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Is Your Jewelry Fashion, Style, Taste, Art or Design?

Posted by learntobead on October 16, 2021

Warren Feld


Warren Feld6 days ago·16 min read

Earrings by Warren Feld, 2000

Abstract

How does the wearer or buyer of jewelry know they have made the right aesthetic choice? What are the cues and clues people use when making these consumer choices? How does attention to fashion, taste, style, art and/or design help the wearer or buyer lower the risk for making the wrong choice? This article discusses answers to these questions for the jewelry designer. That designer must be comfortable managing these things as they play out in a process of innovation, adoption, and diffusion. That designer must be sensitive to the fact that the rules underlying good aesthetics may or may not coordinate those rules underlying a person’s desire for pleasure.

How Can We Know We Have Made The Right Aesthetic Choices?

Wearers and buyers of jewelry often look for a socially acceptable way to confirm they’ve made the right aesthetic choices. They may have picked a blue necklace, but was it the right blue? They may have decided upon a 24” necklace, but was this the right length? They may have gone with gemstones, but were they the right gemstones?

What are these cues and clues people use when deciding to wear or purchase a piece of jewelry? They could listen to the jewelry designer, if that person is present at the point of a transaction. But more likely than not, the designer is not. They could look at how this designer’s jewelry was displayed. Or the packaging. Or read the designer’s description. Or look at images on a website. Or check out other people wearing this designer’s jewelry. Yet, even if the designer were present, and all this other information were available, however, why should the wearer or buyer trust the designer? Isn’t there still a high level of risk for making the less than or more than right or wrong choice?

Our wearer or buyer is a consumer of aesthetics, when selecting a piece of jewelry. They are probably not experts in jewelry design or jewelry making materials and techniques. They are looking for something appealing, but concurrently socially and psychologically acceptable. They may want to feel part of a larger group. Or, they may want confirmation about a sense of individual identity and a way to distinguish themselves from the larger group. They may want reassurance that they are living life the way life should be lived, at least according to social and cultural norms. And there is a perceived risk here, should they make the wrong choice. We want to experience aesthetic pleasures, but our insecurities often mean we look for validation from other people around us, when consuming those aesthetic pleasures.

The actual ways and the actual clues and cues we look for to legitimize our aesthetic choices will vary from person to person. But we can look at five different ways to define the consumption of aesthetic expression and pleasure to begin to get a kind of understanding for the dynamics of what is going on here. Each is associated with a set of socio-cultural rules and consequences when acquiring products like jewelry. These five expressive-consumption modes are,

1. Fashion

2. Taste

3. Style

4. Art

5. Design

Let’s settle on some initial ideas about each of these, and then elaborate further through the remainder of this chapter.

Fashion: Often considered the substitution of someone else’s taste for your own, and is assumed to represent Good Taste. Fashion satisfies the needs of the person to feel connected to a group, to imitate a sense of good taste, and to adapt to changes around them. It considerably lowers the risk for any aesthetic choices.

Taste: A person’s ability to recognize beauty in whatever form she or he finds it, in our case here, jewelry. Good Taste is associated with how well principles of beauty and art have been applied.

Style: Will vary with particular cultures or events or historical periods or individual identities. Style communicates an expectation about meaning and its expression and what form it should take within a composition as seen by the outlook of the jewelry wearer or buyer. It might be referenced by terms like classic, modern, religious, Gen-X, casual, and the like. The principal forces in the creation of style are tradition and the experience of other jewelry the person is familiar with. Style on one level is the way a person applies their taste when choosing an aesthetic. Styles change and evolve in response to the influence of contemporary life.

Art: Represents beauty regardless of context. Regardless of whether it is worn or sitting on an easel. There are no pragmatic considerations involved.

Design: Represents the recognition of the most parsimonious relationship between beauty and function within any one piece of jewelry as it is worn. Jewelry requires that the piece not only satisfies the aesthetic needs of the person, but also fulfills a practical need.

AESTHETICS

What is the essence of beauty — what we call aesthetics?

When someone wears or buys a piece of jewelry, the choice of any aesthetic, as represented by that piece of jewelry, can become very problematic. The idea of aesthetics must be thought through by the person as she or he decides to touch or wear or share or part with some money or to walk away from the jewelry item.

But one person’s aesthetic sensibility is not necessarily the same as anyone else’s. There are few universal aesthetic ideas. Most things are so subjective and so context- or situationally-specific. Rules defining personal pleasure and rules defining beauty and appeal may co-exist, but they are not necessarily the same or in harmony. We know this because, from person to person, tastes, styles and fashions differ.

One response, where such differences exist, is to rely on fashion and art to define for us how pleasure and appeal should co-exist at any one moment in time. If we cannot find universally-accepted, common rules of aesthetics, then perhaps, we should let the social group or the social majority define it for us. Beauty, then, becomes not a property of the object per se, but an aesthetic judgment based on a subjective feeling. Our sense of good taste or fashion or style or art or design is a constructed one; it is not inherent in any particular jewelry design.

