The Hello Kitty-ification Of Product Design

Constantin and Laurene Boym of Boym Partners spotted a trend at this year’s NY NOW gift and home show: Everything is just so darn CUTE!

Earlier this week, we braved the cold and slushy weather to head over to the Javitz center and see the NY NOW gift and home show. Inside, we found an unexpected warmth. This year, cuteness is in. It greets you straight from the cover of the fair catalog: a bathroom set in the shape of a toy submarine by Seletti. Think of the hundreds of possible images competing for this choice spot. This must be Zeitgeist.


The tone, set by the little submarine, is carried through by many companies: Cheerful, gimmicky, colorful, and toy-like, with multi-colored plastic in a glossy finish appearing to be the material of choice. Unless you consider these goods as a form of design escapism, there seems to be very little in the current American economy, politics, or culture to warrant this lighthearted attitude.

This trend is reminiscent of Japan and its famous culture of cuteness, or kawaii. While kawaii originated as a particular style of handwriting in the 1970s, it reached widespread popularity a decade later with products and brands like Hello Kitty. The burst of the Japanese bubble in the 1990s only solidified the power of kawaii over the country’s culture. Soon it spread around the world. It looks like Kawaii is alive and well at this year’s fair and for a taste of what we saw, flip through the slide show above. For more on this trend of the cute, visit our blog Oh, Boym!

About the author

Constantin and Laurene Boym founded their design studio, Boym Partners, in New York City in 1986. In 2009, Boym Partners were the recipient of the National Design Award in Product Design from the White House.