I read an interesting article about design in the latest PSFK, titled The ‘Yesterday’s Tomorrow’ Product Design Trend. In it, Piers Fawkes talked about retrofuturism not as how past people envisioned the future were going to be, but rather at using iconic designs of the past and applying them to today’s real existing modern technology. It’s a subtle redefinition of retrofuturism.
Sometimes, a product design becomes an icon, instantly recognized and appealing to many consumers. It got me to thinking about some of the products of the past that appealed to me and that I viewed as iconic. Each person’s experience is different and you may have your own list.
Think about cars (Ford Bronco and Mustang), the telephone box (the red British telephone box, think Dr. WHO), the humble pen (Bic ballpoint pen), computers (Apple II, IBM PC) or even cameras (Leica M3, Kodak Instamatic, Nikon F).
In fact, in camera design, we have seen how Fujifilm has successfully married retro film camera design and analogue-type operation with modern technology in their X Series mirrorless cameras, easily some of the most beautiful and fun cameras to use.
Yesterday’s Tomorrow seems to be a design trend that is gaining traction. It’s not so much about returning to a nostalgic past, but more about selecting and adapting the best aesthetics and design principles of the past while grounding them firmly into the modern era by using all the latest cutting-edge technologies.
Not all design principles are good. I’m thinking of faux wood linings in car interiors and the overuse of shiny chrome. In camera design, while I like rectangular shapes, some may be too boxy and result in cameras that are uncomfortable to hold. I cringe at external handgrips that are simply hideous to look at, red lines that do not add any aesthetic, textures that feel odd to the touch, and rounded corners everywhere that just succeed in dulling the visual senses. I believe in form following function: no indentation, bump, knob, lever, texture, line, or color should ever be added unless there really is a practical reason for such.
Fortunately, we have reached a point where camera designers can safely go back and select the best design elements of the past without compromising with all the latest advancement in technologies. I’m all for it and hope camera designers will not restrict themselves to boring rounded shapeless forms anymore.