10 Popular Vintage Styles and Their Use in Modern Web Design
When we describe something as vintage, we think of a recognizable aesthetic that withstands the test of time. Vintage cars, clothes, furniture, and other items are designed in a distinct way that makes us think back on the “good old days”.
The nostalgic quality typical of vintage designs is something most of us are drawn to. The past seems simpler and more comforting than the unpredictability of modern-day life, and in this lies the strong appeal of all things vintage.
Whether you’re holding a vintage piece of clothing in your hand or browsing a vintage-inspired website, everything that stylistically imitates past eras looks special and authentic. Vintage designs draw upon trends that were popular several decades or centuries ago, and they never go out of style.
Elements from the past are noticeable in all design categories, including web design. Whenever designers look for vintage inspiration, they rely on a variety of styles. In this article, we will walk you through arguably the most significant periods from the past that have left an indelible mark on modern designs and went on to become designer-favorites. By learning more about them, you will understand how to best create a vintage piece of work that looks fresh and modern at the same time. Nothing says vintage better than the following styles:
The Baroque style blossomed in Europe from the early 17th until the mid 18th century. It owed much of its popularity to the support of the Roman Catholic Church, which was heavily shaken by the Protestant Reformation. Unlike protestants, who strongly opposed the use of religious imagery, the Catholic Church saw it as a way of guiding, persuading, and inspiring believers. And so, the new artistic movement became a part of the counter-reformation process. The visual arts of the time emphasized religious themes and their goal was to evoke a strong emotional response from people. The paintings were intricate and awe-inspiring, conveying a lot of tension and drama.
The painters of the era used predominantly warm colors in their work and played with the chiaroscuro technique. The striking contrast between light and dark helped enhance the dramatic atmosphere of a painting and draw people’s attention to its most significant elements.
The baroque style is marked by the use of complex and excessive ornaments, movement, tension, and decorative flora, including scrolling foliage and flower garlands.
One of the best examples that illustrates the use of baroque in modern web design is the website for the Gucci Marmont collection. The first thing you notice is the Caravaggio-esque preloading screen and the dramatic use of chiaroscuro on it. The handbags are showcased as parts of complex, richly-colored, still life paintings that look as if they’re hanging on a gallery wall. When you place the mouse pointer on them, the chiaroscuro effect becomes even more prominent. While you scroll through the gallery, the gradient background effect appears, enhancing the dramatic vibe of the whole site. The golden fonts used for the project contrast the darkness that surrounds them and perfectly match the brand’s world-renowned identity.
Victoriana is a design style inspired by the period of Queen Victoria’s reign over England from 1837 until 1901. Those were the years of significant technological advancements when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were in full swing.
The widespread industrialization affected the lives of the poor for the worse. They lived in terrible conditions and worked for the better part of every day. On the other side of the spectrum, there was the newly rich class that gained a lot of power on the workers’ backs. This new aristocracy was eager to flaunt its wealth, hence the popularity of excessively ornate elements in architecture, on furniture, and even on clothes. Wood graining and woodwork were heavily popular, too, and were used to decorate indoor walls and ceilings.
The Victorian style is known for the use of rich, dark colors, especially deep shades of red, green, and black.
The striking visual identity of this era, with its extravagant embellishments, sophisticated colors, and grained, varnished woodwork leaves no one indifferent. A website that beautifully demonstrates how you can incorporate the Victorian style elements into contemporary projects is The Ol’ Box. Its user interface is minimal. However, the combination of a monochromatic design, the illustrations that resemble the intaglio printmaking method, and elegant colors make this site look like a modern-day Victorian work of art.
The Gothic style was popular during the mid to late Medieval period. One of its most important and recognizable elements is the pointed arch that supports heavy, vaulted ceilings. Towers were also heavily popular and so were stained glass windows with intricate trefoil designs, especially on churches.
Gothic designs are among the more traditional and formal-looking examples of vintage style. As such, they ooze authority and regalness with a touch of darkness on the side.
The modern-day Gothic style is characterized by medieval and ecclesial influences, particularly typography-wise. The colors in use are dark and rich, such as black, ruby, and dark purple.
To see the power of typefaces in action and understand how much they can elevate projects, check out Jesper Landberg’s website where the gothic-like typography stands out more than any other element. The site is minimalistic but interesting to explore thanks to the use of RGB hovers. Once you place your cursor on any of the featured images, an overlay appears, resembling the light passing through stained glass.
