Responses to the poll bore out my suspicion it was time for review of design ABCs. The correct answer is, a good design is a style that sells profitably. Any other response is subjective and varies according to the opinions and tastes of each individual. I take exception to the idea that there is a consumer vs a business owner response. If profitability were not related to good design, you wouldn’t know the design existed because it would not be available for you to see to know of it and to be able to buy it. Either it would have been dropped or its maker would have gone out of business. In other words, not enough people agreed with your taste, your fit sensibilities and your budget constraints to make that design available for purchase in the marketplace.
Taste and fit is subjective. Enough people think muffin tops and urban gangsta pants look great so who are you to tell someone they should close down their factory and fire everybody because the fit doesn’t meet your subjective definition of good fit? Adding budget to the mix is also subjective -and elitist- because it presumes we should all share the same values and have the same needs. If it were not true that fit, personal preferences and budget were subjective, then we’d all be wearing the same clothes. We’d live in the same houses, eat the same foods, listen to the same music, vote for the same candidates, watch the same TV programs, drink the same wines and attend the same colleges and churches. In short, nothing less than a fascist state -or in this context, a fashist state. Fashism annoys me. Someone who truly has “good taste” has a broader appreciation of the richness of design (music, food, arts, cars, beers, tv programs etc) rather than its most narrow interpretation, namely that which one prefers personally.
Which brings me to the idea of what is a good designer. In the apparel industry, a designer who can only design that which they like personally is considered to be lacking in skills and creativity. It takes real skill to produce marketable products that appeal to consumers you have nothing in common with. If you’re only designing for yourself, you’re lucky but most designers are employees who design for the dictates of those who sign their checks. Truly, it is ideal if you can design giving free reign to your aesthetic but you’re not going to continue to be able to design if no one buys it. Suggesting that others are sell outs because they design marketable products that don’t conform to your preferences is unkind. Especially if they can do something you can’t. Namely turn a profit and employ people.
I found the undercurrents of intolerance in comments responding to What is good design? to be disconcerting. People have forgotten what tolerance means. Tolerance doesn’t mean putting up with things that don’t bother you, it means putting up with things you don’t like. A radio or TV show is not the equivalent of “bad design” just because you are intolerant of the sentiments expressed within it when it is profitable and popular. Viewers of those shows would probably say your programs are “bad” because they disagree with your sentiments -but that doesn’t mean either of you are right but you both would be guilty of being a taste arbiter. The only thing about either program that could be objectively measured is profit. That one is more profitable than the other does not imply one is better or best anymore than the most profitable car on the market is the best in the world and thus, the one that everybody should buy. The point is not consensus or king making. It simply means the design is good enough to generate interest and revenues from a large enough segment of the marketplace that the product exists.
Several brought up the issue of quality but again, how people define quality is also subjective -and usually wrong. People usually decide something is high quality if they like it but quality is measured by consistency; it has nothing to do with aesthetics. So the question isn’t quality but value. Most people will think a silk hand beaded gown is “the best” quality and by implication a value judgment that we should all shoot for that. Do you always want the item of highest “quality”? No, you don’t. The issue is value and unless you’re a fashist, you cannot determine value for another consumer. You’re not going to muck out a barn in a silk hand beaded gown; sturdy boots and denim are the best value.
The only poll item out of the four that is not subjective is sales. Sales can be measured, adding up into neat little plus and minus columns. The market place can measure the appropriate value for individual needs, wishes and desires. If you care more about making pronouncements of good vs bad taste, get a job as a critic for a newspaper or magazine. If you want to make a profit, it doesn’t mean you have to make “junky” stuff (whatever that means) but pursue design excellence as you define it but not because you want to make a counter statement about what lousy taste most people have. The latter is the best way ever to go broke.
More specifically, this is why I specifically asked visitors not to comment about style with respect to our first ever product review. This is not Project Runway. Nobody appointed anyone judge and jury. If you don’t like it, it’s obviously not your thing, it wasn’t designed for you so if you are not the intended customer, why would your opinion matter? More to the point, who is going to volunteer to be featured in a future entry if people are going to disregard my instructions and comment unfettered about someone’s style? I specifically stated it was not appropriate to comment about style but I was ignored. Why would any professional volunteer to be next? If no professionals volunteer then we end up back where we started. I started this series specifically because I was tired of “reviews” on other sites that were nothing more than back patting sessions that did little or nothing to improve one’s skills and execution. Hence, if we intend to improve skills and execution, that is the only thing we should discuss.
In real life, if you’re in a product review meeting and you do something so foolish as to critique the design, every head is going to swivel to stare at you. Do it more than twice and they will probably fire you. This is simply not done. Someone is buying it, that’s not you, nobody asked what you wanted. I guarantee that if a design incorporates what every person in the room thinks, then no one would buy it. Your role in a product review is technical, you’re not a merchandiser, a stylist or the designer’s boss. Only those people can make style suggestions. Our designer did not ask for styling suggestions -and she didn’t need to. The other thing is, if you’ve been around awhile, you tend to not say what you like or become attached to it because …well… it seems your liking it too much can jinx it -and it gets dropped after market due to low sales. There is one jacket I made 20 years ago that was dropped that I loved so much I took the yoke design with me when I left. Yes I’m a horrible person but I never did anything with it. I’m convinced it didn’t sell because it didn’t photograph well. Point is, sure I thought it was a great design but it wasn’t worth risking money on it if nobody bought it so it wasn’t a good design no matter how much I liked it.
Critiquing fit is difficult but possible. You can develop an eye for fit elements that are likely to affect a representative figure for a given size and style. It is impossible for anyone to design for the possible gamut of figure types who might want to buy it so it is a futile exercise that anyone should attempt it. If you are as good at picking out fitting problems as you think are, you could do this. Not so easy after all, eh?
Product reviews are not easy. Some things are not a matter of opinion. Or they may be opinion but these are professional and qualified opinions based on an entirely different metric in that they can be quantified, can be justified, can be measured and can be rationalized. Voicing a personal opinion is easy precisely because these don’t require meeting any validation standards. Product reviews must be validated with criteria that will not vary based on something so whimsical as personal taste or wearing preferences. If product reviews were easy, anyone could do them (well). If you’re going to be a designer or even a true connoisseur, you must learn the difference. Hopefully these entries will be an exercise toward learning to do them properly.
Tomorrow you’ll see what I mean more clearly when I itemize my suggestions and those from the forum along with the appropriate ones from the blog entry. Reviewing products objectively is a hard won skill that is worth developing specifically because you don’t rely on subjective assessments.