“Bugün Ne Giysem?” and Design Education
“Bugün Ne Giysem?” (“What Shall I Wear Today?”) is a TV show in Turkey where female contestants dress themselves and get critique from judges (fashion icons/designers) who decide whether they go through to the next round or not. The show claims to be in search of “the most stylish woman in Turkey”. The judges also claim that they are educating the viewers while giving critique to the contestants and thus leading Turkish women towards a better-looking future. As an avid fan of the show, however, I observe that their method is flawed. I propose that they may do better in their idealistic task if they take one step further in their educating. Now I don’t know a thing about fashion or clothing, but I’ll make my case as a (visual communication) design professional and you’ll see how it relates.
A typical conversation between the judges and a contestant is like this:
— The color of your shoes is very wrong. Why did you choose that color?
— Because I like that color…
— You could’ve picked a bright green instead.
— That dress is a very wrong choice considering your body type. Why did you buy it?
— I don’t know… Because I liked it…
— That’s not a good choice.
So what’s the problem here? I see two. The first problem is with the contestant’s almost tautological answer, but it’s natural, given that these are regular people with no design education or high intelligence. The second, and the bigger problem, is with the way judges respond to that. They tend to offer specific and temporary fixes, and ignore the main issue; if only somebody told these women that style (or indeed design) decisions are not just about what you personally “like”!
As far as I understand from the show, personal styling is very much like design in general: you start with a problem/brief, and look for solutions. What problem? What is the design brief, indicating the problems to be answered, giving the context against which the solutions are judged, in the case of this show? What is the content at hand? Well, as the judges frequently hint, the “given” content and problems include your height, your weight, your body type, your skin tone, the beauty level of certain parts of your body (face, shoulders, knees, etc.), and where you plan to go in that dress/make-up. Once you have these constraints, the rest is optimization (with multiple solutions, of course). For instance, if you are short, you should avoid flat shoes. If you have a beautiful face, you should make it visible by tying your hair up. Simple as that. Just keep track of the “if”s. [The “if”s multiply in number as soon as you start to make decisions: if you have nice toes, you may pick open-tip shoes. Then this becomes a new “if” in your system: if you wear open-tip shoes, don’t ever wear pantyhose. So now you don’t have the right to say “I wore pantyhose because I like it.“]
It appears that the parallels between styling and other design disciplines go further than this. Consider this dialogue from the show:
— Why did you choose that color for your purse?
— I wanted it to match the color of my shoes.
— But they don’t exactly match.
— They’re close…
— Close isn’t good enough.
This is the famous ambiguity problem in design. Things (colors, distances, typefaces, etc.) should be either exactly the same or distinguishably different from each other; in-between isn’t good since it puts a cognitive load on the viewer – an unconscious monologue like “Are these the same? No, they’re different… Or are they?” Another example:
— You have a huge gold bracelet on your arm, and then you have the huge gold necklace on your neck… One huge gold thing should be enough.
This is the hierarchy problem. “There should be only one boss”, or “Elements shouldn’t be competing”, as we say in editorial/layout design. So not only styling resembles design in its overall nature, it also shares the basic principles common to other design fields.
As in every design discipline, clothing design (and styling in general) has its long-tried and well-known solutions to common types of problems, though you can always go creative and invent your own solutions. The judges in “Bugün Ne Giysem?” applaud those rare creative contestants, and spell out those well-known solutions for the unsuccessful ones, but they never reveal the true nature of the process: they never explicitly tell that this is best learned as a problem-solving process which has very little to do with what you “like”. This may seem like a theoretical issue, but it makes a huge difference in the intended “style education of Turkish women”. Avoiding it strengthens the mystical belief that picking the right clothes, looking good, being stylish (and getting good critique) all have to do with the so-called “taste”. And this rather metaphysical “taste” thing, you either got it or not. But tastes may also differ. (Yes, it’s not a coherent belief system.) If your look is ugly to me, then you obviously have no taste. If you don’t like my look, then your taste is different from mine. If the judges don’t approve my look, they sure have different tastes, and there’s nothing objectively wrong about my look – now you see how that “theoretical” issue in styling (or design) education ruins everything that the educator tries to accomplish.
[The taste issue is just as problematic in visual communication design: the taste of the CEO of the company – ideally – should have nothing to do with the corporate identity design of that company. She may hate the color blue, but blue may be the objectively right choice given the design brief at hand.]
On “Bugün Ne Giysem?” we too often see this taste defense on the part of the contestants, to which the judges apologetically reply by babbling something like “Well, we’re judges in this show, we’re supposed to give you critique…” Instead, they should be asserting “Forget about your taste, think of problem-solving!” They should, just as design educators do, make it perfectly clear that they won’t take “Because I like it” for an answer.
I am not claiming that taste, or talent, has absolutely no role in styling/design, but rather an immensely overrated one. My point is that making good styling/design is an ability that can be learned within a rational discourse, in a way that the taste metaphysics discourages us from. The late American social scientist Donald Campbell makes the same point:
[W]hen publicized as a part of an ideology of creativity, it [the concept of “insight”] can reduce creativity through giving students a feeling that they lack an important gift possessed by some others, a feeling which inhibits creative effort and increases dependence upon authority. (1960, Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes, Psychological Review, 67, 380−400.)
I propose that the judges in “Bugün Ne Giysem?” should stress in every opportunity that personal taste or “liking” has little to do with the success of styling, that styling can be approached as a problem-solving and system-constructing process with predetermined constraints and objective reasons for action, and that one can have rational discussions about those reasons and their results beyond “This is what I like and fuck you if you don’t”. They should do this in order to make a permanent impact on their target group, providing them with the paradigm shift that will illuminate all of their styling decisions in the future. In short, they need to teach design-thinking instead of just giving tips.
Or maybe they need not. This is just a stupid TV show in the end.
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