Even inherently functional things such as B2B digital products need to look pleasing to the user. Achieving this is an important step in creating positive first impressions, being memorable, evoking emotion and differentiating a brand to give it a competitive edge. However, the benefits from a solely “aesthetically pleasing” product are often short-lived.
At Inktrap rather than trying to force one particular methodology we treat each product individually and consider user goals, branding, accessibility, responsiveness, product performance and consistency when bringing aesthetics into a product.
Aesthetics are subjective
The main concern with focusing too much on aesthetics is that they are subjective to the individual taste of a user and whatever design style is currently being adopted. Whilst we can try and create personas and gather an understanding of our users through interviews, the subjectivity of an individual's taste ultimately will affect whether people perceive a product's aesthetics in a positive, neutral or negative light.
Communicate, don't decorate
Whilst people may prefer pretty things, clarity will always win over visual flourish. When designing products, the most important goal should be making the purpose and usage clear. Keep an eye out for any elements that aren’t serving your users’ goals or your business goals, and consider eliminating those. Visual flourishes like decorative fonts, busy backgrounds, and flashy animations can seem appealing at first glance. However, they usually only serve to distract and confuse, making it harder to find information or perform tasks.
Signal to Noise Ratio
The concept of signal and noise is a useful framework for thinking about the aesthetics of a product. Visual elements that are relevant and meaningful can be considered as "signal". However, there is also inevitably some "noise" mixed in - elements that are nonessential, distracting, or meaningless within the usage context. The skill then becomes filtering out the maximum amount of noise while retaining as much useful signal as possible. However, it is also worth considering the various tasks that a user is aiming to complete on your product. “Signal” that could be relevant to someone completing one task could be acting as “Noise” for a user completing a different task. Whilst ideally you should strive for a high signal-to-noise ratio, it is very much dependent on who’s looking at it, and what that person is trying to do.
Key areas we look out for
Creating a successful digital product requires finding the right balance between aesthetics and functionality. Here are some key considerations when striving for that ideal equilibrium:
User Goals - Don’t let aesthetics get in the way of the goals of people using the product.
Branding - Making sure visuals, including colour, typography, images and illustrations reflect a client’s brand identity.
Accessibility - Accommodating diverse users by following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Responsiveness - Account for diverse device sizes and contexts of use.
Product Performance - Eliminate anything that compromises a product’s loading speed and reliability.
Consistency - Building a cohesive design system. Read about how to create one in our two-part series “Design File to Design System: A Practical Guide”.
Tips for success
It’s important to make sure that the visuals, particularly graphics or photos, support the primary goals of users and your client. Make sure that you're keeping the content and the visual design of your UI focused on the essentials.
When testing, observe users as well as ask them for verbal feedback. Users often find it easier to only give feedback about what is visually in front of them rather than the experience as a whole. Observing how a user clicks through a prototype can help in collecting insights that rely less on subjective opinion.
When designing any product, it can be tempting to try to visually impress clients with engaging visuals. However, experience tells us this approach is often a recipe for dissatisfied users. Behind the glossy façade, lacklustre functionality frustrates.
While aesthetic appeal holds some sway, substance reigns supreme in great product design. Users want clean, uncluttered interfaces that enable them to achieve their goals with minimal effort. They have little patience for flashy visuals that prioritise style over usability.
Truly excellent design finds the optimal balance between beauty and function. Aesthetics should enhance, not hamper, your product’s core utility. Each layout choice must add clarity, not confusion. Every graphical element should help guide the user’s journey.
At Inktrap, our expertise helps clients strike the perfect equilibrium between aesthetics and usability in all of their products.