Last Updated on October 11th, 2021
Every once in a while we see a surge of vintage designs in many industries. Most of them are reminiscent of times from decades – or even centuries – back.
When done right, vintage themes and marketing attract well-paying high-value customers. It compels them to be a part of your story and keeps them loyal.
What makes them so appealing to the audience? What gets them trending? Let’s find out!
Before diving headfirst into the whole modern vintage graphic design theme, let’s define what vintage really means.
The word vintage by definition refers to a time when something of quality was produced, or to a high-quality object, idea, or concept made in past.
At present, this word – vintage – is used to denote anything that reminds us of a certain era or a trend from the past. Vintage designs contain elements, shades, and objects that resemble the mainstream styles from a certain period.
The literal definition of this word implies that the object in question has to be originally from the specific era, but laymen often use it for remakes and imitations of the past as well – The more accurate term for which is Retro.
Retro and Vintage are two separate terms used interchangeably by the general public. However, in the world of design, you must use both terms correctly to make your message precise.
So what’s the difference between retro and vintage designs?
Retro means an imitation of the past. Designs inspired by, resembling, or related to past decades are called retro.
It applies to all aspects of design and arts – Retro fashion, music, architecture, and even entertainment are a common theme among the current generation.
For anything to be called vintage it has to have been produced in the era it is reminiscent of. It acts as a memento of the times it was made in and often looks quite antique.
Common examples are swiss watches, classic cars, paintings, instruments, architecture, games, and even some digital design elements or objects if you consider the 90s and early 2000s an era old enough.
Some fonts too are recognized as vintage due to their popularity in the past century.
Every definition of vintage and retro makes us think of old school styles or historic times. So how does that sit with Modern designs?
Modern Vintage Designs consist of elements from past and present, sometimes along with an essence of futurism.
This approach can make vintage designs more relatable to the current audience, or even provide a middle ground for older and newer generations to come together.
It helps you innovate and get the best of both worlds. You can come up with different perspectives on modern and vintage eras. That brings endless possibilities for creativity to flourish.
For example, you can recreate vintage photographs from the 80s or 90s in modern settings and manage to give the same feel to Gen Z.
Or, you can make logos out of hit games from the 80s and draw millennials in. You can base your color scheme on the Victorian era if you want subtle yet strong Vintage vibes.
You may as well use the good old punk theme paired with the latest trends in technology and give a feel of hippie reincarnated in modern times.
There are countless combinations to try out, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to what fascinates your target audience the most.
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There are many emotions attached with old times regardless of whether someone lived through them or not.
Some people experience sweet nostalgia and security of the familiar times through vintage designs, others use vintage illustration to travel back in time and get a glimpse of what it was like.
A lot of us are fascinated by the idea of cultural heritage it represents. Some of us use it as a portal to the lives of our ancestors.
Every hit vintage design inspires a magical sense of belonging, curiosity, innocence, simplicity, and much more. It gives insight into the tastes of certain generations, their dynamics, and factors influencing their decisions.
Even though every era has a fair share of complexities and hardships, they all come off as simpler times when you’re sitting way ahead in the future and know what is to become of those events.
The most awe-inspiring part of designs from a different time – Past or probable future – is the fact that we associate adventure and simplicity with them.
A glance at times when it was common for people to travel on foot, walk several miles a day or have intimate interactions with whole communities makes us wonder what it might’ve felt like if we were there.
Part of why many people are so interested in vintage designs is that the stories, content, and entertainment they grew up around are based on the past.
Take most of the Disney movies for example. A great chunk of them is based on vintage, retro, or historic themes – be it Mulan, Frozen, Tangled, or Shrek.
There are abundant resources to seek inspiration from when it comes to making vintage designs, but the amount and diversity of topics may overwhelm, distract, confuse, or derail you.
When it comes to vintage graphic design, you must know what you’re looking for, and the feelings you’re aiming to stir. Do you want to give off revolutionary vibes? Or are you just looking for the nostalgic appeal?
Is there an event you want to recall? Or are you looking to adopt a certain art form? How far back in time do you want to go? Which regions or cultures do you want to represent? Is there a historic figure you look up to?
Asking yourself these questions can help you filter out the right information and stay on track. This in turn makes your design appear meaningful.
As wonderful as vintage themes are, not every vintage graphic design will result in a positive reaction or widespread acceptance.
You have to know your audience beforehand to strike the right chords – The places they come from, their background, the content they grew up with, the environment they interacted with, the trends they saw, and the things they miss.