This brings us back to the idea that people want to minimize their sense of risk when making the right choices about wearing or buying a piece of jewelry. There is this inner need for validation. Part of that need is met by constructing and communicating a feeling or thought about what a consensus about taste might look like. Such a consensus, in reality, does not exist. But an idea of it emerges from preferences, assumptions, expectations, values, and desires. An idea of it emerges from how well the jewelry designer has managed the design process. That is, how well the designer has anticipated shared understandings of the various client audiences the jewelry is meant for, and incorporated these into the content of the design.

CONSUMPTION

Fashion, Taste, Style, Art and Design are each closely linked to the idea of consumption. These represent different ways of identifying preferences for certain types of jewelry and which directly affect the wearer’ or buyer’s choices in the marketplace. These preferences do not, however, necessarily trigger the wearing or purchase of a piece of jewelry. The interaction of these preferences with consumption is more complex and more depending on social interaction or personal motivation and strategy. People tend to emulate others (or distinguish themselves from others) or seek to reconfirm certain ideas which create certain habits and preferences, which in turn influence consumption of one piece of jewelry over another.

Yes, people want agency. They want to be free to choose jewelry that gives them pleasure. But they want validation and acceptance, as well. Most of that results from the understandings about the content of the jewelry. That is, how the content relays meanings through the aesthetic and design choices of the jewelry designer. We want the people around us to know who we are and what we have become. Jewelry makes a big statement here.

FASHION

Fashion is the socially acceptable, culturally-endorsed and safe way to distinguish oneself from others, while at the same time, re-affirming membership in a group. The person is allowed to be both an individual as well as a member of a group. With fashion, the individual can have both a sense of taste of their own as well as expect others to share it. Jewelry, from a fashion perspective, is embedded with the same values as our own. It is assumed that the community of fashion is the real community of universal good taste. That assumption means that the rules of beauty and appeal are understood as directly linked to and in harmony with the rules of finding pleasure.

Fashion may be thought of encompassing two things: (1) the jewelry object itself, and (2) the process of gaining acceptance for that object. That process moves from the designer to a client to that client’s audiences and public acceptance. That process extends from inspiration to aspiration to implementation to early adoption by fashion influencers and the diffusion of the jewelry throughout a particular social network. Eventually, though, there is a decline of acceptance over time.

The fashion object — in this case jewelry — must have discernable characteristics. These must be perceivable. They must anticipate how others will understand them. They must be communicative. These characteristics must show value; that is, something about them must be measurable in either relative (example, it’s better than what I have now) or objective terms (example, it is worth twice as much as my other piece).

Fashion denotes a broad social consensus about good taste. If a piece of jewelry is “not fashionable,” it means that, at least in a particular moment, it would be judged as boring, monotonous, unsatisfying or even ugly.

TASTE

Taste is an individuals’ personal aesthetic choices. Taste is how any individual judges what is beautiful, good and correct. These choices are influenced by social relations and dynamics.

Taste denotes preference. If a piece of jewelry is “not your taste,” this means you don’t like it.

STYLE

Style is about agency and choice. It is strongly influenced by broadly accepted social constructs, such as time period, geography, religion, class, cultural identify. Style suggests that anything can be acceptable as long as it makes you feel good and that you are showing your authentic self.

Style denotes the manner in which something is expressed. If a piece of jewelry is “not your style,” this means it does not present your beliefs in the way you want them expressed.

ART

Everyone wants a little art in their lives. They want beauty around them. It inspires them. It makes them feel good. They do not want to be encumbered with practical considerations in every moment of the day. Great color combinations and component arrangements are reassuring, pleasuring, uplifting. Jewelry communicates a sense of the designer’s hands that have touched it, the imagination that created it, and the work that has gone into it.

Art denotes the way the design elements and composition reflect principles of harmony and variety embedded in art theories. If a piece of jewelry is “not art,” this means it is not sufficiently harmonious.

DESIGN

Jewelry, however, is not a framed painting hanging in a museum. It is something that is worn. It is something that must continue to look good, even as the person wearing it moves from room to room, one lighting situation to another, one context to another.

Design denotes the way tradeoffs are made between beauty and function in the most parsimonious way. If a piece of jewelry is “not design,” this means that if you added (or subtracted) one more element to (or from) the piece, the piece would be judged more finished and more successful.

INFLUENCERS: Fashion Change Agents

Influencers are people positioned at the intersection of fashion, style and taste. They are fashion change agents. They are key to the dynamics of adoption and diffusion, coherence and contagion. They may play out these roles in an ephemeral, non-professional way, or, they may be prominent professionals in a community, a network or online. The jewelry designer is not necessarily positioned or skilled enough to adequately influence who wears or buys their jewelry. Today’s jewelry designer needs to get a good sense of how influence and influencers operate within the creative marketplace for the pragmatic purposes of managing adoption and diffusion of the jewelry she or he has created.

Influencers are one of the backbones of internet culture. Their business model centers on ways to shape everything we do in our lives from how we shop to how we learn to how we dress. Influencers are part micro-celebrity and part entrepreneur. They are opinion leaders and have been able to garner a large audience. They have proven themselves to be able to exploit how people distribute their time and attention.

