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Vintage Modernism: A Quick Examination

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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

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