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Don’t Judge a Design by its Looks

January 03, 2014

Paul Adams recently wrote a piece in which he addresses some concerns around the field of design today. Specifically, using design to impress peers rather than addressing real business problems.

The Dribbblisation of Design - which app is solving the real problem?

Which app is solving the real problem? Image credit Paul Adams.Image credit Paul Adams

When creating digital products and interactive experiences, visual design can be the most exciting step in the design process. This is the part that most of us get to see today, the pretty eye-candy filled with flat icons, long shadows and bold colors. The high-quality images are full-width, the kerning of web fonts is just right, and oh man is that copy perfectly clear and concise.

Conceptual redesigns of already existing products like TwitterFacebook, and the Microsoft or American Airlines Identity look great. They’re all beautifully reimagined versions of products or services we’re all familiar with, with a careful attention to even the smallest of visual details. But, the missing piece to the puzzle for all of them is context. Without the context of user needs, company mission, stakeholder input and a logical revenue model, they all function as art rather than as serious product redesigns. Throw any sort of interaction into the equation and a once beautiful redesign can be reduced to a series of impractical screens.

Conceptual Windows 8 Interface

Conceptual Windows 8 Interface - Image credit Jay MachalaniImage credit Jay Machalani

Jay Machalani created an incredibly thorough analysis of how Microsoft could better tie their classic desktop and new metro interfaces together. Instead of applying a fresh coat of trendy paint, Machalani looked at the key pain points that he and many other users of Windows 8 were having. He focused on tackling those usability issues while also taking into consideration existing brand guidelines and codebase infrastructure. In addition to purely visual product screenshots, he also walks through interactions of how the newly designed interface can be operated.

When a visual redesign of an existing digital product is released there come many grumblings from all corners of the internet: “This looks so much better!” or “I didn’t realize how terrible the design is now.” These kinds of comments are made without consideration of the context of the current product. A design can look visually stunning in a rendered image but once you take into account any actual user interaction it may be clumsy, confusing or even entirely unusable.

For this reason it’s always important to remember that what you’re looking at has gone through countless design considerations before it reached your hands. It's not safe to assume that since a product looks better it automatically will work better, because you can’t always judge a design by its looks.

is a Yeti Alum. He designs and builds digital products to help solve meaningful problems. You'll probably find him behind the lens of his camera. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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Don’t Judge a Design by its Looks
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