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Tired of "beautiful" design?

over 6 years ago from , User Experience Designer at M&T Bank

It seems like any new website, app, and product has the word "beautiful" attached to it. Is anyone getting tired of this word being used to describe design? I feel like it's the most overused term in the field, and one that isn't integral to design itself. Shouldn't a product's usability/ability to solve a problem take precedence over it looking "beautiful"?

37 comments

  • Andy StapleAndy Staple, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hello fellow Buffalonian. As someone who lives near you, and uses it on my site I see no problem with it. Design has many parts, functionality, but also the ability to impact a person's senses. A functional design that has no emotion or aesthetics can be almost as bad as a hard-to-function site that looks pretty.

    Usability and Aesthetics are not mutually exclusive, and I'm not sure why you're assuming they are.

    16 points
    • David O'CallaghanDavid O'Callaghan, over 6 years ago

      Couldn't agree more - I'm all for prioritising functionality but aesthetics are part of the user experience as a whole.

      5 points
    • Nando RossiNando Rossi, over 6 years ago

      Definitely this. But I think he meant using the term as a descriptor, in which case I'm 100% onboard (tired of the word in this context).

      1 point
      • Rich Lunghino, over 6 years ago

        My point exactly. Aesthetics is a large factor in an overall design, but it is not more important than its functionality. Using the word "beautiful," in most cases, seems to be emphasizing form over function and content.

        1 point
  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 6 years ago

    Shouldn't a product's usability/ability to solve a problem take precedence over it looking "beautiful"?

    Yes.

    I am all for our tools and utilities containing a wide array of features. The last couple of years have been full of pretty, but less useful apps. Bring back the functionality, please.

    10 points
    • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, over 6 years ago

      Spot on, bring back functionality first. And bring back skuemorphism too. I miss skeumorphism.

      Brb, going to scroll through my patterns library for a bit.

      3 points
      • Matthew Harris, over 6 years ago

        THIS, I MISS IT SO MUCH :c

        I'm working on an education startup with a friend and we started flat but I'm slowly adding touches of skeumorphism back into it and it feels awesome. Flat is boring to me, no life to it if that makes sense.

        1 point
    • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, over 6 years ago

      Couldn't agree more. I think the problem is that everything has been "done". By this I mean most apps available have an equivalent app trailing closely or leading the pack. Everyone is just looking for their share of the market which in my opinion is just too big these days. ex.How many time tracking or invoicing apps do we really need?

      1 point
      • Ryan GloverRyan Glover, over 6 years ago

        I think the "done" part is somewhat of a copout. There's a lot of stuff out there that needs beautiful design and functionality, but doesn't necessarily fall into the "cool" or (sigh) "sexy" category.

        One of my favorite examples: http://enps.com. That's the software that newsrooms (TV stations, networks, etc.) use to run their programming. Looks terrible, but makes a BOATLOAD of cash every year.

        That's where design is needed most: dethroning outdated enterprise software.

        2 points
  • Rafeed CRafeed C, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    When most companies solve a problem these days, they're solving one that's already been solved but making it prettier and nicer. Making things look good is in vogue right now. Remember the 90s? Things were butt ugly but they still solved problems.

    9 points
    • Andreas DruschelAndreas Druschel, over 6 years ago

      That's right. The consciousness for optical 'beautiness' has grown more and more. But it's not the main goal.

      0 points
    • Jack BachJack Bach, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      When most companies solve a problem these days, they're solving one that's already been solved but making it prettier and nicer.

      Not only nicer but more targeted. Here's where branding come into play. Let's imagine two fitness apps with the same functionality but one branded for adventurous guys and the other for city girls (no sexism here, just talking about targets). I think we'll all agree they should look quite different.

      I agree using the word 'beautiful' as a selling point might not be a good idea, but aesthetic differentiation is really important.

      6 points
  • Adam T.Adam T., over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Kind of sick on this argument. To the end-user, they aren't mutually exclusive, so all the bantering we do about in on forums like this just separates those within our industry into different camps- the artistry vs the analytics.

    Designing an experience creates the interactions and the workflows- hopefully intuitive and natural-, and creating agreeable art to define that cannot be left out.

    Users are so inundated with products - well designed, poorly designed, it doesn't matter anymore- It needs to both work well and look good in such competitive spaces.

