With its clean lines, vibrant colors, and clear, bold visual aesthetic, there’s no mistaking retro graphic design—and no doubt of the impact it’s made on modern artists. 

Influenced by a mid-century modern design style and the movements that immediately preceded it (including Art Deco and Bauhaus, among others), designers who create retro graphic designs rely on geometric shapes, clean sans-serif type, and simple forms. 

Want to develop your own retro graphic design? We’ve rounded up a mega-guide of retro design inspiration, including works by major designers like Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Stefan Kanchev, Wally Olins, and Aaron Draplin. If you’re interested in creating bolder, brasher, and more visually appealing work, we have all the inspiration you need to get started.

The Influence of Retro Graphic Design 

From roughly the late 1930s to the late 1960s, mid-century retro designs reflected the prosperity and optimism of post-war America. It’s easy to understand why we are now seeing a resurgence of retro design inspiration; the functional and appealing retro aesthetic works equally well in advertising, publishing, and art in the 21st century, too.

Today’s successful retro designs build on visual inspiration from the past. For example, graphic design icon and popular Skillshare teacher Aaron Draplin has become famous for creating logos and icons that incorporate an unmistakable retro influence with thick lines and brash colors designed for maximum visual impact.

Below, we highlight 26 examples of retro graphic design to inspire your next project. 

  1. Heights of Success
Saul Bass’s “Vertigo” movie poster used a bold orange background to draw the audience’s attention. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Saul Bass’s “Vertigo” movie poster used a bold orange background to draw the audience’s attention. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

A true icon of mid-century modern design, Saul Bass’s Vertigo movie poster features his signature hand-cut type (along with Draplin’s beloved orange!) and incorporates graphic elements form the film’s unforgettable title sequence, also designed by Bass.

2. Big Business

Originally designed in 1972 by Paul Rand, this IBM logo is still in use today. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Originally designed in 1972 by Paul Rand, this IBM logo is still in use today. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Paul Rand’s 1972 IBM logo suggests both unity and movement and has become a touchstone of effective logo design. It was the perfect expression of the company’s mantra under chief executive Thomas Watson, Jr.: “Good design is good business.” IBM still uses it today. 

3. Food for Thought

Stefan Kanchev designed this restaurant logo in 1978 using bold colors and unique lettering. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Stefan Kanchev designed this restaurant logo in 1978 using bold colors and unique lettering. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Though more often celebrated for his iconic black-and-white trademarks, Stefan Kanchev also used color and detailed illustration enticingly, like in this gorgeous restaurant logo he designed in 1976.

4. Orange Crush

This simple, clean logo for telecommunications company Orange was designed by Wally Olins. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This simple, clean logo for telecommunications company Orange was designed by Wally Olins. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Londoner Wally Olins was the world’s original branding and corporate identity guru who helped establish and define retro graphic design style over the course of the 20th century. Among his company’s accomplishments was this 1994 logo for French telecommunications giant Orange, which reflects the solid colors and clean type that characterized Olins’ work.

5. Space Race

Aaron Draplin created this retro poster as a tribute to the NASA space shuttle program. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Aaron Draplin created this retro poster as a tribute to the NASA space shuttle program. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

If anyone ever asks you, “What is retro design?” point them toward Aaron Draplin’s poster tribute to the space shuttle. His thick lines and bold colors make this piece a powerful example of why retro’s resurgent.

6. Fast & Furious

Michael Turner’s poster celebrating the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix combines elements of the race location and the race itself. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Michael Turner’s poster celebrating the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix combines elements of the race location and the race itself. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

This stunning poster by artist Michael Turner for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix seamlessly gets across the in-your-face excitement of Grand Prix racing (bottom) and the effortless style of the exotic French Riviera (top).

7. International Flair

The variety of flags in this Saul Bass poster celebrate an international film festival. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
The variety of flags in this Saul Bass poster celebrate an international film festival. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

A striking example from Saul Bass’ decades-long series of posters created for film festivals, this piece makes the most of a simple concept—country flags placed on film strips hanging out to dry—to communicate the event’s international flavor.

8. Pool Party

Josh Agle, also known as Shag, used the 1960s as his inspiration for this colorful poster. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Josh Agle, also known as Shag, used the 1960s as his inspiration for this colorful poster. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Southern California artist and illustrator Shag (aka Josh Agle) dug deep into the style of 1960s advertising to create this beautifully-detailed poster

9. Letter Perfect

This playful rendition of the IBM logo was created by the same artist who designed the company’s 1972 logo: Paul Rand. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This playful rendition of the IBM logo was created by the same artist who designed the company’s 1972 logo: Paul Rand. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Paul Rand created this much-loved poster in 1981 to support the IBM motto “Think.” The image is a “rebus”—a word puzzle using pictures to represent letters—but also a knowing riff on the designer’s original IBM logo.

10. Old Glory

In this poster for the Rural Electrification Administration, Lester Beall combined the colors of the American flag with a black-and-white photo. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
In this poster for the Rural Electrification Administration, Lester Beall combined the colors of the American flag with a black-and-white photo. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Commissioned by the Rural Electrification Administration, this 1937 poster by early modernist Lester Beall juxtaposes the solid, bold colors of the flag with black-and-white photography to get across that there’s nothing more American than progress.

11. Follow Your Heart

This iconic New York logo was created by Milton Glaser—originally drawn on a scrap paper with a red crayon. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This iconic New York logo was created by Milton Glaser—originally drawn on a scrap paper with a red crayon. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

It’s hard to think of a logo more famous or effective than Milton Glaser elemental 1997 “I Love New York.” Fittingly, the original drawing was created in the back of a taxi and is now held by the Museum of Modern Art.