You have to be careful and filter out everything that triggers negative emotions, or feelings that don’t align with your strategy since there are good and bad memories associated with every past event.
For example, if you’re pitching your product to middle-aged housewives seeking comfort, you might not want to remind them of times when certain tools, conveyance options, or electronic appliances weren’t readily available to them because of the hardships they’ve faced.
At the same time, you want to make them feel at home like the old times.
So you must carefully select the color palette, design elements, fonts, and even objects they associate with pleasant memories.
For example, night suits they used to wear while having sleepovers, common snacks of their times, or a fashion trend they were crazy about.
If you’re selling cosmetic and beauty products, you may want to give off the impression of stability, quality, reliability, strength, and exclusivity through old school glamor and elitism.
When targeting a group of people who haven’t lived through the times you’re aiming to rewind to, you must know the subjects that excite them, and see what those looked like back in the day.
When you find the right subjects, check what aligns with your business, strategy, and overall theme.
All kinds of graphic designs comprise many elements of design. Each plays its part in balancing and tying up the theme together.
How can you use these elements of design to create retro or vintage graphic designs? What part does each of these play in reinforcing the theme?
Let’s dive into it!
When aiming for a throwback to certain times, it is important to keep popular color schemes, available color options, and the limitations of that era in mind.
For example, if you choose to go centuries back in time, purple was a very rare and expensive color only the wealthiest people could afford. So you wouldn’t see it everywhere in those times.
When you plan to recreate a 70s theme, colors like burnt orange, silver, yellow, avocado green, and purple should be in abundance on your palette.
The 90s theme would require more blue, pink, green, orange, or yellow to give the retro feel. These colors were often paired with each other in comic books and pop art back then.
Every era has its color palettes. Among them, be sure to choose the ones associated with the right concepts during those days, and at present.
Fonts have been around for as long as writing has been. Before the printing press, handwritten letters had their unique fonts, and formed a part of people’s identities.
When print media gained popularity, different sets of fonts dominated different regions during different eras.
Block Condensed was the most popular font in the 1920s. You can check out Palatino Black, or Filmotype Lucky for a flashback to the 1950s.
For a 1970s feel, you can go for ITC Machine to subtly maintain consistency with your theme. Or you can also opt for groovy fonts if you want to evoke the punk side of the 70s.
It is not just the most popular font of the era you have to use.
A more thoughtful approach could be to check other fonts used in the same era and get familiar with the context or usage before picking the one for your vintage graphic design.
It will save you the embarrassing mistake of choosing informal fonts for the formal settings or developing a serious tone when your brand needs a playful approach.
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When it comes to shapes used in vintage designs, you have to know what influenced the people of that time, and which type of designs were a hit.
Shapes determine the character of your design, and what will pop up in a viewer’s head when they see it. Whether they like what pops up or not depends on how trends affected them and their personal experiences.
If you go back to the 90s, geometric shapes are very common in design. You will see lots of triangles, circles, and symmetrical shapes on almost every piece of design.
The 70s are often known as the decade of psychedelics. Photography and colors were new, so designers were going wild over the liberty they had.
Inspired by punk, psychedelics, and excited about the advancement in visual appeal, the shapes used in the 70s often contain freehand styles consisting of bubbly, curvy, and hand-drawn elements.
In essence, you have to capture the mood of the era you plan to travel into. It includes the sentiments of people who lived through the era, influences of political movements, and other dynamics of the time.
Some eras have more patriotic people, while others have rebellious and revolutionary moods. Many eras are affected by depression in the economy, and some have seen prosperity. All of it shows through the shapes chosen for a design.
The objects you place in the design are a direct reflection of the times you represent. If you go back to the 13th century, you will have to choose an hourglass to represent time.
If you travel to the colonial times, you might need wigs to represent nobility, and consider their everyday tools or dress code.
When you plan to depict a set of codes, rules, or important messages in a royal setting of the 15th century, scrolls will come in handy.
If you plan to create vintage graphic designs for New Yorkers, objects like radios, gramophones, newspapers, and personal bookshelves to represent everyday objects might add the essence you need.
Want to go back to the 1960s? Flower Power was the trend, and florals were the new cool. Every era carries an obsession with one object or another. You need to know the right ones to tap into your market.
Symmetry and balance of your vintage graphic design help a great deal in maintaining consistency with the eras you plan on targeting.
Some eras tend to obsess over symmetry, while others tend to find beauty in seemingly asymmetrical designs.