    I also think we are seeing a divide between "web designer" (throw mobile/app in there) and "graphic artist" really separating into two camps- something the Dribbble debate surely adds fire to. I consider myself both- certainly learning the ropes of each, but together they complete a holistic skill set. Call it what you want I guess.

    4 points
  • Jared KrauseJared Krause, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    I hate this argument.

    Clearly UX is most important, but a "beautiful" UI is also necessary. It adds to the UX. They go hand in hand.

    What's with designers these days assuming a pretty design doesn't have great User Experience?

    The word "beautiful" is evolving. Let it.

    4 points
  • Friendly CasperFriendly Casper, over 6 years ago

    I’m going to make a bold and very opinionated statement here: Everything looks the same.

    In fact, everyone sounds the same too! The "friendly" overly-casual language (set in 100-weight Proxima Nova) isn’t refreshing anymore.

    I think the tech industry desperately needs a renaissance, a revival of art and authenticity in design; a resurgence of utilitarian values and human — not user or profit — focused business.

    As I see it, the problem is far more deep seated than cheesy and over-used marketese. There’s so much money moving in this industry, and so many bets being made, the signal-to-noise ratio is going to hell.

    3 points
  • Spencer HoltawaySpencer Holtaway, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    I don't think there's anything wrong with using the word 'beautiful' to describe either an aesthetic or functional solution that really is beautiful.

    What gets me is how much it is self-proclaimed.

    Also, there are probably more appropriate (descriptive or to-the-point) words for what people are describing as beautiful so it often feels like a pretty empty word due to its over-use.

    3 points
  • Elliott ReganElliott Regan, over 6 years ago

    I only pay attention to websites with a "beautiful flat design".

    2 points
  • Chris ThomasChris Thomas, over 6 years ago

    I think it's designers being a bit lazy with their language too. The word "delightful" is another one that's overused.

    2 points
  • Daniel ChristopherDaniel Christopher, over 6 years ago

    No, aesthetics are most certainly important. There are known effects of attractiveness of a design with it's usability and impact on cognitive load. I say, bring on the beautification!

    "Advances in our understanding of emotion and affect have implications for the science of design. Affect changes the operating parameters of cognition: positive affect enhances creative, breadth-first thinking whereas negative affect focuses cognition, enhancing depth-first processing and minimizing distractions. Therefore, it is essential that products designed for use under stress follow good human-centered design, for stress makes people less able to cope with difficulties and less flexible in their approach to problem solving. Positive affect makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible and creative in finding solutions. Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design. Aesthetics matter: attractive things work better."

    http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/emotion_design_at.html

    1 point
  • David SinclairDavid Sinclair, over 6 years ago

    There's beauty in things that just work

    1 point
  • Sarah RobinSarah Robin, over 6 years ago

    Personally, I define design as the balance of form and function - favoring one leads to a suboptimal end result. All form and no function? Pretty and useless. All function and no form? Useful, but nobody wants to use it.

    Right now form is fashionable, but that doesn't mean we should pine for the days when form was barely valued or throw functionality out the window. We should always strive for that balance.

    1 point
  • Account deleted over 6 years ago

    I am getting a bit annoyed by the overuse of the term. Beauty is subjective and I think just showing the product itself and letting the viewer judge the beauty of it should suffice.

    It also seems that all the “beautiful” products are competing with each other because they’re mostly in B2C, not butt-ugly products from B2B enterprises.

    Products should tell me how it will solve my problems, not what the creators think of the product.

    1 point
    • Tom PettyTom Petty, over 6 years ago

      Products should tell me how it will solve my problems, not what the creators think of the product.

      This was going to be my point. I don't think this is a discussion about form vs function or the role of design in art etc etc — I think it's much simpler than that.

      This is just bad copywriting resulting from an unclear proposition.

      These companies should be focusing on what their product does, not what (they think) it is. What does your product offer potential customers? What problem is it solving? Don't tell me it's beautiful — it doesn't help me with my problems, and actually, I'll decide on it's beauty for myself thank you very much.

      3 points
    • Andy StapleAndy Staple, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Usability and UX are also completely subjective. Both Design Aesthetics and Usability have some common practices, but common doesn't always mean good.

      If you're going to say "beauty is subjective and let the end-user judge", then wouldn't this also be the case for Usability? Don't tell anyone you're a designer who focuses on usability, because your projects should say that, and let them judge. Right? If thats the case we should never use descriptive terms relating to anything designed.

      0 points
  • Pete CorreiaPete Correia, over 6 years ago

    Functionality is what makes a product, it should solve one or more problems with the most appropriate solution. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

    But most products are subject to an inevitable problem: being sold and presented in a competitive market. This means that the product will need to provide a way to call attention to itself at some point in the initial contact with a potential user/consumer, or risk not being used/bought and ultimately fail to provide its functionality.

    This is a real problem, and it needs a solution. It's a hard one too, just as a handle will need to fit a hand, the aesthetic qualities will need to fit such things as the target market's perception or desire.

    With that being said, using the word beautiful at this point in time might fail to achieve this. It doesn't help solve the engagement problem as it will not be perceived well, or at all.

    1 point
  • David McKinneyDavid McKinney, over 6 years ago

    Beauty and design are very separate concepts. You can have great design that isn't beautiful, and you can have something beautiful that isn't designed well.

    Design is about solving a problem. Design is to be used. Sometimes the best design is both functional and beautiful, but beauty is not required for it to be well-designed.

    1 point
  • Lloyd WonderLloyd Wonder, over 6 years ago

    Oliver Reichenstein actually tackled the whole thing pretty well in one of my favorite blog posts I've read.

    Learning to See

    0 points
  • Hery Ratsimihah, over 6 years ago

    Let's replace every occurence of beautiful with transparent!

    0 points
  • Vince MeaseVince Mease, over 6 years ago

    Couldn't agree more. Is "beauty" testable? No. As a designer who inherited a sales and operations environment filled with bad legacy workflows and a dated visual design, I've seen high adoption and praise for simply releasing new applications in mostly unstyled Bootstrap 3. No one's going to call it pretty but when my users complete more transactions, they're happy (more commission) and so our my business stakeholders (more revenue/less cost), then I'm happy.

    Do we look at visual aesthetic and layer in change in order to improve some metric (transaction time, understanding, reduced error rates, etc)? Of course we do but if it's not measurable and testable, who cares?

    0 points
  • Jonathan YapJonathan Yap, over 6 years ago

    As Paul Rand once said: "Design is the synthesis of form and content. When form predominants, the content is blunted. When content dominates, interest lags. The genius is when both of this fused."

    So both work hand in hand, I believe in this and built my career base on this idea. We need the balance of both, not just focus on one side of things.

    0 points
  • , over 6 years ago

    To clarify this point: There needs to be a greater effort on the part of designers to use better words to describe their work.

    Instead of crafting a message specifically tailored to each respective design, it seems that "beautiful" is used as a go-to blanket statement.

    What does it mean though? The subjective nature of the word itself makes it a poor adjective to use when describing the quality of a design. We can be better than this.

    0 points
    • Jared KrauseJared Krause, over 6 years ago

      "Beautiful" doesn't mean much to you, me, or other designers.. But the client LOVES to hear the B word. Describing the design as beautiful is something they can relate to. It's something they want to own.

      In a sense, you're giving the client a better experience rather than catering to your own designer needs. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

      0 points
  • Er. F.Er. F., over 6 years ago

    I agree with the notion that part of the purpose of design is solving problems. Design isn't only the application of style. I think that's where a lot of the so-called design solutions you're talking about fail: they're studious applications of a style, and that's unfortunately where most of the design thinking ends.

    Particularly this type of 'beautiful' web application design: it may succeed in communicating, at least in a broad sense, but there are so many indistinguishable examples of it—it's a cacophony of the same voice. So it fails to communicate a distinct idea or message.

    0 points
  • William Duijzer, over 6 years ago

    I read this article (http://goo.gl/djfrCN) this morning and I like that point of view. 'Beautiful' is necessary in some cases but not all. Also some nice insight on the Gibbon blog yesterday that talks about this in a sense. http://blog.gibbon.co/posts/2014-04-03-no-more-hamburgers.html

    0 points
  • Matej LatinMatej Latin, over 6 years ago

    I hate how people only relate design to how something looks! It may be a part of design but the main feature has to be usability.

    0 points