Exploring the rise, and evolution, of analogue design techniques
From scribbly, hand-drawn type to the soaring popularity of puppetry, analogue techniques are back with a bang. And there’s myriad reasons why designers across disciplines are deploying the handcrafted aesthetic in their droves.
It’s Nice That’s 2024 Forward Thinking series is supported by AKQA, the globally renowned design and innovation company. AKQA is at the forefront of creative technologies, telling unforgettable narratives across service, experience and product design that capture the imagination.
If one has been looking closely at the subtle undercurrents that perpetually sweep through the creative world, it must have been impossible not to notice the rise of analogue techniques in design. It’s something we put a finger on early on last year, and ever since, the trend has only swelled in popularity. We would put it down to a fresh case of recency bias, but our collective hunger for the charm and beauty of the handcrafted has been undeniable – a yearning that’s been echoed in an influx of analogue techniques across disciplines.
From scribbly, handwritten type in branding, imperfect, spot-the-mistakes-if-you-can animation, to the growing legion of puppets taking over our screens, traditional mediums have been taking centre stage. Other than just stirring up feelings of nostalgia, or raising a stylistic middle finger to the slick, increasingly digital world, it’s interesting to notice the evocative slant of analogue techniques. The old and the familiar are helping creatives to craft emotionally powerful work, perhaps hint at the disruptive spirit of a project, underscore a deliberate, unpolished look, tug at a feeling of intimacy, or – as in the world of branding – speak to a central truth of a product.
“We used puppets mainly because of the risqué, suggestive nature of the film. They made everything feel more innocent, disarming and humorous.”Colin Booth
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Studio Chenchen: Stappa (Copyright © Studio Chenchen)
When Sydney-based Studio Chenchen began working on the identity for Stappa wine, they knew the project had to celebrate the brand’s love ‘for craft and quality’. Learnings about grapes, soil and seasons led the team to the elemental beauty of charcoal – its texture and metaphorical links to Australian soil were compelling, as was its symbolic relationship with Stappa’s steering concept of ‘Grapes, Dirt and Gusto’. The team furiously produced a suite of gestural illustrations that became the pièce de résistance of the packaging, and extended the analogue effect to the wordmark by punctuating it with different versions of hand-drawn ‘A’s.
By drawing on the simplicity of charcoal on paper – a nostalgic medium requiring no technical expertise – the studio was able to give the entire team a seat at the table. “We engaged everyone in the studio to draw anything they saw fit,” says creative director Olivia Chen. “We have an in-house illustrator, but our business director (who claimed not to be creative) and I also drew a bunch. After a few weeks of drawings, we collected everyone’s work and realised that we all have very different styles. Our illustrator was an excellent technical drawer, I was all about emotion and movement, and our business director was really good at capturing a rebellious humour and spirit.” The expressive range of the illustrations – thanks to the simple yet approachable medium – elevated the versatility of Stappa’s wines.
This ability of traditional techniques to evoke a sense of craft and tactility can be closely felt in the realm of animation, specifically in the rising popularity of puppetry and stop motion animation. But here too, function follows form – in other words, the subliminal ideas that a puppet might stir up or the effect it might lend to a film, perhaps even without the audience noticing, adds depth and texture to a project. When Marmite launched a spot to encourage younger audiences to try the spread – with a how-to film featuring two sock puppets making Marmite-on-toast, not without using the butter knife in quite suggestive ways – the team at adam&eveDDB decided to use puppets to add tonal contrast. “We used puppets mainly because of the risqué, suggestive nature of the film. They made everything feel more innocent, disarming and humorous,” says creative director Colin Booth.
“There’s a hands-on aspect to analogue work that fosters a deeper connection between creator and project.”Jennifer Kidd
Puppets also stole the show in the Weirdly Easy Dice campaign which, in one of its many films, featured a group of furry, energetic puppets demonstrating just how easy it is to book gigs through the app. Here, puppetry helped augment the ‘unpolished, lo-fi aesthetic’ the director was aiming for. “Taking off from that thought, we decided to keep the fingerprints visible in the claymation and opted to make the strings of the puppets more visible. Most clients would ask for the opposite, but it felt like we had an opportunity to break the usual rules,” says Jennifer Kidd, director of Scale Model Studios, that produced and perfected the puppets. “I think this approach made the finished films feel more fun and free, and gave them a certain tension that made them more engaging to watch,” she adds.
