Fashionable. Admirable. Timeless.
If you were to define cool, what words would you use?
Cool is just . . . cool.
In some sense, even describing what makes something cool can diminish its appeal. But in print and design, nothing is more appealing than cool.
What Makes a Brand Cool?
How do you add this edge to set your products apart?
To find out, marketing scholars Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell carried out six experiments comparing consumer products, coolness ratings, and participant reactions.
In their research, Warren and Campbell discovered a relationship between the qualities of coolness and autonomy, finding designs perceived as cool were those that radiated autonomy in a socially acceptable way. Cool things tend to go a step beyond “stylish” things, so cool designs often push the boundaries of style. Think normative styles like jeans – but add excessive grunge rips. Or ordinary 1950s T-shirts – but add packs of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve.
Coolness is not an inherent quality, but rather a social construct. If coolness comes from stretching limits, one of the keys to cool designs is knowing your niche and understanding what customers perceive to be unconventional. As Warren & Campbell conclude: “objects and people are cool only to the extent that others consider them cool.”
Bringing Coolness to Life
Looking to push the boundaries in a way that’s meaningful to your customers? Here are three ways to set your designs apart:
1. Define the Gap in Your Market.
Look beyond your design to the people you are designing for.
What brands, social values, or fashion cues motivate them? Look at products your customers typically buy and find the “gap” between current designs and those that are too intense or extreme.
To design in the gap, add a bold twist to the colors, fonts, or ideas that might typically interest them. Wrapping paper company Gift Couture saw a gap in the market for wrapping paper “sets,” so they created a series of themed papers that coordinated together, like the Cheeseburger set (bun, meat, lettuce, and tomato wrapping papers) the steak set (raw meat and cutting board style designs), and the pizza set (pizza paper with a coordinating pizza box).
2. Bring Magic to the Mundane.
Cool people or concepts have a flow, grace, or character all their own.
Cool things often appear effortless (though they rarely are), so how do you add this sense of simplicity to your work?
Seek authenticity that focuses more on a core concept or idea than on the perfected final outcome. For a photographer, this might mean focusing on the moment, not the shot. For an advertiser, this might mean expressing character irrespective of the norms, beliefs, or expectations of others. For a designer, this might mean using minimalist designs, stark angles, or unfiltered photos one might generally reject.
3. Re-purpose the Old.
Sometimes the best designs are a twist on history.
Awaken inspiration for what WILL be cool by looking to what HAS been cool! From refinished wood to vintage art deco backdrops, sometimes the coolest things to come around are those that have been around.
Designs nodding to the past evoke nostalgia and spark a profound emotional response. And cool designs don’t just reproduce old styles; they recreate them in arresting new ways.
Find the Sweet Spot
Cool designs understand their consumers’ tastes and hit the sweet spot between the ordinary and the unconventional.
From the unique to the unexpected, when you appear effortless, incorporate the past, and design one step beyond the norm, it will give you an edge an set your products apart.