Anti-Design trends

FYI, Newsweek has an interesting article on Nike’s acquisition of Converse and the lessons learned in attempting to “swooshify” the Bauer brand. While it didn’t mention “anti-design” by name, it made an interesting point about the “traditionalist DNA” of brands like Converse and Bauer and their subsequent hands-off approach to design.

I haven’t heard much of “anti-design” lately–perhaps because it’s been eclipsed by Retro and mass-market awareness of design in the past few years. I can’t help but wonder if we’re headed towards another inevitable overdose/backlash, or if micro brand management will prevent any sort of macro trends in the future.


A friend of mine just told me this past weekend that American Eagle Outfitters bought Converse…

not true,

Nike owns converse outright and has for about a year now, sales and profits already multiplying, the ad campaign for the chuck taylor went from less than 100k to over 1million. Recently Starter was aquired as well. The Nike portfolio of brands has grown over the past few years to include Hurly (about 2 years ago) Cole Haan (over a decade) and Savier, now defunct. If I had to guess it would be to diversify the company, in other words the swoosh can be even more pure sport, while the other brands can do what they do with even more backing. In the scope of things Nike is still a pretty small company Nike= about 12 billion…GE = I think in excess of 300 billion! It just happens to have a very high consumer visability.

Anti-design? i would definetly say there is an undercurrent of familiarity out there, but that is natural with the change of a century if you look back at art and architecture through the ages. Actually it is more than an undrcurrent. A look at current apparel trend will tell you this. Look at your basic graphic tee. Wat started as fringe move toward vintage prints from the goodwill store migrated to urban outfitter and is now all over the mall. The iPod on the surface is futuristic, but really it is retro in that it is an execution of technology steeped in the 30’s and 40’ bauhaus tradition. all forms of contempory design on the market can be linked to modernism or post modernism. Rich detailing and cultural veneering is prevelant all throughout store like abercrombie.

My prediction would that after a few more years of retro backpedling the future will be mainstream again. Not a past impression of the future, but something more pure and new. I think it is allready starting at the edges.

When you say “anti-design” are you referring to Converse’s Chuck Taylor brand and its connection to “DIY” culture, such as artists, indie musicians, etc?

I think an undercurrent of “anti-design” will always be (and should always be) out there. There are just some areas that over-design can eclipse what’s really important, and creates a over-glossy appearence. Some areas of products/experiences are more important to be “authentic” in experience rather than “well designed”.

Some examples where authenticity outweighs design might be ethnic urban neighborhoods where visual chaos takes over, or a gritty rock club where the rough-edges define the experience…

“Authenticity” is a far more powerful marketing trend right now, but true authenticity is disappearing in a world where strategy puts its death-grip on anything and everything in order to mitigate risk.

Funny thing about Authenticity: I read something not to long ago about the “myth of the good-old days.” There were no good-old-days, only perception in hindsight. A good example of how our brain stores and commingles memories in inprecise and personal ways.

Anti-Design is less about Authenticity than about a rejection of strategy as a symbol of independance. Sometimes this overlaps with Authenticity, in that meshback trucker hats are ugly, but your ability to pull one off makes you cool in the process. (Until the trend flames out few months later.)

Authenticity is definitely something that I can see today’s advertisers clamoring for: look at how many “street-artists” are being used in ad campaigns, for example. From what I’ve read, the ad industry is freaked about the “Tivo generation”, so the only way to connect with the demographic is to create compelling ads that connect with the consumer on a more “authentic” level… less blatant ads, more brand building…

Although authenticity is becoming more and more rare these days, you can still encounter those places/products/experiences that feel very natural and unfabricated… it’s like the difference between an psuedo-Irish pub and the real thing…

But I see what you are aiming at with “anti-design”… embodied by a rejection of corporate strategy, but on a mainstream level, instead of the typical underground rejection of corporate America. The mesh hat is an interesting example though-- what started as kitsch/anti-design in “indie-culture” made it’s way to mainstream culture and became the opposite-- you can go to Urban Outfitters, Von Dutch, etc. and pick from hundreds of mesh-cap styles. What was once ani-design became HIGHLY strategized and immensely popular…

But maybe anti-design really only starts to apply as you venture into fashion territory… are there any examples of anti-design in a more traditional product area?

I bought a Holga “toy” camera with Polaroid back not to long ago. It takes cool “Lomo” type crappy pictures–the polar opposite of my Digital Rebel. That’s anti-design for sure.

Crate & Barrel might be considered anti-design. It’s certainly sterilized, but it might be more in the ‘authenticity’ vein.

I’m with you on the Lomo camera-- a product that is purchased specifically to create ‘poor’ quality photos. Good one.

Not so sure about Crate & Barrel, though. I see them as creating a psuedo-boutique atmosphere for (what seems to be becoming more and more) ‘modern’ styled housewares… not sure I see the anti in that. Personally they have scorred major “authenticity” points with me for their CB2 venture.

Maybe another good example of anti-design would be Freitag Bags… in fact mass customization as a whole might be a bit anti-design… power to the people of sorts.

Big advocate of CB2, I think it has the potential to evolve into what the parent used to be, cool stuff at a good price. It seems in the search for authenticity many companys wander from what makes them authentic.

