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The Newsletter | Edition 080
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

And this time, our illustrations from Matthew Carter.


While platforms and content have revolutionized, our interpretations of ‘taste’ and the taste-makers we choose to elevate have not kept up. A more nuanced, truly subjective treatment of ‘taste’ is necessary for brands to connect with consumers.


Across time and place, ‘taste’ has remained one of the hardest concepts to define. Maybe we can’t come to an agreement on the definition of the word because taste itself is entirely subjective. Yet, as a society, we talk about it like it’s so objective. Either you have it or you don’t. Either your taste is good or it’s bad. Enter: The Taste Binary.

The internet has given more power to individual opinion by democratizing content creation, providing new avenues for word of mouth, and elevating voices that would’ve traditionally gone unheard. You would think that our ideas of taste have evolved alongside this, yet we still remain imprisoned by The Taste Binary. In many ways, this is because we’re often fed a stream of homogeneity on the internet, at the hands of nearly-identical influencer-types and algorithms that tell us what to like, do, and buy. Consumers aren’t given opportunities to discover and lean into their own tastes—taste is fed to us.

When you peel back the layers, it’s not all that different from decades ago when tastemaking institutions ruled. Just think about the MICHELIN Guide, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the esteemed Vogue magazine. Historically, the group of people that decides what’s high brow v. low brow has been elite, white, European, and male. While tastemakers may be less traditionally institutional than before, that doesn’t necessarily mean that taste is more multifaceted.

What it comes down to: taste is dictated to us, rather than cultivated by us. Brands are guilty of taking this top-down approach, too, telling consumers what is desirable rather than simply listening to and nurturing their needs and interests. In fact, they’re often the ones behind the aforementioned influencers and algorithms.

But what does a well-rounded, bottom-up approach to taste even look like from brands?


If taste is not universal, then you need to stop striving for broad appeal and first figure out which interpretations of taste matter most to your specific consumer base. Identify the subcultures that resonate with your brand. Listen to them. Recognize their natural inclinations. Let them lead. It’s hard to do, but brands need to step into the role of follower in order to truly understand consumer preferences and needs.

Ira Glass once said: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.” As a brand with money and platforms, you can help consumers and partners bridge that gap, bringing a multitude of different versions of taste to life instead of pushing your own. And when you do, we’ll begin to see new forms of art and innovation out in the world that may not have ever existed before.

One of the best attempts at defining ‘taste’ comes from Brie Wolfson who says: “When we recognize true taste, we are recognizing that alchemic combination of skill and soul.” Are the tastemakers that you’re partnering with embodiments of both skill and soul? Are the products, services, or ideas you’re holding up as ‘tasteful’ rooted in skill and soul? To say it directly: are you putting legitimate substance into the world? Brands have the power to influence the tastes of many—make sure to be thoughtful with that power.

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