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50s Graphic Design: Mid-Century Modern to Swiss Style

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Looking for some inspiration for a new project? The 1950s are a great period to draw from.

If you like vintage graphic design, get this 50s retro design pack of Illustrator brushes from Envato Elements. If you like vintage graphic design, get this 50s retro design pack of Illustrator brushes from Envato Elements. If you like vintage graphic design, get this 50s retro design pack of Illustrator brushes from Envato Elements.
If you like vintage graphic design, get this 50s retro design pack of Illustrator brushes from Envato Elements.

Today, we'll take a look at the major design influences of the era and share some terrific 1950s graphic design resources from Envato Elements that you can use to incorporate a bit of the 50s retro design aesthetic into any project.

Major Design Influences of the 1950s

Following the horror of WW2, the 1950s were a fertile period of major social change and economic growth in Europe and the United States of America. In the US, the manufacturing and home construction industries were booming. This led to an expanded and more affluent middle class and created new suburban populations with a hunger for the material symbols of social progress.

The 1950s also saw the beginning of the Cold War era, the birth of television, and the heyday of advertising. The culture was heavily influenced by the philosophical and artistic outlook of designers who had fled Europe for the US during the war and helped to reshape American art and design.

Meanwhile, Europe was rebuilding its shattered institutions and strengthening its democracies, and new ideas were evolving which represented a deliberate rejection of the artistic styles of the past and emphasised new techniques and materials which reflected the rebirth and renewal themes of the period.

In these contexts, three distinct trends in graphic design emerged which shaped the aesthetics of the decade. These trends shared many characteristics, while having distinct characteristics of their own. Let's take a look at each trend.

Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design

Typical Mid-Century Modern poster design (image source).Typical Mid-Century Modern poster design (image source).Typical Mid-Century Modern poster design (image source).
Typical Mid-Century Modern poster design (image source).

Mid-Century Modern graphic design refers to a distinctly American movement that was born in 1945 and reached the height of its popularity in the 1950s. Let's take an in-depth look at the 50s design elements for this style with examples.

Line and Shape in Mid-Century Graphic Design

1950s graphic designers for this style focused on turning complex ideas into simple visual forms. The style eschews ornamentation and favours straight lines and clean geometric shapes, giving mid-century illustrations a clean, minimalist look.

Mid-Century Modern Graphics (EPS, JPEG)

Mid-Century Modern IllustrationMid-Century Modern IllustrationMid-Century Modern Illustration

This 50s retro graphic design is a great example of the dominance of geometrics in the style. Taking inspiration from 1950s American diners, bowling lanes, and drive-ins, these 12 design elements are a great choice for creating flyers, posters, invitations, and more. A great choice when you need to recreate Mid-Century Modern illustrations.

Typography in Mid-Century Graphic Design

Of course, mid-century typography has its own distinct flavour. During this era, bold sans serifs were preferred because they offered no frills minimalism and echoed the clean lines and geometry of the era's design style. Though absent from the other styles we will discuss here, with mid-century graphic design, you will sometimes find cursive fonts used in a design to complement the sans serif fonts.

Mid-Century Modern Design Typography (TTF, OTF, EOT, WOFF)

Mid-Century Modern TypographyMid-Century Modern TypographyMid-Century Modern Typography

Mid-Century Modern Design Typography is an uppercase retro font inspired by Mid-Century Modern poster design. It's an excellent font to use when you want to bring the spirit of 1950s graphic design to your projects.

Colour in Mid-Century Graphic Design

The colours in mid-century modern graphics have a distinct hue that is easy to recognise. Colours vary from bright pastels of sunny yellow, minty green, bubble-gum pink and turquoise to warm, earthy tones.

Mid-Century Modern Logo (EPS, AI, PSD)

Mid-Century Modern LogoMid-Century Modern LogoMid-Century Modern Logo

These six retro mid-century logos are a great example of the kind of colour scheme you can expect with 50s graphic design. Use these terrific templates inspired by American storefronts of the 1950s to create your own stunning Mid-Century Modern logos.

