In this era, you come to understand, design was the product. Whatever else you might be buying, you were buying design, and all the design looked the same.
If you simultaneously can’t afford any frills and can’t afford any failure, you end up with millennial design: crowd-pleasing, risk-averse, calling just enough attention to itself to make it clear that you tried. For a cohort reared to achieve and then released into an economy where achievement held no guarantees, the millennial aesthetic provides something that looks a little like bourgeois stability, at least. This is a style that makes basic success cheap and easy; it requires little in the way of special access, skills, or goods. It is style that can be borrowed, inhabited temporarily or virtually.
“It’s like it has no edge or sense of humor or sense of mystery,” [Deborah Needleman, the former editor of T, WSJ., and Domino, says of millennial interiors]. “There’s no weirdness. There’s nothing that clashes. It is very controlled.”
Instagrammable is a term that does not mean “beautiful” or even quite “photogenic”; it means something more like “readable.” The viewer could scroll past an image and still grasp its meaning, e.g., “I saw fireworks,” “I am on vacation,” or “I have friends.” On a basic level, the visual experience of a phone favors images and objects that are as legible as possible as quickly as possible: The widely acknowledged clichés of millennial branding — clean typefaces, white space — are less a matter of taste than a concession to this fact.
As the millennial aesthetic grows omnipresent, as its consumers grow more design-fluent, our response grows more complex. We resent its absence (Why is this restaurant website so crappy?) but also resent its allure; we resent that knowing the term sans serif does not make you immune to sans serif’s appeal. The desire for individuality rebels against its sameness, even as the sameness feels reassuring, feels good.
Reminds me of premium mediocre.