I’m right there with you on the “no such thing as good old days theory”. To that let me add a theory of my own I like to call “it’s getting better all the time”: the main thrust is this if you could take key statistic globally, lets say the adjusted average income into todays dollars, among other things, and some how estimate those stats at key points in history, middle ages through today, crusades, spanich inquisition, renaisance, american revolution (as if I can spell that)… you would see in general things for the average citizen have tended to improve over time. Just a theory

dont know about anti-design. sounds like its own movement. there are imo different reasons for what can be called that tho.


nostalgia - i admit to being old enough to understand this. not just retro. but real reminders of a time that was simpler. baby boomers are large segment. giving them what they want IS design, even if it looks old. i dream often of the old days. literally dream. no Aids. no Terrorism. Younger! dont think a 20-something designer could quite understand. i couldnt have.


back to basics - as life becomes more complicated products that are simple emerge. we’re cluttering our lives with stuff we don’t need. people understanding that more now. standard example. how many people need a 14-speed blender? not many. but Marketing will want that 15-speed. feature creep. companies starting to recognize this. isnt there even a Back To Basics appliance company now? and now there’s a GAP for over-35 women. i have a very clear image of Converse in my head. from the 70’s. if i want both nostalgia and back to basics, i know what i’m looking for.


networked hyper-nicheans - my term for the internet bringing together and cultivating diverse interests groups/hobbyists. and then growing them. examples are people making custom gear for star gazers. filmmakers. aso. not “anti-design”, just no-design other than satisfying a need. one that big industry ignores. could include the Newton. or those Pixel-thing cameras from a few years ago. in 20 years people will be forming around the iPod. old tech by then. but so long as that design is in their lives, it will influence them. its like the Coke bottle collectors who buy a red-and-white sofa. and lounge chair. and throw carpet. aso. these things churn up the design waters. create turbulence. and diversity.

directionless art - not sure now, but for a few years i looked for the next Art Movement. art magazines also looking and running articles. i haven’t seen one. or heard of one. not like Cubism or Post-Modernism or. seems like one isnt coming. music. art. all becoming more and more diverse. seems like design will go the same way to me. Retro, Biomorphic, Chiseled, Bauhaus, even 70’s Lime. room for all of it. not so much Anti-Design as a world full of design. of different kinds.

[edit - directionless art=Design Chaos]

for those who have read some of my other posts on future opportunities/manufacturing/etc, this all dovetails. least i think maybe it does.

this is my take, based on what ive read here and the examples posted.

it seems design and technology (which sometimes go hand in hand- this could be good or bad) are always referred to as “moving forward”. Design and technology evolve, and the general direction where its headed seems to be what people categorize as ‘design’. Anything headed in a different direction confuses us and ends up standing out, simply because it moves against the flow. For example…trucker hats. It is suddenly ‘cool’ to wear a trucker hat because it goeas against what people generally consider good taste or ‘fashion’.

What ends up happenning is that the ‘anti-design’ eventually merges with the ‘design’, creating something like a trend i guess.

but here is the thing that ive noticed: a trend is relevant upon context and upon the person. Do you think a trucker looks cool and trendy in a trucker hat? nope, he still looks like a trucker. But what about a hottie with tight jeans and large hoop earrings? That is out of context, both for the situation and for the person. The overall effect i guess is a trend.

so i guess what im trying to say is that for there to be a anti-design movement or object, it still has to be relevant to the masses: compared to the general population, the amount of people that actually wear trucker hats for their job is very small, therefore the ‘anti-design’ or ‘anti-fashion’ of trucker hats is out of context for most people. Do you think ties will be anti-design someday? they could be, whenever people stop wearing them for a decade.

any thoughts? it seems i was just rambling…hehehe

Men’s ties are anti-design for women.

ykh–nice list of some other marketing trends.
Anyone have any others, or sources?

The latest issue of Innovation shows some of HLB’s trend maps:
Axis’ are: New/Traditional and Rational/Emotional

North America Aesthetic Region Map:
More female gamers
expanding age range
more interactive
touching all senses
blurring work & play
quiet contradiction
rugged, daring, spirited
connected to roots & ethnic cultures
unusual combinations
extended family
global influence
object value
character & soul

Europe aesthetic region map:
expanding demographic
tradition with a racial twist
expanding age range
touching all senses
ecological value
object value
being more creative
individual within a group
importance of art/culture
melding genders
quiet contradiction
social over isolation
western influence

Here’s some refreshing anti-design:

why in the world would you spend 500 on THAT???!!! to annoy the neighbors? that is anti-common sense haha

"Earlier this year, we put out a horrific noise-box. It had an insulting press release. It had
sadomasochistic cartoons right on the front panel.

And in spite of all this, AND repeated warnings NOT TO BUY IT, the original Metasonix TX-1
Agonizer became the fastest-selling product in our company’s history!"

buying this must be like giving the corporations the finger. any wonder it sold out.

One really obvious “anti design” trend here in So-Cal are the ubiquitous BMX bike helmets:

They actually come with skater stickers in lieu of the typical styling you’d find in other types of helmets.

I guess you could more specifically call this the “DIY” look.

I think the actual helmet is more designed then the traditional geeky bell ones. It’s form is more considered and pure, the shape relates to the shape of the head versus the brain beneath it. The ventilation functions are clean and easily understood, and the manufacturer encourages coustomization by the user.

Just because it’s less physically doesn’t mean it’s not more design wise.

reminds me of something from the early days of motorcycling. i’d consider it “anti-design”. least by some standards. if anti-design means shunning what amounts to designer egos. returning to earlier designs that were basic. then this qualifies afaic. not “retro”. retro to me is different. it evokes an emotion. this is just saying you dont need all that form on a helmet. so “anti-design” as in “leave well-enough alone”. sometimes IDers dont do that.