Unhappy hipsters: does modern design make us gloomy?

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

My latest post for my Psychology Today blog is generating a lot of great discussion in the comments about architecture and emotion. The post uses the phenomenon of the blog Unhappy Hipsters, which assigns new captions to photos from Dwell and other design magazines, as a springboard for questioning the emotions evoked by modern design aesthetics. I argue that there are ways in which modernism is fundamentally in tension with the aesthetics of joy, particularly when it comes to angular forms, desaturated color palettes, and minimalist or restrained tendencies. Though it sounds as if I’m a modernist-hater from the premise, if you’re a regular reader you know that’s not the case. In fact, I’ve posted on the opposite topic — confluences between modernism and joy — more than once before. The post was inspired by the old adage, “it’s funny because it’s true.” I was curious if the humor in Unhappy Hipsters stemmed from a larger, mainly unconscious issue with modern design. The post was an attempt to provoke some reflection on some of the salient features of the style/ideology of modernism and why they might be at odds with positive affect. I’m heartened to see the level of debate and thought in the discussion, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

February 8th, 2010


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    Discussion (3 Comments)

  1. dali agarwal on February 10, 2010

    I admire minimalism from a distance…personally, I think it restrains me from expressing my core desires..to be wild, to be a free spirit, to express my emotions in colour and form

    Minimalism is so painfully perfect…it restrains me from releasing my “inner madness” if you know what I mean ..it doesnt allow me to express my “mood of the moment”
    And after all, isnt the journey of life for us humans all about gathering objects to capture the various moods…even if it means wondering years later “what was I thinking when I got this red couch !!??” and remembering the why and how I;d acquired it !

  2. Ingrid on February 14, 2010

    Thanks, Dali. What a beautiful notion — that the objects in our lives are collections of emotional states, crystallized into form. I love that mental image!

  3. Modernsauce on February 25, 2010

    I really love Modernsim (and Unhappy Hipsters!) but modern architecture is often given a bad rap because the subtly that makes it good is really really easy to cheaply duplicate and the general public isn’t aware enough of the difference to distinguish between the two. A “well designed” modern home feels warm and open with lots of natural light (personal taste aside). A “poorly designed” modern home feels like a sad box. : (

    I would agree with the commenter from Psychology Today that the problem might be with the interior design sometimes. A beautifully designed home will look unwelcoming if the interior feels like a sparse showroom. But Minimalism is different from Modernism although the line is often blurred – Minimalism (to me) feels cerebral where as Modernism feels refined but can still invoke emotions. I agree with Dali too – what’s the point if something doesn’t make you feel anything?!

    Love your blog and thanks for the thought-provoking post!


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