Categories / Design Basics

Behind the Vibrant Return of 70s Patterns

Bell bottoms were in. The hippie movement was well-known. The explosion in popularity of the commercial Internet was still another couple of decades away. Now everything 70s is new again.

Featuring Retro Aesthetic Patterns by Designnina Shop

Marc Schenker September 2, 2021 · 10 min read

Think of the 70s and bold patterns come to mind immediately. That’s not the only thing, though, because 70s design overall is returning to the forefront in a surprising way no one could have predicted. What catches your eye right away in 70s patterns is the telltale approach to design that this decade is famous for: psychedelia, groovy stylings, and tubular forms all take center stage in wallpapers, stationery, and even paper towels.

Maybe it’s the far-out sensibilities of this decade that make it appealing once more in our tech-heavy 21st century.

The History of 70s Patterns and Design

When we reminisce about the 70s, it’s almost like going back into a time warp because society has changed so drastically since then. Whereas it’s hard for someone born in the 21st century to picture themselves living in this decade, it brings back nostalgic memories for those who experienced it the first time around.

Bell bottoms were in. Technology (as we know it today) was in its infancy. The hippie movement was well-known. The explosion in popularity of the commercial Internet was still another couple of decades away.

This removal from today’s tech stressors might be the reason visual artists of the day could dig deep and hone in on textures would really connect with their audiences, regardless of whether those audiences were art lovers or just consumers.

To understand why patterns from this decade are staging a comeback, it’s crucial to get a sense of what inspired these décor sensibilities in the first place. Here are some choice examples of this style, so you can get up to speed:

Back in the 70s, you had upheaval in the U.S. as people from different walks of life came to realize that the system was rigged against them. In a geopolitical sense, you could also apply that to many parts of the world. To say that this sounds familiar today in contemporary times would be too cliché. However, looking around at today’s social changes and global developments, it’s quite tempting to draw a comparison. Then again, upheaval is a frequent theme in human history, cutting across all cultures.

That said, it’s against this backdrop that 70s design developed. When there’s a lot going on in the culture, design is usually one of the first industries to try to express these changes.

While the 60s still had their fill of more conservative styles like Mid-century Modern, by the end of the decade, the psychedelic stylings of the hippie movement signaled a more radical approach to design. To be sure, some of the traits of the 70s were just continuations of the hippie mentality of the prior decade. Instead of the tried, tested, and true shapes and colors of the post-World War II aesthetic, the 70s flirted with experimentation and playfulness.

This sense of experimentation and play shone through in something as approachable as even the paper flower pattern that we now associate with the decade.

Words like trippy and jaw-dropping are at the tip of your tongue when you’re asked to describe the design qualities of patterns from this era. That just scratches the tip of the iceberg, though. In reality, this design trend represents a conscious movement away from the sleek, minimalist, and stylish design movements that came before it, such as:

Each of the aforementioned is an aesthetic that can be typified by minimalism, orderliness, and neatness. For example, Mid-Century Modern has a classic, almost timeless feel that emphasizes usability instead of ornamentation, while Swiss Design relies on the use of the grid to organize its design contents in its visual language. And Atomic Age Design features sleek, curvy shapes and lines, which are simple.

70s design is therefore a rebellion against all of this. When you understand this principle, it becomes apparent that either the opposite of the aforementioned or altogether new aesthetics are thrown in. Look for 70s patterns to exhibit these characteristics:

  • Self-expression
  • Individualism
  • Psychedelic excesses
  • Highly saturated colors
  • Swirls
  • Geometric shapes and forms
  • Flower or plant-based motifs and patterns
  • Trippy typography
  • Paisley patterns (boteh or buta)

It must be said that 70s aesthetics in everything from wrapping paper patterns to textiles fail to diverge with trends of the past in one, important regard: the focus on nature. Not a new concept in design movements at all, nature-based themes have been front and center in many aesthetic movements for the past few centuries.

For example:

  • Art Nouveau — This style freely borrowed from nature as its artists and designers used plant life and flowers as their muses, oftentimes in very stylized (as opposed to realistic) depictions.
  • Scandinavian Design — Another movement strongly focused on the environment around us, it hailed from the Nordic countries (ie, Scandinavia). The themes of trees and natural wood, along with green colors, are a hallmark in this minimalist style from Europe.
  • Impressionism — This art style was revolutionary for its time (circa the late 19th century) because its founders painted outdoors. This was markedly different from the usual custom at the time, which was only sketching outdoors and then taking the unfinished work into the painter’s studio to finish it properly. Claude Monet and Pierre-August Renoir wanted to use the direct sunlight and airier approach to painting.

Have you ever noticed the sheer number of floral motifs in 70s patterns?

That’s because the back-to-nature obsession was highly important to designers of this decade, influenced by hippie culture, which rejected consumerism and was searching for a simpler style of life. Plus, there was also the oil crisis of 1973, which furthered this embrace of environmentalism. This even carried over into 70s architecture, where more and more homes of that era were being equipped with (for the time) energy-efficient improvements. Interior design attributes like skylights and huge windows can be traced back to this era and consciousness.

However, in all fairness, when the nature themes of 70s style were done to excess, it all turned into overkill. For example, a typical room of that decade may have featured wicker furniture, exposed ceiling beams, and even hanging plants—an acquired taste, to be sure.

Overall, though, when you’re turning over a dotted paper pattern in your hands and appreciating its green-themed design influences, know that the environmental consciousness of the 70s had something to do with that.

A Closer Look at the Patterns of the 70s

There’s a multitude of eye-popping patterns in the designs of this decade that demand a closer look.

Here’s a rundown of just some of these mesmerizing textures.

Mandala

Mandalas always invoke an air of mysticism and a higher state of consciousness. That and, of course, they are aesthetically intriguing to feast your eyes on. A mandala is nothing more than an often elaborate alignment of geometric patterns or designs, which stands for the heavens or various deities in Buddhist, Shinto, Jain, or Hindu traditions. This symbol’s sense of mystery is precisely what attracted western counterculture types, such as hippies, in their search for something other than consumerism.

From a design perspective, a 70s mandala pattern is a sight to behold. It’s a study in symmetry, with all the intricate points of the outermost portion of the design an equal distance from the center of the entire composition. Figuring into the mix as well is the explosion of rich, vivid colors that take such a composition to another level.

Paisley

The paisley pattern is another frequent sight in 70s-inspired patterns. We can also thank the hippie movement of this era for popularizing this aesthetic in papers, clothing, and artworks related to the decade.

An ornamental textile aesthetic, paisley is of Persian origin and refers to a teardrop-shaped design that features a prominent, curved upper end. Interestingly, however, the etymology of the word “paisley” itself is western: It’s a reference to the Scottish town of the same name that was a center of production of this textile.

Culturally, paisley became popular due to the Beatles’ association with the pattern, along with its increasingly close association with psychedelia, another aesthetic that defined the 60s and 70s.

From a strict style point of view, this pattern always implies a sense of motion or direction, with the curved, upper end free to slant in any direction. The pattern was originally used by the Persians and even ancient Indo-Iranians to symbolize eternity and life in the Zoroastrian tradition. In the west, it was in clothing where it was popularized. In everything from shirts to shawls, this symbol was seen in highly colorful, lush presentations.

Flower Power

As soon as you hear the phrase “flower power,” you generally get the impression of social permissiveness, psychedelia, and joy. Flowers and nature are repetitive themes in 70s design.

The symmetrical and equidistant arrangement of petals around the center of the flower makes flower motifs well-suited for a symbol of design from this decade.

70s Patterns in Graphic Design

Here’s a quick roundup of some ideal examples of this design style in seamless patterns.

Retro Revival 70s Collection

16 seamless patterns, 74 joyful elements, and 16 carefully lettered quotes to match. Each graphic is replete with the telltale signs and symbols of this turbulent decade of change and non-conformity.

Use these backgrounds to spice up your design projects in a way that few will dare to do. From the hippie-inspired peace symbols to the psychedelic colors that jump off the clipart, you’ll have a lot of material to impress your clients.

1970s Digital Paper

If you’ve ever wanted to see what wallpaper from this decade could look like as digital paper, then this is the digital asset for you. Featuring 12 JPEGs (300 pdi) with 12 X 12 dimensions, each file is ideal for a host of digital projects, such as:

  • Digital scrapbooking
  • Handmade cards
  • Digital accents
  • Digital embellishments

The aesthetics in this set showcase the geometric patterns that are so common in pattern paper celebrating this decade, along with bold colors that will make your audience’s eyes pop.

Retro Poster Folded Paper & Grains

Groovy and trippy don’t even begin to describe this collection. It’s a set of more than 50 paper overlays, vintage grain overlays, and colored paper textures.

Here, you can find just about anything for your next design project. Choose from black pages featuring white folds, which are perfect for darker images; use white pages that have dark folds, which are great for lighter images.

Then, there are the colored digital paper backgrounds: These feature watercolor paper textures, speckles, folds, distressed paper textures, spots, and other design flourishes. There’s also a collection of grainer textures that are ideal accents or additional vintage feels.

All the images in the set are high-resolution: 4500 X 5500 (400 dpi).

Retro Patterns Digital Papers

Take a trip back in time to this psychedelic decade with this 70s patterned paper. This collection features more earth tones instead of the loud, vibrant colors that sometimes overpower associations with the decade.

All told, you’ll get 20 digital papers that feature red, brown, and orange colors and shades, ideal for a multitude of use cases. Incorporate these papers into projects like:

  • Custom digital wallpaper
  • Paper crafts
  • Decals
  • Stickers
  • Backdrops for your portrait photography
  • Announcement cards
  • Gift wrapping
  • Invitations
  • Paper roses
  • Christmas tree ornaments
  • Party banners
  • Gift tags

This collection is compatible with Adobe Photoshop and contains 12 X 12 (3600 px X 3600 px) JPEGs.

Creative Patterns to Take Your Designs Back to the 70s

Some look back to the 70s and marvel at how people were able to get by with so little technology! However, this simpler way of living made design an even more powerful medium of communication. Together with the focus on individualism and anti-establishment belief systems, creatives in this day and age were free to experiment.

The result was design that was radical, mystical, and nature-themed. Today, artists are lucky enough to enjoy these patterns as design inspiration and a focal point for their client projects.

Lettering Worksheets
Getting started with hand lettering?
Free lettering worksheets

Download these worksheets and start practicing with simple instructions and tracing exercises.

Download now!
About the Author
Author
Marc Schenker

Marc is a copywriter and marketer who runs The Glorious Company, a marketing agency. An expert in business and marketing, he helps businesses and companies of all sizes get the most bang for their ad bucks.

View More Posts
Go to My Shop
Related Articles