June 21, 2020

Designing a Functional Beauty with UX

As unusual as it sounds, functional beauty can be created by a thoughtful user experience.

Beauty is an age-old phenomenon. It has inspired artists and philosophers. And, in contemporary world, beauty is generating lot of interest from appreciative consumers. It is a desirable feature of the products we buy. Hence, designers tend to create beautiful solutions. This makes people enjoy solving problems as they seek their goals.

The pursuit of beautiful products has got designers to focus more on visual design and aesthetics. However, when it comes to designing digital products, functional beauty outweighs aesthetics.

Behind technical brawn and design sheen, websites/apps must deliver functionality that users want. There must be utility.

It’s important to remember the ultimate reason a user would interact with your product. It should help users achieve their goals intuitively. Regardless of the form, functionality is the core. Successful products not only has to look good but also has to be functional. A great holistic user experience comprises of four key concepts: utility, usability, desirability and brand experience.


At the core of user experience is utility. Good utility and usability share a strong common link, but they are not the same thing. Utility is entirely concerned with usefulness and value of the product or feature. Usability, in addition to utility, includes efficiency, learnability and satisfaction. Which are some key concepts that make a product easy to use.

If you’ve ever downloaded an app based on the value preposition promised on its landing page but stopped using it after a while, you may have used an app with high usability and low utility.

A product that helps users solve a problem in a nifty way has high utility. Take Wikipedia for example, the website’s sole focus is on sharing verified information. And it does it so well that its DAU are roughly around 500 million. Goes to show that Wikipedia has high utility even though it’s not as aesthetic as one would like it to be in 2020.

So how exactly do you ensure your product is utilitarian? By asking these questions:

  • Is the product useful to the user?
  • Does the product have a purpose that the user accepts?
  • Does the product meet the needs of the user? (including factors like costs)
  • Is the product a solution to an existing problem?

This makes it quite clear — there’s no user experience without utility. A potential user who does not see the any value in the product is not going to become a user in first place.


After establishing the utility of a product, one must focus on improving it’s ease of access and ease of use.

Usability is a quality parameter to assess how easy user interfaces are to use. It is concerned with the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments. Usability is a substantial subset of user experience — not the entirety of it.

You might have come across clunky online banking apps, some fintech products and data analysis tools. They are all marred with unappealing UI but millions of people use them everyday! Why, you ask? Because they don’t have major usability issues.

Usability constitutes five key components:

  1. Learnability — refers to how easy it is for a first-time user to get acquainted to functionality of the product
  2. Efficiency — after getting familiar to the interface, how easy it is for a user to perform tasks?
  3. Memorability — how adept are users at re-using the product after not using it for a while?
  4. Errors — notice the frequency and intensity of errors that users commit while using the product. Create simplest possible workarounds to these error to minimize friction
  5. Satisfaction — gauge how pleasant it is to use the system for a user

Products with these 5 components are said to be the most usable.

A highly usable product should be two things

  1. Easy to learn to use
  2. Memorable — so there no learning curve for a returning user


In any category of product, there are several competitors fighting for the attention of a same set of audience. When the market is already established, it is definitive that all the products in a marketplace has passed utility and usability test. So what distinguishes your product from the rest? Desirability.

Let’s look at iPhone. When the first iPhone launched in 2007, the world was already familiar to the concept of cellular phones. In fact, there were players like BlackBerry, Nokia and Motorola who had established their presence in the smartphone market. Yet, iPhone not only managed to garner attention but was also able to charge a premium! The other brands had both — utility and usability but there was a significant difference in their desirability as compared to Apple. Why so? Because Apple had touched an emotional nerve with their users. They projected iPhone as a powerful personal gadget and not just a smart “business” phone. Thus, tapping into the emotions of millions of potential users.

Emotions play a key role in the way a product is perceived and used. You need to understand a user’s emotional needs and hidden motives. By understanding user’s emotions and consequently developing an emotional model for a product, one can achieve desirability. The use of right visuals, forms, and content at the right time helps drive users to take successful actions.

That being said, desirability isn’t about aesthetics and visually appealing designs. To achieve desirability, it is imperative to define a user’s context while performing a task. A desirable product should engage users in relation to their context, environment and their intention while using the product.

Brand Experience

The strategic use of all the above concepts culminates towards shaping a positive brand experience. Broadly speaking, brand experience is outside the UX designer’s control. Nonetheless, it is intricately linked to desirability. It is generally about the user’s perception of the product or brand as a whole. Hence, continuous efforts go into maintaining a solid brand experience before and after the launch of the product.

Take away

  • Usability is the minimum required condition of creating a decent UX
  • Desirability is what distinguishes a great product from a good one
  • Utility is essential but has to be examined before design commences
  • Brand experience is a holistic strategy which needs to be exercised in collaboration with brand and marketing teams

In a nutshell

Aesthetics and pleasing interfaces helps cut the first turf and immensely increase the perceived value of product but visual attractiveness does not assure long term adoption.

So, is beauty more important than function? Or, the fit of a product is more important than how it look?

Truth is both are equally important — a beautiful interface makes the initial adoption of a product easy while function will ensure long run success. When they both come together, the user experience feels complete.