You would find more symmetry in eras governed by stable or strict leadership, and more asymmetry in designs inspired by rebellion.
For example, designs inspired by Punk culture tend to be more deviant and asymmetrical than others.
If you plan to recall an era before the Renaissance, asymmetry would work fine. Any period during or after the Renaissance would be full of symmetry.
Symmetry is also associated with futurism, which is why a lot of futuristic themes you see comprise geometric shapes and symmetrical designs.
That is exactly how people in the past perceived the future too. Speaking of which, you can create retro-futuristic designs to give a vintage perspective of past expectations from the present and future.
When it comes to the visual aspect of vintage designs, you must keep in mind what designs actually looked like back in the day.
We may have a lot more options in terms of editing and adding effects to our vintage graphic designs. Sometimes, using those options can reverse the retro effect we intend to add.
If the options we have now were never there during the times we want to depict, chances are that our design will not appear vintage, or anywhere near that era if we continue to use those tools.
That doesn’t mean adding any effects that weren’t available back in the day should result in a mess. We just have to be careful to represent things accurately.
For example, if you want to create a digital graphic design resembling letterpress, you will eventually need to emboss things a little.
Or if you want to imitate a style of an old scripture, you may have to change the color to a slightly yellowish or brownish tone depending on the type of paper used in that era, and add a few more effects.
When planning to recreate the interface of an old game like Super Mario or Pacman, you may want to use 2D shapes and a bit pixelated objects.
The key is to be mindful of what things actually looked like back then and not fall for any stereotypes or tropes.
Up to this point, we’ve mostly talked about Retro and Vintage designs that bring out the longing to explore and relive the past.
We can create blends of different events or times in history and that would lead to an innovative vintage feel.
What if I told you we can blend modern and vintage styles to create a new hybrid design? How do we do that?
We can mix and match new and old elements of design to balance the effects or create a contrast of modern age with the old times. But why should we do that?
There’s a lot of demand when it comes to mixing new with old. If you create a contrast in the design, people like the idea of seeing how far we’ve come.
Apart from creating contrast, you can also blend the vintage with modern to create an eye-catching design for older and younger generations.
Imagine Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z coming together because of your Modern Vintage Graphic Designs. You can slip in quirks of Generation Alpha too and it would complete the picture for you.
You can do that by combining elements or experiences common to all eras, or you can play around and create personas belonging to different eras switching styles or settings.
One example could be a representation of how an era from history would have reacted to modern VR game zones. Or what a scroll from the 16th century would have looked like if it had touch screen technology.
Possibilities are endless when it comes to mixing modern elements with vintage designs. But not every outcome is appreciated by the public or your specific target audience.
When it comes to Retro, Vintage, and Modern Vintage graphic design, you have to keep the audience in mind when aiming for their interest.
What’s the age group you are targeting? What are their interests?
Why would they be interested in vintage?
What part of the past or history fascinates them?
What feelings do they associate with your chosen elements of design?
Finding answers to these questions is crucial to selecting the right era and choosing the good stuff to represent from it.
If you want to play with nostalgia among the 90s kids, you may want to imitate the comics of that time or flash colors from the famous themes of that decade.
Mixing a few elements from the present along the way can be comforting when they feel included or up to date rather than too old to enjoy present-day trends.
You might also want to make certain themes from the past relatable to the current generation.
If you want to hit the bull’s eye, experimenting and A/B testing will lead you to the right combination of Modern and Vintage designs.
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Vintage never goes out of date. Retro trends keep popping up all the time. The key is to know what your audience misses or likes about vintage themes. And which era fascinates your customers the most.
Whether your business is related to fashion, IT, tourism, education, or any other field, you will need to go vintage every once in a while.
A recollection of the best times in your industry should be the go-to for inspiration. Most importantly, those times should align with the best memories of your target audience.
If you want to take the plunge and go back to times your audience might’ve not lived through, the best way to go about is to check what the potential viewers would be curious about.
And to dig through that, you should research the type of content they have been exposed to regarding that particular time in history.
If you have multiple customer segments from different generations, you may want to mix Modern with Vintage graphic designs to bring them together.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether you can successfully stir the emotions you’ve always wanted to through your graphic designs.
When you do that, you compel people to value your product and services more. That attracts well paying loyal customers and consumer goodwill. In other words, you become classy.
Hope you’ve been inspired to come up with great ideas to experiment with by now. Keep up the good work!
Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.
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