Beauty versus Practicality in Web Design

There’s an old saying in architecture that could apply with equal force to website design: “form follows function.” The basic idea is that creative touches should follow after practical design necessities, not the other way around.

Architects have followed that maxim for hundreds of years now. What about web designers? Though much more recently conceived than the office building or corporate skyscraper, the Internet too is chock full of websites with functional (and frequently bland) digital architecture.

Because of this, many companies are looking for ways to make their website stand out as different from their competitors’ sites. Occasionally, a client may commission a graphic designer to stretch every creative fiber in his or her body to craft a flamboyant, eye-popping design. The million dollar question is: at what cost to functionality?

The Perils of Unrestrained Creativity

There’s no denying the fact that many websites are just plain boring. For instance, e-commerce sites like Amazon will never be known for their aesthetic design elements. 

That being said, there are definite dangers in going overboard with design elements that focus on the artistic aspects of the user experience, while neglecting more practical matters.

Years ago, Smashing Magazine published a list of “beautiful but unusable” websites. That list is full of instructive warning examples. Some of the websites mentioned were afflicted with the following shortcomings:

  • Cluttered landing pages, and visual overload of text and/or imagery. While these sites were certainly eye-catching, many users found it difficult to navigate past the home page!
  • Extended load times. Your website may be the most beautifully designed piece of Internet art in the world; but if your page takes 3 minutes to load, you won’t convert many customers.
  • Scrolling and/or visibility issues. It’s just common sense that the vast majority of people are accustomed to scrolling top to bottom and left to right. Some of these sites flipped that convention on its head by starting scrolls from the bottom. While creative, this led to a lot of confusion for users, and a lot of site abandonment.

So if unrestrained creativity can be counterproductive, especially for e-commerce and other business-oriented websites, what are some functional considerations that should be taken into account for the best UX and UI designs?

Important Functional Considerations

There are several factors that play into optimal website design. It is good to ask yourself a series of questions related to your site’s functionality.

The first consideration is: what is your website’s intended purpose? For example, if your website is primarily a management system or an information-sharing resource, then odds are its beauty level is not going to be very important to its users. Think Reddit, for example.

Secondly, who are your target users? What are their style preferences? Are they already used to a certain format or design template, either on your current site or on your competitors’ sites? Will an unexpected design (or re-design) choice alienate some of your customers? Remember that a successful website design caters to the users, not the owners of the site.

What about budgetary constraints? Adding nifty, aesthetically pleasing features may give you some satisfaction, but it will likely cost you more money as well. Will the ROI be great enough to justify the increased costs? Will the extra artistry actually add value for your users?

What kind of UX designs are your competitors using? Is it a good idea to make your site stand out with a radically different design template, or will that backfire, and only drive potential customers to your competitors’ sites?  

Finally, it is always a good idea to think about technical factors, such as which devices or browsers will the majority of my customers use to access my site? Will my design focus on traditional desktop access, or integrate mobile-friendly design elements?

Integrating Beauty with Practicality

Of course, the best case scenario for any website is to keep all the functional, intuitive aspects of the interface in place, but enhance the customer experience with tasteful, creative, and (occasionally) wild touches.

There are many, many examples of creatively imagined websites that are also crisp, clean, and easy to use for the average consumer. These sites enjoy fast load times, offer intuitive navigation, and keep the aesthetic elements subject to function. For example, well-designed micro-interactions and strategically placed CTAs make life easy for the user while retaining artistic flourishes that enhance the overall quality of the site.

Creating a website design that successfully integrates UX and UI design factors is not something that can be left to chance. The design experts at The California Office can help you discover and implement a functional template for your site, while also bringing your creative vision to life. If you’d like to learn more about how we can design a website that boasts equal parts beauty and practicality, reach out to us today for more information.