Layout in Mid-Century Graphic Design

One of the most significant hallmarks of Mid-Century Modern graphics is that of eliminating the inessential visual elements to create a clean, minimalist design with plenty of negative space in order to promote clarity of communication.

Mid-Century Illustrated Patterns (AI, EPS, JPG)

Mid-Century Illustrated Patterns Mid-Century Illustrated Patterns Mid-Century Illustrated Patterns

To create your own terrific Mid-Century Modern illustration and 50s advertising art style, try these mid-century-inspired seamless patterns and be sure to not crowd your design elements but leave plenty of negative space for them to breathe. This pack contains ten gorgeous patterns and two high-resolution textures.

Design Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern

Now that you have a grasp of some of the key qualities that make up Mid-Century Modern graphic design, here's a summary of characteristics that define the style.

  • Simplicity
  • Clean lines
  • Bold geometric shapes
  • Minimalism
  • Plenty of white space
  • Vibrant pastels and earthy hues

Swiss Style Graphic Design

You may have heard of it before and wondered: what is Swiss Style? Well, concurrent with the development of Mid-Century Modern was the Swiss Style, a design movement that emerged in Switzerland and Germany in the 1950s. Also known as the International Typographic Style, Swiss Style design, like Mid-Century Modernism, was a reinterpretation of the modernism that began earlier in the century.

The main aim of Swiss Style design was to create design based on objectivity and clarity of purpose. To this end, Swiss design rejects the use of decorative elements for their own sake and instead includes only elements that are absolutely necessary to communicate a given message clearly.

Layout in Swiss Style Graphic Design

The use of grid lines as a structural tool to organise text and graphic elements on a page is one of the Swiss Style's biggest contributions to design. When used well, grids give a clear structure to a page, make it easier to group related information, and create a sense of organisation and uniformity.

Hand in hand with grid lines, visual hierarchies and white space are also very important in Swiss Style design. They involve using a variety of text sizes and ample blank space—space where no content exists—to improve the overall quality of the design and to focus the viewer's eye on the most important information first.

Red Business Brochure Layout (INDD)

Red Business Brochure LayoutRed Business Brochure LayoutRed Business Brochure Layout

When you're looking for a grid layout for your brochure, check out this Red Business Brochure Layout template. With 12 unique page layouts to choose from, you can just mix and match the pages to create the look you want.

Line and Shape in Swiss Style Design

Similar to Mid-Century Modern designers, Swiss style 1950s graphic designers favoured clean lines and geometric shapes as well as the use of photographs, which they felt were a better way to illustrate an idea than drawings.

Magazine Layout (INDD)

LookBook LayoutLookBook LayoutLookBook Layout

Inspired by the clean lines and geometric shapes of Swiss 50s design, you can create your own 50s retro graphic design with this terrific template. All you need is a working knowledge of InDesign and a little time to customise the template to your liking.

Colour in Swiss Style Design

Rather than a specific colour, Swiss Style designers emphasised strong contrast in the use of colour. This, they believed, helped important elements of the design stand out more clearly.

NORMAL (OTF, TTF, WOFF, EOT, SVG)

swiss style graphic designswiss style graphic designswiss style graphic design

The whole colour presentation of the Normal Font is a great example of the Swiss Style approach to colour. The colour contrasts used allow the font to show up clearly and distinctly from its background, which increases legibility.

Typography in Swiss Style Design

Swiss typography is all about the sans-serif typeface. In fact, it would be accurate to say that the celebration of sans-serif type is one of the defining aspects of the Swiss Design style. Typefaces such as Helvetica, Univers, and Frutiger are all fonts created in the era. With their clean lines and functional simplicity, these and other sans serif typefaces support the style's goal of clear, direct communication.

