18 How Retro Design Characteristics Made a Great Resurgence in the 21st Century

    In the 21st century, the design community has seen resurgence in retro design styles. It happened with the vinyl record, succumbed to a variable transformation with bell bottoms, and is even seen as homage in recent films like Machete. It is almost certainly because of a desire to bring back something that was once hip to a generation of older “kids” who are still very much a huge part of current marketable demographics. But increasingly it’s looking like an effort to reinvent and reinvigorate the senses for new generations of designers and advertisers.

    Where have we seen the most evidence of this in the design world? The more relevant question is where haven’t we seen it? Flyers, billboards and business card printing have all been packed with throwbacks to a golden era of advertising. The squeaky clean imagery of nuclear families, the polka dots and straight-lined patterns of wallpaper and the breaking news bulletins that peppered the front pages of newspapers and blared from scratchy radios are all being retrofitted as emotional cues in the online and print advertising worlds.
    Do these characteristics appeal to us because they provide simplicity and sanity as a counter-act to our daily distress? People don’t merely shop at Old Navy because of the prices. It’s because their retro atmosphere just makes us feel good.



Designers are using various time periods to achieve font styles that can transport you directly to a specific venue in history. These ones remind us of a big top act like something out of Moulin Rouge or Big Fish:
Carnivalee Freakshow
Circus Ornate
Fusty Saddle
Others give you the feeling of Gatsby-era aristocracies, a classy tone if you are looking to attract high-priced clientele with your professional skills and services.
Even the elongated yet squat sans serif font of Bazar, Medium literally exudes a bare-bones appeal that is direct and not overly concerned with its presentation as it is the message. This makes it not only readable for people who come into contact with your company’s brochure printing or flyer, but allows you to organize and separate your information accordingly.
Bazar, Medium


Color is another showcase that serves as an instantly recognizable cue when used in the right setting. The former design of CSS Tinderbox (and even the current one) reflects a retroactive nature that, if nothing else than appeals to the baby boomers at least piques the interest of contemporary designers involved in the blogosphere and beyond.
Colors often reach extremes by either going with rainbow and neon colors, like those of, or toning it down with a much muted Technicolor presentation, as is the case with ISO50:

Web and Print


All of these elements have come to realization for a smattering of entrepreneurs and reinvented businesses in regards to web and print advertising such as landing pages and printed letterhead, business cards and postcards . Often there are moments when we see slightly elevated marquees running left to right smack dab in the middle of a custom circular logo:
Montana’s Tree & Lawn Service
Bert’s Records
More and more we’re finding entire web site designs resembling old radios, news broadcasts and even documentation that looks as if it was sent straight from the battlefield’s front lines:



If you’ve picked up a can of Mountain Dew or Pepsi lately, you’ll see that all they have really done is alter the print design and use “real cane sugar” as a means to sell more icy cold beverages. The tactic has proved to be incredibly successful for the soda giants:
Mountain Dew
The entire mantra of Progressive Auto Insurance for the past several months has been a return to the 1950s era of advertising using a bubbly personality as the pitchwoman.
Progressive Auto Insurance
Even certain films have gone completely retro in the cases of 2007’s Grindhouse and 2010’s Machete, the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tips-of-the-cap to the gritty style of vintage themes in filmmaking. Each one puts the technology of the day on display by consciously yet inadvertently chopping and melting full sections of film strip. This is not even mentioning the grainy film stock, the sensationalistic colors and low-definition aesthetic of the scenery.
All of these pay respects to a style that is much older than most of us care to admit (after all, those who witnessed it firsthand are often reluctant to date themselves.) When updated for a new audience of business owners, entrepreneurs and designers, they can still have a profound effect on our
About The Author

This blog was created by ELO DESIGNER to share his wealth of knowledge and researches with other designers and design lovers, to give them guidance and inspiration. Comments and suggestions are always appreciated. Thank you. Follow my daily design links on Twitter or Add me on your social network.

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Designing Techniques said...

A interesting read. If designers are not already using most of these techniques, and start pushing beyond what they are taught and read, then they are in real trouble.

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