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Posted by learntobead on October 16, 2020

Practice-By-Design Series

Image by Feld, 2020

The Primacy of Subjectivity

The designer needs / wants / demands some level of acceptance by the client for the design. It is important to anticipate and assess how the client will form an opinion and make this kind of judgment.

For the client, some things will be accepted as true and right without proof. We call these things assumptions.

Other things for the client must be interpreted as to what they mean — a mental map or impression. We call these things perceptions.

The client will also have certain beliefs about what will happen or should have happened. We call these things expectations.

Last, the client will have certain preferences about what will or should happen which motivate the client to make certain judgments and take certain actions. We call these things values or desires.

Clients Have Opinions and Judge

We all know this. When we first meet the client, they have opinions about us and judge us. As we are working on the project, they have opinions about us and judge us. When we hand over the project to them, they have opinions about us and judge us. This is OK. This is natural and to be expected.

· Do they like it or not?

· Is it exciting to them or boring?

· Ugly or pretty?

· Useful or not?

· Worth it to them or not?

As a designer who wants people to wear or use your designs, sell your designs, exhibit your designs, buy your designs, share your designs with others, then you need to understand how your clients form their opinions and make their judgments. You need to understand the implications, consequences, impacts, effects and affects this all brings to your designs and your design process. You need to begin to formulate how you will incorporate these understandings into your design process. And you need to figure out how you will influence their understandings so that they will recognize your skill and worth as a designer. All this is essential to the design process. It should be stating the obvious that things go awry whenever the interests of people are incompatible.

One cautionary note: Your clients will probably have a certain naivete. They may know little to nothing about design, construction, selection of materials and techniques, compositions and arrangements of design elements — everything you know a lot about.

Will they appreciate the difference between hand-made and machine made? Will they be accepting your choices about what to include and what not to include? Will they recognize good design and be able to differentiate it from bad? Will they demand of you a higher level of fluency in design and motivate you to meet high expectations?

The better designer will look for ways to bring the client into the core of the design process. The designer will signal to the client that design requires some communication and conversation. The designer will take time to educate the client. The designer will guide the client through the process of eliciting assumptions, expectations, perceptions and values and desires. The designer will identify the emerging shared understandings and incorporate these into decisions about selecting materials and techniques, arrangements of objects within a design, and specifying tasks to be performed.


Our ideas and intents are supported by our assumptions about the world around us. Some assumptions are learned through our history and experiences. Some are taught to us. We take assumptions as givens and usually are unaware of them as we apply them. Except when our assumptions lead us on a path we do not want to travel.

Assumptions save us time and effort. As truisms, they allow us not to have to test and validate every little thing that comes our way. But they also can negatively affect our relationships, business or otherwise. We make assumptions about other people’s behavior, other people’s intentions, and our own behavior and intentions, and our assumptions can be off the mark. We may be laying a flawed foundation for our understanding of the relationship.

We need to identify and check our assumptions. We need to give our client the opportunity to identify and check their own assumptions. All this has to occur while developing a common, shared understanding of the design task at hand.

So, you can ask the client directly,

What do you want this piece or project to do for you?
 What do you see me doing?
 How familiar are you with the design tasks involved?

Assumptions are one of several things underlying client judgments. Let’s talk about Perceptions.


Perceptions are ways of regarding, understanding or interpreting something. Perceptions are subjective, and each person has their own subtle differences, even when responding to the same design or event. In fact, different people may have very different perceptions about the same design or event. Their assumptions, expectations and values may further color their perceptions.

Each person filters their perceptions with each move, each conversation, and each situation. Such filters may contingently alter perceptions. They may result in selectively perceiving some things, but not others. In design work, our clients might selectively focus on brighter lights, louder sounds, stronger odors, sharper textures. Selective perception can add some more muddiness to the interaction and finding and developing the shared understandings necessary for success.

Adequately sharing understandings within a situation and among the people in it depends on the amount of information available to each person and how correctly they interpret it. Perception is one of the critical psychological abilities we have in order to survive in any environment.

The designer needs to be open to understanding how the client perceives the design tasks and proposed outcomes, and to adjust their own perceptions when the management of the relationship calls for this. There is no formula here. Each situation requires its own management strategy. Each designer is left with their own inventiveness, sensitivity, and introspective skills to deal with perceptions. But it comes down to asking the right questions and actively listening.

