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Usability vs Beauty in web design: can good UX be ugly?

Usability vs Beauty in web design: can good UX be ugly?

User Experience (UX) stands to be the biggest single-design discipline of the global web market today. But can UX be good and ugly at the same time?

The general picture that we have of good UX strategy is that the business, service or product supported by it is beautiful, or aesthetically pleasing, as well as useful and usable. But does this have to be the case? No, not necessarily. Can UX be ugly and provide great experiences for the user? Yes. Let’s make one thing clear straight away. We’re not just talking about usability. We already know that you can have a super-efficient and effective design that people will hate because it looks a mess. We’re talking about designs that look visually unsightly but still produce a good or even great experience for the user. These are experiences that people enjoy for more than just the bare-essential functionality, but not as a result of impressive aesthetics.

Personalization is not a beauty contest

It’s strange. We think that digital products are primarily designed with the user’s interest clearly set down as the foundation upon which all other product-related decisions are made. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

We seem to mistake beautiful designs for what the user actually wants and needs and will use.

Becoming a successful online brand hinges on being consumer-centric. Brands that succeed time and time again allocate time, creative services and a budget directly towards building and continually strengthening relationships with their users and consumers. Isn’t this exactly what UXers do, or should do? Getting a product right and seeing it grow requires a knowledge of your audience, understanding the mind-set of the user and designing a tailor-made experience for them. It does not (necessarily) require a pretty picture or beautiful background to put a smile on the user’s face.

For truly personal experiences, we need to understand the user. How do we do this? Through research and with user data. They say that data is a user experience designer’s best friend and when we gather data, we can enable every experience with our product or service to be personalized. Why? Because it’s coming straight from the user. UX must be the true voice of the user in the world of consumer-centric design, and to do this, we must focus on UX as a unique combination of continuous design, delivery and user research.

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Design with the user in mind, always.

It is important to enable users to take action, but these actions don’t happen unless the users are informed or aware of the possibility of taking such action. Focus on making things clear and drawing the user’s attention to enable them to take action. The best interfaces feel effortless to users, avoid unnecessary elements and are clear in the language they use. Design clutter can overwhelm the user. It is your job to decide which pieces of information inform your design to the extent that you would consider making a change to it, as well as what must be discarded because if it doesn’t fit the vision or the needs or the user. You are the only person that can do this. You’re the project’s gatekeeper and you are in charge of all decisions related to the user’s experience with your product. So, opt for function before form. 

We mentioned vision. But what’s vision if you can’t translate it into a successful venture? Your design vision must always have the user in mind. After all, they are the only real judge. In order to understand the user, you need to put yourself in their shoes. As a Uxer, an advocate of the user, it’s your job to be loyal to the user. So, have empathy and design for your users. If you can do this, then you will be on the right track to creating a design that reflects their needs and desires, and not just passing fancy.

When experience matters more

The growth and success of a product is the result of the experience people have with it. After all, success doesn’t always stem from good design, but it definitely requires a good experience.

Think of your designs as being permanent fixtures in users’ lives.

They say that bad designs stick like glue, but what can we really take away from this? Is it that we’re scarred for life by the atrocity that was that design? Or really, is it that the experience was not pleasant. Experience matters, it’s the only thing that actually matters – so no wonder it’s so hard to get right. Thoughtful typography, pixel-perfect icons, and engaging palettes: while these are powerful tools to be weld by good design, it’s important to realize that they don’t necessarily amount to good design. Consumers want to interact and engage with brands, and to feel empowered by them. Brands that foster these relationships earn strong engagement and deep loyalty. How? Through beautiful designs? No, not always. Through great experiences, building value creation into all touchpoints and sustainable engagement.

A great way to experiment with and create designs with the user in mind is with the help of wireframes and prototypes. Wireframes aren’t always beautiful, but when they’re made well, they can work and provide great UX. Getting the experience right, from the start, is essential.

So when can something ‘ugly’ provide great UX? Well it totally depends on you and your product! But, as a UX designer, you live to serve the user and you need to get comfortable with making things that don’t necessarily please, aesthetically. If making an ugly design will help the user, just do it.

And remember: successful design takes iteration, experimentation, and patience. The bottom line is that you can’t forget the experience—but perhaps sometimes you can afford to pay less attention to the aesthetic beauty!

Emily Grace Adiseshiah

About the Author

Emily is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind

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