• Live Oak Management

Design Déjà Vu: The Rise of Modern Retro Graphics in Visual Communication

Written By Matt Newberry, Creative Content Producer


People commonly refer to retro coming back into style in terms of fashion trends, like the resurgence of long skirts, bell-bottom jeans, oversized clothes, and t-shirts with suits. However, colors and patterns from the last century have also found their way into the graphic design world today, by providing a nostalgic sense of comfort and vibrancy that people gravitate towards in visual media.


Via Pavlov Visuals Via MUTI


As seen in these images above from Pavlov Visuals and MUTI, retro design is characterized by earthy tones and warm colors, grunge effects, textures, and outlining (Graphic Mama Blog). All of these elements can be incorporated into modern design to bring personal connection and nostalgia to graphics. Even for people like me, who were born in the 21st century, a sense of comfort still emanates from the colors, the feeling of movement, and contrasting visual components that are coming back into style today.

Additionally, matte textures and hand-written/hand-drawn design that was common in the mid-20th century are now incorporated into physical and package design to make them stand out on shelves. This trend interestingly makes items present in a more premium fashion than outdated, likely due to the fact that everything people loved about older design techniques can be applied to research in the modern art form.

One expert on this trend is the band COIN. Their merchandise is heavily influenced by 90’s gaming and Japanese design, which they incorporate into their t-shirt designs that cause many people to show off their brand even if they are not a super fan (COIN).


Via COIN


“Retro” differs from “vintage” in the sense that it specifically refers to the 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, or 90s, so even if an adult is unfamiliar with a particular brand that uses these modern retro design techniques, they should still feel a sense of familiarity to them because the fun visuals evoke a sense of childhood nostalgia and teenage flair. Eight primary trends to look out for that more typically fall under the modern retro style are: 1) anything tech-related that features an old-school computer, 2) anything music-related that contains boomboxes, turntables, and vinyl records, 3) abstract illustrations of people without faces, 4) brightly colored line art with squiggles, polka dots, and geometric shapes with thick strokes, 5) pixelated graphics to mimic early video games, 6) anything related to neon and/or neon signage, 7) happy color palettes featuring warm hues, and 8) custom, almost handwritten typefaces or large bubbly or blocky text. (Design Shack)

Another brand that loves to capitalize on all of these trends is MTV. They use a plethora of variations on their iconic logo to recall old trends, specifically 80s-inspired Memphis Style that features vibrant colors and sporadically-placed shapes that seem to float freely in space (Design Wizard).


Via Tees Design Via Target Via AMZ Clothing


While retro influence may cause people to think a brand looks out-of-date, a collaboration that fuses its elements with modern graphic design can prove to become a strategic tactic to connect with a large audience.

Alternatively, some modern retro trends sample from other trends, such as gothicism and art deco (Design Shack). These influences also specifically translate to graphic design and interior design through the use of curves, bold colors, linework, and futuristic noir (Adobe).





Additionally, pop art, retrofuturism, psychedelic styles, hippie motifs, and retro music all translate to the same idea of modern retro design (Envato).


Modern retro design is clearly something difficult to define by its multifaceted nature of incorporating aspects of nearly every design trend from the latter half of the 20th century (Envato Tuts). However, that sense of versatility is what makes it work. The ability to sample from such an extensive catalog of inspiration helps modern retro designers find success in creating images that will always have a visually stimulating response to whoever responds to that intentional feeling of emoting nostalgic marketing through colors, patterns, and shapes.



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