Utility vs Beauty: Can one survive without the other?

Humans like attractive and beautiful things. We enjoy looking and using aesthetically pleasing design, because it satisfies our senses, it gives us pleasure, its pleasing to our eyes. Designers tend to think of aesthetics as the visuals of the design. However, aesthetic design consists of more elements than just how it looks. Good looking products and user interface are perceived as more valuable and having more qualities.

The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web.

— Edwin Way Teale

User Experience defines how much a user’s satisfaction with a product or is he likely to reuse this product again, either it is a digital or a physical one. Our goal is how to make website or app usable, accessible and memorable. We should design keeping in mind what emotions we want the targeted audiences to feel when using our products. It changes with the project type and its business goals. What user feels, happiness, sadness, motivated, relaxed, determines the entire tone of the website or product.

Some UX designers work for aesthetics only, and some others work strictly for utility. Designing for both functionality and aesthetics is what user experience is all about. A good designer always works to keep the form, function and the aesthetic quality of a design in mind throughout the life of a project. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it is useful. And just because something is useful does not make it beautiful. You should strive to achieve a good balance between functionality or utility and aesthetics.

More often than not, we use pretty looking elements and themes and try to push in the current popular design trend into our design — to hide the areas where we simply do not have an elegant solution appropriate to the problem at hand. It is too easy to get caught in the trap of focusing on “making it pretty” without giving consideration to the actual purpose of the design. At the same time, a designer should understand that even the most utilitarian product can benefit from subtle, refined aesthetic treatments and turn what is a dull and boring, yet necessary, task into something enjoyable and engaging.

If a user isn’t immediately drawn in by what they see, they are most likely be driven away. A well-designed website will front-end the graphic design elements to get that initial appeal. But too often some sites and even apps are a joy to look at but mind-numbingly frustrating to use. There’s no point in your website looking good if it's too complicated and non-user-friendly to use.

Design has to be accessible and user-friendly, while at the same time being attractive and easy on the eyes. The most elegant solution will yield a design that is both useful and beautiful. Superficial app designs that follow the latest fads and blatantly ignore basic usability conventions, UX best practices, and fundamental principles of interaction design would most likely fail in the real world!

So How We Ensure Great Designs?

-Use Design Conventions

Design conventions are rooted in human behavior, mechanics, physics, the sciences, and extensive research. They follow best practices and the human expectation of how things work because we are used to them, having followed those conventions for eons. These are conventions that have been worked out by trial and error, and are proven to be very effective over time; a bit like evolution. It’s foolhardy and somewhat arrogant to ignore or violate design conventions. It is expected of designer to use fundamental design conventions which serve as a foundation from which we can then innovate our own ideas. Imagine if every bicycle, every door handle — or the pedals and the steering wheel in every car — worked differently, all purely in the name of “innovation.” I don’t know about you but it will annoy the hell out of me.

Design innovation is necessary. It’s healthy and critical for any discipline or creative domain to flourish. But it should not happen at the expense of good UX.

-Keep Usability and Utility in Mind While Designing

Whether an app is useful is defined in terms of utility as well as usability. Utility provides users the features they need; usability is how easy and pleasant those features are to use. Therefore, fancy app designs that ignore these basic tenets of usability end up being useless by definition.

It’s understandable that designers are looking for innovative and interesting ways to design their app’s navigation. But there’s a fine line between the unexpected and unusable. Three things to consider in navigation design are consistency, user expectations, and contextual clues. It doesn’t matter how fancy your app concept design is if users can’t find the product they want easily and intuitively.

-Focus on Ease of Use and Reducing Mental Effort

Designers need to provide clearly labeled links and buttons and clear navigation to help users form a mental map of the app. User should not have to think where things are and how to use them. Navigation should be clear, task-oriented, and logical (e.g.,), and its location should be consistent (e.g., on a menu bar) throughout. Use universal symbols for common things and if they are not, provide screen controls to suggest how to use it. Make it obvious where users should tap or swipe and make the targets large enough to be easily tapped. Prevent errors. Don’t make people guess what something means. Don’t be lazy. Don’t ignore contrast in the fonts just because you think it won’t fit the theme.

Keep a good balance between the utility and aesthetics of the product. Make your app look good but keep usability in mind, don’t forget the design conventions and principles and make it intuitive and easy to learn. Here are few designs fails that we came across at https://www.boredpanda.com/.

Thought behind this was great, but did they really think it through?
Am I high? Are you high? No, but probably designers were.
Firsth of all…never mind

Did you ever come across a product that was aesthetically pleasing but was not so good at usability? If yes, tell us in the comments below.



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