Looking to the past for design inspiration is nothing new, designers in all kinds of different niches, especially graphic designers, have been pilfering from the past for years now. A growing number of graphic designers and typographers seem to drawn to using retro fonts in their work, but just what is the appeal? Surely if these kinds of fonts were so great they never would have 'fallen out of fashion' in the first place?
However, if you give a little thought to the real state of modern fonts, and a little consideration to some recent examples of retro fonts used in just the right ways, the allure becomes a lot easier to understand.
The Modern and the Mundane
The best known of the modern company logos may be distinctive, but that is not necessarily because of how great they are, we have all just become so used to them. Take the Google logo. Sure, it has become one of the most easily recognized logos in the world, but not because it is really in any way exciting. At its heart, it is simply a modern serif font rendered in primary colors, nothing really earth shattering, which is also true of the logos for Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin, Twitter and many others. You remember them because you now know the brand so well, but it is unlikely that anyone ever got over excited about the bland, ultra minimalist type used in Facebook's logo when the company was still a start up rather than a world dominating social network.
Retro in the Modern World
There are some new companies though that have taken retro fonts and used them to great effect in the in the 21st century. To cite just a single recent example there is the logo used for Twitter's new video service Vine. It builds on the Twitter logo just enough so that you can guess that the two are related, but instead of a modern font like the one used for Twitter it makes great use of a retro font that effectively transmits the fact that Vine is the more playful, creative side of the Twitter empire, and it does so just with a clever change of typeface and font color!
Creating a Mood
The other big reason that the use of retro fonts is so appealing is that when used in a logo they can help a brand convey a 'feeling' that suits the style of its offerings with relative ease. For example, the fashion line Hell Bunny, which is currently very popular with the ultra modern teen set, offers new takes on 1950's style retro clothing, and the clever use of a great retro font in their logo makes that fact apparent before a customer has ever seen their actual clothing designs!
So What Makes a Retro Font?
The great thing about looking to the past for design inspiration in typography is that there is so much of it to choose from! A font like Sailorette, which is a clever combination of Art Deco and tattoo lettering, would be perfect for evoking an early twentieth century feel - says from the '20s to the '40s - while a slightly more up to date, yet still pretty retro, font like Mad Pacman, would be great for use in one of the many 'old school' video games that are suddenly cropping up again today.
Retro fonts are not suitable for use in every situation, they have to be used carefully or they can become cliched rather than classy, but in the right hands they can be used to create typography that qualifies as a true work of art.