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When Bad Design is Good Design

Daryl Weber

Braggs ACV.jpg

I’m no designer, but to my eye, the Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar bottle is downright ugly.

Apple Cider Vinegar is having a moment thanks to internet buzz that it may help you lose weight, boost your immunity, and other health claims. And the Bragg’s brand has stepped in as the leader in this niche category.

But the bottle design — with its shades of yellow and red, its mess of a communications hierarchy (everything seems to be shouting for attention), its various fonts and sizes, its cluttered and repetitive writing…it doesn’t fit with today’s world of package design; especially in the modern and sleek world of health and wellness products.

But maybe that’s its secret.

It doesn’t try to look like a new age, beautiful, spa-like, minimalist brand like everything else in the “wellness” world. Instead, it goes the other way, and feels truly, painfully, authentic. It’s mom-and-pop down to actually having a picture of the mom and pop who started the brand right there on the bottle.

This gives it an endearing charm. It doesn’t feel like some new company raised millions in VC money, hired a fancy design firm, and made the perfect design for a new fangled product. It feels like it has always been here. That they’ve been making it the same way forever (and they have, since 1912). Instead of feeling corporately polished and perfected, it feels real.

Unconsciously, this can lend the brand trust, credibility, and give it a warmth that many other brands lack.

Look at websites like Craigslist and Reddit. Both are massive, successful sites that are of the biggest on the internet. But their design and user experience leave much to be desired. But maybe that’s part of their charm — they feel like they are run by people who care about the content of what they’re doing, not about marketing. They feel homey, comfortable, and familiar. They don’t feel too slick, like someone is trying to sell you on something. You can join them if you want, and if not, that’s fine too.

Sometimes having too perfect of a design can feel like the slick car salesman who flashes a toothy smile. It just doesn’t feel like he truly cares about us.

My point is not to have bad design on purpose. My point is that your design says something about you, no matter what it is. This is the idea of metacommunication. It’s what’s communicated beyond the content of your words. Just like how what you’re wearing says something about who you are, everything in the way a brand communicates says something about it. And much research has shown that the feeling we imbue our brands with via metacommunication can stay in our unconscious, and influence how we feel about a brand, for a very long time.

So even something that seems poorly designed can still give off positive sentiments. Think about that the next time you’re briefing a fancy design agency.

Daryl Weber is a branding consultant and author of the book Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands.