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Un/cool, daddy-o



In Thomas Frank's The Conquest of Cool you'll find a compelling story of a shift in advertising in the 1960s that began to use revolutionary language and satire to celebrate youthful hipness. The irony, as I've mentioned before, is that we are continually feed cold left-overs of rebellion. The desire to sell often falls back on notions of cool. Even the design professions themselves succumb to this archaic train of thought.

A few years ago, HOW magazine (a graphic design periodical) ran an article about creative vision. On the cover was a designer-type decked out in a goatee and funky glasses:


It made me wonder if designers are calling up such worn notions of "creativity" and the creative individual. If so, we are in trouble. And it is not just HOW. I visited a successful product designer friend of mine in the summer. The first thing I noticed about him was his textbook hipster appearance. It made me wonder if his design work also followed such stereotypical and, frankly, uncreative fifty year-old ideas. The hipster aesthetic borrows much from the Beatniks and the stereotypical image (see my illustration above). The Beatniks, along with the rebel ab ex artists like Pollock and writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg, sort of set the stage for marketable concept of rebellion. There is no coincidence that their rise to notoriety coalesces completely with Frank's timeline.

We are often sold this notion about designers being super creative but the need to find the next cool thing, to me, seems a recipe for disaster as the cooptation leads to a rapid death spiral into what or an endless loop of historical references. Will design follow art? If so, what happens when graphic design, for instance, is pure concept (no form)?

I predict that the next few years will be interesting. Will we rehash the past forever and keep buying the ideas of the radical? OR will design become more shock oriented? OR quiet? OR...

Whatever happens, let me know when the hipster is dead so I can shave my beard down to a goatee.
gregory turner-rahman