Fusion Style


Welcome to a whole new way to look at industrial design styling which, actually, involves a lot of inspiration from history. Here are some ideas that can make any product design better.

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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.

The interior of a fusion reactor

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.

The retro computer Philco PC

The SchultzeWORKS-designed Philco PC, inspired by the 1950’s Philco Predicta TV. Housing the latest hardware, it can be easily upgraded.

GM Firebird concept car

The pinnacle of Atomic Style. No, it wasn't designed to fly. It’s a car.

A line-up of smart phones that all look alike

A dumb line-up of five smart phones that are very busy copying each other. Name them all and win a prize! Sorry, it’s impossible.

"Fusion Style incorporates familiar or historical elements, often re-inventing & combining them, but should always use the latest technology available."

But why do we need it?

This 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, designs are often confusingly similar, with each iteration making incremental changes and moving closer to their competition. Companies that copy each other have thus achieved “anti-branding,” purely by attempting to do the exact opposite.

Now I get it.

Using a 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.

A fusion dish of red roast duck curry.

A fusion dish of red roast duck curry. Too spicy for me, but you get the point.

The interior of a fusion reactor

Inside a fusion reactor, temperatures reach 100 million degrees. Matter and bad ideas will fuse together.

Proceed at your peril

It is 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.

The award-winning Roto-Retro phone designed by SchultzeWORKS

The roto:retro was designed by SchultzeWORKS to be a clean break from the trend of “shiny black slab” form factors. By going in a new direction — while also honoring the past — this design bridges the gap between sterile, feature-filled products and the iconic simplicity of early telephone designs. This design won First Place in the LG Innovation Challenge / International Competition.

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 add and subtract. 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.

"The premise of Fusion Style is to expand options and organize design goals. No one is saying to use it for everything. More choices are just better, OK?"

The Six Features of Fusion Style
In No Particular Order.
Feature 01:
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, 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 every 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.

That's design-focused sustainability.
Cool retro camera
Feature 02:
Tape recorder and microphone
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 function highly intuitive. Think less of a ‘UI’ — and more of just good ‘ol buttons and knobs!
Feature 03:
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.
A car steering wheel and dashborard with cool chrome trimA bulb or fuse
Feature 04:
A circuit board from a computer
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.
Icon of an organ grinder dude
Feature 05:
In this example, we see some beautiful details in the the various controls and their arrangement on the video camera 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 should mix and match. For example, this image of detailing also shows a lot of personality and history.
A cool retro movie camera
Feature 06:
Design of an character based teapot
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.

"Fusion style is exactly what the design world needs. A long overdue shot of adrenaline and personality."