When we click on a website, most of us are used to being met with sleek and modern designs. But every once in a while, you may come across a site that harks back to an era of classic design—featuring retro typography and/or vintage imagery.
Ironically, embracing vintage aesthetics can breathe new life into your web projects. Case in point: check out these 13 retro websites and learn how they tap into a sense of nostalgia to leave a lasting impression.
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13 retro websites for inspiration
When we think about retro aesthetics (a.k.a. “Y2K aesthetics”) in website design, we typically imagine the era from the early 90s till the mid-2000s. Websites created in the early days of the internet—when web designers faced a lot of technical constraints—naturally developed a unique style.
It's important to mention that retro website design isn’t appropriate for all categories of websites. For example, if you’re designing a corporate website, then a retro design may feel too flashy or off-brand. Retro aesthetics generally work best for personal sites like portfolios, graphic design websites or illustrator websites because it allows their site owners to unleash their creativity.
Now without future ado, here are 13 of the best websites to draw inspiration from if you think a vintage-style website could be a good fit for you. Learn how to make a website that embraces the best aspects of vintage website design.
Pale yellow color paired with large content blocks with pixelated typography and underlined links were perhaps the most popular style decisions in the early 2000s. Many websites were created with that aesthetic, including large eCommerce platforms like eBay (eBay was redesigned only in 2011). Tal, the creator of the website Aroke1, embraced this Y2K web design aesthetic, creating a website that is sure to resonate with anyone who experienced the early days of the web. The website manifests this retro style not just on web elements but also on images. Explore the world of eCommerce design for further inspiration.
02. Kurt Champion
Kurt, a graphic designer based in London, puts his works front and center of his portfolio site, using a visual style of web design that offers a nostalgic charm. The underlined blue links and large blocks of text in sans-serif typeface create an impression of a strangely familiar design.
03. Shiqian Pan
Back in the day, web designers often experimented with visual form. Some early design decisions may seem a bit awkward now. For example, it's nearly impossible to imagine a modern website mixing handwritten fonts with sans serif fonts in the same paragraph or using more than three colors in the same content block. Unless, of course, the designer intentionally wants to convey the feeling of vintage web design, just like Shiquian Pan did on her website.
04. Ayelet Raziel
Another popular design decision in the early 2000s: creating linear gradients from vibrant colors. Designers liked to use gradients to create visual interest and get visitors to linger on the site. Gradients, of course, still work great for modern websites. Below you can see how Ayelet Raziel relies on gradients and retrofuturistic elements, like simple geometric shapes, to create a memorable experience.
05. Kevin Ward
Along with linear gradients, simple geometric patterns were also popular among web designers in the late ‘90s. Geometric patterns can help to introduce dimensionality in visual design and make it more interesting for visitors. Here you can see how graphic designer Kevin Ward nicely pairs a simple grid with content and imagery. Interestingly, a grid in this example serves a clear functional purpose—it directs the visitor's attention to the imagery.
06. Jamus Andrest
The 90s were the era of exploration of three-dimensional textures. From motion pictures to popular games, designers experimented with 3D forms to create new and more immersive experiences. No wonder 3D objects were incorporated into websites, too. Back in that time, web designers often used pseudo-3D objects (not pure 3D but rather 2D isometric objects) to create fresh looks. Jamus Andres contextualizes pseudo-3D elements within a minimalist website design. The result: a distinctive visual style that’s hard to forget.
07. Good UX designer
When designers are on the hunt for a unique visual style that can help them stand out of the crowd, some over-rely on complex animated effects to impress visitors. However, it's possible to achieve the same goal using simple graphic elements. Miko proves that bold, vibrant colors paired with simple typography can create a unique visual identity.
08. Jenny Nguyen
Jenny Nguyen expertly uses design queues to create a clear hierarchy of content. She uses a limited number of graphic details (one typeface and a color palette of a few colors) to achieve this, also adapting a style that feels familiar to the early days of the web, when designers had to deal with many visual constraints.
09. Essi Rub
It’s rumored that green and red colors don't work well together, low-resolution images create bad impressions and rotating objects are a no-no. But Essi Rub proves that it's possible to create cool designs by breaking the rules. In fact, this website is one of the most notable examples of early 2000s aesthetics—it's both fun to browse and features a unique visual language.
Vintage styles look even more gorgeous when paired with modern flair. Creative studio Blue Monday nicely bakes vintage elements into modern design. Their site imitates the aesthetics of the late 2000s websites while making the most of modern techniques, such as animated transitions and embedded videos.
11. Timeless Pieces
Is it possible to trim down design elements to the absolute minimum without making the site too boring? Yes, according to Timeless Pieces. The site uses a monochrome color scheme, and its homepage features simple text against a single-color website background. But rather than making the site look boring, these design decisions help the site look fresh and modern.
12. Julia Trindade
Low-resolution images and pixelated icons are attributes of the early days of the web. Nowadays, it's possible to use these attributes to create a fresh and unique visual appearance. Julia Trinade does precisely that on her website. A black-and-white Polaroid photo is used as a background and nicely accompanies the text block. A pixelated icon of the sun and cloud at the top left corner of the screen nicely reinforces the design.
13. Iris Sun
Iris Sun's website is another example of minimalist-design-done-well. The site only features essential content and functional elements. It uses ample white space to guide the viewer's attention to individual sections and functional blocks. Enlarged typography and a color palette with a limited number of colors reinforce this design, making it truly timeless.
How to bring the retro aesthetic to your own web design
Looking to experiment with vintage web design? Try these tips on for size:
Choose a retro-inspired color palette: One of the most defining features of a retro aesthetic is the use of bold and vibrant colors. Consider using colors that were popular in the 90s, such as mustard yellow, burnt orange or baby blue.
Use vintage typography: Look for fonts that were popular in the era that you’re trying to draw inspiration from, such as Futura or Garamond. Check the article best fonts for your website to learn more about font selection.
Incorporate retro graphics: Retro design often features stylized illustrations and graphics, such as grainy textures and geometric shapes.
Use a minimalist layout: Many retro designs are characterized by clean, simple layouts with plenty of whitespace. It can help draw attention to your graphics and typography.
Consider incorporating vintage-inspired animations: Retro animations can add a touch of whimsy to your design. Look for examples of vintage cartoons or advertisements for inspiration.