It is important to get a handle on the change-agent role of the influencer. Specifically,

a) The influencer is probably not one of the earliest adopters of a newly introduced piece or line of jewelry

b) The influencer communicates using both visual and verbal representations of the jewelry, and usually needs some assistance from the designer with content

c) Influencers as people are usually more interested about fashion-style-taste than the general public they are trying to influence; they may not be up-to-date on all the current fashions, but they have the inherent skills to communicate and legitimate and instigate any fashion choice

d) Influencers have the creative skill to aesthetically and artistically assemble stylish jewelry presentations; they can articulate what good taste means in the context the jewelry as presented; they are often creators of accepted standards of good jewelry design and dress behavior

The influencer plays multiple roles from innovator, information transmitter, opinion shaper, knowledge base, social legitimizer.

It is estimated that 50% of the female population and 25% of the male population monitor fashion information on a regular basis, from surfing websites, perusing magazines, shopping, and talking about fashion. But it the influencer who best locks in their attention to any particular fashion item.

APPLIED FASHION: Inhabiting Your Jewelry

The jewelry designer needs to be sensitive to how this all plays out from the wearer’ or buyer’s point of view.

My clients and my students repeatedly ask about what the current fashion colors are? Did I see what so-and-so was wearing on TV or at an awards show? But usually, at least in Nashville, TN, a sense of fashion plays a small part in the day-to-day decisions most people make about the jewelry they want to wear.

Buying a piece of jewelry for yourself — a necklace, a bracelet, earrings, a brooch, something else — isn’t a task easily given to someone else. It’s often not a spur of the moment thing either. You just don’t rush off to the local boutique or the local Wal-Mart, grab whatever you see, and go home. I’m not talking about that impulse buy during your leisurely visit to the mall. I’m referring to purchasing those pieces of jewelry you know will have to do a lot of the hard work to accessorize your wardrobe and help you get the compliments and notice of your family, friends and co-workers you comport with and compete with each and every day.

No, buying a piece of jewelry for yourself is a multi-purposed moment, one which must be thought through carefully and one which must be savored. Lest you buy the wrong piece. That doesn’t really go with what you intend to wear. Or is over-priced. Or poorly made. Or conveys the wrong impression about status. Or is out of fashion. Or something one of your friends already has.

The jewelry you buy has to conform to quite a long list of essential criteria before you could ever think of buying it. It is something you will wear more than once. As such, it is your companion. Your necklace is not merely lying around your neck. Or your bracelet around your wrist. Or your earrings dangling from your ears. Jewelry can cause you to lose face with others. It can irritate or scratch your skin, or get caught up in your hair. It might weigh you down or stretch or tear your ear lobes. Jewelry can break without warning in the most unexpected and embarrassing of places. It can get caught on things, sometimes hurting you in the process.

Jewelry conveys to the world something about who you really are, or think you are. As such, jewelry is very personal. Your private, innermost, most soul searching choices made very public for all to see. As you caress it, as you touch the smooth or faceted or crevice’d beads and metal parts or the clasp or the material the beads are strung on, when you twist and move the piece within your hand, you are confirming to yourself the extent to which your jewelry is doing its job.

When you buy new jewelry, the dilemmas multiply. How will the new compare to the old? Will it be able to handle all these responsibilities — looking good, representing you, fitting in with your wardrobe, meeting the expectations of others? Like divorcing, then remarrying, changing your jewelry can take some time for readjustment. And you do not want to be seen as noncommittal to your jewelry. This would sort of be like going to a hotel, but not unpacking your suitcase while staying in the room.

Conveying some sort of social or psychological distance from your jewelry can be very unsettling for others. So you need to inhabit it. You need to inhabit your jewelry, wear it with conviction, pride and satisfaction. Be one with it. Inhabiting jewelry often comes with a price. There becomes so much pressure to buy the right pieces, given all the roles we demand our jewelry to play, that we too often stick with the same brands, the same colors, the same styles, the same silhouettes.

We get stuck in this rut and are afraid to step out of it. Or we wear too many pieces of jewelry. The long earrings, plus the cuff bracelets on both arms, plus the head band, plus the hair ornament, plus the 7-strand necklace, plus the 5 rings. We are ever uncertain which piece or pieces will succeed at what, so hopefully, at least some combination or subset of what we wear will work out.

In a similar way, we wear over-embellished pieces — lots of charms, lots of dangles, lots of fringe, lots of strands. Something will surely be the right color, the right fit and proportion, the right fashion, the right power statement, the right reflection of me.

And our need to inhabit our jewelry comes with one more price. We are too willing to overpay for poorly made pieces in our desperation to have that right look. The $100.00 of beads strung on elastic string. The poorly dyed stones which fade in the light. The poorly crimped and overly stiff pieces with little ease for accommodating movement and frequent wear. It is OK to inhabit our jewelry. In fact, it is necessary, given all we want jewelry to do for us. But we need to be smart about it. We need to learn to recognize better designs and better designers.

This need not be expensive at all.

Just smarter.

FASHIONS CHANGE

Every jewelry designer should expect that many fashion preferences and desires will change over time, sometimes very quickly. Consumers can be fickle. They can get bored with the old. They search out new novelties all the time. They try to keep up with trends and fads. As the economy moves up and down, so too do consumer abilities to purchase at a particular price.

