HIDEOUS INDUSTRIAL DESIGN by Rich

Now and then, I’m compelled to go on an extended rant. Something outrages me and I just can’t shut up about it anymore.

Years ago I coined a term. At the risk of offending people, it names a sort of disease, “Hideous Industrial Design” or HID. And, unfortunately, like its namesake, while not deadly, it is highly contagious.

Did you ever look at your common everyday devices, like the thermostat on your wall?

Not a work of art, is it?

Well why not?

Bear with me, because in the end, I will relate this to marketing.

WHY NOT BEAUTIFUL?

We are surrounded by ugly things, and it is completely unnecessary.

There I go being overly dramatic again.

But seriously folks, look around you. Look at your computer (unless you have a Mac). Look at your blender. Your tissue box. Your toothbrush.

Not impressive, are they? Not going to put them in the Metropolitan Museum, right?

I even saw an ordinary urinal on display in the Stockholm Art Museum. More about that shortly.

Now, how hard would it have been? Get someone with a lick of artistic sense to design these objects? Not hard. Not expensive.

It would not have added 1 cent to the cost of a Honeywell thermostat to make it look good.

Evidently a lot of people don’t care. Or maybe they don’t know the difference. Maybe both. Ignorance AND apathy. Now that is a deadly combination.

What does this have to do with marketing?

WE SWIM IN A SEA OF UGLY

There is lots of beauty around. Much of it is in nature. If man-made, it is probably old.

Sunsets put me in awe. I gape at the site of a flock of geese winging their way through the sky towards some distant shore.

I bow in respect at the great buildings, paintings of the great masters, musical masterpieces.

In the words of the song, what have you done for me lately? All that great art is hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Oh sure, it’s always been true that most creations are garbage. But I’m saying it is different now. You can actually trace this historically. The corruption of most arts began in the early 1900s. Modern schools of architecture like “Brutalism” (as ugly as it sounds) and the Bauhaus school of design. Musical movements like “twelve tone” music (no melody or harmony as we know it).

In painting, Abstract Expressionism deliberately makes paintings that communicate nothing except maybe some vague emotion. I thought art was about communication! Abstract Expressionism came to dominate the art world in the 1940’s. There’s a fantastic non-fiction book by Tom Wolfe (author of “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “The Right Stuff” amongst others) on this, called The Painted Word.

It’s not the only such art movement. That urinal displayed as a work of art in Stockholm was the work of one Marcel Duchamp, a member of the Dada movement.

What we have is a serious loss of beauty in Man’s creations. Beauty is unimportant, even a bad idea, it seems. Of course, it isn’t everywhere or always. But it is startlingly widespread.

The particular manifestation that I titled and started this article with, concerns the design of functional objects. Everything from pens to automobiles. The objects that surround you in your daily life.

It’s not hard to see this. Just compare the beauty of automobiles of the 1920’s and 30’s (look up pictures of the Hispano-Suiza H6), to the often glaringly ugly current designs. My “favorite” example was the Nissan Cube, which managed to combine round and straight elements in a jarringly hideous manner. But even a modern $300,000 Bentley looks awful compared to the old classics.

If you aren’t impressed by the beauty of things that surround you, or available for sale, it’s not you. It is them. And, as I say, completely unnecessary. They aren’t saving money or increasing sales by being ugly.

That would all be nice and theoretical for marketing if it had no influence on thought and action in the marketing world.

But it does. Oh yes it does.

I guess it’s no surprise the hit movie called “Coyote Ugly” gave rise to a chain of bars. So, let’s talk about Marketing Ugly.

MARKETING UGLY

Apply all this to what you see in advertisements, websites, and other marketing items. In this light it stands out, glaringly obvious.

Let’s talk about websites. I look at many websites every day. Most of them are, at best, “undistinguished.”  Maybe not downright ugly, but no one is going to hang a framed picture of them on their wall.

These sites are usually built on pre-existing designs. That helps inhibit the worst excesses of ugly. Yet, your artistic sense is jarred by bad spacing, mediocre color choices, and many more unforced artistic errors. At least they don’t send you running screaming from the room. They certainly don’t make your face light up with delight.

A large minority, almost all the rest, should just be put out of our misery. They make you want to put your eyes out. Whoever “designed” these wasn’t doing the site owner any favors.

Ignorance for sure. But innocent. Because the culture that surrounds us trains people as to what is acceptable or even good.

And so ugly becomes not just acceptable but even virtuous.

OKAY RICH. WE WANT BEAUTY. WHAT DO WE DO?

I’ve said this before. You don’t have to be trained in art, to respond badly to bad design. What you are looking at may be no worse than the typical objects you find around you. People are still going to hit the back button and go look for a site that they like.

You can bury artistic sense, but you can’t kill it.

At most 10% of websites demonstrate real artistic sense. People have an immediate positive reaction to these sites and to the owners of the site and their products and services.

Is it easy to get a site (or other marketing item) that isn’t ugly? No, but the first step is knowing that it should be part of the equation. The second is to use your own artistic instinct. Don’t let someone sell you a bill of goods, just because something is “the latest fashion.”  More like the latest FAD (see my article on that subject).

Beauty is fashionable. Ugly is ugly.

Let’s start a campaign. “Beauty Yes, Ugly No!”

In Italian that’s “Bellezza si, brutta no!”

In any language, it’s a major step to successful marketing.

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