An Explanation Of DNA, Straight From A 1970s Science Book

For this quick explainer, DNA goes retro.

An Explanation Of DNA, Straight From A 1970s Science Book

When our science class videos were replaced by Science Channel programming, we gained a lot of 3-D animations and really big explosions, but we lost a bit of that old-school charm–the simple illustrations of all those concepts we couldn’t see.


So for BBC Knowledge, London-based studio Territory dug deep into the aesthetic archives and created this three-minute retro explainer about DNA. It’s a beautiful, seamless presentation of information that’s as charming as it is informative. Director William Samuel went so far as to point to his specific inspiration, the massively influential 1970s science documentaries Powers of Ten and Cosmos.

Of course, it really doesn’t look like Powers of Ten* or Cosmos, if you actually go back and look at those clips on YouTube (which the somewhat anal author of this piece did). Those documentaries actually used a lot of practical photography to illustrate concepts. And when there were diagrams, there were no rough polygonal figures, for instance. Those are a post-video-game aesthetic.

But the style does create a sense of mind’s-eye nostalgia all the same. You can almost see an animated sidebar from an old textbook, especially with the use of peach and other pastels, printed with low saturation on that strange, cheap paper that always felt too synthetic to really be called “paper.” And no doubt, it’s probably a much more pleasing effect than the actual textbooks that we so fondly remember through rose-tinted, taped-at-the-bridge glasses.

I guess that’s the difference between “retro” and “reenactment.”

*Okay, okay, there are a few a split-second allusions with laser-like geometric outlines that are clearly lifted from Powers of Ten.

[Hat tip: CreativeReview]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.