The conversation keeps evolving and this is a really helpful contribution to it. I’m going to mainly talk about the beauty/substance distinction you draw which is so fascinating. The question I wish you would have asked is, “Where the hell are all the good stories?” Because most seem crafted with little care to the underlying narrative, which leaves us with a conversation around authenticity in marketing, business, and life that is basically, “What tactics should I be using to best convey my authenticity?” It seems to me the better question is, “Why are people not perceiving it to begin with?” A good story is one that someone wants to hear. A great story is one that someone didn’t know they’d been waiting their whole life to hear. Beauty or depth aside, this is why we have in the biggest organizations to the smallest businesses a crisis of authenticity — because we’re almost exclusively entering conversations that are ongoing and already occurring, instead of figuring out what conversations people are desperately craving, but no one has thought to yet tell it.
Maybe beauty can be both form and function, utilitarian and aesthetic, and authenticity is created when the idea or story becomes what it wants to become. If the idea is simplicity in a crowded world than beauty can be essential so it cuts through the noise enough for us to notice it and not find it boring. Both the ends and the means, the structure and the story, play a key role in helping someone recognize the power of the story. Schindler’s List comes to mind, one little girl wearing a red coat, as a metaphor for the world’s turning away from genocide. It would have been a beautifully shot movie regardless, and yet the care of shooting it in black and white, says something about the period itself, the attitudes and beliefs that were allowed to become normalized, and the attention to beauty while telling one of the most horrific stories in history seems essential to the story. Other stories don’t require that, they want to be something different entirely. Reading Doctor Seuss without the pictures isn’t the same experience, but reading Dan Brown or Danielle Steele isn’t affected much at all to read it on a tablet, e-reader, or in paperback.
My favorite thing about this post is sentiment that telling a story is what’s important. I absolutely loved the writing to a friend on Facebook suggestions and I think that would benefit many companies. I also take issue with that suggestion on the grounds that it’s part of the problem. I don’t need the people who work at Google Fiber — to be my friend. In fact, I find the whole try-to-relate-to-me thing irritating (granted…I’m not super relatable, but still!) and distracting. I don’t need Dan Brown to be Doctor Seuss. I don’t need Danielle Steele to be Jane Austin, or in more of my style Sylvia Plath. I need brands and products to relate to me in the way that is relevant for them to relate to me, and to give me the value I need, instead of the value they’re convinced I need.
When I’m trying to get my internet fixed: the relevant value is quick, efficient, no b.s. service. When I sign up for an app or a piece of software, the writing to me, three seconds later with some random email about something or other I 99.9% of the time care nothing about or could have easily figured out without more email in my inbox like I’m their best friend who wants to hear from them feels patronizing and manufactured. It’s the epitome of one (yes…she has more than one), Judge Judy’s books, “Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining.”
As for your email example, I found the long-form one to be more beautiful. Because there are people who like long-form and there are people who don’t navigate the world in that way. Is it possible that for that email, that concept, that idea, that product…the beautiful thing was the less-beautiful? Because beauty is not the same thing as “aesthetic value as defined by web developers and graphic designers” it’s one’s senses being lit up and drawn into something that pleases them for somewhat mysterious reasons.
But take something like time tracking apps or project management apps. Things that I am going to use day after day — that I’m going to need to use in a hurry — and that I’m going to be super overwhelmed with no matter what. In those, I want a mix of functionality, but also beauty. I need them to work how my brain works so I can fit them into my day, my life, and my company. In most of those cases, they don’t seem to be telling a story at all with either design or function and the substance is a turn-off.
I guess I’m arguing for specificity, nuance, and being for substance over style in all the cases where that makes sense. Being for style over substance in all the cases where that makes sense. And being for the elevation of both in all the cases where that makes sense. This is the first post in a while that really attempts to bring some nuance to the conversation, which is refreshing. It’s just that sometimes, you look at a Van Gogh painting, then catch a glimpse of some flowers or look up at a starry night sky…when it seems that beauty and substance are deeply interconnected…and authenticity seems to present in those moments because beauty and substance and working together in perfect proportion.