A radical new way to look at industrial design styling which, actually, involves a lot of inspiration from history.
Citizens! Revolt and re-boot!
It is time to re-boot our thinking of the current aesthetics in industrial design. I am calling this new movement “Fusion Style,’ with reasons explained below. The following Manifesto attempts to explain what Fusion Style is, what it is not, and why you should care.
This Manifesto will also formally organize ideas and trends, some old and some new, that have been gaining traction and attention for a long time.
Why the name?
As atomic energy was first being commercialized, it became synonymous with this optimistic era where ‘anything was possible’ and the new name was used to describe the designs of the time.
Inspired by the mid-century Atomic Style, with its dynamic and futuristic forms, Fusion Style is both an extension and fresh re-interpretation of that design language.
Fusion Style incorporates familiar or historical elements, often re-inventing & combining them, but should always use the latest technology available.
Now I get it.
Using this power analogy, fusion power is simply the next step, or the high(er)-tech successor to atomic power.
Equally useful, the word fusion also describes a tasty mixture of different foods or music. It is this creative and original blend of the new and the familiar that make it different and special.
Why do we need it?
This design philosophy is a reaction to the shortcomings of current design trends, especially in the technology space. We have increasingly shiny, featureless, and impersonal designs that leave people cold.
Even worse, they are often confusingly similar, with each iteration making incremental changes and moving closer to their competition. [Fig 3.] Companies that copy each other have thus achieved “anti-branding,” purely by attempting to do the exact opposite.
Proceed at your peril
In fact, it is now feared that the current design trend of monochromatic shininess will reach a point where all objects will someday look like black mirrored cubes (or paper-thin rectangles) with no obvious controls. And then, six to 12 months later, the next mirrored cube will come out, slightly shinier or thinner, requiring everyone to dump their current model and probably buy new cables.
Isn’t this just retro?
It is tempting to call this ‘retro,’ but Fusion Style is so much more. It is thoroughly current, high-tech, and innovative. Fusion incorporates recognizable elements of history and personality to provide a more emotional connection.
This connection between product and user, when successful, is what makes you want to hang on to your investment long after a newer model has been released.
In contrast, retro styling can be superficial, particularly when it involves re-issuing design classics ‘verbatim.’ This hollow approach also leaves out quality materials and current advances in technology that would otherwise make it far more usable.
Interesting… tell me more.
There are six straightforward and highly interchangeable features in Fusion Style.
You are invited to mix-and-match as well as shake-and-stir. If the result is tasty, fun, beautiful, humorous — or a delightful and improbable combination of all of the above — then you’re doing it right.
We interrupt this Manifesto for an important message:
The premise of using Fusion Style is to expand options and organize design goals. No one is saying to use it for everything. The more choices available, the better for everyone. OK?
The Six Features of Fusion Style. In No Particular Order.
Sustainability, by popular definition, means using materials that are recyclable and that reduce energy consumption in manufacturing and emissions during transportation. This seems a little short-sighted to me, so let’s look at this equation from the opposite direction.
What if you designed the product to be so cool and high quality, no one would ever throw it out in the first place?
Imagine the life-span of this Hasselblad camera. With its classic design and quality materials, it could be used for decades. It could then be placed on display for even longer. Eventually, it might even be handed down to someone’s grandchildren who could discover its beauty all over again.
Personality means the design can be read anthropomorphically, or has parts that resemble a face or head. It should have friendly curves and be visually engaging.
With personality, dynamic visual interest is critical. In these examples, note the rich mixture of materials — and lots of contrast. Bright materials are next to darker materials and smooth materials are next to textured materials. You will rarely see a large expanse of the same material, especially in flat areas.
Personality also means the interface has analog components, and these make functionality highly intuitive. Think less of a ‘UI’ — and more of just good ‘ol buttons and knobs!
The historical feature of Fusion style may be the easiest to illustrate as it’s the first thing most people see.
We simply bring in elements of the familiar, but express them in a new way. This familiarity lowers the user’s intimidation factor and helps them master the product sooner.
This is as opposed to having an abstracted or all-digital screen-based interface, which tells a novice user almost nothing about what it does or how to use it.
When buying a new product, you absolutely want to take advantage of the latest in technology.
Whether it’s more storage or a faster processor or something not-yet-imagined, a new product should have the latest advancements to make it as powerful as possible. Even better, make the components accessible, so that they can be upgraded without buying a whole new device.
Just because we are using elements of history, that’s no reason to think our computer needs a hand crank.
In this example, we are seeing some beautiful details in the the various controls and their arrangement on the case. These details animate an otherwise static surface — and invite the user to test them out.
At this point, you may begin to see some overlap in the features. This is a reminder that not all features are mandatory and you can mix and match. For example, this image of detailing also shows a lot of personality and history.
Humor or wit can easily be the hardest feature to pull off. In fact, this example appears to have little historical reference at all.
However, the design of “Oo-oo! Hot, hot, hot!” is based on conventional teapot forms, but has been re-interpreted as a character who is frightened by stoves and heat.
Using high-tech thermo-chromic ink, the eyes will change color and size according to the water temperature. When they are large and red, you know the water is boiling. Escaping steam will also spin the beanie propeller.
Designed by SchultzeWORKS for World Kitchen.
This manifesto was first presented publicly by Dave Schultze on January 16, 2015. Dave was a guest speaker at the Rhino Days Design Conference at SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design.
This material in now being developed in video format in preparation for a TED Talk. You can keep up to date on the progress by subscribing to the newsletter.