I noticed on "The Next Great Baker" that the guys cake that had differing heights of tiers looked more asthetically pleasing than the girls cake that had each tier 4". Is there a "rule of thumb" for cake design concering combining differing height of tiers, etc.? I need to have these things spelled out for me!
Not anymore. The general rule used to be 4" tiers, but now, just about anything goes.
The bigger tiers on the bottom are always going to look smaller, it's just how our eyes see it. They may all be 4" tall, but the larger bottom tiers will look short. So, a lot of times people make the bottom tiers taller than 4" so all the tiers look uniform. It's just more aesthetically pleasing.
Design is an artistic term. And just like an artist who designs a painting or an architect who designs a house, there is not so much a "rule of thumb" as there are rules to guide you. In painting there are rules about balance, composition, tone, etc. In caking, the industry standard tier is 4" tall, with a 2"gradation between each tier.
That said, no two paintings have the exact same composition. And lots of paintings go against traditional composition rules. This is where the "design" part comes in. Design is what you do with those rules to create something pleasing, or interesting, or classic, or modern, or intentionally unsettling, or abstract, or topsy-turvy, or upside down, or intentionally leaning, or dramatic, depending on what you're going for.
Bottom line is that everything has its rules, but in design, if you know the rules and how they effect the end product, you can break the rules to fantastic effect. Otherwise all your cakes would look the same and just like everybody else's.
Regarding that judge, (I watched that episode but I forget which judge made that comment) that was kind of a dumb comment to make. Because when comparing those two cakes, maybe one was more esthetically pleasing than the other, but it certainly isn't the rule that all cakes with varied sized tiers are always more esthetically pleasing than all cakes with same-sized tiers. Using varied height tiers can look better. But it can also look worse. It depends on the design and the intended "look" of the cake.