What is Taste and how to have it?
How to have taste, if you don't have it? How to make money if you have it?
Several things inspired me to write this piece:
TikTok user asked about their favourite spoon
David’s latest newsletter issue (Proof of Concept) (highly recommend to subscribe!)
Tweet about Product Managers
I wasn’t born with taste
I had a big challenge with taste — I didn’t have it early in my life. I had potential, but it was absolutely silenced by other shit in my childhood and by the time I became designer, I didn’t really have big advantage against other designers. I was average and I held average taste.
But I certainly changed it and I did it in a very controllable way. I started my journey, after I received a negative feedback, that my taste just wasn’t there to make extraordinary work and my work didn’t fit. This was painful.
I want to share my journey, because people don’t know how to talk about taste, they treat it as something ephemeral, people don’t share practical tips and it results in random people claiming having it (*coughs* product managers).
Here’s my recipe:
Spend time and attention on craft (photo/writing/drawing/thinking/sculpting)
Analyse every aspect of things surrounding you
Request feedback about your work from people you trust
Surround yourself with tasteful people, things, experiences
The last point is important, but “consumption” of expensive things doesn’t mean you have good taste. I know a lot of people who don’t appreciate expensive things they own. And I know plenty of overpriced stuff, which is not “tasteful” and many people I consider good at taste, tend to agree. Example of taste-less things:
Most computer appliances
Most fashion brands
99% of items on amazon
Things that don’t last more than 5 years.
Popular questions about taste:
Question: I don’t have money to buy things with taste. What should I do?
Tasteful things are costing money, when everyone understood they are tasteful and they became consumer-ready. This motion sped up so quickly, that brands are using TikTok and influencers and FOMO to speed up adoption as quickly as possible. They know how to imitate it. But in reality, there are plenty of tasteful things for free (jpgs) or cheap (vintage markets). Money is never a blocker for tasteful life, but it might feel like this during advertisement. Well. It’s what they suppose to work like.
Question: I try to make something tasteful, but it doesn’t look as good as I imagined. What should I do?
Been there. This is called “taste gap” and I have great news for you — your taste is better, than your skills! Levelling up skills is way easier, than taste. You have to keep pushing both. Ideally, your taste should always be several inches forward from your skills and you should always feel challenged. In few years you will feel the same (unfortunately), but you will also notice how many people stopped way behind (fortunately for you).
Question: I don’t agree with someone’s taste, but I report to them. How should I work?
This is social contract of modern job. I have couple of options: persuade them wrong, adapt to their taste, or get fired. In every subjective topic or job there will be a clash of opinion and the best way to get out of this situation is to optimise for future growth. In frank conversations, I learned that even designers with 20 and 30 years of experience face the same issues with the clients and taste. You can’t hack it. Ideally, the later you are in your career, the easier it will be to find a client (but it’s more probably that they will find you) that suits and wants YOUR taste. These are dream jobs.
Question: When I can declare, that I have taste?
It’s tasteless to acknowledge it. That’s the irony of taste.
Life after taste
Everything becomes expensive 😅 I’m joking and it contradicts my previous point about being able to afford nice things. But it’s also true, that the more you are exposed to classics, historically important influences, and trying to catch it all, results in massive bills that will bite you. Expensive lamp, brass ruler, nice chair, classic car, good camera?
The next stage is called “Collection” — this is basically putting limit to amount of items you can own in order to keep the the best. It has it’s own challenges of course.
Something I recognised after becoming somewhat of a “design adult” — I started influencing others into appreciating certain things. People look out for my opinion on things and I can promote underrated things and people will trust my taste. Indie lightning studios, Ukrainian ceramics, glasses brands etc. I mention why I like them and people start associating them with taste and they become “taste-worthy” with time. I noticed it with many brands I was consuming 10 years ago and their progress now. It has circular effect, because if things turn out to be truly tasteful, my credibility increases and my next recommendation worth even more.
Earning money with taste
Ok, now the exciting part. I intentionally put this at the end for the grittiest readers. You can make great money with taste! In fact, I believe you can make more money with taste, than with labour, skills and even — knowledge! 😱
Here’s the thing. To build great business. To hire great employee. To invest into right industry. You need taste. And it might feel like disconnected piece from the whole essay above, but you use the same practices in work as with the things — you analyse the goods, you spot the bads, you identify under-appreciated, you invest in all-timers etc. And sometimes you spend 15 minutes to identify a relationship, that will bring $2M in revenue. Yes, the work follows it, but the main thing was done in 15 minutes of talking to someone. That’s the “taste” thing kicked in.
After years of practice (that you can’t shortcut), you will get the maximum leverage in taste. Everything else is more linear, even my beloved “knowledge”. Unfortunately "taste can’t function without the other two, and you can’t skip them (all skippers ended badly in my own experience). That’s why those, who combine skills and taste are the unstoppable gods in my own humble opinion.
What do you find tasteful? Send links, screenshots or just text.