New materials come out on the market. So do new techniques and technologies. Clothing and hair styles change silhouettes. Seasons change. The climate is changing. Popular culture changes. Social media goes in a different direction. Global trading opportunities change. Corporations come up with a catchy marketing campaign.

In contemporary culture, it also has become more okay for individual to develop their own sense of style and fashion.

THE DANGER OF HOMOGENATION

If fashion, style and taste lead to everyone wearing and buying similar things, we begin to lose the need for the jewelry designer. The designer becomes more a technician. The task of design becomes more mechanical, step-by-step, ritualized. More a the design process can be taken over by machines.

It is incumbent upon the designer to not lose sight of the essence underlying jewelry design. At its core, this is to create pieces which translate the designer’s inspirations in ways which resonate with others to be similarly inspired. Jewelry design is a communicative collaboration of sorts between designer and client. This will always lead to a wealth of variety and variation never diminished by fashion, style or taste.

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FOOTNOTES

Firat. Fuat A. 1991. The Consumer in Post-modernity. Advances in Consumer Research 18. 70–76.

Gronow, Jukka. “Taste and Fashion: The Social Function Of Fashion And Style,” Something Curated, Helsinki, 8/16/2017.

Hebdige. D. 1983. Subculture. The Meaning of Style. London & New York: Methuen.

King, Charles W. “The Dynamics of Style and Taste Adoption and Diffusion: Contributions From Fashion Theory,” Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Arbor, MI: 1980.

Noro, A. 1991. Muoto, moderniteetti ja ‘kolmas’. Tutkielma Georg Simmelin sosiologiasta (Form, Modernity and the ‘Third’. A Study of Georg Simmel’s Sociology). Jyvaskyla: Tutkijaliitto.

Simmel. G. 1950. The Metropolis and Mental Life. In K. H. Wolf (ed.), The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Illinois: Free Press.

Simmel. G. 1991. The Problem of Style, Theory, Culture and Society 8. 63–71.

Wikipedia. “Aesthetics”. As referenced in:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesthetics

Wikipedia. “Taste”. As referenced in:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste

_________________________________________________________

Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.

Follow me on Medium.com (https://warren-29626.medium.com/membership)

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

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

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

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online. Begin with my ORIENTATION TO BEADS & JEWELRY FINDINGS COURSE.

Check out my Jewelry Making and Beadwork KITS.

Add your name to my email list.

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Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

The Jewelry Design Philosophy: Not Craft, Not Art, But Design

What Is Jewelry, Really?

The Jewelry Design Philosophy

Creativity: How Do You Get It? How Do You Enhance It?

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Getting Started / Channeling Your Excitement

Getting Started / Developing Your Passion

Getting Started / Cultivating Your Practice

Becoming One With What Inspires You

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Doubt / Self Doubt: Major Pitfalls For The Jewelry Designer

Techniques and Technologies: Knowing What To Do

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Making Materials: Knowing What To Do

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form, Theme: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The Jewelry Designer’s Path To Resonance

Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating

Jewelry Design Composition: Playing With Building Blocks Called Design Elements

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

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Designing With The Brain In Mind:Perception, Cognition, Sexuality

Posted by learntobead on October 16, 2021

Warren Feld

Warren FeldJust now·21 min read

Abstract

Jewelry plays a lot of psychological functions for both the wearer and the viewer, so it is important to understand some things about perception and cognition and how the brain processes information. The jewelry designer plays with various design elements, let’s call these parts. The designer arranges these parts into a composition, let’s refer to this as the whole. The brain takes in information about, that is, attends to each part, and information about the whole, and assigns a meaning to these. The designer must anticipate all this, especially understanding Gestalt behavior. So the designer is not only dealing with aesthetic and functional considerations in their designs, but also the psycho-social-emotional triggers and filters these may represent. Some of these emotions may evoke a sense of sex, sexuality and sensuality. Last, jewelry designers must be very aware — metacognitive — of how they think through design, and be able to turn their experiences into thinking routines.

DESIGNING WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND

Jewelry plays a lot of psychological functions for the wearer, the viewer, and the buyer, so it is important to understand some things about perception and cognition and how the brain processes information. Jewelry is used to meet the individual’s needs for self-esteem and self-actualization. A sense of oneness and uniqueness. Or conversely, a sense of being a part of a larger group or community. A sense of survival and protection. A re-affirmation of values and perspectives. A connection to a higher power or spirituality. A sense of fantasy. An orientation to what is up and what is down and what is left and what is right.

The jewelry designer plays with various design elements, let’s call these parts. The designer arranges these parts into a composition, let’s refer to this as the whole. The brain takes in information about, that is, attends to each part, one by one, and then gathers information about the whole, and assigns a meaning to all these. Because of how the brain works, there may be several meanings that rise up to the surface, so the brain has to filter and prioritize these somehow. The resulting assigned meaning(s) results in some type of behavior. At its simplest level, the behavior is either one of placing attention or one of suggesting movement. The behavior, whatever it is, reaffirms for the observer that their goals are getting met or that there is some consistency and coherency with personal values and desires.

