This month I’ve been taking Seth Godin’s altMBA program, a 30-day marathon in personal and professional development. One of the assignments is challenging us to advocate for the perspective of someone who doesn’t believe in something we strongly believe in. The goal is to exercise our ability in seeing other worldviews, and to re-examine the way we market our businesses (and ourselves) given this diversity of viewpoints.

As I began to explore in “The importance of being pretty,” I believe that beauty is functional. I believe that the way something is visually designed is important information, and the way something is designed to look is critical to the way we interact with something and its success.

If someone doesn’t agree, what might they believe instead?

  • The Decoration Belief: Design is about personal preference, not patterns of human psychology, and decorating something isn’t practical.
  • The WYSIWYG Belief: Design is only about what you see, and is not inclusive of multiple factors that shape an experience. So, design should be done only at the end of a project; the focus should be on building the content first, and then making it look nice.
  • The Data is King Belief: Looks are less important than data, and making something look pretty is a waste of resources, especially since there isn’t an easily measurable ROI for design.
  • The If It Ain’t Broke Belief: If something is generating reliable results, there is no need to consider a new visual identity.
  • The Unconditional Love Belief: If a user wants something enough, they will get it/use it/adore it/promote it no matter how it looks on the outside. This may be because the value they get out of the product is far greater than how it looks, or because its function is mostly separate from how it looks.

Of these beliefs (and there are undoubtedly more), the one I decided to try temporarily advocating for is the Unconditional Love belief. I tried remembering if there was any product I adored and promoted even though I wasn’t crazy about its looks. The first thing that came to mind were some Nike running shoes I skeptically bought online. They were a retina-scorching shade of traffic cone orange, completely beyond my wardrobe palette (and definitely not the shade advertised online). When I first opened the box, I immediately shut it, because I was so embarrassed by their color.

But as soon as I put them on, they made me feel like I had wings on my feet. Within a few days, I was smitten. I no longer cared if people gawked, or if they thought less of me for sporting that heinous color. I asserted to everyone who stared at them that the shoes were magical. And that I loved them. (The shoes, not the strangers.)

In the following years, there were other color options. But it didn’t really matter. These shoes were better than I could have ever dreamed running shoes could be, and I would have bought them again and again whatever their color. Would I have loved them more if they were in a nicer color? No. I would have been drawn to them sooner, but I don’t think I could have loved them more. I loved them for the way they made me feel, not the way they looked.

Just as if my favorite poem were scrawled on a square of damp toilet paper, I’d still read the poem. And I’d still love the poem. I wouldn’t love the poem more if it were letter-pressed on thick cotton-weave paper. The construction of the phrases, like the construction of the shoe, would be more important to my experience.

So it’s possible that something can fulfill a need or want in such a way that its looks become secondary to its value offering. It’s possible that the people who follow the Unconditional Love Belief of Design are indeed sometimes right.