Protoype Thinking

Protoype Thinking

A Wave of Retro Modern

A Wave of Retro Modern

Mar 28, 2024


Ok, not to get dark, but Americans are going through it right now. In that sense it's not surprising to think that there is a desire to be reminded of simpler times.

In 2012, I was working on a color & materials trend project with Bose where I attended New York Fashion week, spending days with designers and tastemakers. It was here I heard someone say something to the effect of [sic] 'people buy the brightest most optimistic wares when things are not going well.'

Consumers instinctively crave comfort and familiarity during cultural, political, or social upheaval periods. Retro trends tend to spike during turbulent years.

We also know trends work in cycles: classic cars, 20-year fashion loops. I'm making the case for the reemergence of retro, mascot-illustration-based identities in sports. We see it really surging in college sports, where young people yearn for the nostalgia of yesteryear, seeking solace in the familiar embrace of classic designs and timeless motifs. We also see this across disruptive startup CPG brands (checkout the PopUp Grocer for all the cool new food brands) and services that want to have an approachable, fun, and optimistic tone.

When products sport a nostalgic look, it sparks happy memories for shoppers. This puts them in a good mood right when they're considering buying. Nostalgia makes people think products are better and tastier. So, when brands use retro packaging, it makes shoppers connect those warm feelings with the product. This emotional boost leads to over 20% more sales on average.

One intriguing aspect of this retro resurgence is the resurgence of rubberhose illustration styles, popularized by early Disney (and most likely designed by artists in that world). In the early days of baseball, teams adopted logos that were often whimsical and cartoonish, reflecting a playful spirit. These logos, characterized by their exaggerated proportions and fluid motion, bore a striking resemblance to the rubberhose animation style popularized by Disney in the 1920s and 1930s.

Today, we see a return to this whimsical aesthetic, embracing the charm and nostalgia of vintage logos. From the Orioles' newly acclaimed bird-wearing-a-hat-of-a-bird, to the Cincinnati Reds' beloved Mr. Red mascot, these designs evoke a sense of joy and nostalgia that reignites fandom. As sport continues to evolve in the modern era, the allure of retro aesthetics remains as potent as ever.

BUT WAIT— how do we do it in a way that feels fresh, and departs from uncomfortable tropes of insensitivity (talking to you, Chief Wahoo)? As with most things, I think it starts with research, and understanding history. I designed assets for AI DIY startup, Fixable, with this in mind. We even named the "mascot" after our first customer— an amazing expert landscaper named Nacho. It undoubtedly makes the brand feel more human than the competitive set of SaaS tech startup brands.

I've spent some time designing concept jerseys for NCAA baseball @dopekits— trying to capture this sentiment. Even for teams that don't have proper mascot or character design. It's an exercise in brand development, focusing on personification.

Every team and every brand can be personified…what would your company's mascot be?