M Moser’s Steve Gale, thinks it takes a very long time to become young!
Designers under 35 years old are the focus in this month’s edition. This talented crew are the future, and they should know that 35 is just the beginning of a life of thinking and creating, maturing like fine wine. ‘It takes a very long time to become young,’ as Picasso put it.
This group is sometimes called millennial, or generation Y if you prefer the American term, but does this mean anything? Flattering journalists have described them as creative, flexible, open-minded, socially responsible and tech-savvy people, but there are real issues behind them, such as tuition debt, job insecurity, recession, always-on technology, low pay, high cost of housing, and terrorism (or its malignant shadow). Pretty gloomy, but was it better for baby boomers from the 70s onwards?
Here is my personal and very biased experience of the same topics, seen from my London-centric standpoint.
University fees did not exist, and maintenance grants paid for the essentials of life including rent (in my case).
When we left university, most seemed to get a job in their calling, but there were recessions in every decade. If we managed to stay employed through the first two, it was the 90s recession that did for many, including me. It was never quite the same after that.
Technology? This is the most visible change right across the board. Imagine a London architecture practice in the early 80s completely devoid of any computing power whatsoever, with a handful of telephones hard wired to the wall. Letters were drafted by hand, and finished by a secretary who could use an IBM golf ball typewriter. We all worked on drawing boards and runners collected our tracing negatives and returned the printed copies.
Desktop PCs crept into our lives, and were shared like kitchen appliances. They instantly revolutionised the way we could waste time and money. Slowly we learnt to clumsily tackle written documents, spreadsheets and, at huge cost and effort, drafting (without colours) on tiny expensive screens.
I held my first mobile phone in 1990, but waited two more years to own one, which generated short calls and long bills. No texting, no email, no internet.
“I don’t know if this sounds charmingly laid back, or just bloody inefficient. It’s probably both.”
The digital age was still on a tricycle, and the internet was unknown. We used fax machines well into the 90s, and always followed up with hard copies, which we stuffed into envelopes each day to ‘catch the post’. We adopted email quite early – in 1996!
Social networking consisted of making arrangements by actually speaking to people, or visiting a spot where you knew your friends would be. In my case a pub on Clapham Common. This was my Facebook, where our stories were told and sometimes ‘liked’.
Housing was actually affordable even though we felt otherwise, and, if you took the plunge, borrowing was easy because everyone believed that house prices would escalate for ever – which they did simply because you could borrow the money. And look where that got us.
I don’t know if this sounds charmingly laid back, or just bloody inefficient. It’s probably both, but there were unquestionably bad times and truly rubbish things to put up with.
For example, terrorism wasn’t born in 2001 with 9/11. There were frequent bombings in London from the 70s onwards – I heard 13 personally, and lost count after that.
Food in London was notoriously crap, and wine selection seemed to freeze around Beaujolais Nouveau and Mateus Rosé.
Then there were the strikes, the three day week, society’s guilt and pain as railways and utilities passed into private hands, and mine closures. There were weekly rallies and protests, and to top it all the Falklands War.
Should millennials be grumpy about the future? Maybe, but there is lots of good stuff about being young now. Talent is visibly rising to meet the challenges, I see that in the people I work with every day. Young designers astonish us by bending technology to create things we never dreamt of. Standards are rising along with the value they add. As millennials predominate in the near future their votes might even begin to dispel inequality, if they are actually cast.
Close behind is Generation Z, after which who knows? We have reached the end of the alphabet.