The designer must anticipate all this. So the designer is not only dealing with aesthetic and functional considerations in their designs, but also the psycho-social-emotional triggers and filters these may incur. Some of these emotions may evoke a sense of sex, sexuality and sensuality. Jewelry has sensual qualities. It has gender associations. It may symbolically represent what is safe and what is not to view or to touch.

PERCEPTION

Perceptions are ways of regarding, understanding or interpreting something. We perceive using our senses. We touch, we see, we feel, we hear, we smell, we sense positioning. 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. Perceptions are not fixed. They are very sensitive to the context and the situation. Any type of filter 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, silhouettes, proportions, placements and distributions, balance, harmony and variety. Selective perception can add some more muddiness to the interaction especially as designer and client try to find and develop 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?

The jewelry designer needs to distinguish between how the jewelry is perceived when it is not worn from when it is worn. When not worn, jewelry is an object admired and perceived more in art or sculptural terms. When worn, jewelry is an intent where perceptions about the jewelry as object are intertwined, complicated, distorted, amplified, subjugated — you get the idea — with the needs and desires of the individual as that person presents the self and the jewelry as worn in context. Either set of perceptions may support one another, or they may be contradictory.

COGNITION

Cognition involves how the brain processes our perceptions, particularly when these perceptions are incomplete or contradictory or otherwise messy or unresolvable. Cognition focuses on how the brain takes in existing knowledge and creates new knowledge. Cognition is both conscious or unconscious, concrete or abstract, intuitive or conceptual. Cognition may influence or determine someone’s emotions. Metacognition is your own awareness of your strategies and methods of thinking and problem-solving.

The brain takes in a lot of information all at once. The brain looks for clues. It compares clues to information stored in memory. Typically different parts of the brain will simultaneously process (e.g., parallel processing) either different clues or the same clues in different ways. Some information will have greater relevance or resonance than others. Some information will be rejected. Some information will be recategorized or reinterpreted.

You can think of all these mental processes going on in the brain as a huge, self-organizing undertaking, but happening within minute fractions of a second. What happens is very context- or situation-specific. The goal is the creation of some kind of understanding. This understanding will have some logic to it. It will be compatible with and reaffirm the individual’s memories, assumptions, expectations, values and desires. This understanding will typically result in some kind of behavioral response. The response will most often be related to attention or movement. The understanding and the behavioral response will likely get stored in memory.

Attention

The cognitive process starts with attention. Attention has to do with how we focus on some perceptual information, and not on others. A key function of attention is how to identify irrelevant data and filter it out, enabling other more significant data to be distributed to other parts of the brain for further processing.

Picture a piece of jewelry. This jewelry will present many stimuli — color, placement, proportion, balance, volume, positioning, its relation to the human body, the context within which it is worn, perhaps how comfortable it feels, symmetry, and the list can go on and on. Which perceptual clues are most important to the person who needs to decide whether to wear or buy it? Attention is the first cognitive step in determining how to answer this, though the observer does not always consciously grasp the specifics of what is going on.

There are two types of attention: (1) Orienting, and (2) Directing.

Orienting Attention works more reflexively. For example, we are prewired in our brainstem with a fear or anxiety response. This helps us reflexively avoid snakes and spiders. This anxiety response has major implications for how people initially respond to jewelry as it is worn.

Say a stranger is in a room and wearing a necklace. You approach the entrance to this room. You see the stranger who is wearing the jewelry. Your brain has to instantaneously evaluate the situation and determine if it is safe for you to approach and continue to enter the room, or whether you need to be fearful and turn around and flee. Jewelry can play a key role here.

The jewelry signals the primary information the brain needs to make this judgment. Perceptions are filtered to the very basic and very elemental. First the viewer wants to be able to make a complete circle around the jewelry. Anything which impedes this — an ugly clasp assembly, poor rhythm, colors that don’t work together, uncomfortable negative spaces — makes the brain edgy. If the brain gest edgy, the jewelry will start to get interpreted as boring, monotonous, unsatisfying, ugly, and we can go all the way to will cause death.

After the viewer makes that complete circle, a second perception kicks in and becomes key to whether the brain will signal it’s either OK to approach or, instead, you better flee. This second perception is a search for a natural place for the eye/brain to come to rest. In jewelry we achieve this by such things as placing a pendant in the center or graduating the sizes of the beads or doing something with colors.

In slightly more technical terms, the jewelry draws the observer to a focal point at which they can sense an equilibrium in all directions. The viewer feels physically oriented. The jewelry composition presents a coordinated form which connects spaces and masses within something that feels / looks / seems like a unique harmony. The observer is made to feel, as she or he is attenuating to how mass relates to space within the composition, that not only is each element of the jewelry related to the ones preceding or following it, but that each element is contributing to the concept of the whole — the jewelry form is greater than the sum of its parts. There is continuity. There is coherence. Space and mass are interdependent. The distinction among parts is removed. The brain likes this. It searches for it. It makes it restful.

The full experience of the jewelry only gains its full meaning within its total expression. The significance of the total jewelry composition unfolds as the observer moves about its separate parts. This expression, in turn, as it relates to the attention processes of cognition, gets reduced to the confluence of the two clues of (a) making a complete circle, and (b) finding a place to come to rest. If the two clues are satisfying, the jewelry is viewed as finished and successful, and the immediate environment is seen as safe.

