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Maitland Graves Design Judgement Test (1948)

A friend shared this test of “design judgement” with me a few years ago. It was developed in the mid-1940s (this edition is 1948) and used for some time, though the current consensus seems to be that it was not a very strong diagnostic of a designer’s ability. To wit [PDF]:

[The test] has attracted wide attention to determine its validity. […] Some studies have been critical, arguing that test scores do not discriminate between artists and non-artists yet more recent studies found that it did. On the other hand, critics have suggested that the test is now dated because of the changing view on aesthetic principles. Further, Gotz and Gotz (1974) found that 22 different art experts (designers, painters, sculptors) had 0.92% agreement on choice of preferred design.

Still, the test itself has such a great aesthetic of its own, moving from “simple” comparisons to more complex and multidimensional ones. Looking at it, I kept being reminded of this essay by Ellen Lupton that discusses Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook, Wassily Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane, Gyorgy Kepes’s Language of Vision, and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion. Lupton details how each of these books contributed to the development of the idea of a “language of vision.” Among her many thoughtful observations is this one:

The concept of “figure” operates in two ways in [Gyorgy] Kepes’s text [Language of Vision (1944)]. On the one hand, “figure” is a term from Gestalt psychology, refering to the articulation of a mark against a background. On the other hand, a “figure” is a genre of graphic communication: a visual image inserted into a scientific or didactic text. Understood in this second sense, a “figure” is not a particular form of graphic — it could be a chart, graph, table, drawing, photograph, etc. — but is rather a particular function of graphic. Scientific figures offered Kepes attractive stylistic qualities — abstraction, simplicity, linearity. He also valued their function aesthetically. For Kepes, the explanatory, instrumental, unambiguous status of the didactic figure was an appealing attribute for art and design — even though “message” of the aesthetic object would tend to be associative rather than explicit. As Kandinsky and Oskar Schlemmer made the diagram into an expressive tool, a model for an elucidating, explanatory art, Kepes used the explanatory “figure” as a model for design.

A few figures below:

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Here’s the 1948 scoring manual:

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And a table comparing various New York art schools and high schools:

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The test was scored by punchcard:

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Originally published at blog.linedandunlined.com.

Written by

Director of Design @MuseumModernArt. Sr Critic @RISD_GD. Alumni @GoogleDesign @AmAcademyRome @MacDowellColony

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