Growing up in the US while constantly being exposed to the East-Asia’s “culture of cute” was a clash of two opposite worlds. In America, businesses are more focused on making their products look “cool” or “slick” to sell. A well known example is Apple – their products are designed to be minimalist, straight-forward, and reflect “cool” for Western culture. Overseas in Eastern-Asia such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, many products focus on “cute” and “colorful” to appeal to the general public.
In cute culture, there is a general consistency in expected colors, shapes, patterns, and illustrations. There is an overall use of vibrant and pastel colors, many organic and asymmetrical shapes, and/or asymmetrical illustrations. Simple patterns (ex: polka dots) are used to emphasize cuteness. Additionally, there are times when typography is also “cute” and more illustrative than a typical sans-serif typeface, but in general, illustration accompanies the typography. The typography usually does not act on its own. Instead, it relies on illustrations or other graphic elements to bring out the cuteness in the product, acting like a flair or a decorative piece.
Similar to typography, products are shaped to be cute. An example would be lipgloss. Instead of designing the packaging of the product simply for maximum ease of use, the packaging may be designed as an apple to let consumers know that the lipgloss is apple flavored.
Many of these combinations result in products belonging to cute culture. Though cute culture has expanded over the past decade and continues to do so, a good number of westerners are not too familiar with this popular visual language. Many do not understand that there is more to the cute culture in products, as seen below.
Color, illustrations, form, and typography contribute to the “cute” factor.
A cute animal plush keychain.
Color, patterns, and illustration of characters make up these cute socks.
Illustrative use of similar colors set the tone of “cute.”
Cleaning mitten takes form of an adorable character.
A traditional toilet scrubber won’t do. Instead, we have a patterned and colorful one.
A gardening pot is crafted with an additional element.
Colorful and patterned gift box, with additional decorative pieces.
Color, patterns, and illustration enhances what could have been a plain cup.
The packaging of a simple kitchen knife is filled with colors and patterns.
Bentos are cute, but lunch boxes can be, too.
Many products from countries like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, are driven by cuteness. This visual language is what appeals and sells to the general audience, and has expanded over the past decade. It continues to expand and influence internationally, where cute culture is widely accepted.