One of Qode Interactive’s designers also took inspiration from the picturesque Gothic era. The Galatia theme reflects the perfect symbiosis of gothic aesthetics and contemporary design trends. The use of the Gothic font a.k.a. Blackletter and interesting imagery choices make the theme look regal and sophisticated. It isn’t dark to the core but still has a strong gothic feel to it. Galatia is a great example that shows you how to incorporate gothic styles into your work without overdoing it.
Art Deco reached its peak in the mid-1920s and early 1930s. It represented an amalgam of different artistic styles and fine craftsmanship, while the materials in use were expensive and of high-quality. Its main characteristics are opulence and luxury.
Art Deco borrowed elements of pre-modern art from around the world. It brought together the Japanese and Chinese exotic and minimalistic approach to art, the bold geometric forms of Cubism, and the use of golden, bright colors and floral motifs typical of the Louis Seize style. Thanks to its widespread use in architecture and all decorative forms of art, it went on to become one of the first international styles. Some of the best-known buildings in New York, such as The Empire State Building and Radio City Music Hall were built in the Art Deco fashion. This style has also influenced the poster design of the 70s and left an indelible mark on illustrations and the visual culture of recent years.
Qode Interactive’s Laurent theme is an example that illustrates the perfect balance between the use of elegant fonts and intricate ornaments in design. Laurent showcases the atmosphere of an exuberant Art Deco-inspired restaurant, where dark images, geometrical patterns, golden elements, and rich colors ooze with the grandeur of this style.
Art Nouveau, also known as the Modern Style, rose to prominence between 1890 and 1910. It developed as an attempt to create an entirely new style that had nothing in common with any of the previous artistic eras (unlike its predecessors from the early 19th century that copied other styles). Art Nouveau is known for the heavy use of long, undulating lines inspired by the forms seen in nature. This style emphasized the importance of contours over colors. The usual Art Nouveau hues were muted shades of brown, yellow, olive green, sage green, and blue.
Graphic arts became particularly popular during the Modern Style era. That was largely due to the development of chromolithography, i.e. the printing of colored images. Posters were made en masse and used as a means of promoting art, be it on street walls or in art magazines. The leitmotif of the Art Nouveau style is a woman (often surrounded by flowers) as a personification of glamour, modernity, and beauty.
The Senteurs d’Ailleurs website demonstrates the subtle use of Art Nouveau elements in a modern setting. It is adorned with delicate, ornate illustrations in black-and-white and stylized, elegant typography. The whole project is enlivened thanks to the alluring animation effects that enhance the beauty of the site.
“Form follows function” is one of the fundamental principles of the Bauhaus – one of the most influential styles in the world. This idea means that the shape of a building or an object should always relate to its function. And the aesthetic appeal is no longer considered as relevant as it was before.
Bauhaus was popular from 1919 to 1933. One of the biggest goals of the artists of the time was to bring together art and the functionality of everyday life. Bauhaus designs focus on geometric elements and balanced compositions, which is why we see little ornamentation on paintings, in architecture, and interior design.
The minimalist Bauhaus style was a counter-movement to Art Deco and Art Nouveau. It marked the shift from emotional expressionism to objectivism and rationalism. One of its core ideas was that architecture should unite all forms of fine art. Both architecture and design were all about functionality, which was further enhanced through the use of “truth to materials”, i.e. materials that were not modified in any way nor hidden.
Two websites that embody the ideas of Bauhaus are Future London Academy and Readymag Stories — Bauhaus Vkhutemas. The former comes with contrasting black and yellow colors, resembling a minimalistic Bauhaus poster. Modest animation effects highlight the form of the design, while the bold usage of big font sizes and simple geometrical shapes showcase the author’s modern approach to the Bauhaus principles.
Exploring Readymag’s history of two schools – Bauhaus and Vkhutemas (the Russian Bauhaus) – feels like going through a fanzine. You have the opportunity to enjoy an interactive Bauhaus web experience characterized by the minimal use of colors, huge sans-serif fonts, large textual blocks, striking complementary imagery, and seamless transitions from one section to the next.
Pop Art emerged in the late 1950s, but it reached its peak in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When we talk about this style, the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind are probably Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” or some other work from his oeuvre, since he was one of the most prominent artists of the Pop Art era.
Pop Art was unlike any other style because it incorporated elements from popular culture (such as comic books, newspapers, road signs, and even soup cans) into art. One of its main goals was to point out how pointless the elitist culture is. To achieve that, artists mostly relied on satire, parody, and irony. Bright colors were immensely popular, especially red, blue, and yellow.
