Is your design retro… or just dated?
By Laura Fulton
Leave a design to age long enough and you may find it does not dissolve into obscurity, but rises from the ashes of its own datedness, crowned with a brand new descriptive: retro. Retro design is aesthetically dated – so uncool it’s cool again, so to speak.
The concept is growing in popularity. Vinyl sales hit a 25-year high this year, cassette tape sales grew by 74 per cent, and remakes of classic 80s and 90s films now roll into our cinemas on a regular basis.
Graphic design is not exempt from the trend, either. If you look to today’s creations across print and the web, it won’t take you long before you come across a pixelated image reminiscent of old Game Boy graphics, or gaudy 90s-style lettering that straddles a tenuous line between being cringy and ironic.
Why is graphic design looking backwards?
The main reason graphic designers draw inspiration from the past is simple: people are nostalgic about the past. With the benefit of hindsight, there is certainty in the past, a sureness to its course and reasoning, and yet enough distance that ugly realities can blur and fade. It’s comfortable in a way that new designs are not – a dependable escape from the confusing present.
Even seemingly ‘edgy’ designs that borrow from 80s and 90s styles are comforting reminders of corny sitcoms and times when today’s youth were too young to understand what was happening on the news.
As well as that, old styles can be a welcome divergence from contemporary trends – provided you use them right. In the same way a child is wowed by a Polaroid camera or a vinyl record, the tried-and-tested typefaces, shape sets and colour palettes that passed out of the limelight long ago can be exciting to a generation that has not yet experienced them.
The difficulty for designers is how to get this style pitch-perfect – to be just ugly enough to pass for ironic, or aged enough to seem wise rather than boring. We have five questions you should ask yourself to make sure you hit the mark.
01. Does your product fit a retro look?
The first thing to consider is what it is you’re trying to promote. Does the product or service your designing for lend itself to being tied to a vintage style? For example, a wedding boutique fits well with older designs because it is typically linked to tradition, family and long-established notions of happily-ever-after.
A clothing store that carries styles from the 60s and 70s or a coffee shop with a family heritage can also benefit from a retro design because it is part of the product. It feels authentic.
Some products simply will not work with retro designs, and you should never …read more
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