The jewelry designer controls the limits and the possibilities for attention. If jewelry design were merely a matter of organizing a certain number of parts, the process would be very mechanical and not at all creative. All jewelry design would be equally good (or more likely, bad). The purpose of good jewelry design is to express particular meanings and experiences for the wearer, viewer or buyer to attend to. Jewelry design is only successful to the extent these are fully communicated to the observer, and are fully sensitive to how perception and cognition play out in our brains. That is, how the jewelry, through its design, enhances or impedes perception and cognition.

Directing Attention, the other type of attention, signals to the observer the possibilities for or constraints on movement. It is more deliberate rather than reflexive. It can divide one’s attention so that the person can pay attention to more than one thing at the same time. Using our example, there could be several strangers in the room, each wearing a different style and design of necklaces. As our observer walks into the room, attention can be shifted from one person / jewelry to another, or focused on one person / jewelry alone.

Directing Attention determines the potential for movement, so that the observer can anticipate the possibilities, or conceive the limits. With whatever piece of jewelry is worn, how freely or easily can the person shift positions, stand, run, dance, lay down? Will any type of movement change the appeal of the jewelry as worn? Is there anything about the design of the jewelry which anticipates different kinds of movements and positioning? Will the appeal of the jewelry remain should the wearer move to a different type of lighted situation or into a shadow? How much ease should be built into the construction of the piece?

The aesthetics of mass and space, such as the interplay of points, lines, planes and shapes, are rooted in a person’s psychology in order to arouse predictable patterns of experience. There seems to be a constant human need to perceive and attend to spatial relationships which distinguish harmony from cacophony. This psychological response to form most likely is connected to a person’s mechanisms for balance, movement and stature.

On the simplest level, observers use jewelry to assist them in knowing what is up and what is down, and what is left and what is right. Jewelry is used similarly in this directing sense as the floors, walls and ceilings are used towards this end in a room, or the horizon, landscape and trees are used outside. Without any clues about positioning, a human being would fall down and not be able to get up.

Picture, for example, how you might feel when the person standing next to you has one earring stuck in a 90 degree angle, or is only wearing one earring, or has a necklace mispositioned and slightly turned around the neck. You most likely feel a bit uncomfortable, perhaps uncomfortable enough to let the person know the jewelry needs to be adjusted in position, or that they seem to be missing an earring. Or perhaps not so comfortable to raise the issue publicly.

GESTALT: The Whole Vs. The Parts

One mechanism of cognition is called a Gestalt. At its root, Gestalt means that the whole composition is more meaningful than the meanings of its individual parts. There is a chicken and egg type of debate within the field about whether the person attends to the parts first with a stronger emergent whole, or whether the person needs to understand the whole first and use this understanding to interpret the parts. But for jewelry designers, we do not have to get into the debate here. Jewelry designers need to recognize that the resulting whole composition should always be more resonant, more finished-feeling and more successful than any of the individual design elements incorporated into the piece.

At its core, people are motivated to recognize entire patterns or configurations. If there are any gaps or flaws or mis-directions, the brain, cognitively, has a tendency to fill in the gaps or ignore the flaws or mis-directions. Where perceptual information does not exist or is somehow incomplete, the brain will fill in the blanks, so to speak, using perceptions about proximity, similarity, figure-ground, continuity, closure, and connection. This all involves work on the part of the brain. The brain may generate resistance towards this end, unless somehow coerced or tricked by aspects of the design choices themselves.

Jewelry will have a lot of gaps of light throughout. The individual beads and components do not blend into each other. They are distinct points of information. Instead, from the brain’s point of view, there are the equivalent of cliffs between each one. The brain, in effect, is asked to jump each cliff. It may be resistant to do so. The brain wants harmony. The brain wants to connect the dots into a smooth line. Or, if the composition were separate lines, the brain wants to connect the lines into a smooth, coherent plane. Or, if there were several distinct lines and planes, the brain wants to integrate these into a recognizable shape or form. But again, all this is not automatic. The brain will resist to do any more work than necessary. The designer will need to make smart, influencing, persuading choices in the design. The Gestalt mechanism is a set of these kinds of choices.

The brain needs to be sufficiently motivated to make the effort to harmonize the pattern or configuration. Gestalt is one of the cognitive, motivating, innate forces the brain uses. In music, when the brain hears part of a melody, it not only hears the notes, but also something else, let’s, for simplicity, call this a tune. This something else allows the brain to anticipate how the melody will continue. If the melody at this point changes key, the brain anticipates how the melody will play out in the new key as a similar tune but with different notes before it is played. How the brain interacts with a piece of jewelry has parallels.

One obvious example is the use of color simultaneity effects. Here the color of the next bead is affected by the color of the previous bead. Place a grey bead next to an orange bead, and the grey bead will take on some orange tones. Both beads get perceived as blended or bridged, even though, in reality, they are not. The observer generalizes the relationship between the two stimuli rather than the absolute properties of each. Take three beads, one emerald, one olivine and one grey. You would not normally find these two greens within the same composition. Place the grey bead between the two greens and, because of simultaneity effects, the two greens will harmonize as the grey forces a blending or bridging.

