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Industrial Design

Embracing the Old School

December 14, 2014

I love to BBQ! I’m not talking a Sunday afternoon burgers on the grill. I’m talking pork shoulder, ribs and brisket. The kind of food you have to cook low and slow for hours over smoke-infused fire.

BBQ requires three things: low cook temperature (220-250 degrees), smoke and patience. Old school methods require the pitmaster to maintain constant temperature using wood or charcoal fuel. This is laborious, tricky work compared with modern alternatives we’ve created where a turn of a dial on a gas grill maintains constant temperature and automated conveyors feed wood pellets, relieving the cook of the majority of hard labor. Debates rage between both sides over which method produces the best meat. The truth of the matter is, whichever grill you use you’ll end up with the same end product, delicious smoked foods. You just get there with different levels of work.

Even knowing this, I was drawn to the old-school route. There are times when I question my rationale for this choice, especially when I’m up at 3 a.m., sleep deprived and tending to the fire hour 11 of a 16-hour cook, but I never question the good eats that result from this labor! I have come to crave more than just the food as there is an indescribable level of engagement I get from live fire cooking. For me it is a truly fulfilling experience.

BBQ grills are just one of a handful of old-school products still being mass manufactured today: manual cars, cast iron skillets, French press coffee makers and straight razors are a few of the others. What is it about these product experiences that continue to endure, and even gain popularity, in the face of innovations designed to render them obsolete?

I think the answer is simple. Control.

We’ve handed over a lot of control to computer-driven devices. Sure, they offer convenience but they don’t create the deepest user connections.

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