Product Design: Classic Retro or Sleek Modern?

You’ve seen the commercials for products that purport to be a throwback to a simpler, more elegant time.  Pepsi will release a soda can that hearkens back to its original product design, or a company will advertise that it hasn’t changed its classic design in 100 years.  Concurrently, other products will show off their designs…

You’ve seen the commercials for products that purport to be a throwback to a simpler, more elegant time.  Pepsi will release a soda can that hearkens back to its original product design, or a company will advertise that it hasn’t changed its classic design in 100 years.  Concurrently, other products will show off their designs as cutting edge, unique, and futuristic.  Computers and Smart Phones naturally gravitate toward these designs, but even something like men’s razors will evoke futuristic machinery in its product design aesthetic.  How to companies decide which direction to go?

The Classic Look

Companies that wish to exude an air of timeless authority will endeavor to create a product design that relies on the history of the product.  A classic design that has been around for ages can create a sense of comfort for the consumer especially if the essential functionality of the product hasn’t changed much over time.  This is why the old chrome toaster design can make a comeback.  A toaster is a toaster in any decade.  The older design also creates trust, a mental connection to designs that the consumer may have seen in grandma’s house or in history books.

The Modern Look

Products that are attempting to convey cutting edge technology often goes for a sleek, modern appearance.  If you’re hoping that the consumer will marvel at your product because it’s something that he or she has never seen before, then this is the way to go.  No one wants to look at toaster and feel like it’s an incomprehensible futuristic machine; however, a Smart Phone should have that image of a super-powerful machine from an era yet to come.

Can something in-between these two looks be achieved?  The answer is yes, but carefully.  A product that seems to be trying too hard to toe this line can come off as cheap or disingenuous.  Understanding your audience and ensuring that the design matches both the function and feeling of the product is essential when making choices about design.

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