What is timeless taste? And for that matter what exactly is taste? For those of us who design things, this is not a theoretical question. If there is such a thing as taste, we do need to recognize it so that we can accommodate all of our clients and not just the clients whose tastes and preferences reflect our own.
Many people say that taste is subjective. They believe this because it feels that way: when they like something they have no idea why. It could be because it’s beautiful or their mom had one. Maybe they saw a movie set that they loved or, maybe the item is expensive. Their thoughts are a tangle of unexamined impulses. Saying that taste is personal is a good way to prevent disputes. And while relativism is fashionable, it can hamper us from thinking about taste and admit that there is such a thing as good and bad taste.
For those of us who design things, these are not theoretical issues. If there is such a thing as beauty, we need to recognize it and we need good taste to create good design. When you make mistakes, what caused you to make them? Once you start to examine the question, the same principles come up over and over again and it becomes very difficult to separate good design from good taste. And so, here are my thoughts:
Good taste is simple: You hear this from math to art. In math, it means that a shorter solution is a more elegant solution. Clearly less is more. It means much the same thing in architecture and design. Beauty should depend on carefully chosen structural elements rather than a profusion of superficial ornament. When you are forced to be simple, you are forced to face the real problem because if you can’t deliver ornamentation, you must deliver substance.
Good taste solves the right problem: A chair needs to be well designed in order to accommodate the sitter. A well designed chair has enough structure to enable the sitter to make it through an evening meal, in comfort.
Good taste looks easy but isn’t: When Bauhaus designers adopted the slogan “form follows function” what they meant was form should follow function. And if function is hard enough, form is forced to follow it and there is no room to spare for error.
Good taste resembles nature: It’s not that resembling nature is intrinsically good but rather, nature has had a long time to work on the problem and it’s a good sign when the design solution resembles nature’s.
Good taste uses symmetry: Symmetry is another way to achieve simplicity but mother nature uses it a lot which is definitely a good sign.
Good taste is daring and unexpected: Today’s experimental design is tomorrow’s new standard. “Mixing it Up” to create the unexpected is the newest trend in design today, replacing the “matchy matchy” look that prevailed in homes for so many years. The real challenge here is having the taste to get it right!
Have I convinced you that good taste is timeless? In math, every proof is timeless unless it contains a mistake. Aiming for timelessness is a way to evade the grip of fashion. Fashions change with time so to design and make a room look good, far into the future, it’s appeal must derive more from merit and less from fashion. AMEN!