Ready to take a trip down memory lane? Explore the 90s design trends that are making a mark on the design world right now.
The 90s was a decade defined by many different genres and styles. From the underground music scenes of punk, grunge and rave to pop culture moments such as Clueless and Tamagotchis, the 90s were a melting pot of different trends. With the creation of Photoshop 1.0 for Macintosh in 1990, the evolution of 90s design had a huge impact on not just the decade in question, but also the graphic design trends that continue to re-emerge.
While most 90s trends were centred around music and fashion, many movements happened simultaneously, often contradicting each other in their design styles. Whether you favored Nirvana’s grunge aesthetic or the bubblegum pop of Britney Spears, one thing’s for sure: the 90s was all about experimenting with design and throwing the ‘classic’ rules out the window. Learn more about 90s design.
Plenty of 90s trends have made a comeback over the last few years, with many brands, artists and designers embracing nostalgia in their marketing, products and design. Some of the world’s biggest brands have begun revisiting 90s pop culture in their advertising, and experimenting with iconic 90s design styles, such as grunge, Memphis Style and anti design.
Ready to rewind to one of the most controversial and inspiring decades of all time? Here are some of the biggest 90s design trends making a comeback in 2020…
Originating from the punk music scene, graffiti, and skateboarding culture, the early 90s grunge trend saw a rise in more experimental, less polished design styles. Inspired by underground rock culture, this trend was all about breaking the rules of traditional graphic design, including elements such as:
The grunge design trend has made a big comeback over the last decade, showing up in the same places it did almost 30 years ago: posters, album covers, digital art, and – the alternative to magazines in 2020 – social media. New York designer Roy Cranston’s work is a great example of combining 90s grunge with modern minimalism, as is the grunge-inspired, evocative work of Designer Drugs.
First appearing in the 1960s, the anti-design movement was reignited by creatives during the 1990s, particularly in the worlds of graphic design, interior design, and fashion. The opulence of the 80s fell away to the raw minimalism of 90s anti fashion: think Kate Moss by Corinne Day or the edgy, alternative catwalks of designers such as Helmut Lang and Maison Martin Margiela.
Carrying on from the grittiness of grunge, anti design heralded the emergence of chaos and ugliness as a radical response to traditional standards of beauty and ‘good’ design. Described as ‘raw’, ‘unapologetic’ and even ‘hideous’, this trend featured a lot of experimental layouts, exaggeration, distortion and traditionally ‘ugly’ elements in protest of prettiness and perfection.
While anti design certainly isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, there’s no denying that it’s effective at grabbing attention – which is kind of the whole point. With the resurgence of Brutalism in 2019, featuring chunky geometric shapes and experimental, distorted fonts, the anti-design trend quickly seeped back into popular culture, re-invigorating graphic design with its energy, movement and expressive presence.
Many designers are now dabbling in the bizarre world of anti design, which can be seen in the incredible website design of Roze Bunker, Niki Lauda’s eccentric designs, and Cecile + Roger’s collection of anti-design posters and installations for the Mirage festival 7e Edition. The independent magazine publishing industry is also embracing anti design, with magazines such as Mushpit, Hotdog Magazine and Buffalo Zine featuring uneasy layouts, nasty fonts, and crowded maximalist styles.
From butterfly clips and Lip Smackers to F.R.I.E.N.D.S and the Spice Girls, the 90s was a decade rife with some unforgettable pop culture moments. A trend that infiltrated fashion, music, movies, decor and design, polished 90s pop culture was in opposition to the grunge and anti-design movements that simultaneously defined this bizarre, melting pot of a decade.
Featuring vibrant bold and pastel colors, abstract shapes and patterns, dorky fonts, and kitsch textures such as jelly shoes and fuzzy hair accessories, there’s no question that 90s pop culture trends had a big impact on design. Memphis Style – a trend that’s synonymous with the late 80s – carried on well into the 90s and became a staple style used in stationery, product packaging and interior design.
TV shows like Rugrats, Saved by the Bell and Full House also had a big influence on the popularity of sans serif and casual handwritten style fonts, a typeface that often went hand in hand with bright colors, geometric shapes and sketchy illustrations. And after its release in 1995, Comic Sans – one of the most controversial fonts of all time – was soon used everywhere (to a fault) from children’s birthday invitations, to corporate newsletters, to pop up and pop under ads.
Thanks to the world’s new-found love of nostalgia, the 90s pop culture trend has made a big comeback over the last year. Many graphic designers are revisiting Memphis style and other 90s design elements in their work, even recycling classic 90s branding and advertisements.
Fashion designers are revisiting 90s cartoon characters in their designs, and beauty brands are bringing back the classic 90s aesthetic to market their products. Popping up everywhere from Typo’s classic collection of Friends merchandise, to the re-release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Playstation’s 25 year anniversary, to this year’s nostalgic Groundhog Day Superbowl ad, it’s clear that our obsession with 90s culture isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
A movement born of the 1980s Acid House scene, rave culture was another music phenomena that had a big impact on graphic design in the 90s. Used to describe the underground music subculture, ‘rave’ was a style heavily inspired by house music, surrealism, cyberpunk and psychedelia.
Following in the rebellious footsteps of grunge and anti-design, the rave design trend was intended to break the rules of design and reject the status quo. Featuring bold typography, dark backgrounds, experimental patterns, neon colors and a combination of psychedelic and cyberpunk motifs, the 90s rave trend was all about emulating the look and feel of underground rave, house and club culture. Used mainly in posters, flyers and album covers, rave design created a powerful, evocative and futuristic feel.
To keep the 90s rave trend alive in your own work, check out this Event Party Square Flyer & Social Media Post and Music Event Big Poster Design Set by PeakStar, this Relevant Beats Flyer Poster by RetroBox or these 36 Retro Pixel Lightroom Presets and LUTs by sparklestock.