Contemporary doesn’t equal Modern

26 Oct

After a visit to High Point market, where designer lingo is thrown around like confetti, I feel the need to write a blog explaining the difference between “Contemporary” and “Modern”. So here goes…

Google defines contemporary as: characteristic of the present.

Google defines modern as: belonging to the modern era or as: ahead of the times.

So, what is the difference? Well, this may not be very scientific, just the thoughts of a “20-something” designer/trend follower. But I find there is a HUGE difference which doesn’t necessarily follow the “definition” of the words. Why? Let me explain.

The word contemporary was used profusely in the late 80’s and early 90’s to describe the fashion and design trend most recently seen in a Bill Cosby sweater or the bad necktie your boss sports to work occasionally. What is most important about this is that, in the design world, terms that describe a “look” stick. So you can’t call Bill Cosby’s sweater contemporary for a decade and then also call the latest in the design movement the same thing. The lingo has to change. We don’t call “mid-century modern” design contemporary, even though according to the true definition it was, for its time, contemporary. We call it “mid-century modern” because that is the accepted term to describe that movement more directly. We call 70’s decor retro…and so on. However, for some reason a new term was not openly accepted for Bill Cosby’s sweater– so we still call that contemporary, and yet try to call new, clean, modern design contemporary, too. So which one is it– Bill Cosby’s sweater, or Modern???

Mid-Century Modern

Cool Retro:



Well as a child of the 80’s who’s skin crawls at the word contemporary, I say it is MODERN. Modern is the term used to describe to latest design styles in the market today. Clean, simple, spacious designs without a lot of fuse and clutter is happening today and is worlds away from contemporary design.

Let me describe Bill Cosby’s sweater a little more for some of those who may not be following. The contemporary movement in the 80’s was about infusing abstract art into fashion and home. Designer Koos van den Akker, who designed the “Cosby Sweaters” defined the movement for the world through TV. The geometric, colorful, and asymettical designs were all the rage.

But by no means does recent design and Bill Cosby’s sweater look remotely the same. So let’s all agree to call Bill Cosby’s sweater contemporary and trends of today modern. But we will have to remember to come up with a new term for designs of tomorrow.




so sad the date!!!



Seeing the difference???

All this I will end with the disclaimer that I am a strong believer that all design terms are relative. However there are some things you can’t deny.


One Response to “Contemporary doesn’t equal Modern”

  1. Scaffolding Boards November 22, 2010 at 7:01 am #

    abstract art have share some of its unique beauty when it comes to art. i like abstract art because it is mysterious .’*

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