What the millennial aesthetic sells, it sells through the promise of novelty. This is true even when the product on offer is not appreciably novel: cat food, Dutch ovens, and generic drugs are repackaged, redesigned, as if millennial buyers required a version all their own. Jessica Walsh, a graphic designer and founder of the creative agency &Walsh, dates the style to the last five years and sees its expiration date approaching already. “Everyone wants to look like the Casper, Warby Parker, or Aways of the world,” she explains, which has made branding increasingly interchangeable. “People are tired of the sameness and already craving something new.”
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. In her article “Why Does This One Couch From West Elm Suck So Much?,” author Anna Hezel asks employees in a West Elm store how long that “Peggy” couch was, ideally, supposed to last. One to three years, they inform her.
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. I remember visiting WeWork corporate offices in early 2016 and telling a friend that the space already felt period — larded and spackled with efforts to look designed ca. 2016, which now sounds like a very long time ago. Of course, I can also look around my apartment and see what threatens to wilt: boob poster, pink blanket, plants. 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.
Illustration by Fala Atelier
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