đź“’ Download Swarm's free starter guide to fractional work!

Back to Swarm Blog

Learning the value of aesthetics in product at UX+

Rafa Dytoc
Product Designer and Design Ops Specialist

A UX designer once said, “…aesthetics don’t matter at all.” The joke’s on him because it does. I don’t trust apps that don’t look great aesthetically. Do you?

People think visual design is just aesthetics or simply, to make things prettier. But the way a product looks affects how users experience them, before even having the chance to use it.

The aesthetic-usability effect is at fault here. Users think pretty things are easier to use. Why? Good visual design can actually obscure some usability flaws.

Graphic designers and interface designers spend their time creating systems for type, iconography, layouts and grids, white space, and so much more.

These elements allow designers to create contrast, hierarchy, and emotional connections — visual aspects of a product that improve the overall experience.

Visual design is a means of communication

A UX designer’s endgame is to create an intuitive product experience for end-users to achieve their goals. While the visual designers’ endgame is to design information in ways users can understand them best.

Both endgames meet at one point. It doesn’t matter what field of design you’re in, but it’s all about being able to communicate your ideas well.

Visual design can do just that through purposeful type, icons, colors, and spacing, and layout — all of which work together to make users happy behind their screens.

A great example would be semantic colors. Humans know that some colors have universal meaning across various contexts (e.g. red is destructive, green is success, etc.)

What did you feel when you saw the success message?

Doubt? Insecurity? Hesitation?

The color red made it feel this there’s something wrong, instead of giving the user peace of mind for completing an action. Visual design is capable of disrupting a user’s experience in more ways than one.

Great visuals influence a great user experience

What UXers invest so much is usually a product’s usability and accessibility. They focus on creating good user journeys, perfecting the research part of things.

Nailing these parts of the process does give the designer ideas on how to make products that are functional (make sure it works), reliable (make sure it gets the job done), and usable (make sure it’s easy to use).

But UX is not just usability and accessibility. It also has a pleasure factor, and the user interface brings this to life.

What’s the purpose of your great copywriting, when the website uses a thin font-weight for paragraph texts.
What’s supposed to happen with your streamlined onboarding process, when icons used in the navigation bar are barely recognizable?
How about the spacing and layout of a product review page that reminds users of reading a newspaper?

These user stories will never get to see the light of day. This is why in Swarm, we believe that product teams need UI specialists because bad visuals can negatively impact the experience.

Without great founded aesthetics, it’s not a matter of the product being usable or accessible anymore.

It’s hard to build a relationship with a product that can’t captivate its users. Here are some tips that helped up my visual design game:

  • Create visual hierarchy by styling elements based on value. An element’s value dictates how many pixels it should take on a screen. Primary features warrant more attention than extra ones.
  • Treat your product’s design system as a guide. If you’re working on small-sized buttons with an 8px border radius, don’t even bother using one with 16px on the next page. Visual consistency is a designer’s best friend — it makes the product more trustworthy.
  • White space is still space well-used. In visual design, things look the way they are for a purpose. By using white space effectively, designers introduce the principles of similarity and proximity in their designs.

It’s kinda sad how visual design — “making this pretty” — comes late into the process of some UX designers when a user’s first impression has always been a visual one.

A good visual design can’t save a bad user experience, and a good user experience remains unnoticed when bad aesthetics meet the users’ eye, either.

A product has a great user experience when nobody seems to notice it, but not for aesthetics. Humans are visual beings so they’ll always have a lot to say when it comes to how a product looks.

Once the user has already been captivated by the product, that’s when they start to feel the sweet user experience you’re proud of making.

Last year’s UX+ Conference taught me that creating a great user experience is an interplay of usability, accessibility, and desirability.

Some screenshots I took from CSJ's UX Design Crash Course at UX+ Conf 2020

I thought I was at a disadvantage for pursuing UX as a Fine Arts major, but it turned out to be a strength that allows me to create thoughtful experiences, and also beautiful ones.

This is just one of the countless learnings I got from last year’s UX+ Conference! That’s why I’m so hyped up for what’s about to come this year!

This jumpstarted my UX design journey, and for sure it will supercharge yours too!

Rafa Dytoc
Product Designer and Design Ops Specialist
Rafa is a product designer and design ops specialist at Swarm. He’s the creative mind behind the UI and interaction design of Swarm’s beta mobile app. Rafa has also led communities such as UX Society and Google Developer Student Clubs.
Product Design
Interaction Design
Visual Design
Design Ops

Looking for product design opportunities?