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What is Retro, And How Does It Produce Beauty?

In the Victorian era, the design was full of carefully carved fonts and paved symmetrical and complex textures. We think this is very "retro";

in the Dada era, the design was mostly grotesque pictures and disorderly typography. We think this is also "retro";

In the Middle Ages, bright colors and expressive illustrations and images were often used in design, which is also very "retro".

"Retro" has different characteristics in different eras. The following is a summary of the retro design characteristics of different periods in the 150 years from 1850 to 2000.


  1. The Victorian era (1850-1900)

Victorian graphic design was characterized by powerful typography and "more is more", which is now commonplace. The Victorian era (after the Industrial Revolution), named after the then ruler Queen Victoria, witnessed radical changes in the fields of manufacturing, production, social and economic development.

 Victorian graphic design

The invention of new technology has made printing and paper more affordable. In order to obtain commercial benefits, companies have begun to use graphic design. The founders of fonts invented new ornamental fonts and text types, which are spread on posters, advertisements, magazines and other printed materials due to their rich patterns, elaborate designs and symmetrical aesthetics.


Inspiration brought to us by Victorian design:

Fill the entire page but at the same time maintain a symmetrical design

Try hand lettering and carefully crafted fonts

Add shadows, outlines and decorations to text

A work of art that integrates text and images


  1. Arts and Crafts Movement (1870s-1010s)

If you think that Victorian graphic design is composed of patterns, then you have already seen some clues. The Arts and Crafts movement opposes mass production and poorly manufactured goods during the Industrial Revolution. William Morris advocates the restoration of hand-crafted production, practicability, and enjoyment of the production process. Using traditional production techniques, they put forward the slogan of learning from nature, pursuing nature and seeking inspiration from past designs.

 Arts and Crafts Movement

Dana Tanamachi is a lettering artist and designer. She has left her designs in bars, cafes and restaurants in New York. The wall is filled with patterns that resemble flowers and plants. They not only fill in the gaps between the letters, but also change the letters themselves.

Dana Tanamachi is a lettering artist and designer

Ahamed's studio is an organic medicinal vegetable garden, which makes these foods look more appetizing through an expressive color in nature.


Inspiration brought to us by design during the arts and crafts movement:

Use colors from the natural world

Create dense, continuous, curved patterns

As you can see, the pattern looks like the shape of flowers and plants

Use bold and fonts inspired by medieval times


  1. Art Nouveau (1880s-2010s)

Art Nouveau is usually considered to be derived from the "curvy style" of natural forms. In fact, Art Nouveau represents the psychological changes and anxiety of people in the twentieth century, and many flowing and curved designs reflect this constantly changing state. At that time, there were some new discoveries and technologies, and people had a better understanding of the world. In addition, with the increasing liberation of modern women, they begin to study, work, and ride bicycles, and men feel more and more threats from women. The following pictures reflect the feminine charm of the time.

 curvy style

Inspiration brought to us by design during the Art Nouveau period:

Emphasize lines, abstract forms and create graphic designs, which are deeply influenced by Japanese traditional culture

Use curved and smooth lines and forms to express change, movement and integration

The design should show the connotation of the theme

Feminine themes and female artists played an important role


  1. Dadaism (from the 1910s to the 1920s)

The Dada movement is an anarchist, anti-art and anti-war art movement. For Dada artists, war is meaningless. Dadaism has questioned the society, and therefore questioned the art in society. Dada artists tried to destroy the original traditional artistic values and replace the old ones with new ones. They subversively and experimentally launched a printing revolution against "the stupid and disgusting concepts in old fashion books" . Therefore, the page uses unconscious words and images to make the design more expressive.


Inspiration brought to us by the design of Dadaism period:

Try to use typography, layout and white space when designing

Break the rules, follow the disorder

Edit pictures, tickets, newspapers and other printed materials to make a photo gallery

Through the combination of a series of images and words, questioning and subverting its meaning


  1. Avant-garde (1920s-30s)

Between the two world wars is an era of invention and innovation. The term avant-garde is often used to refer to the people and their works of this era. In fact, these experimental and breakthrough artists are very breakthrough in the field of design. In the Netherlands, stylistic artists use abstraction and reduction of forms and colors to express a spiritually harmonious, unified, and brand-new utopian world. In Russia, constructivist designers merged art with new technologies and political ideas to help establish a revolutionary new state. In Germany, Bauhaus supporters combined art, craft and industry to design better products that serve the people.