Jewelry designers need to learn the basic principles or laws of Gestalt. This allows them to predict the interpretation of sensation and explain the way someone will see their compositions. It allows them to anticipate how their jewelry will arouse predictable patterns of emotions and responses in others.

These laws can be used as guides for improving the design outcomes. They can be used to influence what design elements should be included. In what forms / volumes / placements / other attributes these design elements should take. How design elements should be arranged. How construction and function should best relate to aesthetics. How the jewelry should be worn. How the jewelry might coordinate with other clothes and accessories or contexts.

These principles are based on the following:

Principle of Proximity: In an assortment of elements, some which are closer together are perceived as forming groups. Emphasizes which aspects of elements are associated.

Principle of Similarity: Elements within an assortment are grouped together if similar. This similarity could be by color or shape or other quality. If the assortment is comprised of many elements, some similar and some dissimilar, the brain will sort this out so that the similar ones, no matter where placed within the assortment, will be perceived and grouped together.

Principle of Closure: People tend to perceive objects as complete, even when incomplete, rather than focusing on any gaps or negative spaces. When parts of the whole are missing, people tend to fill in the missing parts. The brain is preset to attempt to increase the regularity of sensation or the equilibrium within an experience or event.

Principle of Symmetry: The mind perceives objects as being symmetrical and forming around a center or focal point. Similar symmetrical elements will be grouped as one. The brain will attempt to make something which is asymmetric be perceived as symmetric as best as it can. The brain equates symmetry to coherency.

Principle of Common Fate: Elements are perceived as lines which move along the smoothest path. We perceive objects as having trends of motion. In jewelry design, think about something like rhythm. The beads are not moving in reality, but we perceive a direction and a quality of movement.

Principle of Continuity: Elements of objects tend to be grouped together, and therefore integrated into perceptual wholes, if they are aligned with an object. If two objects are next to each other or overlap, the brain tends to see each object distinctly as two separate wholes, if the elements within each object are aligned and continuous. Picture a 2-strand necklace. The brain will be primed to see these as 2 separate strands or wholes, rather than one whole necklace. Objects with abrupt and sharp directional changes will less likely be perceived as a whole.

Principle of Past Experience: Under some circumstances, visual stimuli are categorized according to past experience. Especially when faced with unknown or unfamiliar objects, the brain will resort to using past experience as a means for interpretation and whether to group elements within the objects as a whole.

DESIGNS CREATE EMOTIONS

There is a growing body of knowledge of the mechanics of sensory processes in cognition. A good design creates positive emotions for the viewer, wearer and/or buyer. Jewelry designers need a deeper understanding of types of emotions and their psychological underpinnings. People develop emotions with jewelry on three levels: (1) visceral (intrinsic), (2) behavioral (behavior), and reflective (reflection).

(1) Visceral (wants to feel): attractiveness, first impressions, feelings

(2) Behavioral (wants to do): usability, function, performance, effectiveness

(3) Reflective (wants to be): meaning, impact, shared experience, psycho-socio-cultural fit

METACOGNITION

Metacognition is an awareness of your own thought and problem-solving processes. It involves a search for patterns and the meanings behind them. It involves a lot of reflection. It involves a sensitivity to the choices made when confronting any unfamiliar or unknown situation. It concerns an awareness of why some choices worked better than others, or not at all.

For jewelry designers, it is important to take metacognition one step further. It is important to turn your experiences into thinking routines. These routines are fix-it strategies you bring with you when overcoming difficult or unfamiliar situations.

SEX, SEXUALITY, AND SENSUALITY

As a jewelry designer, you have to be very aware of the roles jewelry plays in sex, sexuality and sensuality. The act of sex. Everything leading up to it. Eroticism. Sex, however, differs from sensuality. Sensuality is how the jewelry brings out the sensual — the gratification of the appetite for visuals, sounds, tastes, smells and touch. Sensuality always makes jewelry desirable. But perhaps no two people experience the sensuality of a piece of jewelry in the same way.

These sex-sexuality-sensuality roles include,

(1) The Peacock Role

(2) The Gender Role

(3) The Safe Sex Role

One sexual role of jewelry is the Peacock Role. People wear personal adornment to attract the viewer’s attention. This means that the jewelry not only needs to be flashy enough, but also must contain culturally meaningful elements that the viewer will recognize and be sufficiently meaningful as to motivate the viewer to focus his or her attention on the jewelry and who is wearing it.

These culturally meaningful elements might include the use of color(s), talismans, shapes, forms. They clue the viewer to what is good, appealing, appropriate, and to what is not. But the jewelry must also provide clues to the individuality of the wearer — her (or his) personal style, social or cultural preferences, personal senses of the situation in which they find themselves.

Another of these sexuality roles — The Gender Role — is to define gender and gender-rooted culture. Certain jewelry, jewelry styles, and ways of wearing jewelry are associated with females, and others with males. Some are used to signal androgyny, others polyamory or gender fluidity. You can easily label which jewelry looks more masculine, and which more feminine. Some jewelry is associated with heterosexuality, and others with homosexuality. I remember when men, in a big way, started wearing one earring stud, it was critical to remember whether to wear the stud in the left ear lobe (hetero) or the right one (gay). For engaged and married women, it is important to recognize which style of ring is more appropriate, and which hand and finger to wear these on.

