Unleashing the Power of Design

February 19, 2020
4 min read

Among the countless threads of our digital interactions, one feature insistently catches the eye. It's the facade of our interfaces, the colors, shapes, images, and motion that make our digital products inviting. But much like the deceptive charm of an ornate mask, this allure can lead us astray if not navigated with thoughtful care.

Aesthetic beauty, while enticing, is just one aspect of a complex design process. It is not trivial, but rather one integral piece of a multifaceted puzzle.

In my twenty plus years of experience building products and leading user experience teams, I've learned early that design is more profound than just the superficial beauty we see. It's an echo of a philosophy expressed by a pioneer who reshaped our digital landscape – Steve.

He fervently believed that design was not just about aesthetics, but also about functionality, and critically, accessibility. It's how a product works, how it makes the user feel during interaction, and importantly, whether it can be interacted with at all, that forms the true essence of design.

In our current digital ecosystem, beset by dwindling attention spans and fierce competition, it's insufficient to merely create products that are pleasing to the eye. They need to function exceptionally well, prioritize user needs, be inclusive and accessible to all, and yes, also be aesthetically pleasing. But remember, functionality and accessibility first, aesthetics second.

The bedrock of design lies in putting the user first. If we fail to empathize with their needs and expectations, or neglect to create products that address these needs, we miss the heart of product design. A product may dazzle with aesthetic brilliance, but if it lacks usability, functionality, or accessibility, it will ultimately fall short.

Aesthetics are critical, but they're the garnish, not the main course. Functionality, usability, accessibility, and the entirety of the user experience are what drive a product's success.

Bad User Interface - Scott Adams - Dilbert.com

If we overlook this holistic perspective, we risk producing products that are confusing, difficult to navigate, or even worse, inherently flawed. It's akin to gifting a beautifully wrapped present, only to disappoint with its emptiness inside.

Designers, this is a call to arms! The future of design rests in our hands. It is our role to define its meaning and determine its societal impact. But, to do so, we must be prepared to take a stand.

When discussions about product development arise, aesthetics, functionality, usability, and accessibility should be on the table. When engineering teams or middle-management propose taking shortcuts that could compromise the integrity of our design decisions, we need to speak up. We need to remember that good design goes beyond a sleek look. It's about creating an experience that is easy, enjoyable, and accessible for everyone.

Let's ask ourselves these pivotal questions: How can we maintain the integrity of our design philosophy in the face of challenges? Are we proficient in creating products that are functional, accessible, and aesthetically appealing? Are we prepared to defend the importance of each of these elements?

Remember, every time we allow for a design decision that compromises usability or accessibility, we risk not only the immediate Return on Investment (ROI) but also the long-term viability of the product. Products that are not usable and accessible lose customers, tarnish brand reputation, and ultimately, fail in the market. Let's not forget the immense societal benefit we can provide by ensuring digital experiences are inclusive and available to everyone.

The future of design is in our hands, and with it comes the responsibility to push the boundaries of what is possible, ensuring that we prioritize usability and accessibility alongside aesthetics. Only then will we truly unleash the full potential of design. To accomplish this, here are some actionable steps:

  1. Embrace User-Centered Design: Invest time in understanding your users, their needs, and expectations. Successful design is rooted in a deep knowledge of who you're designing for.
  2. Prioritize Functionality and Usability: Ensure your product is functional, intuitive, and easy to navigate. A beautiful design that's difficult to use will often be abandoned.
  3. Champion Accessibility and Inclusivity: Foster a culture where design and development processes are rooted in accessibility and inclusivity. A product isn't complete unless it's usable by all, and this principle should be integrated at every stage of your work.
  4. Strive for Aesthetic Harmony: Balance aesthetics with functionality and accessibility. While aesthetics enhance a product, they shouldn't compromise its use.
  5. Adopt Continuous Testing and Iteration: Regularly test your product with users of various abilities, gather feedback, and refine your design. Design is an evolving process; iteration is key.
  6. Commit to Continuous Learning and Adaptation: The digital world constantly changes, as do the needs of your users. Staying relevant requires ongoing learning and flexibility.

So, I ask you to resist the urge to be mesmerized solely by the aesthetic allure of design. As designers, our duty is not just to create beautiful digital products but to make these products accessible, functional, and satisfying to use for everyone. In doing so, we not only uphold the true essence of design but also contribute to a more inclusive and equitable product landscape.

The task may seem daunting, but the future of design is in capable hands - ours. Let's unveil the full potential of design, going beyond superficial beauty, and create products that truly serve all users. After all, the beauty of a product only shines when it can be enjoyed and used by everyone.

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©Bora Nikolic 2023

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