Mar 27 2014

Beauty Is Not a Success Metric

I was listening to a discussion at a UX meetup that we recently hosted, when the topic of pop-ups to capture email opt-ins came up.

“I’d never use a pop-up,” one designer proclaimed. “They’re heinous.”

“Super annoying,” another agreed.

“If a site uses pop-ups,” chimed in a third, “I’d simply leave and not come back.”

This isn’t new.

We’ve been complaining about ugliness in web design ever since there was web design.

Craigslist, a company who possibly made \$166M last year with profits over 80%, has been getting skewered for its “ugliness” since it launched 19 years ago.

It’s time to stop thinking that way.

You are not your user.

Designers are hired to create effective designs that work for a client or employer’s users.

Nowhere in that mandate does it say that the design has to work for you.

Apply your years of expertise and experience to build attractive designs, but understand that what doesn’t work for you may ultimately work for the end user.

You’re designing a page targeted at parents of elementary school children. There’s a good chance that these people’s goals, challenges, fears and dreams are vastly different from yours.

You see an annoying pop-up.

They may see a nudge to get access to the content or product that solves a huge problem for them and delivers immediate value.

I’m not taking a side on pop-ups here.

They generally annoy me, too.

But I’ve seen tests where they massively increase the number of valuable conversions over the long term, and I’ve seen tests where they’ve completely bombed.

That’s not what’s important.

What is important is that looking at design elements through the lens of “is it attractive?” is overly simplistic and doesn’t do justice to your users.

Don’t get me wrong; beauty in design is incredibly important to me. We work hard to make sure that our products look really good, and I’m proud of the stunning apps our team continues to launch. But I’m proud not just because of the way they look; I’m proud because of the way they look and work.

Functional beauty goes far beyond the aesthetic.

Always ask:

Is it functional for the right users? Does it have potential business value for my company or client?

Don’t ever pass on a design idea simply because you wouldn’t want to use it.

This sort of emotional, knee-jerk reaction only matters if your end users are designers who are just like you.

~ Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)

Nick Kishfy