Redesigning Classic Products: Always a Bad Idea?


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The maxim is just as applicable in product design as it is in everyday life. Consider the Airstream and the Fender Strat, widely celebrated products that have looked the same for decades. And yet, this week has brought the news that Volkswagen has debuted a “more masculine” version of the iconic Beetle. The new version is VW’s attempt to broaden the car’s appeal by attracting male buyers. Will it work? Only time will tell, but we can sure pass judgment now. After the jump, we examine the new Beetle and a few more classic products that have been redesigned over the years, with varying degrees of success.

Images: VW Bugs in the ’60s, 2009, and 2012

The Volkswagen Beetle

Few products so readily bring to mind the ’60s as the Volkswagen Beetle. Although the car existed in various forms (it was originally a Porsche) since the ’30s, it was the 1967 model that made a splash in the States, its quirky style pairing intuitively with the current counterculture. But everything that is once trendy must eventually become uncool, and a sales decline forced Volkswagen to stop selling Beetles in the US after 1977. A few decades later, however, Beetles were stylishly retro once again, and the company introduced the New Beetle in 1998. While it kept many of the original’s design features, it was noticeably more aerodynamic and bereft of the wonderful, silver details. The 2012 version takes these updates even farther, the the point that the Beetle almost feels like a sports car. Give us the original over the new model any day.

The Apple iMac

Remember the first iMacs? We’re sure we weren’t the only high schoolers who begged our parents for a fruit-colored desktop back in 1998, when Apple rebooted its brand by embracing appealing design. The computers have undergone tons of design changes with each new generation — and while those early versions definitely caught our eye, we have to admit we prefer the current, more dignified, minimalist look. Come to think of it, it kind of feels like the iMac grew up with us.


Although a few odd prototypes preceded it, Coca-Cola’s famous “contour bottle” dates back to Earl R. Dean’s 1916 design. Over the years, plastic bottles have taken over for glass ones, and while the current containers still reference the contoured classics, we seem to see a new tweak every few years. The current version’s innovation is a grip-friendly bottom, which we’re sad to say brings to mind nothing more than elaborate condoms. Truly, the original, glass Coke bottle was nothing to mess with.

Penguin Books

No book cover designs have been quite so consummately fetishized as Penguin’s. The earliest covers, beginning when the company launched in 1935, were simple and stylish — orange cover with a thick, white stripe for the title, black lettering, and classy logos. Although we love the first Penguin covers, we must admit that the company rarely goes wrong in its current designs. For instance, as you might have guessed, the 1984 cover above is the work of Shepard Fairey.