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HERE’S A THOUGHT

The beauty of ugly ducklings

05/03/15

Design and design strategy spends a deal of time trying to capture the nature of beauty. Making things more beautiful is hardwired into most projects, in much the same way that brands generally want to be more premium, not less. Improving the aesthetics of things is also the reason many designers get out of bed in the morning.

But what about the nature of ugly ducklings? They’re less appealing to dwell on, but surely worth sparing a thought? In short this was a story about a bird that didn’t fit in – he was not true to type. But of course underneath it all, he was beautiful.

Aesthetic attractiveness begins with nature – the birdsong that secures a mate, the extra long neck that secures a giraffe their partner. Given this fundamental importance of beauty, can being ugly ever hold appeal? I guess one step back from unattractive is the polite phrase ‘characterful’. And I think one sees this in the pull of ‘craft’ brands – the flaws that convey their authenticity. It’s also the essence perhaps of ‘shabby chic’. Being unpolished is also being ‘real’. Beauty can also be about function not style – some people might find an ugly looking chair beautiful to sit in, whilst others prefer to endure bum-ache perching on a lovely looking object.

So what does this mean for branding? Two current examples occur to me of things I would subjectively consider ‘ugly ducklings’. Beavertown Brewery makes a virtue of its amateur ‘drawn by a mate’ style. Literally, their designs are no oil paintings. More fancy, but certainly not ‘true to its type’ is Bruichladdich’s Scottish Barley Whisky. Both stand out like sore thumbs. Both are very appealing in their way, and both, I think, prove that an ugly duckling approach can really be a really beautiful thing.

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