About COOL

An important characteristic of today’s interactive technologies and applications is that they can be adopted and appropriated in different ways. Designing interactive technology that lends itself to user personalisation and allows appropriation in novel ways is not straightforward. The designer must somehow anticipate the changes a user may desire and consider the adoption/appropriation scenarios which may emerge in order to ensure they are catered for. Within this space, large appropriating everyday technologies in different ways is a very interesting area of work – especially where this is motivated by a desire to make a technology, or the behaviours around that technology, a 'must have' item among a specific social group. This must have item would then, most likely, be understood to be 'cool' in itself or become necessary to support 'cool' behavior within that group.

For groups such as teenagers, being perceived as 'cool' by their peers can have a very significant impact on their actions. Understandings and perceptions of 'cool' can also have a significant impact on the choices and behaviors of adults. The goals of the Cool aX (across) Continents, Cultures and Communities Workshop (COOL2012) will be to develop and expand what is already known about cool with UK teenagers, to explore a shared global understanding of what cool means, and to discuss the implications of this for the CHI community.

What is COOL?

Within 'cool' communities such as a teenager's peer group, it is assumed certain things and certain people can be identified as 'cool'. In understanding 'cool' from the standpoint of the onlooker it is still believed there can be a general understanding of cool that is shared amongst people – almost like the way we share an understanding of 'nice'.

Whilst people may claim to easily identify what is and is not cool, an agreed definition of the concept is elusive in the literature [1]. Cool has been described in terms of adjectives by many different commentators – some take a view of cool as being very much about consuming, others focus on cool as it applies to behaviours [2, 3, 4, 5].

From the literature, several characteristics of cool include retro, authentic, high value, rebellious, antisocial, innovative [2, 4, 6] . These characteristics are far from comprehensively defined and, as with judgements of cool itself, can be highly subjective. Design for cool is still quite elusive. A workshop at CHI in 2010 looked at cool design and offered two design principles [5, 7]):

  • Make work feel like play
  • Make something familiar more fun, delightful, or effortless

Our initial theory of cool, as it aligns to design, is that it is different things in diminishing proportions within a hierarchy. At the top of this hierarchy there is the being of cool, next there is the behaviour of cool (doing cool), and lastly, most common, there is the having of cool items. We believe that it may be possible to design cool products, but what is more alluring is the possibility to design for cool, that is to design products that will allow appropriation in regard to cool behaviours.

In 2011 a CHI work in progress paper by Read et al. [8] established that there were six facets to cool that could be applied to work with UK teenagers. These were:

CODEExplanation and References
REBRebellious and / or illicit (probably has some socially or morally unacceptable line to it) [2]. AS Anti social (encourages anti social behaviours – maybe avoiding the need to mix with others or encouraging anti social behaviours like bullying and violence) [2]
RETRetro (clearly from a previous era) [6].
AUTHAuthentic – the real thing (more about items that are 'the must have' brands – and maybe are 'hip' or trendy at the moment) [15], [6].
RICHMany desire – affordability issues – big money (probably less about brands and more about features – where having this item would mainly signify you have a lot of money to spend) [3] (in reference to Aston Martin cars).
INNInnovative - original (something that is really a bit of a surprise – where – on encountering this thing – people would be impressed by it for its unusualness rather than for any of the other items above) [3].
Facets of Cool

COOL aX Continents, Cultures and Communities

Douglas McGray, cited in [9], writes of ‘Japan’s gross national cool’ and in so do alludes to the urban understanding that Japan is a cool place to be, that it creates cool products and that the people there are cool. It is argued that Japan finds Western things cool and that Westerners find Japanese things cool. This assumption opens up a serious and at the same time interesting global debate as to how does cool, and the perception of cool, cross continents. In 1973, R F Thompson wrote that cool, in the context of Africa, was of remaining composed in the heat of conflict and his study into cool in Africa, at that time, lends a different view from the Western-Japanese axis of consumer driven cool [10].

Culturally, cool can be described in different ways. In developing countries, cool has been described in terms of locations [11], and religion [12]. Within a culture, cool is different in different communities, for example it was shown to be more prevalent in schools than in higher education in [13]. Children as young as 7 have been shown to realize that ‘being cool’ matters [12] whereas cool is very much a term that has a meaning to adults, especially marketing [14].

COOL Design aX Continents, Cultures and Communities

In terms of design, there is a void in the literature about cool as it relates to the design of interactive products for people across cultures, communities and continents. The workshop will explore three interlinked issues:

What is cool? The authors work on cool design in the context of UK teenagers will be critiqued, refined and expanded using understandings of cool drawn from a range of continents, cultures and communities (brought by workshop participants).

Can cool cross boundaries? From a clearer understanding of what is considered cool, the workshop will consider the broad range of insights and nuances to determine if there are aspects of cool that transcend these continents, cultures and communities.

How can we create cool? From the insights and understanding developed, the participants will attempt to create tools (such as a guidelines and heuristics) that the CHI community can use to create cool designs.


[1] D.E. Agosto and J. Abbas. High school seniors' social network and other ICT use preferences and concerns. . in ASIS\&T '10. 2010. Silver Springs, MD: ASIS.

[2] D. Pountain and D. Robins, Cool rules, anatomy of an attitude. New Formations. 39:(2000) p. 7 - 14.

[3] K.A. O'Donnell and D.L. Wardlow, A theory of the origins of coolness. Advances in Consumer Research. 27:(2000) p. 13 - 18.

[4] A. Tapp and S. Bird, Social marketing and the meaning of cool. Social Marketing Quarterly. 14(1):(2008) p. 18 - 29.

[5] K. Holtzblatt, D. Rondeau, and L. Holtzblatt. Understanding 'Cool'. in CHI 2010. 2010. Atlanta, GA: ACM Press.

[6] C. Nancarrow, P. Nancarrow, and J. Page, An analysis of the concept of cool and its marketing implications. Journal of Consumer Research. 1(4):(2002) p. 311 - 322.

[7] K. Holtzblatt. Understanding Cool SIG. 2010 [cited 2011 January 12th]; Available from: (http://incontextdesign.com/uncategorized/chi2010- understanding-cool-sig/)

[8] J.C. Read, et al. Understanding and designing cool technologies for teenagers. in CHI2011. 2011. Vancouver, CA: ACM Press.

[9] I. Condry, Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization2006: Duke University Press.

[10] R.F. Thompson, An aesthetic of Cool. African Arts. 7(1):(1973) p. 40 - 43, 64 - 67, 89 - 91.

[11] R. Gomez and E. Gould, he “cool factor” of public access to ICT: Users' perceptions of trust in libraries, telecentres and cybercafés in developing countries. Information Technology & People. 23(2):(1982) p. 247 -264.

[12] J.M. Mushaben, Gender, hip-Hop and Pop-Islam: the urban identities of Muslim youth in Germany. Citizenship Studies. 12(5):(2008) p. 507 - 526.

[13] C. Jackson and S. Dempster, I sat back on my computer … with a bottle of whisky next to me’: constructing ‘cool’ masculinity through ‘effortless’ achievement in secondary and higher education. Journal of Gender Studies. 18(4):(2009) p. 341 - 356.

[14] B. Schubert, The Anatomy of Cool2009: Books on Demand.

[15] Southgate, N. Coolhunting, account planning and the ancient cool of Aristotle. Marketing Intelligence & Planning 21(7): 453-461. 2003.

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