Taste: How can designers influence taste in positive ways?

On Tastes, Trends and Personal Styles

What shapes your taste?

Your taste is shaped by a lot of factors, the most important of which is the culture you grow up in. One pattern that I have seen in my Indian culture is the extravagant usage of colour. You can see that from the hoardings and billboards that adorn the streets of India to even the very common ‘lorry art’…

Image Source: Billboards Competing for Your Eyeballs.

Image Source: Lorries of India.

Maybe this has got something to do with our culture…

…or maybe it has got to do something with competition. The only way to stand out from the crowd will be to be more colourful and hence get more eyeballs.

When such design revolutions come around a lot of designers blindly start following these trends without thinking why and the result would be their obliteration along with these trends. These styles that were meant mainly for the web, even made entries into print media. People started using glossy buttons in their brochures and ads. Now who presses those buttons, no one knows but this phenomenon clearly showed that designers easily fall prey to trends because it somehow shows that they are keeping up with the times. What they don’t realise is that good design transcends trends and withstands the test of time. The works of designers like Stefan Kanchev and Dieter Rams stands testimony to this fact.

Image Source: The timeless works of Stefan Kanchev.

Image Source: Dieter Rams.

By looking at those designs you can’t predict which era they were designed in for sure. This is what we call a timeless design.

These days a new phenomenon has been going around in the design world which I call ‘iOSification’ of design. iOS is one of those platforms which owes a lot to its design for the success it had. iOS apps had to follow a set of strict guidelines to be accepted into the ecosystem and consequently all iOS apps look like they have been designed by the same person. For an ecosystem this type of uniformity in the visual language is good but it rarely encourages innovation in design. True, every now and then something comes along which breaks this rule but more often than not this rule holds true. Everything would have been fine if it all happened within the iOS ecosystem but sadly that is not the case. Many web apps and websites have also undergone iOSification.

The personality of the design is compromised when you try to conform to trends. The personality of any design is ultimately a reflection of the style of the designer. How much of a personal style a designer can bring to a project is very debatable especially in the case of projects in which a team is involved. Such works always have a collective identity but the whole is always the sum of parts.

You would never blindly follow trends if you just ‘THINK’ about the ‘whys’ before you start doing anything. Thinking about your craft is essential if you want to stay ahead of the herd. Writing and talking about your craft helps even more because it can happen only if you think. Talking to people who are better than you challenges you. It refines your thought process and ultimately your craft will benefit.

How trends level out in end

There is a thin line between simply following trends and building on something that is in trend. It is at this fine line that the negatives of exploring a trend finally levels out. Everything in this universe has a natural cycle where in it tries to attain an equilibrium by losing what is unnecessary and retaining what is necessary. Design is no exception to this rule.

Sometimes when a designer has worked on a design for a considerable amount of time the design attains what is called a ‘local maximum’. No matter how much you work on that design, it is not going to get better than what it already is. In such cases what a design needs is a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes. This is one reason why the design community is tolerant when someone tries to build upon work done by another designer. Although the design-challenged mistake this for copying or ripping off, this is exactly how progress was ever made in the design world. Where you draw the line between blatantly ripping off someone and building on some-one’s work is a very delicate matter.

There is a new movement going on in the online world. A movement in which a heavy premium is laid on the tastes of users. Until now sites like FFFOUND were used solely by designers and design enthusiasts. They have not managed to percolate through to the rest of the world but with the rising popularity of Pinterest more and more people get recognised for their taste. There is a taste for identifying good work and a taste for producing good work. While these curators in Pinterest can get away with a taste for identifying good work, a good designer needs to have both in ample quantities. The taste for producing good work is largely dependent on your talent. It is something you are born with and as you continue to develop your taste to identify good work, some of it also rubs off on your talent. Both keep feeding each other and helps you become a complete designer.


Design Is Everywhere – Dimensional Design

Design is everywhere, few things are designed well – Brian Reed

Industrial Design – the art that deals with the design problems of manufactured objects, including problems of designing such objects, including problems of designing such objects with consideration for available materials and means of productions, of designing packages, bottles, etc., for manufactured goods, and of graphic design for manufactured objects, packages etc.

When forms develop with that reason [to get “design” out of the way]. And they’re not just arbitrary shapes, it seems almost inevitable… it feels almost undesigned. Its feels almost like “well of course it’s that way… why would it be any other way?” – Jonathan Ive

Good Design is:

– cost effective, comforting, engaging, evolutionary, simple, emotional, life changing, brand defining, iconic, timeless, sustainable, industry leading, an experience, life altering, life saving, ground breaking, progressive, industry changing, revolutionary, innovative, riveting.

Good design defines a brand and defines a company.

Last but not least, good design is as little design as possible – Dieter Rams

Taste (sociology)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In sociologytaste is an individual’s personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference. Taste is drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods and works of art and relating to these. Social inquiry of taste is about the human ability to judge what is beautiful, good and proper.

Social and cultural phenomena concerning taste are closely associated to social relations and dynamics between people. The concept of social taste is therefore rarely separated from its accompanying sociological concepts. An understanding of taste as something that is expressed in actions between people helps to perceive many social phenomena that would otherwise be inconceivable.

Aesthetic preferences and attendance to various cultural events are associated with education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes. Social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste.

Taste and aesthetics

The concept of aesthetics has been the interest of philosophers such as PlatoHume and Kant, who understood aesthetics as something pure and searched the essence of beauty, or, the ontology of aesthetics. But it was not before the beginning of the cultural sociology of early 19th century that the question was problematized in its social context, which took the differences and changes in historical view as an important process of aesthetical thought.[1] Although Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) did formulate a non-relativistic idea of aesthetical universality, where both personal pleasure and pure beauty coexisted, it was concepts such as class taste that began the attempt to find essentially sociological answers to the problem of taste and aesthetics. Metaphysical or spiritual interpretations of common aesthetical values have shifted towards locating social groups that form the contemporary artistic taste or fashion.

Kant also followed the fashion of his contemporaries.

In his aesthetic philosophy, Kant denies any standard of a good taste, which would be the taste of the majority or any social group. For Kant, beauty is not a property of any object, but an aesthetic judgement based on a subjective feeling. He claims that a genuine good taste does exist, though it could not be empirically identified. Good taste cannot be found in any standards or generalizations, and the validity of a judgement is not the general view of the majority or some specific social group. Taste is both personal and beyond reasoning, and therefore disputing over matters of taste never reaches any universality. Kant stresses that our preferences, even on generally liked things, do not justify our judgements.[2]

Taste and consumption

Taste and consumption are closely linked together; taste as a preference of certain types of clothing, food and other commodities directly affects the consumer choices at the market. The causal link between taste and consumption is however more complicated than a direct chain of events in which taste creates demand that, in turn, creates supply. There are many scientific approaches to taste, specifically within the fields of economicspsychology and sociology.

Taste and social classes

Arguably, the question of taste is in many ways related to the underlying social divisions of community. There is likely to be variation between groups of different socioeconomic status in preferences for cultural practices and goods, to the extent that it is often possible to identify particular types of class taste.[16] Also, within many theories concerning taste, class dynamics is understood as one of the principal mechanisms structuring taste and the ideas of sophistication and vulgarity.

Bad taste

Bad taste is generally a title given to any object or idea that does not fall within the normal social standards of the time or area. Varying from society to society and from time to time, bad taste is generally thought of as a negative thing, but also changes with each individual.

How do you tell good design from bad design?

I’d argue that it’s obvious to tell the difference between good and bad design. But if that was the case for everyone, then we’d enjoy a world full of excellent websites. 

I believe there are obvious visual and emotional indicators of good and bad design. Let’s start by comparing and contrasting the visual indicators first.

Bad design


We recognize bad design instantly when we can’t tell what the hell we’re looking at and can’t figure out where to go. When print or online media is jam-packed with information, images and icons, order and comprehension is severely challenged. Brand guru Marty Neumeier says, “A wealth of information leads to a poverty of attention.”


Bad design feels like an episode of Hoarders. Being forced to take in tons of conflicting content at once is jarring, confusing and repulsive. Having too many columns in your website will do this. Having too many colors will do this. Having a ton of animated stuff will do this. Having a ton of ads on the page will do this. Having multiple areas of navigation will do this. Doing all of these at once will make your visitors explode.

Clean design


We follow clean design without any questions. We move from point A to point B gracefully and find our way back just as quick. Clean design organizes information logically and gives each piece its own time and space for attention. Clean design often looks attractive and professional.


Clean design creates a sense of understanding, respect and trust. Banks understand this; that’s why they are clean, organized and the tellers are dressed for business. Much like looking for a good place for your money, you want information on your website to be obvious, organized and trustworthy.

