Good design and visual appeal: A relationship of compromise.
Good design is invisible.
It can be felt, appreciated and understood, but its true success lies in the notion that it was always meant to be. There was only ever that answer to the problem.
Visual appeal is immediate.
It is estimated that it takes a user 50 milliseconds to form an opinion of your website. For context the human eye blinks at a rate of 100 to 400 milliseconds. That’s more than twice as long.
Both are invaluable.
As designers, the latter is always front of mind. We feel it is our duty to produce tasteful and fitting solutions to any brief that is handed to us. We lean on current trends, source the best possible assets and imagine ourselves as the audience we’re trying to communicate with. Crucially, we understand the enormous importance of that positive first impression and the appropriate amount of visual appeal to enable this.
Good design goes further than the aesthetic.
Covering functionality, narrative and interaction, good design underpins a beautiful website. It provides strategy and informs the decisions a designer must make when constructing an interface. Content may be king, but no one will want to read it if it’s hidden beneath an ugly or difficult experience.
When producing a website it is important to understand the impact that both design and creative decisions have. There is a reason why a high end fashion e-commerce website such as Burberry or Acne Studios may not look like eBayor Amazon. The latter’s visual approach may be proven to increase measurable conversion but there is a bigger game at play here. These companies have chosen to dismiss certain design best practices in order to preserve or heighten brand identity.
Equally, usability can become the dominating focus for a website. Reddit for example, is one of the top 40 websites used globally, its monthly traffic exceeding 230 million unique visitors. However, for someone seeking a beautiful website, its visual appeal is unlikely to impress.
The key to success for both of these sites lies in the designers’ understanding who they are designing for. In both cases, there are compromises and sacrifices made in order to achieve the desired results, be it brand immersion or ease of access to information.
Interestingly this gap between function and form has continued to shrink as web design has evolved. Designers now have to invent visually appealing ways to realise precise user experience suggestions.
Like any product, web design is becoming increasingly commoditised. Understandably the trend for pre existing templates and off the shelf websites has grown. Fuelled mainly by the expense of bespoke design, but also the appeal of being able get a website live very quickly. These pre-built sites are a force to be reckoned with, most of which contain years of web design best practices straight out of the box. To remain relevant, the challenge for web designers today is to continue to push the envelope visually, whilst utilising the incredible insights available to them. Compelling visual appeal will never lose its impact but must now work in harmony with hard data to find its place in a modern digital landscape.
The best results, of course, are produced when both good design and stunning visuals are combined. These are the digital experiences that cut through the mundane and routine, showcasing both artistry and human understanding. That sweet spot is the holy grail for any forward thinking designer. As both digital design technologies and user insights develop, the world of web design continues to be one of the most exciting places to create.