Let’s begin with a short narrative that brings us to a basic understanding of what the article is all about. Imagine you have to design a logo for a new branch of a shop. Research shows that dark tints are preferred by customers. But, you have other ideas and go for a lighter shade, owing to personal thoughts and what you feel is right, against the facts. This is what the subjectivity of design is all about.
What is Subjectivity in Design?
The decisions solely made based on a designer’s perspectives, feelings, ideas, and opinions for an end product of design are called subjective designs. All designs are believed to carry at least some measure of subjectivity, if not entirely. It is completely based on individual thoughts and not accounting much for the wishes of the other or the existing facts. Most of the time, they dismiss the facts that must be considered during design.
A good design
A design is ultimately the end product of the user or the client’s requirements. Delivering the quality and outcome of their needs and wishes based on design principles and not on emotions is a good design. But, somewhere in this process, what we feel, what we perceive as best, our choices and opinions peek out a little, thus affecting the deliverable. Suggestions, opinions, etc. are always safe only when they don’t go against the facts and standards of design, thus obstructing the objectiveness of design. Designs involve decision-making skills based on facts and truths rather than personal choices and opinions. Perhaps, that is where a design fails.
“Nothing becomes right if the entire world does it, and nothing is wrong just because one person does it.”
What is a good design? From the time of beginning the course until graduation, this is always a question lingering in our heads. There is never a proper definition of good design, probably because of the subjectivity factor that comes in. Most of us undergo the cruelty of opinions and personal thoughts at some point during almost all our design reviews. Hours of design studio reviews and critics from the faculties probing students to understand the actual reason behind why they chose a particular layout, specific interior design, or form. Ultimately, the design is based on deliberate facts and evidence collected through primary or secondary research. But, in the end, the juror walks in to say they are satisfied or it is not appealing to their eyes. Isn’t it perplexing to understand why a person doesn’t like a design? Perhaps, personal choices matter more than pieces of evidence! At times, don’t we wish for design to just be a formula so that it can be easily applied and everybody approves of it in one go?
This would again be the best platform to voice out another prime issue that has been going around in circles of the architectural and design community for a long time. Architects and designers have a huge responsibility of designing for the people and the environment, and in no way against it. So, according to the design principles and the research that goes way behind, the orientation, site analysis, functionality, the choice of materials, etc. must all be following what is needed. But, here is where an ego boost occurs and the architects began constructing large concrete, brutal structures, prepping them up with glass windows in hot-humid climates that are not at all suitable for the context. And after all the hue, there are instances of habitants complaining of climate change and lack of ventilation. Would this have been the situation if designers would have considered using local vernacular materials? Architecture and design are in peril ahead, possibly because aesthetics (subjectivity) is given more importance than functionality and usability(objectivity), right?
At times, the interventions or new constructions that are done randomly irrespective of the surroundings, seem to destroy the fabric of the entire place. Little do we realize the after-effects of these decisions made based on personal opinions. The context of design has to always be kept in mind else, they might look stand-alone just like the personal thoughts that are just haywire.
Contradicting statements such as “Less is more” by Mies Vander Rohe and “Less is a bore” by Robert Venturi are also based on their personal opinions of ornamentations and what ‘they’ feel about them. But, seldom do we realize that they are merely perceptions and no such principles or facts are guiding them.
A good design should be more objective towards achieving its goal and the quality of deliverables. They can be subjective only and only if every deliberate action is based on evidence and grounded on design principles, instead of personal beliefs or led by emotions.
It’s about what is right, not about what you feel is right.”
- Interactive Knowledge Blog. 2022. Removing the Subjectivity in Design Reviews. [online] Available at: <https://interactiveknowledge.com/insights/removing-subjectivity-design-reviews> [Accessed 24 September 2022].
- Journal. 2022. “Less Is More” vs. “Less Is a Bore”: Whose Camp Are You In? – Architizer Journal. [online] Available at: <https://architizer.com/blog/practice/details/less-is-more-vs-less-is-a-bore/> [Accessed 24 September 2022].