Beautifully Ugly

I was flipping through our morning newspaper and came across a common advertiser that I’m sure many of you are familiar with: Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. It’s a cringe-worthy abomination in the eyes of most designers. Crass typography. Cheesy illustrations of Ollie sprinkled throughout the flyer. Each page packed with hyperbolic descriptions of all kinds of “buyout!” specials that won’t last long. It’s beautifully ugly.

Why beautifully ugly? Because it’s perfectly-suited to the message and the messenger. The imagery, typography and writing style is crafted to fit in a way that’s memorable and impactful—and appropriate. This makes it a great example of effective design, though you would never find it in any design annual. And most designers would probably call it horrible.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I think this is a critical disconnect that many less-experienced designers don’t realize. Effective design is different from beautiful design. Design can be beautiful and effective (like Apple) as well as ugly and effective (like Ollie’s). Ollie’s marketing would be severely impaired if it were to mimic Apple’s. And vice versa.

So, when shopping for a designer, this is a very critical point to consider. With experience, a good designer not only understands their importance in marketing their clients’ products and services, they deeply understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And sometimes ugly is beautiful and appropriate—and sometimes ugly is ugly. And a good, experienced designer can help guide their clients in a direction that’s appropriate and effective for their needs.


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