What's right is beautiful
“When it comes to design, a product is not beautiful because it looks so. A product is beautiful because it is right.”
For designers, this is the gospel truth. We tend to fall in love with products not for their visual charm but because they perform a function so seamlessly that it is hard not to see the beauty in them. The previous post I wrote glorified the user as the number one determinant of a product’s life cycle. This one is a corollary describing how that power is exercised and the factors that contribute to the success of a particular design.
In the digital age, terms like user experience and user interface have taken the stage. Yet what do we really know about them? Are they even relevant to our existence? To answer that, it is first important to know what these words mean. And like all accurate definitions, this one is best explained using a practical example.
Suppose you’ve found an exquisitely furnished apartment - the doors made of the finest wood, the furniture lined with expensive Italian leather and bathroom fittings polished in German silver. The apartment looks stunning, but as you navigate, you notice certain flaws. There are random doors in places that don’t need them, the couch is somewhat uncomfortable and the fittings don’t work as they’re supposed to. Visually the apartment is a treat to the eyes, yet you walk out feeling unsatisfied. Would you buy this apartment? No, because the overall experience was a letdown.
This very encapsulation of how you felt upon leaving the apartment is called User Experience (UX). Its design is focused on anything that affects the user’s journey when he interacts with the product. Alternatively, if all the furniture were made of wicker and plastic, but performed their functions to the tee, wouldn’t you still leave with a bad aftertaste? Yes, because while functionality is paramount, the way things look and feel is just as important. And this visual appeal is what we call User Interface (UI).
As visual designers, our goal is to reduce the number of layers between the user and his desired goal. We aim to design experiences where tasks are performed efficiently, in the shortest possible time without inconveniencing the user. Applications like Whatsapp, Facebook and Uber have altered their interface to match consumer requirements and cut down on any excess time spent on performing a task. This is depicted by Uber’s new interface where the first question the app asks is “Where to?” – the primary purpose behind using Uber’s services. In the background, the app is already detecting your current location thereby eliminating the act of keying it in. Thus, you saved a couple of seconds without even realizing, proving that Uber’s designers have created the perfect experience.
So why should these concepts matter to us today? Over the past decade, technology has made our devices smarter than we are. We interact with screens more than faces, using our phones to perform the smallest of actions. From the dreaded alarm clock in the morning to the last text sent at night, screens are an undeniable extension of our lives. Instinctively, users are known to return to applications where the overall experience is smooth and easy. As humans, we prefer ease of access over challenges. That is why, the design industry thrives on simplifying our lives, decluttering our screens and eliminating the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.
As Wouter Stokkel once said -
“It’s art if can’t be explained. It’s fashion if no one asks for an explanation. It’s design if it doesn’t need explanation.”