Nostalgia: Retro Design in the Modern Era

Nostalgia can be defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” When used in terms of design, nostalgia can play an important role in attracting an audience on both sentimental and emotional levels. Rather than always looking ahead towards the newest trends of design, sometimes it is better to look to the past for inspiration.


Modern retro design is one of the latest re-imaginations of the past, without going too far back in time. This style shines a light on the design characteristics of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. One of the key ideas behind modern retro design is that it creates a sense of nostalgia and presents a pathway between the design and the user. This style works well across all mediums including product packaging, logos, posters, videos, and web design. Listed below are some of the characteristics of the style.



Custom typefaces are generally used, which include slab serifs, variations of script and sans serif fonts, and fonts that mimic popular movie, television, video game, or book titles. An example that comes to mind for me is the enticing Stranger Things title sequence. Compared to other elaborate title sequences (such as Game of Thrones or Daredevil), the opening of Stranger Things is simple and to the point. The creators of the show give credit to Stephen King and his book covers as the inspiration behind the logo; select novels were even sent to the creative studio behind the title sequence. The combination of decorative serif Benguiat and geometric sans serif Avant Garde help set the tone for the show by using an extreme close-up cinematic technique, which helps invoke vulnerability and fear. Both fonts were released in the 1970’s and were inspired by the Art Nouveau movement and the Bauhaus movement, respectively.



Color should be used in a bold and adventurous matter. Try using neon colors or elements that mimic neon lights. Fun color palettes should also be considered, which include golden yellows, oranges, and reds. Even though the colors may also be slightly muted, don’t be afraid to let the color be bright and attention-grabbing. One example is the various editions of the Space Shuttle posters created by Aaron Draplin. Inspired by years of watching the many space shuttle missions, Draplin decided to make a graphic for the space shuttle after the program retired. The posters were designed to resemble the patches he enjoyed while growing up, with an icon of the space shuttle surrounded by a wave of colors forming a gateway to the sky. The first edition featured a bright blue background surrounded by waves of warm yellows, orange, and red. Other editions featured combinations of oranges and teals, as well as monochromatic greens or blues.


Shapes / Patterns

Shapes and patterns are frequently used throughout the modern retro style. Line art and squiggles count as shapes in this style, but you cannot leave out geometric shapes with thick strokes. Sometimes these shapes are incorporated into logos to create more of a badge style logo. Shapes can also be repeated to create engaging patterns to help bring life and movement to the design. One company that makes use of these ‘80s influenced patterns to sell their products is Write Sketch &, a paper goods company in Milano, Italy. Their notebooks and decorative papers embrace patterns made with dots, squiggles, and lines that are combined with bright colors and black and white.


All in all, modern retro design and nostalgia go hand in hand. Modern retro design would not be as inviting and eye catching without the power of nostalgia and the recalling of pleasant memories. Whether through custom typefaces, bright colors, or engaging patterns, modern retro design helps bring us back to a simpler time when content was easier to digest and trends were easier to follow. Perhaps years from now, modern retro design will have a new meaning to future generations; but for now, reimagining the style of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s is here to stay.