VISIA Pro Typeface (OTF, TTF, EOT, SVG, WOFF)

visia pro - Swiss typography

With its obvious legibility and wonderfully rounded style, VISIA Pro is a great example of the type of sans serif typeface the Swiss Style embraces.

Design Characteristics of Swiss Style Design

In summary, Swiss Style has many aspects in common with Mid-Century Modern but takes the quality of the style even further along the lines of minimalism and clarity of purpose:

  • Use of grid lines for structure, organisation, and uniformity
  • Visual hierarchy
  • Minimalism
  • Simplicity
  • Clean lines
  • Bold geometric shapes
  • Sans serif typefaces
  • Plenty of white space
  • Contrasting colours

Scandinavian Design

Scandinavian Design emerged in the early 20th century and flourished throughout Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland during the 1950s. Like the Mid-Century Modern and Swiss styles, Scandinavian design emphasises minimalism, simplicity, and function, but with some differences which are born from the influence of their unique northern climate on the work of Scandinavian designers.

Colour in Scandinavian Design

Colour is as important a defining characteristic in Scandinavian design as it is in the other 50s graphic design traditions, but in Scandinavian design the colour scheme is influenced by nature and emphasises light as well as calming and neutral colours. Cool greys, creams, whites, and earth tones are the dominant palettes.

Scandinavian Design Inspiration (EPS, AI, JPEG)

Scandinavian PatternsScandinavian PatternsScandinavian Patterns

This beautiful set of patterns is an example of a colour scheme revered in Scandinavian design. Use these terrific patterns when you want to capture the Scandi vintage graphic design.

Fonts in Scandinavian Design

The sans serif typeface is one of those 50s design elements found in Mid-Century Modern and Swiss Style that is also important in Scandinavian graphic design and for the very same reasons: simplicity and clarity.

Tundra Sans Serif Font (OTF, WOFF)

Tundra San SerifTundra San SerifTundra San Serif

Tundra is a simple sans serif font that captures the Scandinavian preference for simplicity and clarity. It includes uppercase characters, multilingual letters, numbers, and punctuation.

Texture, Line, and Shape in Scandinavian Design

Whereas geometric shapes are preferred by both mid-century and modern graphic design styles, Scandinavian design favours the organic shapes found in nature. Along with organic lines and shapes, texture also plays a significant role in the design aesthetic with wood, leather, stone, and other natural materials that incorporate the natural landscape being used.

Background Texture Collection (PSD, JPEG)

Background Texture CollectionBackground Texture CollectionBackground Texture Collection

When you are looking for backgrounds for your Scandinavian vintage graphic design inspired projects, look no further than this terrific collection. It includes 20 high-res background textures that are bound to enhance your project.

Layouts in Scandinavian Design

In Scandinavian design, the number of elements used on a page is kept to a minimum to avoid overcomplicating the design, and there is a distinct preference for plenty of white space so that elements stand on their own. This kind of clean composition allows all the focus to be kept on the elements that are used and aids clear communication.

NATASHA Minimal Lifestyle Magazines (INDD)

NATASHA Minimal Lifestyle MagazinesNATASHA Minimal Lifestyle MagazinesNATASHA Minimal Lifestyle Magazines

NATASHA is a terrific example of the kind of layout favoured by the Scandinavian graphic design style. If you are interested in replicating this 50s advertising art style for a magazine, this is a great template to use. It includes 24 A4 pages that you can edit easily in InDesign.

Design Characteristics of Scandinavian Design

  • Light, neutral colours
  • Sans serif typefaces
  • Organic shapes
  • Clean lines
  • Natural textures
  • Simple uncluttered layouts
  • Plenty of white space

Choose Your Favourite 50s Design Elements

Now you know all about 50s graphic design and where to find 50s design elements to capture that 50's retro graphic design aesthetic in your work. Head on over to Envato Elements and GraphicRiver and download your favourite design template today.

And if you're interested in learning more about graphic design in other eras, check out these super helpful articles below:

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