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What will survive when the millennial aesthetic dies?

Molly Fischer, writing for The Cut:

You walk beneath a white molded archway. You’ve entered a white room.

A basketlike lamp hangs overhead; other lamps, globes of brass and glass, glow nearby. Before you is a couch, neatly tufted and boxy, padded with an assortment of pillows in muted geometric designs. Circles of faded terra-cotta and pale yellow; mint-green and mustard confetti; white, with black half-circles and two little dots — aha. Those are boobs. You look down. Upon the terrazzo nougat of the coffee table, a glass tray trimmed in brass. It holds a succulent in a lumpy ceramic pot, a scented candle with a matte-pink label. A fiddle-leaf fig somewhere looms. Above a bookshelf (spines organized by color), a poster advises you to WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE. In the far corner, within the shrine of an arched alcove, atop a marble plinth: one lonely, giant cartoon jungle leaf, tilting from a pink ceramic tube. You sense — in a way you could neither articulate nor explain — the presence of a mail-order foam mattress somewhere close at hand.

I’m doing my bit to make clutter cool again. How about you?

Fischer goes onto explain how the millennial aesthetic came to be and why it prioritises design above all else. Legibility, it seems, is key:

Today, Urban Outfitters sells a pink-and-red poster that says COOL TO BE KIND and another that says BAE BAE BAE. A voice of chatty positivity, conveyed via fun typography, pervades walls, ads, and social media. The text is casual, friendly, and impersonal — the verbal equivalent of a beveled edge. And perhaps all those words are just the logical end point of a broader tendency to prize legibility. Instagrammable is a term that does not mean “beautiful” or even quite “photogenic”; it means something more like “readable.” The viewer could scroll past an image and still grasp its meaning, e.g., “I saw fireworks,” “I am on vacation,” or “I have friends.” On a basic level, the visual experience of a phone favors images and objects that are as legible as possible as quickly as possible: The widely acknowledged clichés of millennial branding — clean typefaces, white space — are less a matter of taste than a concession to this fact.

That legibility reinforces some of the aesthetics other values: comfort, warmth, simplicity. Muted elegance. Fischer contrasts it with the trend that came before – hipster and all its deliberate chunkiness and roughness. The millennial aesthetic drops all that in favour of something nicer, more positive.

It stripping away the rough edges, the aesthetic says “we have only now, finally, thanks to innovation and refinement, arrived at the objectively correct way for things to look.” But in a friendly way.

At that point, “good design” becomes synonymous with “high quality”.

Last year, the interior-design start-up Homepolish collapsed; last month, Casper made its disappointing IPO; last week, Outdoor Voices CEO Tyler Haney stepped down amid reports that her company, based on tastefully colored leggings, was losing cash. Design created an astonishing amount of value in the last ten years, and increasingly that value looks ephemeral… We have lived through a moment in which design came to seem like something besides what it was, like a business model or a virtue or a consolation prize. The sense of safety promised in its soft, clean forms begins to look less optimistic than naïve.

Towards the end of her article, Fischer asks an worthwhile question:

When the time comes — when smooth pastels start to feel a little tacky, when brown starts looking good again — what will be saved? As in any era, most of our belongings will be lost, but fewer than ever seem worth trying to preserve.

Personally, I hope that brown never starts looking good again. But I can’t think of much that’s worth saving. Maybe the iPhone 5. I still like its design. The combination of rounded corners and sharp edges holds up.

Nothing else comes to mind. Bring on the brown, I guess.

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