The first thing you notice about Paperman – an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film (2012) – is how different it seems from most modern cartoons.
See the full 6mins version here. It has a distinct retro black & white look not just because it is a story based out of 1940s Manhattan, but also because it clearly feels like as if real people have drawn it it on a piece of paper as opposed to say – like machines creating it on computers. The result of Disney’s new in-house software called Meander, it seamlessly blends the best of ‘hand drawn cartoon kinda’ look with CGI animation in a way the animation industry has never seen before; a game changing animation style so distinctive, innovative and beautiful that WIRED magazine even bills it as the future of animation as a whole!
This can be called out as an example of a unique kind of innovation – new technologies, new products or experiences that are designed around connecting us with the past that is nostalgic. Something that Tim Leberecht calls as Retro Innovation. In this FastCompany article he writes that Retro Innovations roughly fall into three categories:
- Innovations that authentically mimic a product or experience of the past to transport the user back into a gone era.
- Innovations that use a nostalgic format to meet a new need.
- Innovations that use a new format to meet an old need.
The Italian paper notebook maker MDleskine, whose recent IPO was valued at more than $600 million, is a stunning anachronism in a business environment that glorifies tech startups and digital business models.
There are reams of case studies out there that extol the brilliance of Moleskine’s branding. But the best example of its retro innovation is its Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook that bridges the digital and the analog world.
The key insight on which most successful retro innovations thrive on is brilliantly articulated in this Washington Post article that says..
With the rise in computing power, there has been an acceleration of the rate in which we build on new information technologies, leaving us clutching awkwardly for things we recognize from the past. The pace of change at times seems so overwhelming that it’s no wonder that sometimes we want to be transported back to an earlier era.
Think about this insight and you could possibly have explanations for things like:
- The emergence of a ‘modern retro’ trend in the retro gaming culture.
- The popularity of Mad Men – the only basic cable series to win Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series besides 14 other Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. (source)
- Brands like Adidas and Puma having a dedicated innovation pipeline specially meant for their retro line ups: Adidas Originals and Puma Classics. In fact by many accounts, Adidas Originals can be considered to be a top of the pyramid brand in terms of their positioning and price points. Besides, the corporate logo of Adidas is distinctive from that of Adidas Originals recognizing the unique appeal and potential of this retro innovation line up from the sports brand.
- The popularity of classics that are remastered to the new digital world – Jurassic Park 3D anyone?
While the jury is still out to argue whether the ‘retro trend’ actually cripples innovation, a few venture capitalists do concede that retro innovation is indeed the most lucrative kind. After all, if innovations are about elevating and enriching human experiences, there would always be a market that values a more traditional notion of this experience and that’s where Retro Innovations kick in.
What other examples of Retro Innovations can you think of?