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Flocking v Differentiation aka why I’m uncomfortable in IKEA

(image from Flickr Creative Commons)

I have a lot of anxiety around IKEA. For starters, it’s always packed full of grubby kids and Noah’s ark styled couples, you know, the kinds that dress alike. Second, they trap you on certain floors and sections, by making you go up an escalator with no way down, urging you to follow the yellow brick road through the store. I’ve solved these problems by never going on a weekend and entering the store through the exit (and first getting a $1 ice cream cone as extra incentive). Seana has already written on IKEA as a sore subject.

My biggest beef with IKEA, however, is that I really like their stuff. I go happily along picking new sheets and pillows and crap and then it hits me that millions of people have all this same crap in their homes. The cool style reinforces your belief that you are a unique individual with good taste but in reality you are unique just like everyone else buying this mass-produced consumer good. This tension has pecked at me for years but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I was listening to an episode of the Planet Money podcast today, Episode 457: Why Pink. In the episode they discuss how fashion trends occur and why copying is so prevalent (embraced even) by the fashion industry. The reason there may be 50 different kinds of denim shirts for sale in 2013, is that we all want to be accepted and fit in (flocking), yet we want to feel unique and like we have our own style (differentiation). Designers offer so many different iterations of what’s in right now so that you fit in, but allow you to select one piece to stand out from everyone else.

(image from Flickr Creative Commons)

I think this tension is most profound in IKEA because of its lack of direct competitors. Really, who else is in the affordable furniture biz. Target maybe? There is no middle market for furniture. The next step up, we’re talking about Design Within Reach and Room & Board, where a couch may go for $5000. Besides antique, vintage, estate sale type situations, the only place to go for affordable designerly furniture is IKEA, and thus the conundrum. There aren’t enough iterations to make me forget that I’m like everyone else, and to fool me into believing I’m a unique snowflake. They definitely have fresh, youthful, clean styles with some variety, yet lots of people I know will have the same exact thing, not a variant, the same exact thing. I walk into a new client’s office. Oh, that’s my coffee table. At my friend’s house, oh I have that rug. It’s too much flocking folks. I haven’t solved the problem of furniture & home goods differentiation, but I’ve identified a new piece of my Ikea-discomfort puzzle. And thus, a win.

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When the hipsters co-opt your lifestyle


“Where did you get this?” Seana’s man-friend says to me, nervously pawing the Klein tools bag that I’m using as a purse. “You didn’t buy it at Urban Outfitters or something did you?”

“No. I stole it from S who bought it at the hardware store.”

He lets out a billowing sigh, “Well, that’s a relief.”

“It’s the hipsters,” Seana whispers, “they’ve taken over everything he’s into.”

It’s true. I look around their loft space, speckled by unintentional hipster goodness. The work boots, home-jarred peaches & pickles, and cans of PBR for starters. The wood working projects, shaggy curly hair (on head and face), and record player for seconds. And Seana isn’t helping, with her zeal for vintage clothing (which she posts on her shop GrandmaISH) and furniture that she has reupholstered with fabrics of teals and oranges harking back to the 60s and 70s.

“It’s bad enough. The shoes, food, drinks that are now all expensive…but not my Klein bags.” He launches into a story about his first Klein tools bag, which was white and glorious. He’ll send me a photo of it later. “They make really nice tools…and bags.” He looks wistful.

I’m not sure, but I think he’s mainly annoyed that his favorite things and areas of genuine interest are now trendy and expensive, meaning less available and accessible for himself. It must be annoying as hell, because he’s not spending his Saturday nights pickling and freezing homemade chicken stock because it’s cute and ironic. My guess is that he does it because that’s how he’s always done it. That’s how his papa did it, and his papa before him. Because hand-made, good quality things are just plain good. I keep thinking about what will happen when the hipsters move on. I mean, they won’t be wearing plano glasses and skinny jeans forever, right? What will happen to the folks whose interests and objects were taken over and then discarded? Will the originators of these trends then be seen as passé? Will the hipster items go back to being cheap or will they become obscure and difficult to find, even more expensive? Should we start hoarding Chucks now? I think they will move on. And when they do, watch out! The hipsters may be out for you and your lifestyle next.

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12 to 13 inclinations

We had a great time musing and rambling this year about art, design, and social awkwardness. Thanks for reading.

I hate the word “trend” so we’ve compiled “inclinations” for you instead. These are some of our favorite things from 2012 that we hope will continue into 2013. We love:


1. All that is hand-crafted, locally-produced, crunchy granola goodness. Shout out to Public Glass, Workshop, San Francisco Center for the Book, Allied Arts Guild, in fact to all craft fairs, art walks, um, Portland, popup hoodletterpress workshops, wood workers etc. etc.


2. DIY lovin for food. Who in your life isn’t making their own bread, cured meats, cheese, pickling, and making a batch of micro-brew in their tub at this very moment? Mawana winery and micro-brew in Los Gatos is our fave (but we’re biased). It’s so local and micro that it doesn’t even have a website.

3. The back-to-the-woods look. Wood paneling, well, everywhere – in restaurants, cafes, apartments, bus stops. Cabin porn. Amish chic but with iPads.

4. Commune living (but with toilets), live/work lofts, and nude frolicking.

5. Reupholstering and repurposing in general. Why build new when there is so much out there already?

6. Moving our bodies in new (and I guess, old) ways. More walking, bike lanes, self-driving cars. Here’s hoping that BART actually gets extended from Fremont to San Jose (gotta believe it’ll happen guys).


7. Knowing where our food comes from. CSA, food co-ops, exchanges, foraging. local, local, local. Urban gardens. Urban beekeeping.

8. Shifting from “users” to “people.” Standing up for our digital rights, and have a better understanding of where our data goes and who makes $$$ from it.

9. To start reading again. Big, hefty tomes at that.

10. Single-tasking.

11. Business models that don’t involve selling our data to marketers. For example, let’s take Louis CK. He produces his own content and sells directly to fans on his own website. Beautiful. Or take my friends’ design/build shop, Pas de Chocolat. Their motto is, “if we don’t do it ourselves, we do it with collaborators who share ownership.” Isn’t that cool?

12. Shorter commutes. I propose moving all of the Bay Area into San Francisco. Then we can make some real public transport and call it a day. This week I’ll drive to San Jose, San Francisco, and Berkeley for work. This is not OK.

13. Beards and the cool barber shops that go with them.

Last note. Something that we’re happy to see go: All things apocalypse related. I’m looking at you History Channel.