Where And Why Does A Design Movement Start? (Part 3)

Different periods in history have resulted in a counter-culture movement, a rebellion put in motion by young people who were tired of the current state of things. We’ve already visited a few of these movements in Part 1 and Part 2 of the series here, but there are a few others that have appeared over the years: namely the Cyberpunk and Deco Punk movements. Here Peter Stevens sums up their influence on design.– Ed.

The direction that some people believe Diesel Punk has gone — a mixture of totalitarian or fascist uniform fetish and sometimes extreme aggression — has led to the development of a very different sub-culture: ‘Deco Punk’.

Deco Punk is derived from both Art Deco and the Streamline Moderne style that was considered very popular during the period from the mid-1920s until the 1950s. Steampunk author Sara M Harvey suggests that Deco Punk is “shinier than Diesel Punk, sleek and very Art Deco but with much more chrome.” There looks to be less of a technology-based vision and more of an artistic one – Art rather than Diesel, you don’t get your hands dirty with Deco Punk.

The products are certainly derived from Art Deco period designs, the Ronson range of cigarette lighters are a classic example. The fashion that comes from Deco Punk is very much softer and less aggressive than Diesel or even Steam Punk. Whilst the architectural styles — which I don’t imagine the architects themselves would see as being from this sub-culture — are certainly interesting, are there influences that could be useful to main stream designers? As always with these examinations of different cultural design groupings, it is the study of the details that can be useful as well as the choice of colors and textures rather than the designs themselves.

Cyberpunk is a very different proposition; it was born out of a grim view of the future where past utopian optimism has been replaced by what the film ‘Blade Runner’ depicted as an overcrowded, dirty and unattractive city-based existence. ‘Star Trek‘ showed an ongoing battle with an unfeeling and uncaring enemy, ‘The Borg’ who were intent on the destruction of ‘life as we know it’, the link between humans and cyborgs was Seven of Nine, half robot and half earth dweller who was never clearly committed to either side.

Claire Evans, a contemporary writer and musician, suggests that Cyberpunk is to the computer age what Punk Rock was to the pop music age. She suggests that as a sub-culture it was finished by the start of the ‘dot-com’ era in the mid-1990s, and says that there were probably never more than a couple of hundred hardcore cyberpunks at any one time.

“Cyberpunk speculated a world where high-tech lowlifes might wheedle themselves inside of monolithic systems – and might, in using the tools of the system against itself, claim some of the future for themselves. And while precious few of us are stalking through Tokyo slums in leather trench coats and mirrored shades, hopped up on cybernetic enhancements, activism coordinated in digital hangouts has effectively toppled governments. We don’t pal around with mercenary cyborgs, but crypto-anarchic hacker collectives are bigger players on the global stage than most nations’ armies. Policemen and more secret entities who now rely on robot eyes to scan for suspicious activity while unmanned vehicles and cyber weapons wage their own quiet wars.”

As always happens, as soon as someone suggests that things have moved on culturally we find they have simply evolved. The dramatic changes in Russian political life, the subversive hints at a second ‘Cold War’ and the worldwide reduction in wealth for those who are less well off — brought about by bankers rather than politicians — has encouraged a new pessimism or anger among creative young people. The result is the proliferation of very strong computer generated illustrations of an unattractive future that would previously have been imagined in songs or poems.

Drawing is a great tool for protest, as people like Goya knew more than one hundred years ago; the images may be negative but the techniques are positive.

Peter Stevens is a world-renowned vehicle designer  You can catch up with his antics on his Facebook page 


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