Whether you’re building a fresh new brand or just looking to reinvent, it’s important to take risks in order to stand out. Design-wise, great risks lead to great rewards through cheeky advertising, an iconic logo and a unique color palette, to name a few. But one of the greatest ways for a brand to win through risk-taking is to establish a vivid design style, and nothing is more eye-catching than psychedelic design.

Save the Bees T-shirt design
Save the Bees T-shirt design by Eliza Osmo
Superfood packaging design
Superfood packaging design by Fahrenheit 32
Groovy Movers logo design
Groovy Movers logo design by Monifa Behrooz
Love Revolution album cover design
Love Revolution album cover design by Aldo 4 4

The term “psychedelia” refers to the psychedelic subculture of years past, while the term “psychedelic” is more specific to experiencing an altered state of consciousness. When it comes to a design aesthetic, they’re pretty interchangeable.

Right now, abstract psychedelia is making a righteous statement among the 2021 design trends. While this style is still making moves today, let’s refresh ourselves on when it all started: the Swinging Sixties. Rooted in the music and art of the ’60s, psychedelia is associated with hallucinogens and creative experimentation under the backdrop of social upheaval. Both visually and emotionally, psychedelic style takes you to a new destination, and the overarching goal is the opening of one’s mind. Psychedelic designs take on a life of their own, both in their explosive arrangements and in their complexity—to the extent that no two viewings feel quite the same.

Psychedelic designs
Illustration design by OrangeCrush

By this point, you may be tripping out and thinking… “This sounds like something I’ve seen before.” That’s because design trends are cyclical, and we see various design themes evolve and resurge with time. A simple example is fashion trends. We wore the hell out of bell-bottom jeans in the ’70s, but they came right back in style in the 90s. The same can be said for psychedelia, which saw a major fashion resurgence in 2019. And within the past year, we’ve seen tie-dye make a huge comeback.

In fact, many successful designs from today are the ones that reference throwbacks to the past. Psychedelic design proves that what goes around can come back around in the best way possible. Groovy, eh?

What is psychedelic design?

Psychedelic design is an experience that immerses you, stimulates the senses and leaves you with something to remember. Elements of psychedelic design will do just that. Some hallmark characteristics of psychedelic design include fantasy imagery, kaleidoscopic and spiral patterns, ultra-bright color, extremely intricate detail and groovy typography.

The history of psychedelic design dates back to the late ’60s, with influences beginning way earlier. Movements such as Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession, Surrealism, Op Art and Pop Art shaped the psychedelic style which we know and love.

San Francisco poster artists such as Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson were key influencers in establishing the unique traits of the Psychedelic Art movement of the ’60s.

Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley poster
Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley poster via artnet.com
Rick Griffin poster
Rick Griffin poster via rickgriffindesigns.com
Bonnie MacLean poster
Bonnie MacLean poster via New York Times
Wes Wilson poster
Wes Wilson poster via wes-wilson.com
Victor Moscoso poster
Victor Moscoso poster via sfmoma.org

Modern psychedelic design examples

Ballhooter Festival poster design
Ballhooter Festival poster design by MANTSA

The hippie movement brought psychedelic design to the mainstream. When we hear “hippie,” of course we feel the good vibes of Flower Power, Volkswagen buses and Woodstock 1969. Sure, it sounds like a vintage concept, but hippies are still a thing in present day, and psychedelic style is still relevant. Look at it this way: scroll through your Twitter feed and you’ll see unconventional activists making big statements (climate change and social justice protests, anyone?). These are our present-day hippies, and along with them, we have current designers with a stellar aptitude for psychedelic style. Here’s the skinny on their funky fresh approach:

The Ballhooter Festival poster offers a modern take on iconic posters of the past. Wavy typography moves fluidly into the background, and this striking pattern creates an illusion of movement. Note the incorporation of a gradient in the word “festival.” Gradients have gone off the hook recently, particularly with logo design. Here, the gradient emphasizes the visual depth of the poster and helps enhance the multi-dimensional look.

Pure Ink Printing logo design
Pure Ink Printing logo design by Black Arts 888

Color, color, color: this is a totally rad aspect of psychedelic style, and the Pure Ink Printing logo really nails it. Elements of surrealism are on full display in this logo, grounding it in its psychedelic roots. However, the typography goes in a more modern direction. Aesthetically, it’s a mix of the past and the present, and with a super-saturated palette, it begs to be noticed.

SRT Car Care T-Shirt design
SRT Car Care T-shirt design by Johnny Kiotis

Slammin’ psychedelic design is all in the details. The SRT Car Care T-shirt takes intricate detail to the next level, showcasing a blend of flowing lines, rad patterns, funky typography and a radiant, sunset-inspired palette. Remember, psychedelia is an experience; turn your head to the side and you’re bound to see a detail which you hadn’t noticed before.

Enigma Vapor label design
Enigma Vapor label design by drawizart

Instantly catching the eye: that’s a hallmark of psychedelic style, and Enigma Vapor’s packaging does just that. Convoluted curves and brilliant colors create a trippy aesthetic, while the swirled, two-tone background feels fresh out of a blacklight poster.

Peace Out

Fresh spins on psychedelia are every bit as relevant today as they were in the days when Jimi Hendrix reigned supreme. This statement-making style provides a way for your brand to take a risk in the right way, enlivening just about everything, including T-shirts, packaging, logos and ad campaigns. Remember, a successful psychedelic design is one that opens up your mind. So go ahead: open wide.

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