When intentional bad and ugly design works

If you look around you will be shocked by intentional bad and ugly designs that you buy subconsciously. Well, saying them “bad design” won’t be justice. A design that does what it intends to is actually a good design. Often as designers and product owners, we let the fact slide under the table and look for what design language makes our products and services look elegant and classy.

Restaurants and intentional bad design

Local restaurants are a good example of implementation of proper and well optimised design choices. An $18 burger if presented with a badly designed logo and signage makes a visitor believe that the restaurant charges less.

Clearly, if you use Bodoni Script Pro for designing for the previous case, the visitor might be tricked into thinking “Woah! Now this is a fancy restaurant for having a burger. I shouldn’t be spending $18 on a burger!”

Don’t belive me, just take a look at the font, don’t you think using this would definitely make you think the same?

Bodoni Script Pro
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An affordable Chinese restaurant’s design signage
Design langauge of restaurant

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Meanwhile here’s a high end Chinese restaurant, you can clearly spot the design difference.

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Why this difference? Well, visitors pre assume that an elegant design brings extra added costs that they are paying in form of expensive food.

Another most common space where optimized designs are carefully placed is the retail sector. Ever went to shopping for the cheapest products? Remember that how easy it was to figure out cheapest products from an array of expensive-cheap mixed shelves?

King of optimized user experiences – Retail!!!

Retail sector is competitive, especially for most of the products in it. Being already saturated, the only unique selling proposition (USP) is price. But how do you communicate that? The customer takes a few glances that lasts couple of seconds and almost makes a decision. The idea is to communicate your price within this first moment of Truth.

A glanceable and well designed “Ugly” label exactly does that for your product. Often the most cheapest product could be found with a plain color-less packaging with a minimalistic design, that says “Buy me, I am affordable!”. Another thing to consider here is that the “Ugly design” strategy doesn’t actually means that the packaging should look hideous, a good looking design at times may look cheap at the same time.

Designers working at large firms often find their Creative Director coming over and telling them to turn the design into something ugly looking. Most of the time, it has to do with overall sales resulting from the design. Young designers often find it very difficult to make a less elegant looking design. Though the designs are effective, it often do not give the sense of pride a designer gets after finishing work.

The packaging of this Vermicelli communicates honestly that it is a budget priced item.
retail package design

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It is true that such designs don’t get any recognition for the effort designers put in it, but they do what they are intended to do. Cheesy and cheerful designs presented in the right way are effective and successful in attracting the right demographic.

A designer’s focus shouldn’t be on creating the most aesthetically pleasing design. A designer should rather focus to make the design do what they are intended to, it is here where I find a huge difference between a stylist and a designer. No frills and no BS!

Designing for small businesses

While designing for a business that is too small(1-2 person[s]) or casual, looking too professional might make people think that the service/product is expensive. Well, when was the last time when you got a card from a Plumber or Mechanic that looked like a card from consulting firm? More important, will you even bother to give them a call?

Designing for charity?

When people donate to charity they expect the money to be spent for the cause, and often they don’t like the idea of money being spent on anywhere else. Some charities spend more money on materials just to make it look cheap. For charities making things look cheap is a pretty effective way of raising money.

Ever felt compelled to help someone? There’s an entire project dedicated to help making the homeless people more visible in the eyes of general public by Christopher Hope. Christopher makes beautifully crafted designs that are eye catching. His idea behind the whole design is to make people more compassionate towards the homeless. According to him, a lot of homeless people do not have a sign intended to beg, they instead want to reach out and share their thoughts with the general public.

The project seems to have been on a halt for a while as there no updates on the website from a year. We can only assume that homeless people with beautifully crafted designs appeared to be less trustworthy of receiving help.

Looking around internet you will find more and more information about “ugly designs” that converts more. I stumbled across one such article here about ugly websites that convert better by Dale Cudmore.
He says:

While you may not be able to brag about your fancy website, I’ll take the ugly site that makes money over the less profitable beautiful website any day.

Have something to share? Drop me a comment!

About the author

Parikshit Joshi

I am a Coffee-addict-with lost counts of consumption. Apart from this addiction, I have a deep passion for data and connected architectures. I ingrain technology into business processes to bring the next level disruptive solutions.

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