Learn about the evolution of Memphis Style, and check out some cool ways to use it in your designs and marketing collateral.

Cover image via mim.girl

Keeping up with hip, modern styles can be tricky. They come and go, then come back again. Like zombies. This time (again) the look that’s all the rage is Memphis style: squiggles and random flat shapes, swimming through static patterns; bold colors contrast with softer pastels, set off by thick black geometry. . .and some more squiggles.

This return of the Memphis style isn’t even that new, but it is gaining mainstream presence. So with that, let’s learn more about the Memphis Group, the style that kicked off the 80s, became ubiquitous in the 90s, and how it has been refreshed for modern times.

A Brief History of the Memphis Group

The Milan, Italy-based Memphis Group was founded in 1980 when a group of designers, led by architect Ettore Sottsass, met and christened themselves to the soundtrack of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”

Inspired by the Art Deco, Bauhaus, and Pop Art movements, the group produced influential Postmodern furniture and textiles, as well as ceramic, glass, and metal sculpture, from 1981 to 1988.

Updated Memphis-Inspired Patterns and Style

Nowadays, this classic modern look has been updated with a fresh and more graphical approach. Check out a few reimaginings of the Memphis style available on Shutterstock.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Memphis Pattern for Web

Image via Fay Francevna

In this pattern, the shapes and elements have been refined to include crisper lines and more symmetry. It’s been updated to look good in web and graphic design.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Bauhaus Memphis Pattern

By d3images

These patterns sticks within the influence of Bauhaus, using accent colors with primary colors, and grids and flat graphics to create a contemporary look. This uses a cool off-set technique for depth, while retaining the 2D flatness Bauhaus sought in its deconstruction of form.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Animal Print Memphis Pattern

Image via Martyshova Maria

Throw an animal print into the mix for a refined but totally 90s school supplies look on a poster. A mix of leopard and zebra print spices things up, while the straight-up CMYK color palette is made to look almost neon by its inherent contrast. This makes the shapes jump off the page with a 3D look.

Using Memphis Style with Other Styles

Mix these patterns and shapes with Holographic Foil colors and gradients, and we start to see the building blocks of the vaporwave aesthetic. In the example below, we see a stripped down flat composition in seemingly random placement. However, when you duplicate and tile the image you’ll get a pattern you can use in many different environments or build your own design upon.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Holographic Foil Memphis Pattern

Memphis Patterns In the Wild

Sometimes you just want a zig-zaggy pattern – search for “memphis pattern” and a world of squiggles, cake sprinkles, and doo-dads opens before you. Use these as the backbone for your own designs. Search for vector images so you can manipulate the size, placement, and color of the elements.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Black and White Memphis Pattern

Image via Chereliss

There are also colorful patterns to help you save on time and indecision. This pattern uses a more neon color palette, but without the skeuomorphic glow, retaining the modern flat aesthetic.

Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now – Colorful Memphis Pattern

Image via om_illustrations

This updated and refined design movement is a fascinating take on a style once thought to be chained to its era. The modern twists and tweaks really make it fresh, and a versatile tool to accomplish many different messages.


For more inspiration from fresh styles, trends, and how-tos, check out these articles: