14 Aug, 2010

On liking

Posted by: admin In: Creative Review

Why do we like the things we like? How do our social, cultural and aesthetic values combine to prompt us to declare ‘I like that?’

There are all kinds of factors that contribute to our liking of anything – whether it be a piece of music, art, a photograph, a film or a piece of graphic design. The culture we grew up in. The things our parents liked. Our level of education. Our class. Whether or not we are snobs. Our strength of character even – do you have the confidence to declare your liking of something that everyone else has derided? Even our honesty – how many of us pretend to ‘like’ something just because it is currently cool, or because it will make us seem more intelligent so to do?

Comment streams are interesting in this respect. One strong voice can carry the argument off in a particular direction which will be supported by subsequent comments until the next strong voice chimes in and the flow switches their way.

From Construct’s new identity for Claridge’s – most CR readers ‘liked’ it, but why? Because it is appropriate and well-crafted or because its relative conservatism make it easy to like?

The process of creating a piece of communication in the commercial world is rooted more than ever before in research and strategy – it’s how fees are justified and nervous clients reassured. The bigger and more expensive the project, the heavier the reliance on quantifiable factors. ‘Liking’ the result of this process should be secondary – the real question is whether it does the job for which it was commissioned, surely.

Well, that’s the theory, at least. But we still need to ‘like’ something in order to engage with it truly. The way that the majority of readers of the Creative Review website – who are, by and large, professionals in the communications industry – respond to work is still very much on a superficial level that is driven by aesthetics and personal taste. Whether or not the piece in question may have achieved what its commissioners wanted is usually secondary to whether the commenter in question ‘likes’ the overall effect – the typeface or colours used, say.

I had a conversation recently with an eminent designer who expressed his frustration to me over a recent project to create a visual identity for a large organisation. He’d arrived at a solution by rigorously adhering to the accepted routes – research, strategy and so on – but had a hit a road block. An executive on the committee who had commissioned the project was proving unmoveable in his opposition to the designer’s solution. The designer could talk all he liked about the logical process that had brought him to propose this particular solution but the executive simply didn’t ‘like’ it. Something in it was firing off negative connotations and he just couldn’t help having a bad reaction to it. The work may have been ‘right’ for the organisation, but it wasn’t right for him and he wouldn’t accept it.

Johnson Banks’ identity for the Science Museum had a much more mixed reaction – but why?

No matter how much design or advertising would like to portray itself as reliant on logical processes rooted in strategic thinking – as all serious and grown up – it still has this emotional side. For clients, this can be the maddening, scary bit. It’s where months of work can be torpedoed when the chief exec has an allergic reaction to your triumphant presentation of the organisation’s bold new identity. You’ve answered all their questions, you’ve fulfilled everything asked of you, but a simple ‘yuck’ and it’s all over.

Which leaves me wondering, dear readers, what do you do about this? How do you maximise your chances of a piece of work being liked? Or do you just take a deep breath and hope? And how do you cope when you’ve done everything asked of you and the client just doesn’t ‘like’ it?



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