Combining New School and Old School Product Design

Many businesses are starting to combine new school and old school design. For example, old school graphic design is back in vogue with clothing and accessories companies. Big Tech giants are climbing onboard the trend, too, with Apple launching the retro Airpods Max, complete with hi-tech features.

This adept blend of old and new design, sometimes referred to as “newstalgic,” aims to evoke positive emotions in the observer. It often boosts sales, particularly among older consumers, because it injects the memories of their youth into a modern setting. 

It’s Different This Time

The trend is hardly surprising, as a degree of longing for the past will always exist. There was a similar craving for nostalgic products following 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008–9. But this involved a simple revival of old products. The difference this time is that the products aren’t just repeats. Instead, they adopt a form factor close to that of the toys or gadgets we loved when we were younger, but with new and improved modern features.

Retro 60s design is nothing new. However, in 2015 nostalgia-fever had a big moment when #InThe90sIThought began trending on social media. Businesses leapt aboard the retro industrial design bandwagon and this trend appears to have stayed with us.

The Comeback of Familiar Shapes, Colors, and Patterns

We’ve seen the resurrection of the cassette tape and vinyl records, so it makes sense that the graphic patterns, bright colors, and geometric shapes of the 1980s are making a return in some quarters. Retro-gaming is a good example here, as it harks back to a long-lost era of popular arcades, often making use of historic sporting wins in a style that is strikingly evocative of that era.

Sentimental black-and-white photography and sepia color themes help to create a feeling of wistfulness for the past. This approach has been employed masterfully by older automotive brands and the tourism industry. To capture the desired feeling, artists need to take signage, lighting, landscapes, and the positioning of people into account. It can work very well, but it often requires a great deal of planning.

Across the Board

‘Newstalgia’ doesn’t just apply to the product itself, but also to retail packaging and storage, retro label design, Twitter engagement, internal promotions and employee events, vintage posters, even bus-stop advertising. Some artists have cleverly tied it in with the drive to support local producers and minimize food miles, aiming to create ‘milkman nostalgia’ with the use of a light color palette, old-school fonts, and an abundance of white space.

We’ve stumbled upon some ingenious food and snack packaging that recalls the ovens and stovetops of yesteryear, and screen prints of old roundels that were used by beverage companies to celebrate their anniversary. The revival of past ‘fan favorite’ products gives old-fashioned branding an important role.

Very often, a successful design reinterprets the consumer’s memories in an abstract manner. However, the key factor is that the artist knows and understands the target audience intimately. They know that their design needs to fit neatly with the context of the product, occasion, setting, and cultural mores of the audience if it is to fully capture their imagination.

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