The Tragedy of the Hipster

Originally published in Turn The Page magazine, issue #61, July 2017

I am absolutely sick of them. You know, those ‘cute’, ‘hip’, ‘local’ coffee shops popping up everywhere you go? The ones with reclaimed wood, industrial lamps, exposed brick walls, trying to sell a variation of a cappuccino for five Euros? I am sick of their bearded baristas, their bicycle decor and their fern plants; their sans-serif logos monospaced in black-bordered boxes. No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape them. No matter how far I travel, every city in the world seems to be infected by the plague of hipster shops. Even quaint, historic Delft is not immune. Just walk down the Voldersgracht (north of the Grote Markt), where stores like Friet District, De Centrale, and Roast Chicken Bar Delft have taken over the streetscape.

It is quite confusing: why are there so many of them? All of these businesses are ‘independent’ in the sense that they are not all owned by one corporation, yet they all share the same aesthetic. No matter its cause (arguably Pinterest), if all business owners are adopting the same global style, there is a loss of aesthetic and cultural diversity. Diversity is created when style is inspired locally – not globally – and it can be argued that cultural diversity stimulates thought, new ideas and progress.

Hipster culture is not just problematic for its lack of diversity, though. Much more than just a style, hipster shops share a false promise: they give their customers a fictitious feeling of authenticity. That is, you feel like you are in a trendy and unique store, while in reality you are surrounded by more of the same. Pascal Monfort, fashion and design teacher at Paris’ HEC business school, notes: “hipster culture created a lifestyle that produces the exact opposite of what it promises: the search for global uniformity instead of local authenticity.” The hipster coffee shop then is a kind of illusion. It promises culture but instead it is the antidote of culture. It is fake.

So who even designed this crap? The copper and wire furniture? The logos with slashes? The endless-scroll websites that all look the same? Designers, are we not creative enough to think of something else?

That set me thinking. Did I not just buy a pair of glasses from Ace & Tate and eat avocado toast for breakfast? Is the Moscow Mule not my new favourite drink (if you have not tried it, it is really good)? Even worse, did I not just design a sans-serif black-bordered-box logo for a client? Oh god, I am that designer. Here I am, pretending that I am better than this hipster tragedy – but for every time I walked by and made fun of a hipster shop, I probably walked into another and bought something useless. I am just pretending that I am not pretentious – which is arguably the fatal flaw of hipsterdom. We all think we are unique.

Right now, I am sitting in the Coffee Company in Delft and the ferny plant sitting across from me is mocking me silently. I am thinking about going on a hipster diet, quitting Pinterest and Behance, so that hopefully I can design something original again. Perhaps if every designer asked him- or herself the question “am I helping or hurting cultural diversity with my design?”, we together can save the world from the hipster epidemic.

Hipsters anonymous anyone?