The time-old question: are aesthetics or functionality better when it comes to UX/UI design? This question may seem impossible to answer on a whim and we get it--it’s quite complex and does entail lots of follow-up questions: what are you designing for? What is the ultimate purpose of the design?
It’s hard to answer which is more important without knowing exactly what you’ll be designing, but don’t stress: we’ve created this article to help you learn about the importance of both aesthetics and functionality and, of course, how to choose one over the other–or not.
But before we compare the two, let’s dive into the details of both aesthetics and functionality when it comes to UX/UI design and what each brings to the table.
What Does Aesthetics Mean in Design?
Generally speaking, aesthetics refers to things that are pleasant to look at; in design, an aesthetic design is one that draws the attention of the user and results in a positive influence on how they feel. As you probably know, users make up their mind about a website or app within the first few milliseconds of using it; they want to feel an attraction to the design and an overall desire to continue using it. In addition, aesthetic designs:
Create an attractiveness bias: aesthetic designs appeal to a user’s heartstrings and seek to create an emotional bond, which leads to users spending more time on the site, more traffic, and a lower bounce rate.
Can conceal initial usability issues: if users are distracted by beautiful designs, they might be more likely to ignore potential usability issues in favor of the aesthetic design.
Basics elements of aesthetic design
It’s a known fact that good looking designs are more palatable, usually perceived as being better than their poorly-designed alternatives. But aesthetic designs aren’t created overnight and usually consist of the following:
Hierarchy: the most important information must be highlighted in the design, drawing user attention to it initially and throughout their entire time interacting with your design. You can do this through differentiating colors or fonts, or simply by placing this information in a prominent location on the page.
Balance: the placement and space between elements on your design are crucial parts of the aesthetic design and symmetrical or asymmetrical spacing can help draw user attention to certain areas of the screen.
Scale: using differently sized elements can help highlight specific areas; remember that in design, bigger isn’t always better!
Repetition: creating a cohesive brand voice is an essential part of UX/UI design and while you should mix up the different fonts, colors, and images you use, choosing a select view as your brand’s image can help transmit a sense of confidence and trust.
Contrast: another trick that can help guide your audience’s eyes towards the most important areas of your page is to use contrasting elements, such as black and white colors or thick and thin lines.
Minimalism: less isn’t always more, but in design it definitely is. Choose the elements you want to include on your page carefully and don’t overcrowd the page with information that isn’t totally necessary.
What Does Functionality Mean in Design?
Functionality is quite straightforward; it refers to a design’s ability to complete its intended purpose and help users meet their goals. To put it simply, a functional design does what it should, reliability and efficiently. You’ll frequently see functionality compared to simplicity because functional designs are really just that: simple and to the point, they do what they’re intended to do. And functional designs are so important because:
If they’re not functional, they won’t work: imagine creating a stunning website that draws in lots of attention, but your buttons aren’t clickable or people can’t figure out how to actually buy your product. Above all, designs need to work.
Users ultimately want their needs met: we mentioned above that users are initially drawn to aesthetically pleasing designs and that may keep their attention at the beginning, but at the end of the day they want their needs met.
Basics elements of functional design
Fulfill their intended purpose: not worried about how something looks, functional design answers one question: can the user complete the task they came here to do? It seems simple, but functional designs need to take the user and their specific circumstances into account, such as a user that has spotty Wi-Fi but still needs to access online services.
Are easy to use: usability and functionality are frequently seen as two parts of a whole and that’s because in order for a design to be functional, its usage needs to be easy to understand and intuitive.
Prioritize the user: a design that’s functional for the designer but confuses the user isn’t functional at all--in fact, truly functional designs need to be created with the user in mind and if users don’t see a practical function of the design, it won’t be worth it.
Are simple: there’s no need to complicate designs with complex buttons or crowded interfaces; when it comes to ensuring that a design is functional, simplicity is key.
Which is More Important in Design: Functionality or Aesthetics?
We’ve arrived at the real reason we’re here: deciphering which is better, functionality or aesthetics in design. As you’ve probably figured out already, they’re both quite essential elements of the design process, but need to be used together to create a truly perfect design. If you are looking for a definitive answer, however, we’ll say functionality, but only because a design that doesn’t actually work is useless.
Ultimately, however, the best designs are both aesthetically-pleasing and functional, combining principles from both ideas together to create a design that works well and meets user needs. To help you prioritize functionality and aesthetics in your next project, we’ve collected some tips and tricks.
Figure out who your user is and what need you’re trying to fill
Before you sketch even the most generic design, you have to first figure out why you’re developing a new product or trying to fill a need in the market. Who is your buyer? Why do they need or want what you’re offering? What can you do to set yourself apart from the competition? Answering these questions will help you narrow in on the important elements to include in your design, in addition to elements of functionality, such as accessibility or contrast options.
Brainstorm possible blockers and situations for your user
As you move forward with your design, it’s important to prepare for all kinds of situations that your user could be facing, such as limited internet access, disabilities, nighttime browsing, or time restrictions that could ultimately affect how much they can really get out of your design. Research the competition as well to see what they offer and when combining this information with what you’ve learned from your user research, you’ll be able to add new functional parts to your design that set your product apart from the competition.
Talk to the users
You understand the user’s basic needs or wants--that’s why you’ve created this product. But there’s a lot more to it probably and there’s no better way to truly understand that than by talking to the users themselves and hearing what’s important to them.
Create your design plan
With a clear understanding of the client and any limitations they may face, in addition to their feedback, you’re ready to get started, creating a plan for your design. Putting it down on paper (or a screen) and actually designing certain elements will help you create more of a vision of what it will look like, helping you correct any issues early on in the design process.
During this stage, make sure you keep any regulations or restraints in mind, ensuring you’ll meet deadlines and any other compliance rules.
Test what you’ve been working on
It can be hard to truly put yourself in the shoes of the user and even more so if you’re designing for a group that’s far from how you personally identify. This is where usability and user testing come into play, helping you get real and valuable feedback from users and learning where you can make improvements.
It can be hard to receive criticism about your design during this stage, but remember that it’s for your own good and will ultimately help you deliver a superior final product.
Finding that sweet spot between functionality and aesthetics isn’t for the faint of heart–in fact, it may be the hardest part of UX/UI design. It is, however, possible and if you follow our steps above, you’ll be able to balance the two in a way that creates the perfect design for your users that both draws them in and is functional.
At Ironhack, we’re committed to teaching our students about the importance of the entire design process from day one, incorporating both functional and aesthetic principles in our bootcamp to ensure that they’re ready to enter the field as skilled designers immediately after graduation.
If you’re ready to take the next step towards your future career as a UX/UI designer that prioritizes both functionality and aesthetics, you’re in the right place. Check out our UX/UI Design Bootcamp and we’ll see you in class.