In my podcast interview with Jason Fried of Basecamp, and he made this insightful observation that can be applied anywhere in design:
Think about cars. We’ll take the Porsche 911. The Porsche 911 was released in 1963. It’s about 52 years old now.
But there’s been seven generations of the Porsche 911. So every 7 years, roughly, they do a new chassis, they do a new engine, they do new technology around it. But it’s still a Porsche 911. It looks roughly the same, the engine’s in the back, the driving dynamics are similar.
You can identify a 911 that was made today, and a 911 that was made 50 years ago. You can tell there’s continuity, but every 7 years it’s an entirely new car.
The Porsche 911 is, in fact, recognizable, whether it’s a new one, or an old one.
As Jason describes in the interview, this phenomenon is present in many car models (probably some more strongly than others).
A car model portrays certain values about what is important in a car (performance, space, price point, design aesthetic, etc..). This is its “spirit.”
Technology changes, materials change, the tastes of drivers change, so the car changes drastically every several years. But, the car still retains its core values. They’re expressed through the other factors that drive the car’s design. The car design is brand new, but still retains its “spirit.”
Designers should strive for a level of mastery that enables them to express the “spirit” of their product, regardless of what the prevailing trends are.