12. Snake Bite

This logo, designed by Aaron Draplin, was created to elevate the brand of food truck Cobra Dogs. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This logo, designed by Aaron Draplin, was created to elevate the brand of food truck Cobra Dogs. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Aaron Draplin’s logo for Cobra Dogs, the snowboarder’s food truck of choice, is playful yet intense and is made to complete the large negative space of the truck’s yellow side panel.

13. Cover Story

This  Glamour  magazine cover, designed by art director Cipe Pineles, embodies true vintage style. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This Glamour magazine cover, designed by art director Cipe Pineles, embodies true vintage style. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Cipe Pineles became the first autonomous art director at an American magazine (Glamour) in 1942 among many other professional firsts as a woman. Her magazine covers, such as this one for Seventeen, brought a clean modern aesthetic to fashion photography and design.

14. All-Seeing Eye

This simple yet bold logo for the Sofia State Puppet Theatre was designed by Stefan Kanchev. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This simple yet bold logo for the Sofia State Puppet Theatre was designed by Stefan Kanchev. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Known as “the master of the trademark,” Bulgarian designer Stefan Kanchev was often stark and bold yet somehow playful, such as this 1972 logo for the Sofia State Puppet Theatre.

15. Shades of Color

Klaus Meinhardt often uses bold colors, lines, and repetition to create an aesthetic that’s undeniably retro. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Klaus Meinhardt often uses bold colors, lines, and repetition to create an aesthetic that’s undeniably retro. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Simplicity and the inspired use of color drive the illustration work of German designer Klaus Meinhardt.

16. Poster Boy

Aaron Drapin created this self-portrait with retro letterforms and bold colors. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Aaron Drapin created this self-portrait with retro letterforms and bold colors. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Draplin’s self-portrait posters distill his style in both their unadorned graphic design and the similarly economical turns of phrase he chooses to place on them.

17. Downhill Racer

Graphic designer Joseph Binder designed this iconic poster for his home country of Austria. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Graphic designer Joseph Binder designed this iconic poster for his home country of Austria. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Austrian Joseph Binder was reportedly among the very first to call himself a graphic designer. The beautiful and iconic Binder poster for his homeland dates all the way back to 1930 and shows that the roots of mid-century modern run deep.

18. Getting in Shape

Bradbury Thompson designed this cover for his own book, “The Art of Graphic Design.” | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Bradbury Thompson designed this cover for his own book, “The Art of Graphic Design.” | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Bradbury Thompson’s cover design for his classic book The Art of Graphic Design leaves no doubt about the significance of vibrant color and simple geometric shapes.

19. Broadcast News

Herb Lubalin and Ernie Smith designed this logo for PBS in 1971. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Herb Lubalin and Ernie Smith designed this logo for PBS in 1971. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

This unforgettable 1971 PBS logo by Herb Lubalin and Ernie Smith reveals the potential power of blurring the lines between type and illustration.

20. Literary Lion

Alvin Lustig designed this book cover in 1944 for Gertrude Stein’s  “Three Lives.”  | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Alvin Lustig designed this book cover in 1944 for Gertrude Stein’s “Three Lives.” | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Alvin Lustig revolutionized book design by creating covers that captured the tone and feel of the writing within, such as this captivating example from 1944.

21. Wheels of Fortune

This poster featuring cyclists in tones of blue and green was designed for the 1972 Olympics by Otl Aicher. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This poster featuring cyclists in tones of blue and green was designed for the 1972 Olympics by Otl Aicher. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Otl Aicher’s poster series for the 1972 Olympics relied on vibrant, almost neon hues to communicate the unique intensity of Olympic competition.

22. Birds of a Feather

Ivan Chermayeff created this logo for NBC, incorporating the company’s signature peacock in the design. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Ivan Chermayeff created this logo for NBC, incorporating the company’s signature peacock in the design. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

With work like the NBC peacock, innovative designer Ivan Chermayeff brought abstracted shapes to the world of corporate logos at a time when letterforms had been the standard.

23. Hat Trick

Aaron Draplin’s hat design incorporates a simple logo with a retro feel. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Aaron Draplin’s hat design incorporates a simple logo with a retro feel. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Draplin’s simple yet powerful logos and trucker hats are a match made in heaven.

24. Head Space

In this poster for Label Magazine, Pawal Jonca uses big, bold geometric shapes and colors. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
In this poster for Label Magazine, Pawal Jonca uses big, bold geometric shapes and colors. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

Polish illustrator Pawel Jonca’s recent poster for Label Magazine celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus art movement and reminds us that use of geometric shapes and bright colors in graphic design go all the way back to the early 20th century.

25. Winter’s Tale

This image of Paris in winter was designed by Tom Haugomat with a limited yet bold color palette. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
This image of Paris in winter was designed by Tom Haugomat with a limited yet bold color palette. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

This illustration by Parisian artist-turned-illustrator Tom Haugomat recalls multiple eras of art and design while telling what seems a complete story through a single image.

26. Field of Vision

Even Aaron Draplin’s notebooks embody a retro graphic design aesthetic. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare
Even Aaron Draplin’s notebooks embody a retro graphic design aesthetic. | Retro Design Mega Guide by Skillshare

The tremendous variety found in the look of Draplin’s Field Notes notebooks spotlights the unlimited breadth of retro-inspired design.

 The bold colors, shapes, and letterforms of these retro designs are sure to inspire you to create your own modern art—with a little vintage flair. 

Learn From the Retro Design Icon Himself

Illustration with Draplin: Iterating with Shape, Style, and Color