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Go Retro in Modern Design With These 8 Styles
Graphic design

#Art & Design

8 Vintage Styles to Turn Modern Design into Retro

Graphic design
February 23, 2022
9 minutes

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What’s old is new again. As a designer, you’re always looking for inspiration. Going down the retro route may just be what your next project needs. These 8 vintage design styles will never go out of style and pair perfectly with modern design.

From wearing retro-style jeans to using old-school camera filters, retro is all the rage. Vintage styles are also the source of inspiration to many designers.

If you’re looking to spruce up your next design by sprinkling in some nostalgia, then this article is for you!

What is retro design?

The word retro gets flung around everywhere and by everyone. But what exactly is retro design? Retro design refers to a style that imitates or derives elements from design styles from the past.

Let’s get a little specific here. Retro and vintage are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Vintage usually refers to the age of a design, whereas retro design means it is made with a vintage style in mind.

Retro design can be anything from a modern design that was inspired by features of an older design style or an updated version of a vintage design. Between variations in styles and interpretations of a designer, retro design covers a broad spectrum of styles.

Reasons to go retro

There are numerous reasons why it might be time to brush up on your retro design skills. One of them is that it speaks to many people, so adding something retro to your modern design portfolio may just work in your favor.

The reason why it speaks to many people is that we humans just love reminiscing about the good old days. This can be pinned to pure nostalgia at the basic level of things. But there is more to retro design than just fond memories.

It is also a way of appreciating a particular style or designer for its durable charm. Going retro can be an ode to a designer or a way of diving deeper into the history of design. In our humble opinion, every designer should know how Bauhaus influenced modern design.

Sure, you could jump on the bandwagon of one of the next big design trends. But where is the fun in that? With retro design being such a versatile style, it is also just an exciting way to try something new as a graphic designer.

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What is modern design in graphic design?

You can define modern design in graphic design as a broad and ever-expanding field that uses many different art disciplines. It ranges from branding to UX/UI design and everything in between.

Retro design is a way of using elements from an old design style and placing them into a modern design. Therefore, defining what is modern design will give you a better understanding of retro design.

If you’re looking to get a retro design, it’s important to familiarize yourself with both modern graphic design and the vintage styles most retro designs are based upon. This way, you’ll learn about the possibilities and forms your design needs could take on.

We totally understand things can get overwhelming when you’re new to graphic design. That’s why we have written an article specifically covering the different types of graphic design services available. Read it here.

Vintage design styles

With retro design giving us a visual representation of the times of yore, it’s easy to see why it appeals to so many of us. Let’s have a little blast from the past and look at eight vintage styles that majorly influenced design.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is the O.G. amongst vintage styles if you will. It was a pioneer in modern design, abolishing old styles from before the 19th century. The art nouveau movement came about in the 19th century and is known for using organic shapes inspired by nature. Another characteristic of this style is the gorgeously decorative elements.

art nouveau.jpg Product packaging using Art Nouveau as a source of inspiration. Source: Mila Katagarova on Behance

The popularity of Art Nouveau had a rapid decline and faded by 1910. However, it played a big part in influencing design. To this day, you’ll find floral and handwritten elements in typography and organic asymmetric forms in architecture, to name a few.

Bauhaus

Bauhaus came into existence in 1919, Germany, when Walter Gropius opened The Bauhaus School. Encouraging artists to go back to basics, Bauhaus established itself as a very modern design style at the time.

moritz-kindler-byz_EQRCuQM-unsplash (1).jpg Photo by Moritz Kindler on Unsplash

How Bauhaus influenced modern design is still a widely discussed topic. Additionally, the Bauhaus Museum is frequently visited by designers looking for inspiration. Being a pioneer in minimalism and streamlined aesthetics, Bauhaus was especially influential in interior design.

Art deco

Sharp geometric shapes combined with expensive materials, Art deco is all about visualizing the extravagant lifestyle led in the 1920s and 1930s. Characteristics are sophistication and elegance throughout the designs.

art deco.jpg Via Pedro Matos on Behance

Especially the intricate geometric shapes played a prominent influence in design. To this day you see many logo designers taking their inspiration from the Art deco movement. Apart from graphic designers, many fashion designers and architects use the art deco movement as a source of inspiration.

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Mid-century modern

America’s response to all this modernism in Europe? Mid-century modern. This style gained popularity in the 1930s and remained prevalent into the 1960s. You can recognize Mid-century modern by its bold colors, flat designs, and dynamic shapes.

mid century modern retro design branding.jpg By Marco Oggian via Behance

Mid-century modern is still a popular style, used in various fields. Eames and Bertoia chairs, for example, still sell worldwide. Lovingly called Mid-Mod, it’s a style that keeps coming back and, once gone, never takes long to return.

Pop Art

Mainly linked to Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein, Pop Art is the vintage style relating popular culture to art. Mass production, slang, and television are all examples of inspiration used in this style. Throw in some bold colors and irony, and you’ve got yourself a classic Pop Art design.

Pop Art and its influences are still very much present, especially in illustration. Think of street art, which more and more up-and-coming neighborhoods use to liven up the place.

Psychedelic design

The visualization of the flower power movement in the 60s and the 70s is called Psychedelic design. Fluid lines, bright colors, and funky typography are all part of this striking design style.

psychedelia.jpg By Pablo Espinosa on Behance

Psychedelic design brought an eclectic flair to design, giving the Pop Art movement a run for their money. It’s a design that is still widely used for promotional material for music festivals or album covers.

Memphis style

Memphis style gives off your typical 80s vibe. Think pastel-colored patterned shapes, with the occasional neon thrown in. Television shows, stationery, t-shirts; the Memphis style was among the biggest design trends throughout the 80s and the 90s.

memphis style.jpg The Memphis movement in full interior galore, via Wikimedia

Got a boring infographic that could use a little funkiness? Memphis is your answer.

Grunge

Grunge is the design style that completely goes against the grain. There is no structure or rules, as long as the whole design gives off grunginess. A lot of textures and a rough finish are both characteristics of Grunge design. It became popular in the 90s, and since that is over 20 years ago (say what?!), we can safely add it to the list of vintage designs.

grunge.jpg By Doug Rodas on Behance

Applying some grunge elements to modern minimalistic design is a popular way to break the rules a little and make your design more interesting.

Applying some grunge elements to modern minimalistic design is a popular way to break the rules a little and make your design more interesting.

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Retro design in modern times

Creating a retro design can be done in a million ways. At its core, you apply vintage elements to a modern style design, and this way, the modern design instantly becomes retro. Instead of swimming with the endless stream of design trends, you may want to consider making your next design a retro one.

If you’re dipping your toes into retro design, there are a few things to consider. With these tips, you’ll be good to go in no time.

Tips when using retro design

  • Pick one era and stick with it. This will help with the consistency of your design.
  • Use a color palette from the era you chose. Find inspiration by looking at designs created in the era you’re trying to evoke.
  • Choose your font according to that period, too. Different typography visualizes different eras.
  • Construct your different elements according to the style of your chosen era. Grunge is all over the place, whereas Bauhaus is much more structured.
  • Don’t overdo it. Remember that your design should still appeal to a contemporary audience.

We encourage you to give retro design a try. Give the modern look of your design a little panache with some art nouveau elements, or distort your minimalistic design with grungy effects. The possibilities for a cool retro design are endless.

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Guest Writer: Simone Timmers

February 23, 2022

Simone is a Dutch writer, currently living in Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, or on her yoga mat, she is preferably exploring any off the beaten track she can find.