Retro graphics: Why can't today's designers get enough of the past?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Over the years, any number of artists, writers and film-makers have laid out their visions for the future of the world in which they were living. In the late 1940s, in an almost uncanny anticipation of what was to come, George Orwell penned his account of a land blighted by pervasive government surveillance, with the classic novel 1984. In 1981, the director John Carpenter gave us the sci-fi action movie Escape From New York, in which the city had been transformed into one big maximum security prison. And who could forget Prince's worldwide hit "1999", in which "the sky was all purple" and there were "people running everywhere".

Clearly, the accuracy of the predictions in these respective masterpieces varies. But what each one failed to foresee is that while we might now spend an inordinate portion of our lives tending to virtual gardens and feeding imaginary pets at our laptops, or indeed conducting online conversations with neighbours who live three metres away, there are certain aspects of the past that we refuse to let go. And so we arrive at the marketing buzzword of our time: retro. The public thirst for this stuff has now become such that any second-hand shop need only rebrand itself as a "vintage" store to make a killing. Forget silver Spandex body-suits, metallic metropolises and flying cars, the 21st century has arrived and it's all about 1980s-style jumpsuits, Laura Ashley patchworks and mint-condition Beetles.

The current obsession for all things old is nowhere more rife than in the land of graphic design – a phenomenon explored in a new book called New Retro. By taking a look at the range of retro-inspired products which surrounds us today, the authors underline the well-established theory that our nostalgia for things we associate with a simpler, safer past grows in times of recession and global insecurity. To this effect, some pieces are reminiscent of a specific era, such as a series of reissued Penguin books made with debossed off-white paper and hand-lettered rendering, evoking the Arts and Crafts movement of the late-19th century, or Coca Cola's Lovebeing Alu-bottle series, which uses "Pop Art colours, motifs and playful type that recalls the 'love-in' atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s" according to the writers. Others are simply intended to evoke a certain feeling.

The sign for La Manufacture theatre school in Lausanne, Switzerland (below), for example, which is pasted across two walls of the building, was inspired by its location in an old factory building. Made using die-cut metal plates and printed directly on to the walls, together with the worn texture and colour of the building, it is supposed to evoke an established, industrial feeling.

Above all, in contemporary design there is an increasing tendency to meld elements from different eras in order to create something new and different but which also has the sense of being familiar. The new Metroscript typeface, created by Michael Doret (and showcased on the poster seen here on the right), taking its cue from a number of popular handwriting styles from the 1920s to the 1950s, is a case in point. This pastiching, the design world seems largely to agree, is the only way forward: you take what you want from the past and you leave the rest behind. And that, just so you know, is how real progress is made.

'New Retro' by Brenda Dermody and Teresa Breathnach, Thames & Hudson, £18.95

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk