Influential Graphic Design From The ‘80s | A Peek At Design History

When we talk about the 1980s, certain aesthetic elements immediately come to mind: bold colors, pixelated fonts, and sci-fi graphics. But why did designers back in the day choose these elements? What spurred these trends? And how are they being used today?

In this article, we explore three trends from the ‘80s. If you’re working on a project or providing photo restoration services for an image that needs an ‘80s feel, feel free to take inspiration from these iconic designs!

Memphis Milano

Clashing primary colors, geometric shapes, and kitschy designs are all key elements of Memphis design, which was conceptualized by Milan-based design firm The Memphis Group. The goal of the movement was to break out of cookie-cutter design rules and experiment with shapes and colors.

Memphis design can be seen on the original MTV logo released in 1981. The logo featured varying colors and geometrical patterns arranged haphazardly across the letter “M.” 

Elements from this aesthetic movement continue to be used up to the 21st century. Christian Dior’s 2011 collection featured vibrant palettes, shapes and squiggles, and chunky geometric shapes. Meanwhile, Garage Italia Customs customized BMWs in 2017 by adding bright colors and patterned textiles as a nod to classic Memphis designs.

Art Deco

Art Deco is an art movement that originated in Paris in the 1920s. Unlike many other design movements, it had no political or philosophical origins –⁠ it simply aimed to represent elegance and glamour. It fell in popularity sometime in the ‘30s and ‘40s as it was deemed too flashy for wartime.

However, Art Deco was revived in the ‘80s, alongside the Memphis design movement. Movies like Scarface (1984) were filmed against a backdrop of Art Deco architecture and Memphis-kitsch interiors. The logo for the American crime series Miami Vice also showcased classic Art Deco elements, like an outer glow, a combination of thick/thin strokes, and a stenciled typeface.

Today, you’ll find Art Deco designs all over the Great Gatsby (2013) film. Its promotional material featured classic metallic colors set against a black background. The use of the Atlas font, with its thin/thick strokes, is also another classic example of Art Deco.

Sci-Fi And Futurism

The 20th century gave rise to the modern personal computer. Along with this game-changing innovation was the rise of an exciting genre in pop culture: science fiction, like the original Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983), E.T. (1982), and The Thing (1982).

To match pop culture trends at the time, tech-related elements began finding their way into graphic design. A 1986 Time magazine issue featured Star Wars games, with computer grids and geometric patterns all over the cover. Even Mattel’s toy fair catalog in 1982 featured neon grids set against a black background.

Aside from using computer grids and geometric patterns, designers in the 1980s used pixelated, metallic, and angular fonts to give their work a more futuristic feel. Retro-inspired sci-fi shows like Stranger Things still retain these elements.

Get Your ‘80s Vibe On

Aesthetic trends come and go, but styles from the 1980s remain influential today. You can’t surf the Internet for a few hours without coming across a logo or an ad featuring neon colors, sci-fi elements, or bold fonts. 

If you’re working on an ‘80s-inspired photography or design project, take from these trends to give your project a nostalgic, retro feel.