Designers Book Club –

Aesthetic Intelligence — How to boost it and use it in business and beyond by Pauline Brown

Aesthetic Intelligence — How to boost it and use it in business and beyond by Pauline Brown

I’m a firm believer that a varied understanding of aesthetics is integral to becoming a well-rounded designer. I consider aesthetics as the fundamental building blocks of what we do and to make sense of aesthetics in a practical capacity will translate to the things we create This will allow us to craft cohesive and compelling stories and experiences to our end users.

For this reason, I took a great interest in the book Aesthetic Intelligence — How to boost it and use it in business and beyond by Pauline Brown. Pauline, who currently serves as Executive-in-Resident, and Marketing Professor at Columbia Business School, New York has had a rich career in building, acquiring and leading the world’s top luxury brands.

This book at its heart showcases her views on how aesthetics has become a key differentiator for most companies and a critical factor to their success and how harnessing “the other AI” is an essential tool in achieving this by delivering more meaningful experiences to our end users in an increasingly competitive world.

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As the title would suggest this book is based on Aesthetics.

But what is aesthetics?

One would normally assume this is how something looks, but Pauline goes further in defining aesthetics as:

“the pleasure we — i.e. all humans — derive from perceiving an object or experience through our senses”

This is through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Aesthetic Intelligence (the Other AI) as Pauline coins:

“is our ability to understand, interpret and articulate feelings that are elicited by a particular object or experience”

In short, this book delves into tactics businesses can use to create experiential, aspirational and memorable experiences and how one can fully understand these to enhance their own aesthetic capital and understanding.

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This book is split into three sections:

Part I: Mastering the Other AI, which is a section primarily defining the critical concepts surrounding aesthetics.

Part II: Boost your AI, which attempts to show how one can utilise aesthetics to boost brand appeal, and

Part III: Aesthetics for the Future, which outlines the future trends and predictions for this space.

Now from a personal perspective Part II was good in providing a mountain of examples on how, as the section highlights, to boost one’s AI and awareness of Aesthetics and how to fully utilise it to deliver truly unique customer experiences and thus boost business results.

One word of warning, I wouldn’t go into this section thinking you will receive a definitive checklist on what to do to succeed in utilising aesthetics. As Pauline highlights in this section Aesthetic Intelligence is built over time, through experience, and trial and error in different markets and contexts. But what Pauline provides is a whole career’s worth of examples highlighting successes and failures in Aesthetic tactics and the areas to look out for when building your aesthetic understanding.

In addition, Section III although small highlights the future trends for aesthetics such as advances in digital technology, environmental and political factors to look out for as key influencers in dictating future realities of the aesthetic space.

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The section that excited me the most was Section I. Pauline shows that if one wants to master the New AI, one must understand the WHY of AI. As a designer I find it extremely difficult to highlight why design and aesthetics is so important and the business value it provides, especially for someone like me who sits in the technology space full of people who for the most part is technically and statistically minded; and not so artistically minded.

Pauline from the onset is unapologetic in saying that aesthetically minded people NEED to be sat in the board room along with the CEO, CFO etc. She touches on the hard realities and proven statistics of the value of design.

Reflecting on the definition of Aesthetics as something pleasing to the sense, Brown states that 85% of the reason people buy from a particular brand is because of the way they feel about it. A mere 15% is based on logic and reasoning. This is a HUGE differentiator in determining a win or a loss for a company, so why wouldn’t you build your aesthetic intelligence.

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I wanted to point out a couple of interesting concepts which popped out in Section I.

One concept which I thought was worth noting was “The Halo effect”, which is how one maintains a relevant, pertinent and aesthetically pleasing customer experience throughout the sales process.

Quoting directly from the book, Pauline defines the Halo effect as

“… how experiences are a continuum that includes the lead-up, the actual experience, and the memory of it”

So what does that actually mean in context?

Let’s say I’m going into a store to buy some shoes. You walk into the store, you’re greeted at the entrance, you look at some wonderful displays in an open airy building. You’re asked if you need any help, they answer your questions with a smile, they take it to the checkout for you, wrap it up nicely and say cheerio with another smile and they even offer you a discount code for next time you shop with them.

This for most people would be a fully pleasant aesthetic experience, and you remember it, and if you need to go again you anticipate another pleasurable experience because they’ve thought of you at every level.

It entices you to return because they’ve thought of you at every step of this continuum from an aesthetic lens.

Pauline notes that as much as 50% of consumer’s perceived delight is connected to anticipation and memory, and the remaining 50% is the immediate experience itself. It is essential to think of the WHOLE sales process when selling your brand, product and solution.

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Reflecting on the previous point of anticipation and memory built up from a brand, I found another interesting concept which was the use of brand “codes”.

These are defined as

“…clear and distinct identifiers or markers of a brand that encapsulate it’s philosophic and aesthetic point of view”

They form a conscious, or unconscious link with the consumers to ideas, memories and emotions. Taking away from the solutions or products a brand provides, it’s what that brand makes you feel and compels customers to buy into them.

Pauline highlights how certain brands OWN certain aesthetic codes which goes hand in hand with what they produce. Take McDonalds for example, once you see the “golden arches”, Ronald McDonald or even the smell of a French fry you know instinctively what it means and what it represents. Same with Louis Vuitton’s “LV” icon, or Tiffany’s distinctive eggshell blue immediately conjure emotions of quality and luxury and you know EXACTLY what brand you’re working with.

Reflecting on how emotion and the senses as a central pillar in reaching to a consumer, I find that having a brand which tells a story through sensual stimuli, even before you’ve seen the logo or the products says a lot about the emotional connection people instinctively have with that brand and why people connect with them.

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Overall, I thought this was a compelling book that provides a whole careers worth of examples and scenarios on how to build one’s aesthetic understanding to create a marked impact on your end user which can be provided amongst multiple industries both B2B and B2C. I would certainly say it’s a staple when wanting to gain a WHY in the field of aesthetics and how that resonates to design as a whole.

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