In defence of aesthetics! (Hint – Usability isn’t everything).

13 March, 2017


When it’s about website design, many of the web designers think that usability is everything. They feel that they need to create a site that’s super easy to use and where users don’t find any problems or obstacles to browse through the site.

We agree. Usability is an essential part of web design. But we disagree that usability is everything. Here’s why.

Do attractive things work better?

In a research paper called “Do ‘attractive things work better’? An Exploration of Search Tool Visualisations”, the authors mentioned that “attractive things work better”. Through this research paper, they went to the specific of performance and perception of attractive things. And they concluded that even if attractive things don’t perform better; but it certainly get perceived as the superior ones.

So don’t you think instead of putting all your eggs in “usability” basket, it’s important that you try to design a website that is aesthetically attractive as well as user-friendly?

Emotion & Design

Emotion is a valuable thing when we try to understand users’ perspectives. Let’s take an example. Suppose, you have gone to a book store filled with new and interesting books. Now what would you pick first to check out? The one with a dull but a glorious book on web design or one with a great cover but so-so book! You know the answer, right? You would pick the book with a great cover. Then if you don’t like it, you may not buy it. But aesthetic comes first when it comes down to user experience.


Because users first perceive anything with emotion and then logic! So you need to create your website aesthetically so beautiful that the users can hop in and browse your site for some time. Then you can tweak the usability and give your users more freedom and peace of mind.


In his book “Emotion Design”, Design Expert Don Norman went into the nitty-gritty of why we choose aesthetics over ugly looking things. He had given us a metaphor to consider. He mentioned that when we wash and polish our car, don’t we feel that the car now drives better irrespective of the condition of the car inside? Same goes with the aesthetics of the website.

Another research to prove that aesthetics matter a lot more than we think

This research has hit the nail. Stanford University did a research with whopping 2500+ participants on how users assess the credibility of a website. In clear sense, they wanted to understand whether there is a direct link between credibility and aesthetics. From the research report, it was found that 46.1% of all the participants perceived the credibility of a website based on the visual design of the website including typography, colour schemes, font size etc.


From the study, it was also found that only aesthetics will not fit the bill if there is poor functionality of the website. Usability is one of the most important things. But that doesn’t mean one can ignore the need of designing a beautiful website.

Value of Good Design

Many of you may ask – why should we invest in a great design when we can tweak usability (like Craigslist) and attract millions of people to our site? Here’s the answer. You wouldn’t be able to skip good design if you know that a good design can be one of your competitive advantages.

Web Designer Dimitry Fadeyev remarks that a good design is an imperative part of any good website. He argues that we need to look at other celebrated sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and then we would begin to understand why it’s of utter importance that we pay heed to a good design.

He also says that when at the front end, you ensure good design; that means in the back end everything is in order, whether it is the real case or not.

Few reasons why you need to value aesthetics and usability the same way

  • Users judge your credibility from the website you have. You may have the best product, best services, world class name and a giant history of satisfied customers. But until you have a good website design, all will fade away. Now, let’s say that you have a great website design, but poor usability; would you able to make people stay on your website? Nada. You need great functionality as well. So both need to score good in order to attract and convert better.
  • Appearance matters. So you pick up a book with great cover and see that the book is utter non-sense. Then what would you do? Even if the aesthetic of the book is superb, you will not buy it. And that is the same thing for website as well. If the website is aesthetically superb, but not good in usability, you will fail to make an impact on the users. Aesthetic attracts and usability converts.
  • Great products, great services, great business models are necessities of a good business. But how people will know that you are credible if they don’t “see” it? They won’t. Most people don’t have time to think whether you have thousands of credible customers or few. They only judge through what they see. So give them eye candy and make that candy taste well. And that’s it. They will come back to your site, taste the candy, buy your products and services and go away and tell their friends about you. And everything will make sense.

So if you have made usability your priority, think again. Maybe the aesthetics of your website is the reason for which people are not coming to your website!



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