The concept of jolie-laide (ugly-beautiful) isn’t just about looks. An experience, a product, or a service can be simultaneously ugly and beautiful in other arenas, too, such as taste, feel, and sound.
As Seth Godin recently noted, having one part of your offering be ugly when all the rest is beautiful can be a bad thing for the brand experience you’re trying to deliver. We’ve all had product and service experiences like this: the lobby of the hotel is incredibly clean, but your room reeks of marmot. Or the food in the restaurant is divine but the waiter is an asshole posing as a jerk — you get the picture.
But a little bit of ugly isn’t always bad. For instance, take the Finnish drink Salmiakki, which is a mixture of salty salmiakki licorice dissolved in a potent spirit, like vodka. The resultant brew is something to behold: it is highly viscous, even oily; it is black yet translucent, like tired motor oil; it hits the tongue with a syrupy sweetness, then transitions to a mouth-wrenching salty state, and finishes with a whoosh of strong alcohol vapor that takes your breath away. I’ve never been able to drink more than a thimble-full at one sitting (and wouldn’t want to), but when I do, it’s quite the rush, kind of like jumping off a roof.
Again, why not design some good tension into your product or service? Think jolie-laide.