Eating with your eyes

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by Mark Campbell
In the realm of user experience design, you’ll occasionally come across a bit of ‘design bashing’, where the aesthetic of how an app or website looks is downplayed as frivolous and unimportant. As the appreciation of usability grows, it’s important to understand how an idea, design and the user experience all work together.

While it’s true that a confusing user interface won’t be made any better with a fresh coat of paint, we believe it’s still critically important to get the look and feel right when developing something digital.

An easy parallel to draw here is the analogy trotted out on every episode of Masterchef – we humans eat with our eyes. What may sound like BS justification for putting edible flowers on a plate has actually been backed up by science – how a dish looks can have a direct effect on our perception of taste and flavour.

It’s the same with digital design. You might create a truly useful product or experience, but if the design is dated, inconsistent, cluttered or off-brand, your users’ first impressions are likely to be something like this:

On the flip side, a design that is considered, consistent with your brand, clean and visually appealing has a range of benefits:

  • Instant trust and credibility – users associate good design with products that work well, while poorly designed screens instantly put up a negative barrier for a product to overcome.
  • Desirability – while it may seem shallow, most users want to use and share things they think are ‘cool’, and design plays a big role in determining cool factor.
  • Improved brand perception – usually a digital touchpoint is only one part of your overall brand experience. Ensuring this experience is pleasurable will keep piling on the goodwill.
  • Competitive advantage – a lot of businesses operate in a competitive environment where their product essentially does the same thing as their rivals. For this reason, sharp design and excellent usability are clear competitive advantages when executed well (just ask Apple).

This is not to say that design is all that matters – quite the contrary. Crafting a great user experience that sets your product, website or app apart involves much more than pretty pixels. Firstly, it requires a deep understanding of your users’ goals. This is inevitably followed by many rounds of ideas, testing and interface refinements to create something that is simple to comprehend, easy to navigate, great at ‘getting the job done’ and feels frictionless.

We see design and function as two sides of the same coin – a crucial yin and yang balance where both need to be considered and delivered at a high level. Our goal is always to create something that is truly useful for the user, while at the same time delivering delight through design. It’s the combination of the two that has driven the success of so many of the products and services we use every day.

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