When Unhappy Hipsters started making the rounds, I linked to it from the Consumed Facebook page, where Braulio alerted me (thanks again) to this Psychology Today column by Ingrid Fetell, asking: “Are there elements of modern design that inherently make us feel gloomy?” Her answer is that, in fact, there might be.
Modern design was born out of a desire to leave behind the ornamentation and excesses of 19th century Europe. In essence, it’s a stripped back, pared down style of design, favoring clean, often angular lines, neutral colors in tones of gray and beige, bare materials, and a general sense of spareness and minimalism….
She’s generalizing, of course, and at first that doesn’t sound so bad. But then she notes research on emotional responses to color, and angular vs. curved forms. The short summary would be that many of the tropes of “modern” design are at odds with good vibes. “I think,” she writes, “that modernism’s restrained quality is fundamentally in tension with the idea of delight. Delight is an emotion of abundance — a celebration of sensation and richness. Delight and joy are primally connected to wellness, and wellness in nature is lush, plump, vibrant, and bountiful.” (Fetell also has a project/blog called Aesthetics of Joy, here.)
I am somewhat cautious about that connection between delight and abundance. Buying into that idea full-on would be emotionally catastrophic — I mean, maybe those “hipsters” are unhappy, but watch an episode of Hoarders and decide for yourself how delightful that abundance seems.
But on some level I think Fetell has a point. Just yesterday I was browsing Design*Sponge and I was struck by the “sneak peek” pictures of Michael Quinn’s apartment. (Two examples, above and below.) I wrote here earlier about how much I enjoy D*S’s “sneak peek” series pictures: “They’re interesting because they’re so unlike the spare and clinical interiors often featured in more mainstream Design Think contexts, such as certain shelter magazines (not to mention catalogs) and the like, where the decor is always minimal, and there’s no clutter beyond one or two art books.”
Misgivings aside, then, I’d still rather look at these pictures than what I see celebrated in most sharp-and-clean-focused “good design” sources.
The combination of Fetell’s piece and these D*S images actually brought to mind a number of topics I’ve pondered here in the past — the visual jumble of MySpace, the more recent post about groups of stuff, and of course the significance of otherwise-oddball-seeming-objects.
What do you think? Is clean, spare design a bummer? Is the notion of clutter-abundance delightful — or a rationale that dead ends unpleasantly?