Modern Dog Design
Co. often creates
event posters for The
Crocodile Cafe in
Seattle. The designers
work in two colors
and the same size
each time, but graphical
solution in a “mark
your calendars” mailer
for the Sundance Film Festival.
One of House Industries' promotional
period graphic styles, which plays off
a nostalgic theme.
It’s a graphic style
Stretching dollars in design means embracing and
leveraging limitations. Or as Stefan Bucher of 344
Design puts it, “For lo-fi, I think of a particular
graphic style. Cheap production means nothing.
The right style can make cheap production look
totally hi-fi.” Going lo-fi gives designers a chance—
and a reason—to experiment. In the view of many
designers, a lo-fi approach doesn’t have to be confined
to projects that are cash-restricted. It may just
be the right approach in terms of aesthetics.
Handmade simplicity in lo-fi graphics speaks
of a straightforward approach. Handmade and hightouch
are common threads in lo-fi projects. These
pieces run the gamut of client types and project
purposes. Different problems may be tackled, but the
same conceptual approach is employed.
A rough-hewn appearance is often provided
by typography and illustration styles as well as
paper stock and printing. Distortion and visual
noise—either as a result of a production technique,
for example uneven ink coverage in printing, or as a
deliberate artistic choice—are hallmarks of lo-fi. The
rough handmade look and feel is recreated digitally
to appear authentic.
Inherent in the lo-fi style is an emotional
resonance. Often there are references to the past.
Storytelling narrative threads can be woven into the
design, as seen in Modern Dog’s Crocodile posters.
Vernacular design, leveraged in lo-fi graphics,
is bound to evoke certain meanings and connotations.
In addition, lo-fi can seem more spontaneous.
“Mistakes” become a desirable part of the look,
which can give lo-fi graphics a more honest tone to
serve to the client’s message.
Meaning and use
Lo-fi is not just for arts and culture organizations,
although for them it’s an obvious choice. Social
consciousness and budget limits can be effectively
and successfully linked via a lo-fi strategy.
Environmentalism and lo-fi are a particularly good
match, as their modes are often in sync. Sundance
Film Festival’s environmental concerns motivated
AdamsMorioka to limit the use of slick materials
and go lo-fi.
But as businesses seek to establish personal connections,
lo-fi graphics also offer a way for the handmade
to move out of the world of arts and culture
and into the corporate sector. The lo-fi approach can
grab and hold attention, standing out in a slick world
as a reaction against all that is super-polished and
prepackaged. The Gartner annual report designed by
Cahan & Associates shows that lo-fi can even work
in corporate financial reporting.
Originally motivated by primitive production
constraints, lo-fi is now sought out or synthesized.
For many designers, it’s a backlash against overproduced
style and work that is too digital-looking. Lofi
offers an inspired way to use design within budget
constraints. If you know going in where you want to
arrive, you can still do great lo-fi design.
- Limited number of
- Multipurpose pieces
(e.g., a self-mailer
that’s a poster
- Inexpensive paper
- Colored stocks
(good with onecolor
- Prefabricated materials
pocket folders, etc.)
- Stickers & rubber
stamps (very multipurpose
- Handmade (handbound
- Woodcuts and linoleum
cuts for print
- Found materials &
- Repurposed stock
sheets, print over
existing stuff, recycle
in real time)
- Offbeat suppliers
- Naiveté: handmade
retro quality, ageless
- Unsettling juxtaposition
- Uneven background
- Embracing the natural:
Even if the printing
is 4/c process,
it appears to have a
coarse, natural look
- Typography: distressed,
actual wood and
metal type or
- Borders: repeating
pattern elements of
scrolls, filigree, bars
of various weights
- Colors: uneven,
limited (or not),
thicks and thins
in coverage, not
- “Orderly chaos”:
frenetic bits held