The design inspiration brought to us by the design of the avant-garde period:

Use strong geometric lines and forms

Use a basic saturated color

Combine with photomontage

Convey information through large bold fonts


  1. Decorative Art (1920s-30s)

Since the severe depression of the 1920s, the purpose of decorative arts has been to promote production and consumption. The decorative arts originated in France, and luxury goods are considered to be critical to the short-term economic recovery. French craftsmen use special materials, revive traditional craftsmanship, and create unique objects by citing practices from the classical and colonial world. When the decorative arts spread to the United States, designers accepted the use of machines, cities and commerce to create a new aesthetic method suitable for modern life and consumption.


Modern and elegant graphic identity, glittering gold and features and geometric patterns, presents the dissipated picture of modern skyscrapers.


The artistic inspiration we can get from the decorative arts:

the integration of powerful radiation and geometric line stylization and abstract shapes to create a flat two-dimensional form, as if frozen, it was created from skyscrapers, machines, transportation, and the age of jazz. Shining, looming, smooth surface


  1. Internationalist style (50s-1960s)

Have you ever wondered when and where the famous Helvetica font was invented? After experiencing the turmoil of World War II, the internationalist style (also known as the Swiss style) advocated simplicity, simplicity and detail. In the 1950s and 1960s, Swiss designers promoted the development of avant-garde modernist ideas and experimented with typography and photo collections. They believe that designers are communicators, and that design does not require personal expression. In fact, the designer of this design style holding the slogan "form follows function" has created a universal, anonymous and objective graphic language.

 Internationalist style

We can be inspired by the international design style:

Use undecorated fonts, such as Helvetica

Filled by photos instead of illustrations or pictures

Leave some space to breathe in your design

Grid layout using structured and asymmetrical layout


  1. Medieval style (50s-60s)

At this time, in the United States in the middle of the last century, the world was optimistic and prosperous after World War II, and Americans were celebrating a good life. Designers borrowed the ideas of European modernism and combined them with the optimism and prosperity of the time to create bright, colorful and vibrant design works to attract consumers and encourage them to spend money

Medieval style

We can get inspiration from medieval style design works:

Use bright, vivid colors

Make full use of the white space, so that your design has enough breathing space

Incorporate funny and expressive illustrated images

Create vibrant and whimsical designs


  1. Psychedelic music style (1960s-70s)

Due to the popularity of hallucination drugs in the 1960s and 1970s, the psychedelic fashion was influenced by it. In fact, all these people born in the 1960s and 1970s after the war questioned American materialism and conservative values, which led to a revolutionary youth movement that heralded rebellion and experimentation. With the prevalence of music festivals and concerts, taking excitatory drugs has become a prominent feature of society. Graphic design is visually expressed through strong colors, rotating lines and forms (similar to Art Nouveau) and openly readable expression Out of this "jumping" feeling.

 Psychedelic music style

The design inspiration that psychedelic fashion brings us:

Use bright and contrasting colors

Design the entire space


Use strong vortex lines to show the effect of movement and change


  1. Postmodernism (1970s-1980s)

What is postmodern design? In addition to orderly and rational modernist design, post-modernist design views abandon form and rigorous design methods, but adopt bold, gorgeous and stylish designs. Postmodernism was born after the 1980s. They ignored traditional conventions and created interesting and expressive graphic designs that combine pop culture and high cultural characteristics.


Inspiration we got from postmodernist design:

Combine as many bright colors as possible

The design should be fun, not serious, pay attention to what it looks like, not its function

Use photos for fun and beauty, not for expressing meaning

Design should be welcomed by the public


  1. Greasy rock style (1990s)

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots are all excellent bands from the 1990s in the oil rock era. Some design works have been influenced by oily rock. Just as grotesque postmodernism is influenced by functionalism, some soft grunge works have been influenced by postmodernism. Grease rock is a more accurate and realistic depiction of real life positivity through dirty stains, blurred images, broken icons and messy textures. David Carson is a master among designers of grunge rock style. He tried to use expressive fonts, background images and textures to reflect the grunge style


We can get inspiration from oily rock style design:

Use soft, dull and dark colors

Try to use blurry and distorted images

Apply messy textures and other elements, such as stains and tears

Combine handwritten content and irregular typography


In the field of graphic design, trends and fashions always circulate cyclically. After reviewing the excellent works of the past, we should be inspired to become an innovator, not an imitator. You only need to remember this point. In the field of graphic design, the historical trend is to reinterpret its relevant meaning according to the environment and background at the time.

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