During this time, the art of collage blossomed. Creatives used imagery from newspapers and movie stills in their projects to ridicule current events and the banality of mass culture.
Besides Warhol, one of the most significant artists of the era was Richard Hamilton. His collage “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” was made in 1956 and is one of the first iconic works of Pop Art. Hamilton believed art needs to address the rise of consumerism and the role of technologies in everyday lives, which shows in his projects.
The website for Gucci’s Spring / Summer ’18 collection resembles Hamilton’s collage in style. Peculiar, amusing illustrations, wild colors, and combinations of seemingly unmatchable elements all reflect the spirit of Pop Art. The user interface is subdued, which puts the featured collages into the spotlight and allows them to capture the visitor’s undivided attention.
In terms of design, the Atomic Age refers to the period from 1940 to 1963. Back in those days, people were terrified of the potential of nuclear warfare because of the ongoing Cold War. But at the same time, constant technological progress and human achievements fascinated them. They were particularly intrigued by space explorations (the Space Age started in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik satellite and it’s still going). Architecture, design, fine arts, and even fashion at the time reflected the conflicting emotions caused by the unstoppable technological advancements.
Designs from this era are instantly recognizable because they rely on atomic motifs and elements typical of the Space Age, such as stars and galaxies. Abstract shapes and forms from nature (such as cells and amoeba), were also widely used in designs.
Hypergiant’s website showcases the use of Atomic Age designs in a modern setting. The bright yellow and blue hues make you feel optimistic from the get-go. The combination of textured photography and monospaced fonts makes you feel as if you’re exploring a document from the Space Age era. The choice of these design elements comes as no surprise because Hypergiant is a tech company focused on space and defense. The style of some of the sections on the site resembles that of the political documents published during the Cold War.
The psychedelic elements typical of the 1960s remained immensely popular during the ‘70s, especially in terms of typefaces. Thanks to the use of thick lines, outlines, and font swashes, typography looked particularly appealing and interesting. Aside from playing with curvy fonts, creatives expanded their horizons and started to experiment with other artistic forms, including fashion, music, and art. They used bright, bold colors, simple shapes, and lots of floral and paisley patterns.
The ‘70s gave us several trends that are popular to this day. But one thing that this decade is known for is impressive poster design. The artists of the time adorned their posters with colorful, attractive photography. And by adding vivid colors and groovy typography into the mix, they created timeless pieces of poster art.
Creative developer Rob Smittenaar perfectly demonstrates how the 70s aesthetic can be successfully used in web design on the website he created for fans of Quentin Tarantino’s film “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”. The site resembles magazines typical of the ’60s and ’70s. Its retro vibe, the modest interface elements, the color palette that matches that of the movie, and the rich and bold typography make browsing this site feel like a nostalgic adventure.
The term “grunge” was coined to label a specific music genre influenced by punk, rock, and heavy metal. The grunge design that was popular in the ‘90s mirrors the rawness of the mentioned music styles and adds the real-life urban and industrial imagery into the mix. Graffiti and gritty textures were the main characteristics of this style. Because of their unpolished look, grunge designs aren’t for everyone. They can become overwhelming for the average user who perhaps isn’t accustomed to their ruggedness. But when aimed at the right audience, the elements of grunge design can make projects look more memorable and eye-catching.
The Punk Is Not Dead website features prominent characteristics of grunge design introduced in a refreshing way. The concoction of vivid pink and bright yellow hues, flat and simple icons, and strikingly designed elements delivers a serious artistic punch to the visitor. The background music and attention-grabbing animations illustrate the freedom that lies at the core of the grunge style.
To describe something as vintage, it needs to carry the spirit of another era and mirror its visual style. And while there is a variety of different artistic eras to explore, our roundup features some of the most popular and widely used vintage styles in all design categories. From baroque and Victoriana to grunge and everything in between, these eras have all greatly influenced the art world and they continue to intrigue and inspire creatives of all ages.
But before you implement their characteristics into your own projects, make sure to understand them well first. That will help you decide on a style that best matches the purpose of your site and the aesthetic of your brand. And as examples on our list illustrate, just because something is vintage doesn’t mean you can’t make it look modern at the same time. The use of compelling animation effects and cool interactions will give your website a contemporary appeal, while all the vintage elements will enrich it with a timeless vibe.