Vintage Modernism: A Quick Examination


Vintage Modernism in web design has been around a while now, and is one of those definitions which you'll perhaps hear, but doesn't seem to have gained any official traction. Regardless of that, I still love it. So here is a quick roundup which looks at what Vintage Modernism is, and why it's so great.

Vintage Modernism: What it Ain't

Search the term on Google and you'll more than likely end up looking at furniture, jewelry or fabrics. As a general design movement it's no newcomer, but in the world of the web it's taking on new meaning even as we speak. There have been a ton of resources on retro and vintage web design, but most of them focus on vintage as 1950's USA; pin-ups girls and massive classic Chevvies, whereas what we now understand as vintage modernism suggests a totally different time and place.

Vintage Modernism: What it is

modern style meets vintage flair

The vintage modernist style has stepped forward and designers are now refining it in what has become a massive pool of inspiration. Think 20th century. Think Sherlock Holmes, industrial print presses, and Jack the Ripper. A hint of Art Deco. Think class division, traveling fairs and carnivals, wax seals, ribbons.

That kind of sets up the influence, but whereas the vintage retro sites of a year or two ago recreated that atmosphere, what we're looking at aims to use the core elements in modern graphic design. Clean layout, sometimes even minimalist, strong typography, and attention to decoration and detail.

The Palette

As the example above shows, limited color schemes prevail. Sepias, which give us another flash back to vintage, are still around, though less in the sense of the aged, stressed appearance. Cleanliness is next to godliness, as they say.

Limited color palettes aren't intended to replicate, so much as nod respectfully at early print techniques.

The Layout

Plenty of centrally aligned focus; logos, primary navigation. Often long, tall page structure.

The Decoration

The core elements of vintage modernism are easily recognized, and that's largely thanks to the details. Luxurious textures and patterns (papers, fabrics, gradients, pin stripes). Engravings make the odd appearance, and think of flourishes such as banners, flags, stamps, and qualitative seals. Oh, and scalloped anything.

The Typography

One of the key players in the vintage modernist line-up. Typography is playful, experimental, and facilitated by the rise of web fonts (another example of technology paving the way for artistic expression). You'll see many display fonts, bold, tall, often open faces or engraved, decorative serifs and brush scripts, flourishes and embellishments, subtle drop shadows, and skewed text.

The Target Audience

Vintage modernism seems ideally suited for corporate identity as it often lends itself to suggest class and exclusivity. It's a great way for designers to preen their feathers and flex their muscles as there's plenty to play with in terms of graphic toys. This is one reason for being swamped in vintage modernism at the moment - check out Brandon Moore's collection for some great examples.

You'll just as commonly find it in print design. Think of quality embossing on heavy business cards, boxes, labels, invitations. In an age where print is becoming increasingly outsold by the internet, it's retained its niche as tactile and luxurious. Perfect for vintage modernism. (Head over to for a plethora of quality print examples!)

Wait, did I mention produce? Perfect for quality (there's that word again) coffee, beer, and coffee. And beer.


Conclu-what!? There is no conclusion. It is what it is, and I hope you enjoyed browsing the various examples!

Most design trends come and go quickly, while others can stand long enough to define a movement. And in the midst of the movement, what is going on now becomes modern design. - Brandon Moore

Related Posts
  • Design & Illustration
    Human Anatomy Fundamentals: Muscles and Other Body MassPrev400
    For the past few sessions we have become thoroughly familiar with the general structure and posture of the body in a range of variations. Now we're ready to clothe it with flesh, and above all that means the muscles layer, since that defines how things look on the surface.Read More…
  • Design & Illustration
    Web Roundups
    The Top 25 Vector Tutorials on Tuts+ in 2013Colorfultextpreview400x400
    2013 has been a great year for vector on Tuts+. Yet again, we've been able to provide you with more amazing, free, scalable content and it's getting better and better each month. So what have been the best posts of the year?Read More…
  • Design & Illustration
    Web Roundups
    23 Must-Have, Free Fonts for Graphic DesignersFree fonts 400x4001
    Do you need a font that will make your design sparkle? Low on dough? As you probably already know, there are plenty of free fonts on the Internet. Like anything free, quality varies. With a little research, it's possible to find a few gems out there that won't cost you a dime. This article highlights twenty-three high-quality free fonts suitable for a variety of graphic design projects.Read More…
  • Web Design
    A Web Designer's Typographic BoilerplateB
    I like to use a typography.css in my projects; a separate file which houses all the basic structural typographic styles I'll need. A lot of what's found within it is obvious stuff (heading sizes, for example) but it also contains less obvious things which I don't want to forget. Let's work our way through the checklist..Read More…
  • Crafts & DIY
    Patterns & TemplatesYeti plush final image
    Interested in getting your hands on the various patterns and designs that we've featured in our Crafttuts+ tutorials? You've come to the right place! Just click on any of the pattern graphics below to download the high-res version. Enjoy!Read More…
  • Crafts & DIY
    Make a Set of Vintage Floral Hama Bead Coasters400px preview 3
    Vintage floral prints are bang-on-trend in fashion and homewares this season, and they're the inspiration for these Hama (or Perler) bead coaster designs. Inspired by the kind of vibrant florals you'd typically see in domestic bed linen of the '60s and '70s, these coasters will add a dash of retro playfulness to your decor. Print out the free downloadable patterns and get started!Read More…