Informing the Future Since 2003
4 February 2023
Twenty years ago today we created COOL HUNTING in our kitchen as a personal utility and archive of design inspiration. Coming home from a day at work the first thing we’d ask each other was, “What did you find today that excited you?” We’d talk about those discoveries, eager to share with each other and on occasion would get a bit competitive about whose find was more remarkable.
In 2003 blogging software was new, free and could easily be installed and customized. We had a server and we had the desire to create an online archive of things we were finding—an image, some notes and a link were mostly sufficient at the time. We’ve always been more organized digitally than we are physically, so the medium worked really well for us. As insatiably curious people our discoveries were regular and became part of our routine.
We never felt a need to keep these finds to ourselves so the site was publicly accessible from day one. We honestly didn’t consider anyone would be interested in what we were up to and we never promoted it, so the first readers were, like us, early adopters looking for creative inspiration. The audience grew steadily and over time we began to build a team and a business. Being independent, we’ve responded to the ups, downs and radical shifts of the media industry in our own way. We’ve never played the growth games and have always maintained a focus on quality over quantity in terms of our content, audience and partnerships. This strategy has been bountiful at times and painful at others, but ultimately has worked for us.
It’s fun to wind the clock back and imagine what the landscape looked like in February 2003: Netscape and Opera were the browsers of the day, though Safari launched a few months later (June 2003) and Chrome was still years out (2008). The hot cellular phone was the Nokia 1100; the seminal Motorola Razr wasn’t released until the following year. Friendster launched later in 2003 and if you were interested in design, creativity and innovation designboom was just about the only game in town (it launched in 1999). Mainstream magazines had begun to dabble online, but it would still be years before most had considered their online presence equally important.
Looking back at our very first day we posted three things: Max Barry’s dystopian novel set in an alternate present where capitalism is basically government and people adopt their employer’s brand as their surname; Mixed Greens, a NYC-based contemporary art gallery that featured emerging artists and was among the first in the art world with an online presence; and the Neonode, a very early smartphone with a small color touchscreen.
We’ve always obsessively followed art, tech, culture and many other categories looking at each through the lenses of design and innovation. While we do not proclaim what we find is a forecast of the next hot thing, we’ve learned over the years how to spot the signals that give us some insight for what’s coming in the near and far future. Today that pattern recognition—scanning what’s around us, comparing it to the vast inputs we acquire, and seeing what sticks out—has become a core part of our outlook and our studio work. Because our audience is predominantly creators working on things the world will eventually see, use and experience, we look at our content creation as informing the future.
Over our journey we’ve had the privilege to be present for groundbreaking tech launches, at the table with the most innovative chefs, in the studios of remarkable artists, behind the scenes for concept car development, and reporters at the intersection of cultural revolution and its impact on consumer behavior. We’ve collaborated with the world’s top brands to create content, experiences and products. And we’ve brought readers along for the ride as we explore creativity around the globe. We’re incredibly grateful for the communities that have welcomed us and the ones we’ve been able to create. And we’re honored by our entire team’s commitment and contribution to this journey, particularly Katie and David who have been with us for nearly the last ten years; Ami, Tim, Karen and Greg who were there at the beginning along with Joel, may he rest in peace; plus our many thoughtful and talented contributors, especially Julie and Paolo.
We’ve a long history of firsts—early brand collaborations, one of the first video podcasts (2005); coaching our brand and agency partners that native content was the way of the future (2005); developing infinite scrolling to create a better reader experience (2007); the 99% Conference (later rebranded 99U), which we launched with Behance celebrating the perspiration behind getting great ideas off the ground (2008); launching one of the first iPad apps in partnership with Cadillac (2010); a pop-up shop developed with programming, limited edition products and activations, sharing what we saw as the future of retail in partnership with GAP (2010); the first of our exclusive, hands-on travel experiences for readers (2012), our Omakase gift boxes (2017), launching the all-new Range-Rover Evoque in one of our favorite, and largest, studio campaigns (2019); and a one-of-a-kind Ferrari Roma designed with Japanese artisans (2022).
It would be easy to continue to rehash the greatest hits of our past, but to celebrate our 20th anniversary we feel a look to the next 20 years is more fitting. This will play out in many forms over the course of this year so stay tuned for our all-new site design and our new podcast, Design Tangents, launching in coming weeks, and thanks for being part of our incredible journey.
With love and gratitude,
Josh + Evan