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The Connoisseur and the Consumer: Assessing Design Quality

Liz C. Throop

Designers, like wine connoisseurs, rely on well-established methodologies to make subjective evaluations. David Hume laid out methods for connoisseurship in the 18th century that are used today. Such judgments involve familiarity with and passion for one's subject, forming understandings with other experts, and making finely discriminating comparisons. Subjective assessments require neutralizing interference and anticipating how a design is to be used.

Designers practice these methods both formally and informally, both at work and in hobbies such as collecting. They are an important part of the overall lifestyle of the designer. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has observed that connoisseurship is recognized as a key trait that distinguishes those with cultural capital from others. Designers cultivate connoisseurship, but they often design for audiences who do not cultivate connoisseurship.

Therefore, design researchers may carefully select test subjects for their ages, psychological profiles, and even incomes, yet still be biased toward those who share a sense of connoisseurship. Such subjects have the vocabulary, the methodology, and the social confidence to voice opinions about design.

When assessing design, class-based biases present serious challenges to meeting the needs of a full range of consumers.


Connoisseurship; Design; Consumer Behavior; Consumer Culture; Consumerism and Society; Design Assessment; Lifestyles: Economic Aspects; Lifestyles Research; Market Surveys: Methodology; Material Culture; Social Class and Culture; Sociology of Design; Visual Culture