Looking to the past for brand design cues? Follow our advice and you can steal design liberally while remaining an original brand.


1. Don’t look to the recent past. It is too close for comfort. As in fashion, the recent past isn’t glamorous – it is a mistake we are trying to undo today. We need time to reappraise design and to bestow prestige.


2. Borrow wisely. Don’t be retro because it is a trend. Do it because it fits in with your overarching brand strategy, not because everyone else is doing it (or because you like 70’s album covers).


3. Be knowledgeable about the history and desirable traits of the industry your organisation operates in. Classic typography, sepia colours and dirty textures will integrate well into a classic clothing brand but horribly into any brand that deals in new technology.


4. It isn’t just the period, but the place too. Americana, for instance, is redolent of both the 1950’s and the country it takes it’s name from. Perfect for brands that sell products that we mentally associate with both.


5. Show your passion. We think of the past as a period when design, and people, were more authentic. Whether that is true or not, picking up design elements from the past can help bestow a little of that old-school passion and authenticity on a brand. It can help create a back story even when there isn’t one.


6. There is always an element of irony when you borrow from the past. You know, and we know that you know, that this barber shop branding isn’t actually from the 50’s, but rather a respectful, tongue in cheek nod toward a period of classic, brillantined hair cuts.


7. Make sure it works across the brand. Retro design might make sense for some of your products, but not necessarily all. Before you go all woodcut, take a while to consider the future direction of the brand.


8. Finally, look to integrate the past and the present. You are paying homage, not actually trying to convince the audience that the brand is from the 1920’s. That would be counter-productive in the majority of cases. The integration of old and new ideas is what makes this so much fun and what makes the truly original possible.


Like one of my favourite magpies says:


“It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”


— Jean-Luc Godard