Aesthetic Intelligence, Part 2

A previous post discussed the importance of considering aesthetics in business from the book Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It and Use It in Business and Beyond by Pauline Brown. I wanted to follow up that entry with some insights from this book on how to develop aesthetic intelligence, specifically how to better curate your products for a good customer experience. Too often theories and practice do not intermingle, and this book shows the practical value of aesthetics for business and our lives.

Brown begins with the assumption that taste is not innate, but it can be developed through knowledge and experience. But she is careful to explain that “there are standards of quality and beauty” (p. 101). And she maintains that people can learn to appreciate good things.

The first thing to realize, she writes, is to be patient and committed (p. 102). As has become almost trivially true at this point, people want everything immediately as we live in a fast-paced world. Good taste takes time because it is developed through experience, i.e., by experiencing a wide array and a sufficient number of the kind of object. For example, one does not develop a refined taste for wine by having one glass. While there isn’t a definitive amount of wine one must drink or sample in order to have good taste in wine (plus, there is a gradation of tastes), but one would need to have tried different wines. And this takes time and commitment.

As a corollary of the above, Brown notes that not only does it take time to develop good taste, it is also important to discover in yourself what things might hinder you from developing good taste. We are influenced by family, education, and even genetics. Being aware of these factors will help you “to rediscover, expand, and unleash your own personal taste” (p. 103).

After giving some examples about developing one’s personal taste in the context of food and style, Brown moves onto a broader business context to talk about a concept that is often used, but maybe not always understood: curation. The word has its origins in the notion of cure or care (as in care for the sick). Brown explains:

“To curate or cure is not just to pare down or remove; it also means to assemble what remains in a pleasing manner. In the context of the business of aesthetics, curating restores harmony and beauty to a product, service, campaign, or store design.

Aesthetic Intelligence, p. 147.

Why is curation important? There is a problem of “choice overload.” Consumers are faced with too many choices and decisions without much time. “In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz shows that too many choices are detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being” (p. 149-150). Further, people will eventually give up, if there are too many choices. In other words, too many choices reduces customer engagement.

Brown provides four ways that businesses can curate their products to help customers make “easier and better decisions” (p. 150-152).

First, get rid of extraneous inputs. This means get rid of products that aren’t doing well or are redundant. As an example, Brown cites that the Golden Cat Corporation eliminated ten of their worst-selling cat litters and their sales increased by 97 percent (due both to lower production costs and increase in sales profits).

“Second, help your customers imagine the emotional effects of their choices before they are made” (p. 151). Customers should be able to picture experiencing the product at home. Even though they may not spend much time visualizing this experience, they should have the feelings present. Entenmann’s packaged their baked goods in white boxes with a cellophane window and were displayed on endcaps, rarely in the cookie aisle. This set them apart.

Third, categorizing products clearly and meaningfully helps customers complete a choice and purchase something. While too many choices is a real problem, people can handle more choices if the products are categorized well (and there aren’t too many categories). The organization of the categories and products, however, must be meaningful to the customer.

Fourth, consumers will enjoy the decision-making process more if there is some complexity to the decision and it is presented well. The sequence should be from the simpler to the more complex decisions. This will sustain engagement.

What does these curation ways have to do with aesthetics or aesthetic intelligence? Part of Brown’s point in this book is that businesses have to create the right experience for their customers in order for them to continue being customers. If you’ve ever gone to website that was difficult to navigate, then you likely didn’t go back or simply went to another website. If you ever walked into a store and didn’t feel welcome, then you might not have gone back. Aesthetics in business involves all of the processes, all of the experiences, and of course the products and services.

I focused here on summarizing Brown’s ideas about curation to give a sample of what she outlines in her practical book about applying aesthetics to business. She further explores, for example, the ways that packaging and presentation create positive experiences for customers (Apple is famous for that). And she concludes her book with some thought about the future of aesthetics. I highly recommend reading this book for those in business, but the principles and practices she relates are useful for anyone interested in cultivating taste.

Aesthetic Intelligence, Part 1

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