(As I blog this I am mid-debate running concurrently on twitter, IM and with the people camping out in my house. Designers and non-designers.)

It is about ‘taste’. Prompted by a tweet by @tomcoates that links to work by Ira Glass: “All of us who do creative work get into it because we have good taste. Your taste is why your work disappoints you.”  Reading further you’ll see that this statement alone skews the meaning of the original statement; leaving that aside however, someone followed up this post with ‘I’m pretty sure this is why lots of people don’t like designers.’ (heh!) 

I won’t get into a philosophical debate here, it is late, and I am sleepy. Any discussion of ‘taste’ must cite Bourdieu. Bourdieu observed that the wealthy justified and naturalized their economic advantage over others by being the arbiters of taste. Which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like hipster culture.

But back to design and taste, over the centuries we can see waves of emerging aesthetics, tastes, influenced by the tools, materials and designers of the times. Some are adopted by the leading edge (early adopters) (which may secure its success) but when it becomes mainstream (dominant) it is no longer ‘cool’, x number years later it is recycled, and updated…

To be a designer working at the ‘edge’ of taste means risking failure, to make a new aesthetic/taste/style (conflating, I know) successful requires imitation and adoption of the ‘aesthetic’ or style by others (designers/consumers) to establish this as a marker of ‘taste’. Which is where the echo chamber concept comes into play.

The recent alternative vote (UK) made me realize how unrepresentative my twitter chamber is, almost everyone in it pledged to vote yes but it wasn’t representative of the wider UK population, and like networks, design operates in chambers of sorts. Self selecting, echo-y, reinforcing…

Why did I blog this?

I often have discussions with people who frown upon the work a design company/manufacturer or start up is doing because it doesn’t fit with their idea of good/tasteful, sometimes I explain why this is a good thing, sometimes people don’t hear.

In all of this I’m realising how much time I spend in ‘chambers’ (academia, industry side, design land), and how detached from wider society myself and some of my colleagues have become. My markers of taste and ‘good’ design include design that the average non-designer will never encounter, they probably won’t appreciate it, and they won’t pay for it. This is okay, but to pay our bills do we want to design for ourselves or the bigger markets?

Or, perhaps, somewhere here there is a question of design responsibility?


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