Startups Go Old School With Retro, Artisanal Influences

December 6, 2017

6:30 pm

When was the last time you saw a lava lamp or a pinball machine? If you haven’t spotted one in a while, keep your eyes open because they could be making a comeback, thanks to the retro influences of startup culture. Drawing on classic influences in product choice, design, and even manufacturing, the retro and the artisan are making everything old new again.

Typewriter Time Machine

One of the most desirable features of the modern laptop keyboard is how silent it is. Perfect for taking notes in class or not disrupting your cubicle-mate, why would you mess with a good thing – except for the sake of nostalgia?

That’s exactly what the new Penna keyboard from Elretron is aiming for. Designed to mimic the satisfying click of a mechanical switch keyboard, the Penna even features a lever-type button at the top of keyboard in homage to the return carriage lever on a typewriter. This lever makes macros of frequently used keystrokes instead of moving your paper placement, though. It’s a total reversal of modern design and it’s catching on.

From Cubicle To Camper

Vintage cars have always held an appeal, as you can see at any classic car show, but one old chassis you’re unlikely to see much is the camper van. Now, the ultra-modern co-working company Campsyte is offering these vans an opportunity for a big comeback.

Campsyte’s OutCamp coworking space is a classic campsite in the midst of San Francisco, equipped with picnic tables and campers that are really offices in disguise. Throw in the Wi-Fi, coffee, and snacks, and why would you want to work anywhere else? Plus, if you pay the hourly fee for camper space, you can always bring your Penna keyboard – the clicking probably won’t be a hit in your local café or library, but it’s thematically appropriate for OutCamp.

The Classic Corner Office

Retro styling usually refers to things that were trendy a few decades back, but what if we go back a few centuries? The secretary desk is the perfect small space solution, elegant enough for any room of your house, but with roots in the 18th century.

According to the design experts at Chairish, secretary desks were used in the 18th century when men hired secretaries to work out of their home. At the end of the day, the secretary would close up the desk, and transition the room back to a living space. That’s means if you don’t know where to put your intern this summer, you might just want to stick a secretary desk in the corner of your office and set them to work.

Replay And Rebrand

Crosley C200

While some things are easy to rebrand for the modern era, other retro trends are a harder sell. Take classic graphic design: with highly detailed and layered Photoshop creations that are more realistic than the original object, why would we try to mock up 80s-era neon and vintage typography?

The simple answer, as with secretary desks and clacking typewriters, is that everything old is new again. Even atomic energy? Yes, potentially even that if Transatomic Power has its way.

Transatomic Power is leaning on a brand of techno-optimism that’s perfect for our digital-first era; they’re hoping it will resonate with a more scientifically knowledgeable culture. Certainly there are still questions about whether a startup can handle the responsibility of atomic power, but first they’ll have to sell the idea, requiring a great deal of public trust.

From Style To Craft

Finally, if a retro approach to product development and branding is time-bound, all about the styling, some startups are taking a different approach by reinventing artisan culture.

Less about a particular style than a manner of creating, artisan culture harkens back to a time when products were made by specialists who passed down their craft within families or guilds. Whether it was bread or leather, a lot of care went into each item and that approach to production is back in high demand.

Some versions of the reinvented artisan market are much like the traditional ones: baking, soap and perfume making, and textile work. You might even go to a farmer’s market or local shop to buy these products.

Other approaches to artisan culture, though, are highly dependent on modern technology, or work in a symbiotic relationship. Elina Rossi’s brand, Rossi & Rei, for example, uses technology to connect buyers with luxury product makers. Meanwhile, artisanal coffee shops are building bridges between Starbucks and their own high end products, with buyers’ greater knowledge of coffee products benefitting both sectors.

Whether your business is pure techno-optimism or carefully crafted artisanal goods, startup culture is at a crossroads where just innovating isn’t good enough. So get in touch with the past and project it into the future – this is the new direction in the startup world, in which old ideas may actually make you more relevant.

Read more about developing your culture at work on TechCo

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Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.