We have bought two houses in the past five years. One aspect I loved about the whole house hunting experience was going to strangers’ dwellings to see how they decorate. It was almost voyeuristic. I was always intrigued by those who painted their walls with clashing colors(or worse, floral wallpapers), or had mismatching and awkwardly arranged furniture. Every time I made a comment about it to my wife, I felt guilty. There I was, in someone else’s house, talking crap about their stuff.
I have the same observations about how people dress themselves. Same drill: mismatching colors, textures and styles. Of course, all my judgments are based on my own preference. In the scenarios listed, there are reasons why people decorate or dress the the way they do. Maybe it’s financial, or maybe it’s because they simply don’t care.
Or maybe, they just have bad taste.
There, I said the T word. I actually resent calling out on people’s (lack of) tastes. It makes me feel like a pretentious prick. What people do in their personal lives doesn’t concern me. However, having good taste is extremely important when it comes to designing for the public.
I’ve sat on many interviews for web designers in the past. When I review their CV or portfolio site, the first thing I look for is if they have good taste. This isn’t the same as how competent they are with graphic softwares or how knowledgeable they are with code. Tools can be learned and mastered over time. Developing good taste on the other hand, takes a lot longer. Sometimes, I even wonder if it is something of nature, rather than nurture.
Good taste determines how elegant and polished the end product is. Some may dismiss it as “fluff” or superficial, self absorbed hipster talk. “As long as it’s functional.” I don’t buy that and never have. When it comes to product or graphic/web design, how it looks and feel are just as important as how it functions. For a product, it begins at packaging; for a web site, the impression is established within the first few seconds of visit.
Form follows function-that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.
- Frank Lloyd Wright
I don’t think having a formal design training is necessary for having good taste. Some of the clients, PMs and programmers I’ve worked with definitely had “an eye” for the aesthetics. Although they may not be able to execute it, but they knew if something looked and felt good or not, therefore were able to offer valuable critiques. On the other hand, those who didn’t were just a nightmare to work with, and often hindered the quality of the delivery.
Last week I read Dustin Curtis’ follow up article on his AA.com redesign. I feel Mr X’s pain, and agree with Dustin’s view on the importance of having a good taste:
There’s a common attribute that makes for good designers, good engineers, good employees, and good companies. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Was it practice? Was it skill? Was it innate ability? Turns out, it’s none of those. It’s taste.
What constitutes good taste? I’ll leave the floor open for that one.