Design trends are ever on the move, they have to be. In a world obsessed with visual representation, consumers are becoming more and more aware of how they’re being communicated to by brands.

Enter Gen Viz. This psychographic (need help with that word? It’s here) macro-trend describes young teens who rely on realism, authenticity and most importantly; championing a visual-first culture. Is it not surprising then, that this generation of kids has forged ahead, constructing unique identities for themselves inspired by visual styles from the past?

As designers, we are responding to this race for realness and the struggle for ultimate authenticity. We’re seeing a shift that is moving away from the “new, new” backwards towards design languages of the 70s, 80s and 90s. More specifically our 80s influence today is deeply rooted in the computer-generated graphics of the era: think early Nintendo gaming systems with bright, blocky shapes.

In this article, we’ll look at the how and why of this hyper-visual design trend commonly described as: ‘Modern-Retro’.

‘Walking in Memphis’.

Form and structure are two styles closely linked with art in the 80s. Think furniture design, silhouettes in fashion and gaming but specifically, think the Memphis Design movement (handy additional pictures here). Bright colours, cartoon-like shapes and fluid lines make up the fundamental building blocks of this artistic style, and it’s back with a vengeance.

Image credit: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine. Facebook office, Texas, photo: Will Byrant.

In the images, the resemblance between 80s object design and a modern wall mural by artist Will Byrant is striking; from the use of colour, to the shapes adopted and the playful nature of the piece.

Colour Pop.

Bold colours belong on screens. Again think 80s computer games and Miami Vice. More and more design is taking influence from RGB colours and translating them into poppy process versions instead. In the examples below, an advertising campaign for online dating app OKcupid, Weiden + Kennedy New York adopted an 80s aesthetic to convey a very modern message in dating culture. The visuals nod nicely to Gen Viz; with messages grounded in authenticity and personality which is largely owed to the photographic style resembling works by Guy Bourdin, notably between 1967 and 1981 when he shot ad campaigns for shoe designer Charles Jourdan. Mysterious compositions, bright and blocky backgrounds make the output unquestionably retro and combined with central themes around online dating make for a very juxtaposing but pleasing combination.

Image from OKcupid campaign

Colour is so important in communication. Invariably your brand will use a pre-defined palette designed to best communicate your organisation’s proposition and value to its customers. But what if your message needs more vibrant hues like the example below? It’s got to be OK for a brand to ‘bend’ from time-to-time and show a sense of awareness. Think long term too; how will your brand palette stack up in five or ten years time when Gen Viz become your customers, employees or partners?

Layer Up.

The Modern-Retro movement employs the use of multi-faceted design, often layering shapes, images and colours together to create one visual composition. This style is popular in both print and digital applications creating impact and engagement. It also creates energy in a world of fast-paced online consumption where we want things immediately whether it be news, images, education or social updates. It’s not surprising that we’re serving content up in an energetic way to keep up with consumption rates. Layering isn’t new. But the way we’re layering imagery and styles today has become more obvious, less organic and more about making a statement. Think about how you could try combining brand imagery with supplementary ‘mood’ images, for example.

Image credits: Top left and lower right: Serge Vasil for Adobe, top right: notebooks from Write & Sketch, lower left: image from Mui Mui spring summer 2018 campaign.

Science Fiction.

Cue the phenomenon that is Stranger Things.  Its 80s styling is prevalent across its use of fashion, sets, neon typography and comic book style illustrations, not to mention the blatant nod to numerous Sci-Fi films from the 80s. Would the show have worked as well without all of its nostalgic references? (No, is the answer to that question in case you didn’t know). Why are so many young people engaging in a cultural era they have barely lived through, let alone remember? We’re not suggesting to remake E.T. here but the point is cultural reference. The Juice designers live for persona research, it helps us to focus a design style and to select the most appropriate application for any given message. So, before you start your next project, immerse yourself (and us) in your audience’s world and ask yourself, how can I make my work grab them? What points of cultural reference will make my message resonate more profoundly with my consumers?

Image credit: Netflix

That’s a Wrap.

From fashion to material design, to pop culture and television, the 80s is definitely enjoying a revival seeping through into every aspect of design. Is this coincidence or is it a backlash to common cultural and political influences; perhaps we’re just trying to lighten the mood? Or is it directly a result of Gen Viz, the group of young social activists striving for the ultimate in authenticity and living every day through a hypervisual lens? Maybe we won’t know. Maybe it’s enough just to appreciate this fun and engaging visual style, regardless of influence. You decide. And, if it’s right, be brave.