Defining and Dealing with Taste

Author: Nevin McElwrath

Taste is hard to define, but is an inescapable and necessary part of the design process. In higher education, one challenge lies within nested entities that strive to have an identity and voice that is seen and heard. At Notre Dame we strive to balance a prestigious, world-renowned brand with the individual tastes of our campus partners.

What determines taste is up for debate, but many factors are involved. Some feel taste is more instinctual – as if we are born with it. Others feel taste can be acquired over time with experience. I believe it is a mix of both instinct and experience.

Where you are from, your experiences, environment, gender, culture, and emotional state all have influence on your ever-evolving taste.

In Cennydd Bowles’ post, “The Role of Taste in Design,” he relates taste to navigating the decision-making branches of chess moves by using patterns of success and failure. Like a seasoned tradesman, lessons from repetition inform the process and increase efficiency.

This works very much the same way within the design process. It is experience paired with instinct that can improve the chance for success.

Taste becomes challenging because everyone brings it to the table, but has varying levels of instinct and experience to apply.

Taste raises all kinds of questions:

  • Does taste line up with project goals?
  • Does taste work within the larger brand? 
  • How much should individual taste drive design decisions?
  • How do we balance individual taste and institutional taste and design experience?

At Notre Dame we have a solid, well-established brand. Keeping individual tastes in mind while we align project goals and University expectations is one of the greatest design challenges we face.

What we have learned is that using a consistent guide for content and styles as the foundation for our design decisions is paramount and helps temper our tastes, which over time can evolve and fragment the brand. It is with a consistent and unified message, that we will strengthen the Notre Dame brand.