Join Dave Schultze for an in-depth discussion in this video Retro. It's back!, part of Design Foundation 3D: Shape and Form.
- Even if you're not a fan of retro, just give it a few years and you may come around. The appeal of retro styling is a mixture of nostalgia for a simpler time, but also mixed with a desire for things that add a little more personality. In this lesson, we check out two things, designs that creatively reinterpret older designs, and then some older designs that were so good, they stuck around. Take a quick at this line of smartphones. For companies that talk so much about branding, we have a confusing and sad amount of similarity.
Retro styling may help. First up, let's look at the KitchenAid stand mixer. It was first developed in 1914 for use on Navy ships. Then, later revised for home use in the 1930s. Since then, it has been virtually unchanged in all this time. This mixer is still in production, but is also an icon of industrial design, and is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art. Now that's an accomplishment. In consumer electronics, the Philco Predicta TV of the late 1950s wasn't retro at the time it came out, but it definitely ended up that way.
It was such a futuristic and cool design, it's become familiar to millions who don't even know it's name. It's also inspired other designers, including myself. This is my design for the Philco PC. A conceptual computer design based on the classic TV. Other parts were also inspired by steampunk and antique typewriters, so it's quite an eclectic mashup. To avoid the problem of technological obsolescence, I propose it would be easily upgradable. The center section is made of heavy gage steel, with plenty of space for new parts and cooling.
Older components could be replaced whenever needed, so the unit would be kept longer than today's disposable computers. In the print and packaging world, these novelty products give you a good idea of the original mid-century style. A lot of the look comes from limitations in the colors and printing technologies available at the time. Also, many of the cheaper products had to cut back on the number of ink colors to save money. These initial constraints ended up creating this cool and casual look. In these current packaging designs, for Gentlemen's Hardware, we can definitely see the original inspiration clearly.
The quality of printing and packaging is much higher today, but they kept the reduced palette, embraced it, and it looks fantastic. If that's not retro enough for you, I've also run across packaging inspired by a full century earlier. Pastiglie Leone is an Italian sweets company that has gone all the way back to the Victorian Era. If you forgot, that was roughly the last 60 years of the 1800s. Regardless, these beautifully done and quite distinctive. If the goal of your packaging is to get buyers to pay attention long enough to buy it, then these have succeeded.
Our final example is the Lava Lamp. Originally released in 1963, it was first called the Astro Lamp, which I like a little better. Anyway, the glowing, animated, blobby lamps are more conversation pieces, or artwork, than functional lighting. It does seem like these have taken a full lap around the coolness track. Initially, they were high tech and fun. A decade or two later, they looked dated and cheesy. Now, somehow, they are back in style and we have dozens of variations.
This is how the retro theme seems to work. You could just say everything old is new again, but there's a little more to it. The older styling, or new interpretations still have to function well, and compete with current products in their category. A final note if you're interested in retro design theory, and hearing more of my opinions, I've written a lengthy article on this topic, on my website. Check out schultzeworks.com/manifesto.
First, see how the same idea can be applied in a smaller 2D scale—like graphics and print, fine art, and advertising. Dave then blows it up in 3D, and showcases examples from product design, furniture, architecture, and urban planning.
Projects and concepts are presented in an engaging and sometimes irreverent manner with images, videos, and personal and professional stories from Dave. Check out this fast-paced tour as it covers topics ranging from grids and axes to designing with humor.
- Design exploration with sketching
- 3D exploration with organic forms
- Grids and axes
- Defining space
- Color and contrast
- Texture and patterns
- Minimalism. Less is more.
- Retro. It's back!