Posted January 16, 2010 7:52 am by with 2 comments

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In college I got a minor in Art History, a topic that I wish I could study more. At the time I had no idea that I would one day work in the marketing industry. Now, I see tons of overlapping concepts of art and marketing. I think I will discuss some of these ideas every now and then in this weekly column. In marketing we use artists and designers every day to create ads and materials. What I am going to talk about is artistic concepts that drive the way we view and talk about the world around us. So if you are looking for design tips, this isn’t the right column!

So to start things off, I think we should get our hands dirty and talk a bit about Wabi-sabi. No, I am not talking about the spicy sushi condiment. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that is based on exposing imperfections. Wabi-sabi enthusiast will tell you that imperfections are a mark of the true nature of all things, because we all know that nothing is perfect. By exposing imperfections it creates an image of authenticity. Those that adhere to the ideals of Wabi-sabi will find beauty in the scratches on your new iPhone. They point to the weeds in your garden as evidence of rich soil. And, they might also appreciate a bit of gray hair as a sign of wisdom.

Understanding how to appreciate imperfections can be a truly powerful talent. However, merely identifying them can be beneficial as well. Julien Smith, tells us in doing so we can develop a a more defined taste:

Ugly things don’t just make you think; they also unbalance you, and connect with you emotionally over time. All of this makes you different, developing your sense of taste and what you think of as acceptable.

So how can developing a Wabi-sabi mindset help your marketing efforts? Let’s take a look at a few key areas.

You’re not a robot

Most social media marketers will tell you that automating social media is a bad idea. Most of the times they will point toward a breakdown in authentic interaction. But an often overlooked negative aspect of automation is its precision. Automation software rarely makes spelling mistakes. They are predictable, and easily ignored. The problem is that precision lacks character. If you never make a mistake, and always deliver expected content or interaction on time, then you are void of character. Brands need to make mistakes, they need to be slightly unpredictable. In doing so they are revealing themselves as human and truly authentic. They need to be a bit Wabi-sabi.

Imperfections break the mold.

Last week I mentioned that all the smart phones look the same. It’s because they are all trying to be perfect while forgetting to be unique. When you try something different, you are accepting the possibility of creating new imperfections. You are venturing into uncharted waters where you can define your own normalities. When you are trying to break the mold, you are going to get things dirty and you are going to make an imperfect product. But the beauty is your brand is in charge. You can say that yes there are imperfections, but that’s the point.

Imperfections create authenticity

Wabi-sabi is the leading paradigm behind the distressed furniture fad. Here we see furniture that has been worn and weathered to give an antiqued facade. This faux authenticity is dependent on imperfections. Imperfections create an impression of transience, one that draws the consumer with a “timeless” appeal.

Now before you go and start adding imperfections to everything you see, remember every good artist knows when to stop! If your brand or product is saturated with imperfections it won’t look more authentic, it will just look like….well, crap. So the true art of Wabi-sabi is finding the right harmony between precision and imperfection. I promise, if you can do that you will be on your way to making your brand more authentic in no time!

  • Great blog that you have here

    Design and layout is absolutely awesome

    Your information is even better

    Mark McCulloch

  • Thanks for a great cuppa, Joe!

    This reminds me of Dove’s revolutionary and unconventional Campaign for Real Beauty that resonated so well with true women who couldn’t identify with ‘perfect’ models.

    I remember reading about how Islamic Architecture and Art incorporates imperfections so that when designing, building or drawing, an artist intentionally makes a flaw to acknowledge that only God is the Perfect Creator and that we as humans, cannot create flawlessly. Sounds like the same theory is at work with Wabi-sabi.

    Now, to go smudge something somewhere… 😉