The Desirability and Feasibility of a Design – Striking the Right Balance!
Is the fit of a product to its users’ needs more important than its looks? Or are aesthetic components of design more relevant to the user than its usability? Let’s explore these two integral aspects of a design solution and answer this question!
The aesthetics of a design
Humans are largely visual creatures. Vision being one of the strongest senses, our brains are hard-wired to receive and interpret visual inputs and thus aesthetics have a large role to play in the usability of a design. The aesthetic – usability effect highlights this principle whereby users tend to overlook flaws or pain points if they’re attracted by the visual appeal of the design.
Aesthetics are a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. In visuals, aesthetic aspects include factors such as balance, color, movement, pattern, scale, and such. We, as designers use these aesthetic principles to complement a design’s usability and to impart emotions in the design.
According to several studies, the early impression of a layout impacts how users will feel about the product it belongs to, in the long run.
The functionality of a design
We’ve established the importance of aesthetics in design, but let’s not forget that every design has a purpose at its core, design solutions address problems and pain points for a user, imparting a better experience during their interaction.
Whether it is a website, product package, software interface, mobile application, or anything else, there is a function, a task the item is expected to perform. There are certain considerations that help us in creating products that fulfill the function. Considerations like, how well the goal of the product is communicated, the intended use of the product, the clarity of how to use it, and more. These considerations aid the overall usability and if well-established, deliver a pleasurable experience for the users.
So, can a design be purely functional without having any aesthetic considerations? Yes and no! Yes, certain designs do exist with a purely functional approach with little to no consideration for aesthetic appeal (look at the craigslist website interface).
However, when the two elements come together harmoniously, the user experience feels complete, functional considerations ensure the usability of the product and the aesthetic components tie in the desirability and an emotional connect between the user and the product.
Striking the balance!
The balance between aesthetics and functionality is key in designing the user experience of any product and it’s a struggle to achieve it. It’s easy to get carried away with the visual design, compromising the usability of the product, or to focus primarily on the functions and tasks the product is supposed to perform, overlooking how these elements are presented.
What works and what wows?
To easily navigate this balance, a process that has helped me is to define a set of features that a product needs, its core functionalities, underlying goals, and how it shall behave and interact with the user. This set of needs capture the workings or the functionality of the product.
The second step is to define a set of wants, certain desirable elements that can engage and wow the user. These elements may be the layout in which the content is presented, the navigation on the website, different micro-interactions on the platform, or all of the above and beyond. These elements help grab the attention of users of the product, deliver a pleasurable experience, and in turn develop a certain recall value ensuring users return to the product.
The final task is to combine these two sets of features in a way that is sensible, feasible, and unifying – all the while considering the entire journey a potential user shall have, interacting with the product.
A good design considers both the function as well as the visual presentation of a product. To design without any one of the considerations would render the product incomplete leaving the user wanting for more. At the same time, it’s imperative to be able to balance the effect these two aspects have on the design and to strike that balance between them.
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