How does the client begin to understand your product or service?
 Can the client describe what they think you will be doing and what the piece or product might look like when finished?
 Can the client tell you how the finished piece or product will meet their needs and feelings?
 Can the client tell you about different options?
 How will they interpret what you want them to know?
 What impressions do you want to leave with them?
 Do they perceive a connection between you as a designer and your design work as proposed?
 What levels of agreement and disagreement exist between your perceptions and theirs?
 Can you get at any reasons which might explain their perceptions, and any agreement or difference?
 Can you clear up any misperceptions?


Expectations attach to perceptions. These are predispositions to perceive things in a certain way. They explain why people are more likely to prefer one interpretation or explanation over another.

Clients will have expectations about what the designer is like as a person. What the designer does. How the designer interacts with other people. How the designer sets a value and prices their work. What kind of ongoing information we will get. What the finished product or project might look like. How useful that product or project might be.

When expectations are not met, there is a sense of frustration. Even paralysis. There might be feelings of disrespect or disregard. Why didn’t the designer do what was expected? Why am I unhappy with the finished product or project?

As with assumptions and perceptions, the designer needs to define a management role for him- or herself relative to client expectations.

Was the designer aware of the client’s expectations?
 Was the client asked about their expectations?
 Was the designer skilled enough and insightful enough to meet those expectations?
 Was it in the client’s interest to steadfastly hold tight to their expectations, or to modify them?

Values and Desires

Values and desires are motivational. They signal a predisposition to act. They are a measure of the tradeoffs between the risks involved and the expected rewards. A social or economic calculation. A cognitive evaluation further affecting behavior. As such, they are a form of understanding.

Values and desires have a great impact on the assumptions people bring with them to the situation, and which ones they do not want to challenge. Values and desires have a great impact on the expectations people have, and which ones they want to prioritize. Values and desires have a great impact on the perceptions people have of the world, and which perceptions they want to act on.

Values and desires have two key components — the contributions of the designer and the motivations of the client. First, there is the value the designer places on the work, given the resources involved, the time spent, the skill applied, and meanings represented in the piece and importance to the designer. Second, there is the value the client places on the work, given their assumptions, perceptions, expectations, previous experience, and the socio-cultural-psychological context they find themselves in.

People project their feelings and thoughts and sensitivities onto the designed object, whether it be jewelry, an interior design, or a digitized representation online. These projections, however, can have many roots. Self-esteem. Self-expression. Social advantage. Tool of negotiation. Power.

Values and desires sometimes are expressed in monetary terms. Such and such a thing is priced at some dollar amount or assigned some worth also in monetary terms.

They more often are expressed with words. We hear words like beautiful, satisfying, appealing. And other words like ugly, boring, scary. Or phrases like worth it, I want it, I want to buy it, I want to collect it. Or more phrases like the designer’s pieces are in demand and rare, or the designer spent so much time creating the design, or the object contains several rare jewels.

Sometimes the meanings associated with these words are relative, comparative or proportional. That is, they reveal more about values and desires. We hear phrases like more satisfying, not as ugly as…, rarer than…, not as large as…, takes longer to make, about half as bright, and so forth.

Values and desires, then, involve direction (positive or negative) and intensity (a lot, somewhat, or a little). Both designer and client, more often than not, have to filter their assumptions, perceptions and expectations a bit and sensitively trade-off various assumptions, perceptions and expectations each brings to the design situation. They do this by establishing value and desire. They establish value and desire by communicating about risks relative to rewards.

Communicating about risks and rewards takes the form of (a) identifying various design or design process options, (b) talking about their pros, cons and consequences, ( c) attaching a sense of measurability (absolute or relative) to each option, and (d) selecting preferences for what should happen next.

About the Shared Understanding Series…

For any design, it is a long journey from idea to implementation. This journey involves different people at different times along the way. People will not use a design if their agendas and understandings do not converge in some way. They will not buy a design or contract with the designer unless there are some shared understandings about what should happen and when, what will happen, and what the risks and rewards of the finished project will be. Shared understandings are about recognizing intent and risk. Design is both an outcome as well as an instrument for new shared understandings, new relationships, new behaviors, new reflections. As such, any design represents a commitment to a conversation — between designer and self and designer and client. The conversation allows for the management of shifting assumptions, expectations, perspectives and values. Better designs show the designer’s conscious awareness of all the things affecting shared understandings.

Continue Reading With…
 PART 1: What Are Shared Understandings?
 PART 2: What Part Does The Designer Need To Know?
 PART 3: How Assumptions, Perceptions, Expectations and Values Come Into Play?
 PART 4: How Does The Designer Establish Shared Understandings?

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Backward Design is Forward Thinking

How Creatives Can Successfully Survive In Business

Part I: The First Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: Is What I do Craft, Art or Design?

Part 2: The Second Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: What Should I Create?

Part 3: The Third Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: What Materials (and Techniques) Work Best?

Part 4: The Fourth Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: How Do I Evoke A Resonant Response To My Work?

Part 5: The Firth Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: How Do I Know My Design Is Finished?

Doubt / Self-Doubt: 8 Pitfalls Designers Fall Into…And What To Do About Them

Part 1: Your Passion For Design: Is It Necessary To Have A Passion?

Part 2: Your Passion For Design: Do You Have To Be Passionate To Be Creative?

Part 3: Your Passion For Design: How Does Being Passionate Make You A Better Designer?


Adamson, Glenn. Thinking Through Craft. 2007.

Baker, Jamie Feild. What is Shared Understanding? 6/24/2009. As referenced:


Bittner, Eva Alice Christiane, and Leimeister, Jan Marco. Why Shared Understanding Matters — Engineering a Collaboration Process for Shared Understanding to Improve Collaboration Effectiveness in Heterogeneous Teams. Year: 2013, Volume: 1, Pages: 106–114, DOI Bookmark:10.1109/HICSS.2013.608.

Canel, Melissa. The Role of Perceptions in Conflict. April 9, 2016. As referenced:


Cheung, Chung Fai. A Connected Critic: Can Michael Walzer Connect High-Mondernity with Tradition? Understanding, 2006. As referenced:

Clark, Garth. Shards. Ceramic Arts Foundation and Distributed Art Publications, 2003.

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Dunlop, Cole. You Are Not Worried Enough About Perceptions and Assumptions. May 7, 2014. As referenced:

Feld, Warren. Backward Design Is Forward Thinking. 2020. As referenced:

Feld, Warren. Jewelry Design: A Managed Process. Klimt02, 2/2/2018. As referenced:

Hector, Valerie. The Art of Beadwork. NY: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2005.

Kroeger, Andrew. Prevent Conflict By Knowing Your talent’s Needs, Expectations, and Assumptions. n.d. As referenced: https://leadthroughstrengths.com/prevent-conflict-knowing-talents-needs-expectations-assumptions/

Mausolf, Judy Kay. How To Avoid 4 Communication Pitfalls:
 Assumptions, Perceptions, Comparison Expectations and Commitments. Spring, 2014. As referenced:
 Progressive Dentist Magazine
 Mazumdar, Pravu. All Art is a Critique of Reality. About Critique. Interview with Pravu Mazumdar. Klimt 02, 6/25/18. As referenced:

Murray, Kevin. US VERSUS THEM IN THE CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY WORLD, 06/18/2018. As Referenced:

Norbeck, Edward. Rite of Passage. As referenced:

Ravick, Joseph. The Role Of Assumptions, Perceptions And Expectations In Conflict, n.d. As referenced: https://adm.viu.ca/workplace-conflict/assumptions-perceptions-expectations

Saylor Academy. Understanding Culture, Chapter 2. 2012. As referenced:


Schultz, Quentin. Servant Leadership Communication is Shared Understanding — Not Transmission, Influence, or Agreement. 9/25/17. As referenced:

Spool, Jared M. Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding. 7/3/18. As referenced:

ThoughtWorks Studios. “How do you develop a Shared Understanding on an Agile project? 2013. As referenced:

Unumeri, Godwin Ogheneochuko. PERCEPTION AND CONFLICT. Lagos, Nigeria: National Open University of Nigeria, 2009. As referenced:

Verwijs, Christiaan. “Create shared understanding with ‘What, So What, Now What’ 8/4/2018. As referenced:

Vilajosana, Lluis Comin. Connotations and Contributions of the Maker: The Value of Jewels. 6/26/18.

Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Yusuf, Bulama. Understanding Shared Understanding: 5 Ways to Improve Shared Understanding in Software Teams. 12/8/2019. As referenced:

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I hope you found this article useful.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

Add your name to my email list.

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

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