The Royal Albert Hall, is officially cool. The recent Coolbrands recognition is mostly due to their wonderful lineup and diverse offer to new audiences. However I didn't need a poll to tell me the Royal Albert Hall is cool, though it's nice to be validated – I just knew it was. As a Creative Director I think visually, and directing the redesign of their identity is a badge of honour I'll wear with pride for life. But can our design work be described as cool? What is cool design?
Cool is mutable. Cool is not obvious and it's not show-off. Cool blows your mind. Cool is ephemeral and fleeting like the animated gifs in your Instagram feed. It is legendary, surrounded by an aura of myth and perception. Cool is damn hard to pin down.
Cool can be acquired through association. Nike does this very well through the halo effect of the global sport stars it endorses. Think of Michael Jordan and his Air Jordan shoe, or the tennis powerhouse Serena Williams with her extravagant outfits on the court… all available for you to buy so you can be just like your hero(ine).
Being cool is different to being fashionable – and even the great fashion houses struggle. Fashion brands go through aesthetic transitions and change their direction with fresh creative to try and achieve cool. A case in point is Gucci's recent appointment of Alessandro Michele to the design helm. According to fashion bible Vogue, Gucci is now 'where it's at' with Michele having created a stampede for certain it Gucci items – kangaroo fur-lined loafers anyone? Sales for the brand have also grown for the first time in years.
Cool design epitomises a time and sub-culture. Those who are old or lucky enough will have seen it in the work of Neville Brody and his art direction of cult magazine The Face in the 1980s ,with its bold typography and tactile graphics. Or in David Carson's grungy, experimental graphic design that personified Gen X's 'I don't give a shit' attitude in the 1990s. I worked part-time at a magazine store then and would grab each new copy of Ray Gun magazine as it came in. I never read a single article but would just look at and love every page. I'd never seen anything like it and to me, that was cool.
The minimal and pure design of Dieter Rams' Braun products follows his strict design principles, one of which is 'as little design as possible'. There is no denying Braun products' cool factor, as they're a source of inspiration for Sir Jonathan Ive, who just so happens to be the lead designer for official No. 1 cool brand Apple. Flip the coin though, and the rule of 'less is more' doesn't quite work when I think of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust creation, who dazzled us with his maximalist space suits and kabuki stylings.
But what I believe makes cool really cool is when it becomes legendary: a timeless classic. This can only be done by surviving trends and fads; it is best achieved with confidence and an absolute belief in oneself that comes from authenticity, of sticking to your guns. The New York logo design by Milton Glaser in 1977 to promote tourism in NYC is a great example. It is bold and doesn't muck around with decoration – yet has emotion and humanity with its bright red heart. Of his first sketch of the design Glaser said, "I felt excited. My design had a sense of inevitability. The form and the content were united in a way that could not be taken apart." That sketch now sits in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and may be perhaps the most imitated logo in the world. It is a timeless classic, remaining mostly unchanged over the decades – as well as being a nice little revenue earner for the city. I haven't met a single person who doesn't like it and those who own the T-shirt treasure it (yes, I own one). This logo didn't set out to be cool, because that is most uncool – coolness was bestowed upon it through the love it has gained over time to become a legend.
Never deliberately set out to be cool: that just doesn't feel authentic.
Back to the Royal Albert Hall. When designing the identity we aimed to create something that was true to its heritage and to the purpose that Prince Albert instilled in the Hall nearly 150 years ago. We wanted something timeless, real and authentic. Is it cool? Only time will tell and in the meantime I'm sticking to my guns.