murder seem all the more off-kilter.
From left, clockwise: Daniel Craig in Knives Out (2019); Kate Hudson and Jessica Henwick in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) and Reece Shearsmith and Adrien Brody in See How They Run (2022). License these images via Lionsgate/Kobal/Shutterstock, Netflix/Moviestore/Shutterstock and Searchlight Pictures/Moviestore/Shutterstock.
In many murder mysteries, characters are traveling, perhaps for pleasure . . . or perhaps to evade authorities. The locations of many murder mysteries are enhanced by Art Deco references in clothing and props. Get inspired by Egyptomania (the 1920s obsession for all things related to Egyptology and archaeology) jewelry and fashion. Incorporate gilded designs inspired by golden treasures. From ornate, geometric detailing to flapper-style bobbed haircuts, use of Art Deco elements in contemporary stories build an atmosphere of luxurious privilege and also reference Agatha Christie’s unparalleled contribution to the murder mystery genre.
Explore how to use the Art Deco graphic design aesthetic by following the links below:
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2. Country House Filled With Dark Paintings
The plot of many murder mysteries rests on the suspects (and murderer) being present at the scene of the crime. This location can be an isolated hotel, claustrophobic train carriage, or—the most popular of all—the country house. These settings are designed to keep characters in reach and allow for further opportunities for mischief and murder.
The country house aesthetic is instantly reminiscent of the murder mystery genre. That’s in large part thanks to Agatha Christie’s use of stately homes as a setting in her novels. Recently, Rian Johnson harnessed the plot device of the country house in his modern murder mystery Knives Out (2019). This setting heightened claustrophobia with dark wood panelling, winding staircases, a maze of corridors, and attic rooms lined with creepy art and dark paintings of dubious family members.
Aesthetically, a country house offers plenty of creative settings for interrogations and crimes. In graphic design, you can experiment with color palettes inspired by cold-tiled cellars or leather-upholstered club rooms. The candlelit atmosphere of the country house also translates perfectly to photography, casting everyone in an ominous and suspicious glow. When directing design around this aesthetic, select photos that mirror these feelings and color schemes. Select portraits that are give and air of mystery to their subjects, whether they’re people or places.
Explore how to use haunted house-inspired aesthetics in following the links below:
From top-left, clockwise: The characters of Knives Out (2019) are brought together in the family country estate after the patriarch’s murder; winding spiral staircases hint at hidden mysteries on floors above; Christian Bale and Harry Melling in The Pale Blue Eye (2022). License these images via Claire Folger/Lionsgate/Kobal/Shutterstock, Anne Richard, and Netflix/Moviestore/Shutterstock.
License this image via Netflix/Moviestore/Shutterstock.
3. Embrace Alternative Art Styles Like Macabre Horror Art
Dark and sinister, often touching on the grim and grisly nature of death and murder, Edgar Allen Poe’s stories are a huge force in the murder mystery genre. Macabre aesthetics perpetuate through contemporary murder mysteries too. In fact, they shift design and stories into much darker and more horrifying territory. Horror art items, such as medical models, dusty books, and tarot cards are common macabre props. They set quite an ominous scene.
A simple macabre aesthetic technique desaturates photos. Characters are rendered washed-out and deathly. You can apply blue filters to give scenes a cold atmosphere. Medical references and morgues are also common settings. Their feeling of cold and death are heightened by white, clinical surfaces, stark lighting, and the funerary-black costumes of characters. You can incorporate these dark, cold moods into your design and photo choices, by following the guidance below:
Left: Stark lighting, sickly green or cold blue light, and a desaturated color palette lend mystery thrillers like Gone Girl (2014) a macabre aesthetic. License these images via Shutterstock and boommaval.
We see a great example of this subgenre aesthetic in The Pale Blue Eye (2022). It contains a restricted color palette of blue, white, and black that sets a suitably macabre tone for this tribute to both the author, Louis Bayard, and Edgar Allan Poe. Almost permanently snow-covered winter backdrops, ramshackle log cabins, and gothic lanterns complete the morbid atmosphere.
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4. The Dark Art of Film Noir
Detectives and film noir are natural companions in a trend set by the old Hollywood films. Film noir’s aesthetics often include high-contrast lighting, moody nighttime settings, and brooding, fatalistic characters in a suitably gritty setting. Faces are often obscured by deep shadows. Settings are predominantly urban and gritty. These aesthetic choices make film noir quite distinctive. They also make for incredibly cool and collected looks, in photography, videography, and design. Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) both heavily reference the murder mystery and film noir genres, combining these with sci-fi for a dark and dystopian result.
Get inspired by the genre’s smoke-filled newsrooms, dim lighting, and rain-soaked side streets. Build a film noir aesthetic that brings ominous atmosphere and suspense to the story. Explore how to use noir-inspired aesthetics in following the links below:
From top: Keira Knightley in Boston Strangler (2023); Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (2017); Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys (2016) and Janelle Monáe in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). License these images via 20th Century Studios/Moviestore/Shutterstock, Columbia Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock, Misty Mountains/Bloom/Silver/Kobal/Shutterstock and Netflix/Moviestore/Shutterstock.
License this image via Misty Mountains/Bloom/Silver/Kobal/Shutterstock.
5. Cool Design Infused With Maximalist Color
When murder mystery movies and detective TV shows became more comedic in the 1960s and 1970s, studios dialed up their color! Sets, costumes, and credit typography were bold and bright, in order to keep audiences enraptured. This trend of maximalist color continues to make an appearance in contemporary murder mysteries.
Ultra-bright colors, jewel tones, and psychedelic styles feature across interior design, on furniture and walls. You’ll notice that, compared to murder mystery movies of earlier decades, many of today’s blockbusters use maximalist color to draw in modern audiences and hold their attention. Perhaps a device borrowed from social media, but we can certainly see the ‘Instagram effect’ on the genre today. In fact, colorful maximalism is a favorite aesthetic of Gen Z audiences, in particular.
Explore how to use maximalist-inspired aesthetics in following the links below:
Graphic Design Ideas Can Come From Any Genre
Although they began as magazine stories and short novels two centuries ago, murder mysteries have evolved into hugely successful books, movies, and franchises that still keep audiences on the edge of their seats. As the murder mystery genre only seems set to grow in popularity, we can expect to see even more creative aesthetics emerging in movies and streaming. Watch this space.
You can draw graphic design inspiration from other genres of film and TV too! Get started by exploring our blogs below.
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