What is Cool Hunting?
By Sofia Deneke | 5 Minute Read
Cool hunting is the practice of researching the youth culture in the street or underground scenes in order to predict future or upcoming trends, in the context of design. The term cool hunting has an inherent sociocultural element to it, since it is the current society’s ideals that dictate what is cool and uncool, the zeitgeist, or the “spirit of the times”. Also known as trend research, the main objective is to predict when the mass population will undergo a shift in direction and adopt a certain trend, which can be influenced by social, cultural, economical, environmental, or political elements.
Being cool requires a delicate precision; a balance is needed between creating something unconventional, or out of the norm, yet simultaneously socially desirable and acceptable. Something perceived as too abnormal or counter-cultural will not be labeled as cool. It is also relative, since it depends on what society deems as normal and abnormal, and where in the spectrum your concept will be placed.
From a behavioral perspective, different groups of people pick up trends at different stages of the trend cycle. Innovators are the so-called cool kids, who introduce the particular style or trend into the market. Afterwards the trend moves onto the acceptance phase, where the early adopters and the majority of the mainstream population come into play. Finally, the late adopters or laggards are a customer segment that does not prioritize trend following, therefore adopt the trend at a late stage due to conformity or lack of better choices. The trend goes through a rejection phase and ends washed up in thrift stores or just simply discarded, and as time goes by it’s picked up by some other innovator. This is the explanation behind vinyl becoming a common object again in 2017, or analog photography being common in the youth culture. But how do you pinpoint that je ne sais quoi that makes a trend cool? It is a challenge to decipher what makes a design trend cool.
In the early 1990s, baseball stadium Oriole Park at Camden Yards was inaugurated and immediately praised nation-wide; it set the standards for a new kind of ballpark and was the model to follow for generations after. It was the new kid on the block and everyone wanted to be like it, cool, unique, with a retro touch. The Baltimore Orioles requested architecture and design firm Populous to build a unique ballpark for them. At the time, most baseball stadiums shared spaces with multiple sports like football since the sport does not require set measurements. All of them looked and felt basically the same and that was the norm at the time, concrete oval-shaped stadiums, which were even nicknamed “concrete donuts”. The multi-purpose aspect combined with the stadiums’ modernity created an orthodox aesthetic perceived as mediocre. In order to break this paradigm, the designers looked back at the early 1900s, when baseball-only stadiums were built and had red brick facades, green seats, and green-coated exposed steel. Camden Yards embodied all the aspects of this aesthetic combined with “modern amenities” which sparked the retro movement in ballparks. When comparing it to Toronto’s imposing SkyDome, an article on Sports Illustrated described it as: “better—more magnificent in an understated, baseball-only, real-grass, open-air, quirky, cozy, comfortable, cool sort of way”. The designers had achieved their goal: to be denominated a “cool” ballpark.
The nostalgic appeal and the unconventionality of the retro look created a new formula for a ballpark’s success. The building of 20 more ballparks followed in the 90’s and early 2000s, and almost every one of them was built following Camden Yard’s model. Some ballparks even went to the extent of hiring the same design firm in order to be as cool and idiosyncratic as the original Camden Yards. Naturally, the retro movement set a new paradigm and a new, established template for conventional baseball stadiums. Ironically Camden Yards has now become what it once attempted to avoid: a banality.
And so it goes on, the cycle of cool and cool hunting, early adopters such as modern-day hipsters or trend forecasters spot a pattern forming in between the avant-garde, and are quick to adapt or make it their own. After that spark, it’s all history. Cool hunting encourages us to embrace future trends as designers, and to be on the cutting edge of innovation.