One of the most important sexuality roles, however — The Safe Sex Role — concerns the placement of jewelry on the body. Such placement is suggestive of where it is safe, and where it is unsafe, to look at or to touch the person wearing it. The length of the necklace, relative to the neck, the breast, or below the breast. How long the earring extends below the lobe of the ear. Whether the person wears bracelets. The size of the belt buckle. If a person has body piercings, where these are — the navel, the eyebrow, the nose, the lip.

Jewelry calls attention to areas of the body the wearer feels are safe to view or touch. It’s like taking a sharpie marker and drawing a boundary line across the body. Jewelry gives the viewer permission to look at these areas, say above the line, and not others below the line. Jewelry may give the viewer permission to touch these areas, as well. The wearer may want to call attention to the face, the neck, the hands, the ankle, but also to the breasts, the naval, the genital area.

We know that certain areas of the body are more sexually arousing than others. We know that different people are more or less comfortable with these areas on the body. But how does the wearer communicate that? How does the wearer communicate her (or his) personal views of what is sexually acceptable without having to physically and verbally interact with someone in order for that person to find out?

Jewelry. How jewelry is worn is one of the most critical and strategic ways for achieving this Safe-Sex goal. The linear form of the jewelry imposes a boundary line on the body. Do not cross it. And make no mistake, this boundary line separates the permissible from the impermissible, the non-erotic from the erotic, the safe from the unsafe. In a similar way the centerpiece focuses attention as if it were an arrow pointing the way. Jewelry is not just a style preference thing. It’s a safe-sex preference thing, as well.

When news of the AIDS epidemic first burst on-stage in the 1980s, you witnessed a very dramatic change in jewelry and how it was worn. Right before the AIDS epidemic, large long earrings were style. Remember shoulder dusters. But as awareness of AIDS spread, most women stopped wearing earrings for awhile. Then gradually, they began wearing studs. Then very small hoops. It wasn’t until around 2004 that some women wore the new chandelier earrings, and you saw longer earrings on actresses as they paraded down the red carpets of one award show after another.

Prior to AIDS, the necklace style was for longer necklaces — 24” to 36” long. The necklaces were full — multi-strand, lots of charms and dangles. Again, as awareness of AIDS spread, the necklace profile changed rapidly to no necklace at all, or to thin, short chains and chokers. You would typically find ONE charm, not many, on a necklace. Attention was pulled away from the genital area, the navel and the breasts, all the way back up to the face.

Prior to AIDS, necklaces and earrings were the best-sellers in my store. After AIDS, it became bracelets. Holding hands. Not necking. Not fondling. Not sexual intercourse. Holding hands was now the acceptable norm. This was safe.

Body piercings came into major vogue during the 1980s. And look what typically got pierced. Noses, belly buttons, eyebrows, lips. This of this as a big Body Chart for safe sex.

As society became more understanding of AIDS and how it spread, the jewelry became larger. It extended to more areas of the body. People wore more of it. But in 2009, it was still restrained, when compared to what people wore before the 1980s.

In the sexual hunt between the sexes, jewelry plays an important boundary-defining role. Let’s not forget about this. Jewelry, in some sense, is an embodiment of desire. Jewelry communicates to others how the wearer comes to define what desire might mean for the self. It communicates through placement, content, embellishment and elaboration.

Jewelry does not have to be visibly erotic, or include visual representations of sexual symbols, in order to play a role in sexuality and desire — a role that helps the hunter and the hunted define some acceptable rules for interacting without verbal communication.

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FOOTNOTES

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

https://prezi.com/auvtd6yylkkf/the-role-of-perceptions-in-conflict/

Dunlop, Cole. You Are Not Worried Enough About Perceptions and Assumptions. May 7, 2014. As referenced:
https://www.authoritylabs.com/worried-enough-perceptions-assumptions/

Gangwani, Prachi. “Sexual or Sensual? Here’s The Difference Between The Two,” 9/30/2016. As referenced in:
https://www.idiva.com/relationships-love/sex/sexual-or-sensual-heres-the-difference-between-the-two/16093050

Mausolf, Judy Kay. How To Avoid 4 Communication Pitfalls:
Assumptions, Perceptions, Comparison Expectations and Commitments. Spring, 2014. As referenced:
https://www.practicesolutionsinc.net/assets/docs/communication_pitfalls.pdf
Progressive Dentist Magazine

Nguyen, Hoang. “10 Psychological Rules I Used To Make Users Love At First Sight,” As referenced in:
https://blog.prototypr.io/10-psychological-rules-i-used-to-make-users-love-at-first-sight-55c71f99bfa1

Wellington, Kiki. “Sensual Vs. Sexual: Do you know the difference?”, 11/7/20. As referenced in:
https://medium.com/sex-with-a-side-of-quirk/the-difference-between-sensuality-and-sexuality-3b1c4f4315f2

Wikipedia: Cognition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition

Wikipedia: Gestalt Psychology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology

Wikipedia: Perception. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception

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Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.

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Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Resiliency: Do You Have The Most Important Skill Designers Must Have?

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?

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