80s Design is Alive, Well, and Living in 2019

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Nostalgia for the 1980s is alive and well today—just look at Urban Outfitters’ $40 VHS tapes or the Stranger Things logo on Netflix. But while this aesthetic, be it neon lettering pastel gradients or glowing grids, has been around for over a decade, 1980s retro fonts have taken over typography and graphic design as of late. Combine this with its moody color palettes, bold duotones, zine sensibilities, and some well-placed pattern clashing, and 80s design will be making more of a comeback this year.


Good Enough to Eat

At least according to Shutterstock curator, Robyn Lange, who points to the company’s Creative Trends report. Shutterstock’s team analyzes what people are searching the most for, and—believe or not—in January, the biggest search terms was “icing letters.”

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“So we coined the trend ‘tempting typography,’” said Lange. “While there might not be many examples of it now, you can look to Pinterest and see how designers are envisioning its rise.” Defining the trend as “text made to look sugary and sweet,” it uses 3D typography and nostalgia.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Another trend calling back to 80s design are the terms “chain print” and “elegance pattern,” which Shutterstock has turned into a term they’ve coined as “80s opulence.”

“It’s a trend informed by the principles of 80s fashion: big, loud, and lavish,” said Lange. “When it comes to 80s-inspired design, there really are no rules. Many fashion mags are forecasting the return of 80s fashion, and we think it’ll go beyond fashion to be an element of visual campaigns. Clashing patterns and motifs show how loud and expressive can be.”


For photography, design and illustration, another up-and-coming trend we can expect to see this year is the resurgence of zine culture—also known as self-publishing during the photocopy era.

“I grew up in the era where this style exploded, it’s a style defined by a uniquely undesigned, raw look, and built on principles of collage, it is largely influenced by the invention of the photocopier,” said Lange. “It’s about paper cutouts, noise and grain textures and rough-edged layers.”


Though the earliest zines date back to the 1930s, Lange explains it became more of a political movement throughout the 1970s and 1980s, “and became an alternative voice for communities who were not well represented in mainstream media,” she said.

Today, it has a different take in digital times. “It’s now about leveraging different multimedia and pasting it all together,” said Lange. “Especially with platforms like Instagram stories where you can mix motion with text and static imagery, using different mediums and mixing together is the new approach to this traditional trend.”

80s Design as Influence

The resurgence of 1980s design trends and typefaces has returned across the globe. Bruno Pego, a product designer in São Paulo is known for a retro aesthetic he has brought to poster design. “The 1980s were daring in various spheres, known for breaking paradigms,” he said. “It’s so rich and nostalgic as an aesthetic itself because is part of a much larger mark.”

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But today, it combines what he calls “cyberculture, vaporwave or glitch art” in combination with how they resurface in pop culture.

“For example, the Netflix did this brilliantly with the series Stranger Things, with the aesthetic elements of 1980s typography and scenarios,” said Pego.

But his own take is that of vaporwave, a visual style that surfaced in 2016 that represented a musical movement, which lives on in the aesthetic of his own design style—one that could be seen as the zine culture of millennials, which uses recurring images of palm trees and roman sculptures.“It’s an expression that explores the alternative culture and youth of the internet, but it can go beyond the busts applied in tropical settings,” he said. “It can be treated as art and a subgenre on the internet.”

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This nostalgic style bridges 1990s cyberpunk with glitch and postmodernism, too. It’s the basis for a kind of vaporwave typography that Pego sees as “a successor of surrealism,” he says, “with the aim of representing the kind of space that comes from a lifetime of excesses.”

“I’m always seeking to translate my graphic design with typography and images to convey what I was feeling,” he said.