unrefinery
November 11, 2009  ·  design  ·  tech

Retro Electronics Design

There's a point in the evolution of each product where we stop looking at it as a step into the future and acknowledge that the future has become our present, and the design of said product reflects this shift. It happened with cars decades ago, as fins and other atomic-age trappings gave way and the industry eventually matured to the point where modern automotive design can successfully refer to its own history—most visibly in cases like the Chevy HHR, which picks up styling cues from '40s cars without quite looking like any one of them in particular.

This shift is currently taking place in portable electronics, and it's interesting that while Apple still seeks to build smooth plastic music players and phones from UFOs—apparently representing a future that is whiter and more homogeneous than a Klan rally—others seem comfortable referring to their products' evolutionary roots. We're not big fans of Microsoft, but we appreciated the sack it took to produce a brown Zune (top) in their first-generation portable media player (even though said sack shriveled in the icy waters of public scorn). It might have been the first time an MP3 player's aesthetics took into consideration the device's place as part of personal style, like a briefcase or shoes.

The design of Motorola's new Droid mobile phone is mostly business, but the slide-out keyboard features a circular-brushed copper-tone directional pad (middle) that brings to mind the epic volume knob on stereos from the '70s or the controller of the classic Intellivision game console (bottom). It's cheeky and it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a bit of that Chevy HHR idea again, but now with wood body panels. We need more of this sort of thing.

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