Developing Good Taste In Design

The famous radio monologue by Ira Glass on the New York City public radio show This American Life encourages young creatives to push through their initial discrepancies between their own work and the work they perceive to be “good.” Glass reminds creatives that we all get into creative work because we “have good taste.”

I agree with this idea. However, some designers, I would argue, also need to work on their taste. Because, let’s face it, not all designers have excellent taste. But how do you know when a design is truly good or bad? Is it as subjective as many people say it is? Let’s explore this further.

It Takes Years

Most people have a pretty good idea of what they like, but actually creating work that’s consistently praised by those in and outside the design community takes many years of practice. You can think your work is good immediately after you create it, then come back to it six months or a year later and cringe with horror at your previous lack of skill.

That’s just the way it works. You build up a level of experience – just as if you were playing a game or sport – and when you revisit old, conquered territory you find that you’re much more equipped to handle the challenge than you were before. You can then go on to “kick your own ass,” so to speak, and create new work that completely overshadows the old.

The important thing to remember here is that all designers, not just you, are doing the exact same thing with their own work. So that designer you admire a great deal may be going through his own hard drive and shaking his head in shame at that design you once found to be amazing.

Get Off The Internet

Seriously. Go outside and look around. Take photos. Read real books in an actual library. There are so many sources of inspiration beyond what your peers are doing on Behance or Dribbble. Go find them. When you go forth and take in more of the world around you, your ideas of what’s good and bad will inevitably change and improve.

How does that work? You will gain a broadened perspective of what’s out there and what’s been done before, and by whom. Reading, travel, talking to different people from all walks of life, taking a class to learn something different and non-design related – all of these things can help you get that valuable perspective and will improve your taste in design, almost by default.

Remember, design is about how things work. So the more things you analyze, the more you can figure out what’s working about them and what isn’t.

Mind The Gap

Ira Glass speaks of a “gap” between what you see as good work, and what you are actually capable of producing at this point in time. Always be working to close that gap. This means constantly working to improve your craft. Practice your design skills, even when you’re on your own time.

Also, don’t forget to do personal projects. The more personal work you can do, the better off you’ll be, as it’s usually through personal work that your personal taste develops the most. If you get stuck in a rut with client work – maybe your clients have all been demanding the same style and you fear your work is beginning to look the same – a fun personal project may be just the thing to invigorate you and get you excited about design again.

There’s Always Something Better

I thought I knew what good design was, until I saw something that blew my previous notions out of the water. Always be on the lookout for even better designs, and push yourself to achieve greater heights than you ever thought you could.

Your opinions will change the more knowledge you have under your belt, and you may even look back on the things you used to love with a bit of pity. It’s a bit like being a kid and thinking some movie or TV show made for children is the best thing ever. Then, when you become an adult, you realize that it wasn’t so great after all.

The same thing happens to your design taste. The more you take in and grow as a person, the more discerning you will be about what actually constitutes “good design.”

All of the tactics we’ve outlined above can help you get there, but do remember to be patient. Developing good taste is one thing that won’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take a lifetime to truly have a handle on what the best design solution is for any given situation.

What Do You Think?

How do you create work that exceeds your own standards of what you think is good?