Designing for Retroplicity

Peter K

Retroplicity embraces the user’s experience and how they interact with the product rather than making ground-breaking features such as companion apps its main focus. Retroplicity is a combination of ‘retro’ and ‘simplicity’. The ethos behind ‘simplicity’ is to make things easy and straightforward to use. ‘Retro’ refers to designing products similar to how they used to be in the past before ‘smart’ features and companion apps became the norm. Retroplicity is simple, easy to use and most importantly, ‘dumb’.

Retroplicity thinking can be done in the early development and concept phase of the design process. After developing a few solid ideas, designers can step back and think about the inclusion of smart features. Whether they include them or take the ‘retroplistic’ approach, they should ask themselves something like:

“does this design for a paperweight really need to have a companion app?”

This tactic has high value to me as I believe the current trend of smart features and companion apps is deterring designers away from focusing on how design problems can be overcome with efficient design and lateral thinking. The answer should not always be to make an app. Most times it does not solve the issue at hand but can create more problems instead. I also believe that these smart features are often redundant with little added value and can make the user experience more difficult and annoying than what it needs to be. For instance, it can be irritating when simple products like fridges, toasters and herb gardens have companion apps. In my view, it is simply not necessary. I do not need an app to tell me what I have in my fridge or when my toast is ready. I can just do it the only way it should be done, by going over to it and checking it myself!

In summary, ‘retroplicity’ is all about focusing on the user’s experience through simplistic and smart design, rather than the inclusion of new ground-breaking technologies that often hinders the experience. In my view, this approach challenges the designer to capture the refinement behind good design.

Flow Hive

Flow Hive is a beekeeping apparatus that makes harvesting honey easier. The traditional method for harvesting honey is long and strenuous and the method for removing the honey from the hive quite burdensome. Through innovative and smart design, the Flow Hive makes it a lot easier to remove the honey from the hive with a simple turn of a tap. The design had plenty of opportunities to be “smart” or have a companion app or even at least include electronic parts. Instead it relies on mechanical parts and an ingenious design to operate. These “do-it-yourself” products based on old practices often feel the need to include modern features like companion apps to bring it into the 21st century and appeal to a younger target audience. For instance, a ‘smart’ connected herb garden. The Flow Hive though doesn’t do this as it doesn’t need to, it just lets its user-centred and well thought out design set it apart.

Newton Espresso

The Newton Espresso machine is a simplistic and non-electric espresso machine that stands out in a crowded sea of web connected and “simple” designs. Although simple according to current coffee machine manufacturers means the inclusions of touch screens with buttons for every different function which ends up just making it over complicated and convoluted to use. The Newton takes this Retroplicity theme and expands on it greatly, stripping down the function to just four parts and one smooth pull of a lever. This extremely simplistic and straight forward design enhances the function as there is basically no maintenance or cleaning required, and there are no pumps or internal parts or connections to cause problems or become faulty. The simplified design and function is the epitome of Retroplicity. It doesn’t try to be at the forefront of coffee machine design eager to include every type of cutting edge technology, but rather is stripped back to focussing on the user and their experience through its efficient design.