Written by Aidan Turner, Creative Member
What’s old is new again. Due to the modern age of streaming, nostalgia has infiltrated the mainstream media through film, music, and television. The celebration of nostalgia can also be found in interior design and fashion trends, which are accelerated through modern platforms such as Instagram and. Pinterest. This trend is reflected in the graphic design field as well, as many designers are referencing older design concepts in response to a culture that embraces nostalgia.
According to an article from Monotype, a platform devoted to discussing developments in typography and the design world, many designers aim to create a sense of comfort with their designs, which is often achieved through nostalgia as it has some familiarity to it. Jackson Tan, the Creative Director of a design firm in Singapore called BLACK, made a similar statement in a 2021 article. Tan makes note of how nostalgia through design not only transports older audiences back to key points in their life but also allows for the younger generations who did not live through certain eras to ‘escape’ and enjoy them as well. Both articles reference the COVID-19 pandemic and how many individuals valued the ability to escape to a more comfortable state of mind, further escalating the rise in nostalgic designs.
The COVID-19 pandemic heavily influenced the rise in “nostalgia marketing” in the graphic design industry. Since the pandemic caused supply chain issues throughout a variety of industries, many consumers turned to the instant gratification of streaming and thrift stores, both of which provide clear windows into past cultures and eras. Once again, this strengthened the feeling of comfort and familiarity that nostalgia can provide. Brands began to recognize this turn in nostalgia and quickly turned to their respective design teams to win back consumers. In 2021, a variety of brands began using the classic and bold font Cooper Black, which is reminiscent of the strong fonts used in the late 20th century. These brands include Dunkin and Burger King (see below), two of the most recognizable food chains in the United States.
To clarify, nostalgia in graphic design is common. Trends tend to repeat themselves every few decades, however, the rise in social media platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok paired with the restrictiveness of the COVID-19 pandemic has been accelerating this process, specifically with 90s nostalgia. A variety of aesthetics, including the grunge aesthetic, the Memphis design movement, and Y2K aesthetics have returned in the form of book covers, website designs, and app layouts.
The reason the 90s in particular are emerging as the era of choice for graphic designers to reference is that it is recent enough for Generation Z, the first generation to truly utilize and understand the sophistication of the internet and modern technology, to be enamored with it while still being familiar with it. Gen Z recognizes the 90s as an era that is fairly recent but still as being fundamentally different from current times as there were no mobile devices, internet service, or other major technological advancements that today seem standard.
Graphic designers, who are always looking for ways to advance their field and innovate their craft, regularly return to these nostalgic design patterns to reuse and revise. Ultimately, this is done to appeal to the market an industry wants to target. It is important for consumers to feel comfortable with brands they want to engage with and graphic design is just an important element of establishing that.