Constructing the Cool Wall: A Tool to Explore Teen Meanings of Cool

Paper #191:  Daniel Fitton, Janet Read and Matthew Horton
Constructing the Cool Wall: A Tool to Explore Teen Meanings of Cool

download full paper

Please add comments and discuss this paper – the liveliness of the discussion will help us decide the most suitable papers to be presented at Alt-HCI in September.

Abstract:  This paper describes the development and exploration of a tool designed to assist in investigating ‘cool’ as it applies to the design of interactive products for teenagers. The method involved the derivation of theoretical understandings of cool from literature that resulted in identification of seven core categories for cool, which were mapped to a hierarchy. The hierarchy includes having of cool things, the doing of cool activities and the being of cool. This paper focuses on a tool, the Cool Wall, developed to explore one specific facet of the hierarchy; exploring shared understanding of having cool things. The paper describes the development and construction of the tool, using a heavily participatory approach, and the results and analysis of a study carried out over 2 days in a school in the UK. The results of the study both provide clear insights into cool things and enable a refined understanding of cool in this context.


7 thoughts on “Constructing the Cool Wall: A Tool to Explore Teen Meanings of Cool

  1. An intereseting research method. I would be interested to find out more about the participants’ motivations for using the cool wall. I imagine, given that it was in a public space, that there was a strong social element to their participation. Even if they are doing it on their own, I imagine that the visible results are a public display of their preferences, and therefore a definition of their public persona. The results would therefore be a social display rather than an individual preference (and that is precisely what cool is, so it would work very well)

    Posted by Marco Gillies | August 1, 2012, 5:45 am
    • Motivation is certainly an interesting dimension, the participants were given no incentive to complete the cool wall but still very keen to have a turn – I’d attribute this to the novelty of the technology. Making the display (and the results) more publicly visible is something we are very keen to explore.

      Posted by Dan Fitton | August 2, 2012, 3:14 pm
  2. Nicely written and enjoyable paper – should make for good discussion. A few thoughts…

    I’m uneasy with the idea of a “teenage community”, one of the difficulties of working with younger people is the very narrow age bands so that a 15 year old is very different to both a 13 year old and an 18 year old. Also group identification is very powerful at that age – the Twilight fans probably want to distinguish themselves from the Bieber fans which will lead them to make certain choices and avoid others. Some perfumes and sports brands, for example, are more cool than others among different groups, although the designs are very similar. (Britney or Beckham? Puma or Lacoste?)

    The study is nicely constructed, but I wonder if the categories are too general, and it might have been more illuminating to examine a more limited spectrum of products in more depth. It’s not surprising that Apple products and fast food score highly as desirable. It might have been more interesting to ask children to choose between types of computer games, or brands and models of mobile phones for example, and examine why they feel a particular game or brand is cooler. (There are some interesting news articles concerning Obama’s use of a Blackberry, and also its popularity amongst gang members – making the brand cool or not cool depending on your perspective.)

    I’d suggest that “cool” is mostly a byproduct of other attributes, strongly influenced by associations, and is very sensitive to external contexts, rather than because of design reasons per se. Could it be that user-centred design approaches are actually a hindrance to the achievement of cool?

    By the way, Top Gear is seriously uncool.

    Posted by ingihelgason | August 1, 2012, 1:44 pm
    • I think there are different temporal granularities of cool, one that changes very quickly and is related to fashion/media and another that is more stable and related to attitudes/behaviours. The aim of the work was to understand how cool can be used in design so the images were chosen more in line with the latter (e.g. a ‘Britney’ themed product may have a limited appeal but something that supports elements of rebelliousness may be more widely accepted). It’s very challenging to create a product that ‘is cool’ but I think it is possible to create something that can be appropriated in a cool way – for example deeply uncool school uniforms are appropriated and personalise by teenagers in cool ways.

      Posted by Dan Fitton | August 2, 2012, 4:02 pm
  3. I’m curious if the authors see the cool wall as a way to objectively collect the deeply subjective ideas of *what* is cool amongst given groups – or if its main value is in facilitating detailed discussions about *why* people think things are cool. I assume that certain things can go very rapidly from cool to uncool. Surely one of those teen angst nightmares is getting caught out in an overnight opinion change and you didn’t get the memo and turn up wearing last week’s cool thing now deeply deeply uncool.
    Are there recent example of dramatic coolness flips either up or down?
    I assume that kids discovering that their grannies now have adopted a particular product is enough to kill off its coolness. Rare in fashion of course – all too possible in tech.
    I think it would be lovely to chart the fashion status (not quite coolness I realize) of Burberry check in the UK. From upper-middle-class safe but a bit dull to the defining indicator of chavness. And then how Burberry acted to deal with that, while the offending check remains untainted in all its other markets.

    Posted by Michael Bernard Twidale | August 1, 2012, 11:20 pm
    • Not so sure about rare in fashion, for young kids, yep, but we have had multiple waves of retro fashion, teenagers suddenly finish their granny’s fashion cool … well to be precise their granny’s teenage fashion!

      Posted by alandix | August 2, 2012, 3:51 pm


  1. Pingback: ChiCI Group – Constructing the Cool Wall: A Tool to Explore Teen Meanings of Cool | Interaction Design & Children – TC13 IFIP SIG - July 17, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s



  • No categories
%d bloggers like this: