I’m speaking at Betascape this coming weekend on visual literacy. While I think everyone can be taught visual literacy to a certain level, there are some who exceed at it because they have an innate sense of good taste. Ira Glass explains:
But, what exactly is Good Taste™? Who defines it? Some people say it’s subjective, but if beauty – as my recent delve into aesthetics reveals – is based on mathematical patterns and proofs, then could we not assume that taste is based on these same formulas?
So Will and I pondered, coming up with a list of criteria for acquiring good taste. For it’s acquired, you know. First and foremost, Good Taste™ is based on experience and exposure; the more, the better. It’s also based on:
A certain level of thoughtful analysis.
Appreciation for quality.
Appreciation for good craftsmanship.
We also ascertained that style is not taste. Once a base level of Good Taste™ is attained, styles vary widely. Just because I don’t care for a friend’s house full of antiques doesn’t mean said friend doesn’t have Good Taste. It just means that his style is different from mine.
Perhaps then, lack of Good Taste™ is an absence of aesthetic interest.
On that note, I leave you with this excerpt from Taste for Makers by Paul Graham:
Saying that taste is just personal preference is a good way to prevent disputes. The trouble is, it’s not true. You feel this when you start to design things.
Whatever job people do, they naturally want to do better. Football players like to win games. CEOs like to increase earnings. It’s a matter of pride, and a real pleasure, to get better at your job. But if your job is to design things, and there is no such thing as beauty, then there is no way to get better at your job. If taste is just personal preference, then everyone’s is already perfect: you like whatever you like, and that’s it.
As in any job, as you continue to design things, you’ll get better at it. Your tastes will change. And, like anyone who gets better at their job, you’ll know you’re getting better. If so, your old tastes were not merely different, but worse. Poof goes the axiom that taste can’t be wrong.
Relativism is fashionable at the moment, and that may hamper you from thinking about taste, even as yours grows. But if you come out of the closet and admit, at least to yourself, that there is such a thing as good and bad design, then you can start to study good design in detail. How has your taste changed? When you made mistakes, what caused you to make them? What have other people learned about design?
Once you start to examine the question, it’s surprising how much different fields’ ideas of beauty have in common. The same principles of good design crop up again and again.