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Dice: Weirdly Easy (Copyright © Dice, 2023)
Whether used to underpin an idea, inject humour or subvert a theme, it’s obvious that puppetry – as well as stop motion – is entertaining and still somehow manages to hold our collective attention. But what results in its everlasting charm, especially in light of the mind-numbingly intricate production process it calls for? A major draw could be its response “to our shared appetite for authenticity, craftsmanship and a departure from the digital”, says Jennifer. “It’s almost like the need for something tactile is coming back,” director Guillermo del Toro said in an interview with Variety, for an article that noted somewhat of a renaissance in stop motion. “The digital cinema went as far as possible and now we want something analogue, beautiful, that is moving in its artistry.”
In a sense, Guillermo’s thought transcends the world of puppetry and animation, and rings true for the upswing of analogue techniques across disciplines. There’s also something to be said about the space it creates for experimentation and failure within the creative process. As tech aims to make processes more and more frictionless, analogue techniques add texture and allow for the vulnerability of imperfection. “There’s a hands-on aspect to analogue work that fosters a deeper connection between creator and project,” says Jennifer. “The practice of working with traditional tools leads to a more intimate and deliberate creative process, that’s very explorative.” The slower pace and intentional nature of the techniques can also create a sense of mindfulness and focus, “in contrast to the rapid pace of digital work”, as Jennifer points out, resulting in an experimental approach and new discoveries with materiality that can surprise and delight.
“I believe the revival of traditional techniques encourages a more holistic approach to creativity, allowing for a hybrid approach which can lead to more interesting, compelling results.”Jennifer Kidd
Although analogue techniques have often offered moments of respite from the hi-def aesthetic of tech, it’s not to say that the two worlds are completely divorced from each other. In fact, in responding to the rising trend, creatives have also found interesting new ways to collide the two. For the identity for Pitch Music and Arts Festival’s 2023 edition, Anatolik Belikov Studio tapped into their expertise in CG to mimic practical cinema effects, such as time lapse and stop motion. Drawing visual cues from VFX-fuelled early 80s and 90s B-movies – and as a “tribute to old directors, craftsmanship, and creativity as I see it”, says founder Anatolii Belikov – the project creates interesting tension points between tech and analogue techniques, by using one to mirror the effects of the other.
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Anatolik Belikov Studio: Pitch Music and Arts Festival 2023 (Copyright © Pitch Music and Arts Festival, 2023)
“Usually, on a project, we tend to prioritise two things: how something looks and what we want to say about it. Here, we highlighted the latter,” shares Anatolii. “The overall approach was: how would we do it if we were making it in real life? To a degree, we were mimicking the budget and physical limitations of a specific genre and moment in film history.” Anatolii’s CG experiment – with the jittery textures of stop motion and a shivery, time lapse-esque shot of a plant growing – makes for an interesting temperature check on the trend, where it might be headed, and how the relationship between tech and analogue might shift and evolve.
This friction between the realms of tech and analogue might provide clues as to how this trend will impact the future of creativity. Perhaps, instead of going full-tilt with either analogue or digital techniques, designers will find moments to strike a conversation between the two. “I believe the revival of traditional techniques encourages a more holistic approach to creativity, allowing for a hybrid approach which can lead to more interesting, compelling results,” says Jennifer Kidd. “Overall, the excitement lies in the evolution of creativity, where the past informs the future, and the intersection of analogue and digital opens up new possibilities for artistic expression, challenging and inspiring creators to push the boundaries of what is considered possible in design.”
About the Author
Ritupriya is a writer and self-confessed “design maniac” based in India. She's the editor at The Brand Identity, and her words have also appeared in Eye on Design, WePresent, Varoom, and Broccoli Magazine.