Why good design aesthetics are just as important as product functionality

Okay, so bear with me… A lot of you are probably reading this / the heading and thinking “Wait, good looking products are important?!? Knock me over with a feather.”

And you’d be right.

In spite of this, there wouldn’t be a single graphic designer/web developer/product specialist/marketer / etc who doesn’t have at least one story of a client who “Just doesn’t understand why I need to spend so much money on how it looks! The product should speak for itself!.”

In theory, this (sort of) makes sense. The practical application of the product should be the important bit. It should speak for itself. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t.

Think about it this way.  How many times have you gone to the store to buy something, noticed the outside packaging is a bit dented or torn, and opted to go with a nicer looking one (or demanded a discount). Or perhaps you erred away from a particular food item because it doesn’t look overly appetising, despite (apparently) tasting delicious?

Humans are not logical beings. We think we are, and we can of course think logically, but our default state is not logical. A logical being would look at the dented packaging and acknowledge that it has absolutely no consequence to the product inside. Yet here you are, asking the staff member for a discount on your $2 box of fish fingers because the box has a dent in it.

But, maybe that isn’t you. Perhaps you’re one of the rare individuals who genuinely doesn’t care about aesthetics and only focuses on practicality. Maybe you can see past all the slick marketing of Apple products and instead go for a Generic-Mobile Phone 3000 instead.

This article is for you, Mr (or Mrs) Robot.

Good design taps into our subconscious

A lot of money has been invested in researching the link between psychology and design aesthetics.

One of the most well-known theories behind design practices can be understood through the Gestalt Principles, a set of principles first proposed by Gestalt psychologists to account for the observation that humans naturally perceive objects as organised patterns and objects; a principle known as Prägnanz. These five Gestalt principles are Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, Closure, and Connectedness.

While the Gestalt Principles certainly aren’t the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to design, they do serve an important function in understanding and adhering to good design practices. The importance of this becomes even more apparent when you consider that our brains make a decision on how we feel about a brand in less than a second (50 milliseconds, to be exact). If you want to make a good first impression, you’ve got to make sure your branding is on point.

A whole lot of thought also goes into colour, which you can read more about here.

Good design is seamless

They say good design is invisible, whereas bad design is everywhere. If you think about it, there is nothing but the truth to this statement. Let’s use CGI in films for example. Everyone can think of a film where “Oh my god the CGI was so bad like it doesn’t even look realistic” (Sharon, they’re aliens. Of course they’re not going to look ‘realistic’). But when CGI is done right, even if it’s a giant space monster or a futuristic vehicle, it looks seamless. You don’t even know it’s there. Point and case, the trailer for Aquaman vs the Trailer for Avengers Infinity War.

Which one looks better? (Hint. It’s Avengers)

If your product/ packaging is poorly designed, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, and no matter how good the rest of it is, that’s the part people are going to remember. Your product’s legacy shouldn’t be that it looks like trash.

Better designed products = better profits

Let’s go back to the Apple example we discussed earlier. Why do so many people like Apple products? Is it because they’re well made/ have good hardware? Possibly, but so do lots of other phone brands. A number of them are arguably better quality both in build as well as tech. Despite this, Apple is routinely one of the top 3 mobile phone brands in the world.

So why is this?

In 2005, UK- based research group The Design Council studied 63 portfolios of companies that traded on the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) over the course of a decade. What they discovered was that the companies that put an emphasis on design did significantly better than those that didn’t, outperforming the FTSE 100 index by 200%

Put simply, for every £100 ($184 AUD) a firm spent on design, that company saw an increase in turnover by £225 ($415 AUD).

In other words, for every $1 you spend on effective design, you get $2 in return. Good design is good for business. Measurable, profitable, and helpful for the customer.

As they always say, you’ve got to spend money to make money.