Appearing both new and yet familiar, and creating a sense of heritage and authenticity, the Retro design formula has been used by most of today’s brands at one time or another. But what are the reasons for this and are there any consequences?
In issue 112 of 2008, Frieze magazine published an article titled ‘Eternal Return‘. The article examines the ‘Retro’ trend and presents a few theories as to why it has been so successful and long lasting. In the crux of the article, Frieze claims that although Retro design has been around for centuries, over the last 50 years it has become increasingly prevalent and culturally defining.
There are multiple reasons for the creation of a Retro design, they are both consumer driven and brand driven:
1. Consumers are attracted to a culture that reminds them of their youth.
2. Consumers seek a low tech aesthetic to escape or create balance in such a high tech environment and lifestyle.
3. Brands cannot keep up with increasing demand for innovation, so choose to re-propose an old proven design which is easier and safer than inventing a new one.
4. Brands focusing on a retro aesthetic can reduce their reliance on expensive state of the art technology and sell higher-margin product.
So what about the consequences? Is Retro design, as ‘Eternal Return‘ suggests encouraging designers and consumers to become cultural cowards, intent on reviving the past so that we don’t have to commit to our lives in the present?
By cherry picking style from different era’s and cultures, are we as Malcolm Mclaren put it “living in a Karaoke World”, living fickle virtual experiences and denying ourselves the opportunity for an authentic existence?
With so many social and environmental crises, are we neglecting the future by promoting the past, should we focus more on living and designing towards the future? Is our focus on aesthetic over function, emotion over intellect a positive design direction?
40 years later the new Dodge Challenger has about the same performance and fuel consumption as the original from 1970. Is the new Dodge Challenger a positive design direction, can it be considered progress?
www.carlustblog.com has a good article on the subject.
Is retro a sign of cultural decadence, or are we just seeking emotion and connection in this fast paced impersonal technical world?
The truth probably lies somewhere in between and we should consider using pragmatism and moderation to create a well balanced culture and design direction.