On Tuesday, February 4, 2020, Pauline Brown, former Chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and author of Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It and Use It in Business and Beyond, joined the Arts + Business Council (ABC) for Defining Innovation, ABC’s signature speaker series convening today’s top thinkers, local leaders, professionals, and creatives from throughout the region.
For over 25 years, Brown has acquired, built, and led some of the world’s most influential global luxury brands and along the way, she developed a rare insight into the power of aesthetics to transform businesses and, in some cases, entire industries. Brown’s presentation largely centered on the art and science behind brand-building under the rubric of Aesthetic Intelligence, also known as “the other AI.”
But before Brown took the stage, Quinn Bauriedel, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Pig Iron Theatre Company, primed the audience with an Arts Experience that encouraged them to employ their senses of sight, smell, and touch — a concept closely tied to aesthetic intelligence. The exercise began with Bauriedel instructing attendees to imagine an item in their closets that gives them a sense of swagger before telling them to pantomime putting the garment on.
Bauriedel then asked attendees to turn to a neighbor and give a vivid description of the garment they just put on, including as many sensual details as possible. The point of this exercise? First, Bauriedel stressed the impact of storytelling—in fact, 63% of people are more likely to remember a story than remembering a simple fact. Second, storytelling allows people and businesses to connect with audiences because it depends on expressing oneself to the world through unique and relatable qualities.
The exercise seamlessly segued into Brown’s keynote presentation. Behind the podium, Brown shared the difference between aesthetics and other creative approaches, like design-thinking. While design-thinking, according to Brown, solves problems, it doesn’t surprise or delight, a key component for business models based in engaging clients or visitors. “Aesthetics,” Brown explained, “is all about perception and using all five senses. Aesthetics is holistic.”
In a time where 2-D screens captivate us for most of our waking hours, Brown suggested we are losing what fundamentally makes us who we are as humans. The minimalism we see in today’s new technologies and gadgets, for example, does not activate our senses, while innately we crave expression and stimulation.
Brown stressed that aesthetics is much broader than beauty and design, using the magic of Disney World to support her point. “It’s in a swamp, it’s expensive, the lines are long, and there are hordes of people. But when you look at it as a whole, it’s truly spectacular.” Why? “They keep adding aesthetic value.” According to Brown, Disney World has mastered the art of delight by activating the senses. It’s not so much about the experience while it’s happening; it’s equally about the meaningful memories and special moments that one can find throughout Disney World.
Aesthetics is not about beauty. It’s about being exciting and memorable. And it’s not about perfection (which is boring), it’s about joy. @PaulineJBrown #DefiningInnovation #AestheticIntelligence pic.twitter.com/KEZ7hYCDzd
— Arts + Biz Council (@ArtsBusinessPHL) February 4, 2020
Brown was then joined by HOK Network’s Marc Fischer for a one-on-one interview. Brown opened with her stance on the value of branding as a concept. For the record, she’s anti-branding. What was once a useful approach, to Brown, has turned into a buzzword that connotes overly analytic processes that happen in a board room. Aesthetics, on the other hand, rely more on authenticity and visceral reactions from everyday people. “Then how do you make the business case for aesthetic intelligence?” asked Fischer, to which Brown admitted that it takes time to show value, but the investment is worth the wait.
Finally, Brown and Fischer were joined on stage by the Strategy Salon, a panel of creative leaders from various industries:
Marc Balara, Creative Director, Marketing, Independence Blue Cross
Jennifer Tran, Director, Navy Yard Marketing & Communications, PIDC
William Tyrone Toms, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, REC Philly
Each panelist provided a succinct example of how aesthetic intelligence impacts their decision-making, giving weight to Brown’s point that the concept really does permeate nearly every industry.
Toms, who recently opened a brand new headquarters located in Philadelphia’s growing Fashion District, explained that REC Philly was originally created to be a place where creators, especially those of color, can go to feel seen, heard, and supported. In designing REC Philly’s new space, Toms and his team made the effort to display images, play music, and set an ambiance and mood that stimulate creative thought and enlivens members and guests.
Similarly, Tran explained that the Navy Yard, which has also undergone a revamp in recent years, creates an environment where businesses know that they and their employees can do more than work — it’s a place where they can thrive, grow, and maybe even have fun. Businesses that locate to the Navy Yard are encouraged to show off their company culture.
Finally, Balara chimed in to reveal that while many may view the health care industry as devoid of aesthetics, it actually requires his team to consider how to make people feel safe through the materials designed for Independence Blue Cross’ communications. Balara presented the thought: Have you ever thought about how personal health care truly is? And because it’s so personal to patients and policyholders alike, it takes aesthetic intelligence to design for trust.