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The New Old

Over the last little while (yes that’s a time frame) there has been a HUGE influx of vintage-inspired designs. People seem to seek a more handmade feel in their product’s branding. Perhaps because much of our lives are spent in dry offices,  modes of transportation and grocery stores, these experiences are for the most part sterile and not too aesthetically pleasing. Traffic, dirty train cars, street smells and fluorescent lighting. However, you actually have seen a great deal of redesigns in places like grocery stores to become more aesthetic pleasing, including urban gardens popping up in otherwise forgotten pieces of land. Check out this article about a popular store chain in Southern California and the success of their “Fresh Fair” stores. These stores were designed to house “gourmet” foods and feel better to shop in. Designs across the board from food labels, beauty products and drug store greeting cards to a variety of Web properties are now being influenced by feel-good vintage design.

Beginning around 2004 and the birth of Web 2.0, the aesthetic was mostly sans serif fonts with glossy, reflective or gradient textures. When you look at most Web design today, it has come a long way. Even “large” company sites are often dashed with serifed fonts (like Rockwell and Archer or Museo) and subtle grainy textures in the background that resemble materials from paper to fabric swatches. Check out Subtle Patterns great site for getting backgrounds to add to your site or blog. There are some beautiful examples of retro design here on as well. Check them out. You won’t be sorry!

Below are some photos that I snapped on a “vintage design scout” around my neighborhood this past weekend. First is a packaging design by the Simpatico Soap Company followed by a card design that I found at Walgreens.

If you go to Target, and I think a lot of us do, you’ve probably seen Archer Farms, their natural brand. It is a very early American retro “vintage” take on “mass” production food packaging. It is going for a high-end feel, appealing to people that like “all natural”, which equates to higher quality as well. This vintage-influenced aesthetic gives a high quality, almost authentic punch to a brand. After all, Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin are “hand made”.

That being said, many classic designs (many that may or may not have been done in the *cough* 80’s and early 90’s) were without a doubt influenced by their era of inception.  Despite the fact that those decades are long behind us, their brands were so strongly defined by those designs that they still stand on the shelves veritably unchanged. Take a look at the picture below. Those are a few samples of products that I have in my bathroom at home.

Burt’s Bees, has had the same design aesthetic for MANY years. I could even argue over ten years. It’s always been considered a “handmade, higher-end” (or at least mid-tier) product and it’s certainly in step with today’s other (mid-tier and high-end) brands like Keihl’s, sold at places like Nordstorms. They make good use of a classic serif font like Burt’s Bees. John Frieda uses a good mix of sexy, slick, black and white sans serif font as their identity, which goes well with a high-end salon aesthetic, mixed with a serif for the product brand font face. Herbal Essences is true to itself with bright-colored bottles and organic type faces, which go with their free form and fun look that appeals to a young audience.

Tom’s of Maine is a higher-end product and they make nice use of fonts with a hand-drawn feeling on their packaging. This is what you expect from Tom’s — an eco-conscious company with honest-to-goodness products. It feels good. Handmade feels good and, today, handmade is an old fashioned idea. So, it goes hand-in-hand with the beautiful vintage-inspired design of yesteryear whether that’s early American or Victorian-era stuff.

Now, please, ladies and gentlemen, take a look at Selsun Blue (don’t judge me) and Noxzema peeking in the shot there. Good ol’ classics aren’t they? Can’t you help but sort of love them? But tell me, on which side do you feel the tingle? Is it the Selsun Blue side of packaging, the new vintage style of today, or somewhere in between?

Watch the video, then chime in in the comments. 🙂

Finally, here are some bonus designs from my day of design scouting.

Vintage post card glass trays

Charade Game vintage tin packaging

Candle packages

Another card design at Walgreens


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  1. Tova Dian Dean says: June 5, 2012

    I remember when I was young I never liked anything that looked old fashioned. I wanted everything clean, bright and modern with sharp lines. Now I like so much of the “vintage” look, but not when it borders on old circus. Great article; brought back many memories! (Now maybe a look at old album covers and today’s…)

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