Retro styles are popular in just about every aspect of design. I love looking at them to see how the designer puts together a look and feel that conveys a long gone era. Take a look at fashion, advertising, print and even cars. Designers revisit the past to plunder the good, the bad and the sometimes downright ugly elements to use in new design. Web designers are no different of course and there are many fabulous web sites out there using retro styles.
So what makes a site retro?
Sites falling into the retro category aren’t necessarily representing any one particular period. One dictionary definition of retro is “a fashion reminiscent of the past” so that leaves it wide open to interpretation. On the web retro web sites can be distinguished by the type of illustration or photographic images used, the typefaces and the colour palettes.
Photography and illustration
For many retro sites, the illustration used has a major influence on the overall look and feel. Take a look at the CSS Tinderbox website (image farther down the page) which uses distinct Soviet era style drawings to achieve its look. The site is also dirtied up to make it look aged. Likewise the photography on the Ernest Hemmingway site is mostly of the younger Hemmingway. The photographs look yellowed and give a feeling of another age.
As is the case in both web and print design, the choice of typography is a huge factor in conveying a look and feel. For some sites the retro typography in the logo and headings There are a number of specialist font foundries who specialise in retro typography. I love Letterhead (see their website below), Font Diner and Fontoville for their cool typefaces.
Many of the retro style sites have muted colours with a bit of dirt or grunge thrown in to evoke age. The colours tend to be earthy hinting that the colours may have been more vibrant in the past, but now are old. In the most successful retro designs, the appropriate color palette works in conjunction with the other elements to give the feel of earlier times.
So without further ado, here are ten websites displaying a unique retro look. I’ve chosen these because I think they represent retro design from top to bottom. There are no sites here which just have a retro logo but nothing else linking them to another era. They are fairly consistent throughout.
World Domination Design Group employ clever use of old style video, voice-overs and 1940’s upbeat tunes.
The CSS Tinderbox does a nice job with Soviet style graphics and typefaces.
Ernest Hemmingway Collection uses old photographs, paper objects and muted worn paper colours to convey the feeling of a certain era.
Detectiv Nali shows an old leather case with aged illustrations, photographs and typographic ornaments depicting the time of Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes appears to have been a major influence in this design.
Letterhead Fonts have recently redesigned their site to showcase some of their beautiful typefaces. The new design has an art deco feel.
RobotMania has been on the web for years and won a lot of awards when it came out. It has a very cool retro vibe about it.
Selling a dream. The Edgewater Cottage Community has a 1950’s feel for selling a modern residential area.
Rejected Robot is the portfolio site of William Tamplin and has an endearing feel about its toy robot box design.
Prospect Denim by Media Boom (itself a retro site) is also an award winner and has fabulous illustration and flash work.
And finally, the Big Fat Institute have updated their site recently, but this is a link to their old site which was a great example of brilliant retro design using video and typography to create an authentic looking 50’s site.
So there you have it. Not a style that’s appropriate for every site, but done well it can be very effective.
What do you think of these sites? What other good retro web sites have you come across?