So how do you make good design? I would defer to Marty Neumeier’s advice on this yet again:

Good design reflects good virtues (honesty, clarity, courage, substance)… Bad design exhibits laziness, deceit, pettiness and fear.

I would argue that good design starts from and is based on your business’ virtues. Leaving all the cliche and competitor style behind, I would advice using your own virtues as the guiding light for your design. Beyond this, good design is usually gained by way of experience. Align your design with your virtues and then apply the necessary rules of design to make it readable, presentable and unique.

Defining Good or Bad Design

What is good design? It’s a seemingly simple question that’s surprisingly difficult to answer. The more you think about it, the more complex the question becomes. Not only does “good design” mean different things to different people, it also changes at different times and in different contexts.

Some of the world’s leading designers were challenged to define what “good design” means. Each designer was asked to identify one example of “good” and one example of “bad” design, and to explain the reasons for the choices.

Everyone agreed that “good design” had to fulfill its function efficiently. Tim Brown, president of the IDEO design group in San Francisco, used the examples of the Flip video camera and Amazon’s electronic book, the Kindle. “The Flip is a great example of design simplification,” he explained. “Every step of the process of taking, downloading, editing and distributing video has been made simple and seamless. Whereas the Kindle is a great idea, poorly executed. The accidental operation of buttons happens constantly, and it’s uncomfortable to hold, which for a book is a very bad idea. My Kindle sits unused on my desk whereas the Flip goes everywhere.”

Inefficient design can have grave consequences. Brian Collins, chairman of the Collins creative consulting firm in New York, told the cautionary tale of the prescription pill bottles doled out by pharmacies. Traditional prescription bottles often look so similar and their labels are so badly printed that people can easily take the wrong medicine by mistake. That’s what happened to the grandmother of the American designer Deborah Adler, who decided to find a solution.

She designed clear, legible prescription labels for bottles that can be customized by adding colored plastic rings so a particular type of pill can be spotted at a glance. Ms. Adler’s design is now used by the Target retail group for its ClearRX pharmacy range.

But sometimes efficiency isn’t enough. Paola Antonelli, senior curator of design and architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, contrasted the “cheap and efficient, but ugly” Jersey traffic barriers with the “graceful, elegant, playful” version on the streets of Milan. The Milanese have nicknamed them “panettone,” after the traditional cakes whose shape they share. Designed by the great Italian architect Enzo Mari, they can be moved around the city as the traffic flow changes, and double as impromptu seats.

A similar emotion vs. efficiency debate has erupted over the design of London’s buses, as Hilary Cottam, the social designer and founding director of Participle, explained. Londoners still reminisce fondly about the Routemaster doubledecker bus, which was withdrawn from service in 2005. Popular though the Routemaster was, it was very difficult for small children, elderly people or parents with strollers to get on and off, and virtually impossible for anyone in a wheelchair. Those problems were solved by the design of one of its successors, the articulated or “bendy” bus, which is easily accessible but widely loathed by Londoners.

“The bendy bus is very easy to get on to and can carry twice as many passengers and more people can sit down,” Ms. Cottam said. “My question is, what is good design? The old Routemaster, which looks great, but is hard for most people to use? Or the new bendy bus, which has improved travel for the majority?”

The rational answer would, of course, be the bendy bus, but can something be “good design” if no one enjoys using it? That’s why London’s new(ish) mayor, Boris Johnson, launched a competition to design a new bus which, he hoped, would be as endearing as the Routemaster, as accessible as the “bendy” but environmentally responsible too. The winning design, by the architects Foster + Partners and the sports car maker Aston Martin, was unveiled late last year as a neo-Routemaster with solar panels. It is now navigating the treacherous waters of London’s transport politics.

The London mayor was right to insist that the new bus be environmentally responsible, because that’s another non-negotiable component of “good design,” albeit one that has attained the status relatively recently. As the environmental crisis has deepened, it has become impossible to ignore the ecological implications of everything we consume. However gorgeous, witty, ingenious and even useful something is, we can no longer consider it to be a design success unless it is also ethically and environmentally responsible.

But the case for the Smart has strengthened as the market for fuel-efficient cars has expanded, and an all-electric version is to be introduced next year. “The Smart car is a great idea, compromised at first, but now getting a second chance,” Mr. Béhar said. “What makes the Smart win is its respectful, responsible and efficient concept, adding value to the world.”

–Alice Rawsthorn