Appreciate his reflection and article may be apt for designers who focus on digital products that have standardized interaction models like design landing pages or ads. But for UX design of complex digital tools I see the move away from aesthetic focus as positive and comparing UX designers to graphic designers who worked for ad agencies is a misleading comparison.
Architecture - one of the oldest design professions - is a more apt comparison and they have been focusing on things beyond aesthetics for centuries. Architects design to support the needs of the people who live or work in the building and have to consider complex constraints related to materials, building costs, construction limitations, time considerations, use/wear over time, and, of course, aesthetics. Good UX designers do the same.
Designers of all sorts are in service to the people they design for. Full stop. The cooler-than-thou tastemakers are great for designing products with limited complexity but keep them away from complicated products. Something that looks amazing and stylish but isn't usable or discoverable is not well designed - and I'd go further and say it's the WORST kind of design bc the visual polish suggests it is well designed making the user feel dumb when they can't figure it out.
Just my 2 cents
Agree with this... I've seen this happen so many times. Too much focus on making it look pretty. It works to create that great first impression, but once you start using it, the walls start to crumble.
In my experience (enterprise software) professionals want efficient not pretty. If things work well and gets them to achieve their goals quickly - that's 'beautiful'.
In my mind a lot of people misinterpret the phrase Form Follows Function. It doesn't mean that aesthetics are inferior to functionalities. Aesthetics have a function of their own. Which can be clearly defined, but which is often forgotten. Don Norman goes into this in his essay/book 'Attractive things work better' — a recommended read. It states that the design of an object/product changes the way we think about it, what we expect from it, and the way we interact with it.
The thing is though, that it's hard to measure the impact of aesthetics without doing extensive qualitative research over a prolonged period of time. Which means that in practice this rarely happens to the extend that it should. (See also my reply to Disillusioned with lack of user research). In my mind it's not that we don't value aesthetics anymore, but that the industry doesn't always give designers a chance to prove it's worth.
But maybe that's ok. I think that not for every product aesthetics are the most important defining aspect. Aesthetics become important in a saturated market where you need to differentiate your product from others. And I think this is where the author is mistaken in comparing the digital design industry to advertisement, where being different from the competition is vital.
"Unfortunately, as a genuinely philosophical discipline, ethics doesn’t offer solutions. Ethics makes us think about what we should do and why. It prevents us from continuously falling for what we feel is right and ask us to think clearly. And that’s great. But it won’t automatically solve our problems."
This spoke to me.
I've always found interesting the intersection of beauty and function, aesthetics and usability. Even just a few years ago I found a lot of designers put greater emphasis on the "beauty" part of the process, I think often because it was in effect cheaper than full-blown research and app re-writes. But I find more and more designers who are becoming better versed in statistical methodologies and marketing growth hacks but much less confident in the basics of typography, composition, grids, and to be honest some basic usability principles.
I appreciate designers becoming better versed in business terminology but also miss the tension that would occur between numbers-focused business owners and human/design focused practitioners. If everyone is on the side of crushing numbers, who is on the side of creating usable, human products? This I think is the true beauty that the authors are getting at in the linked article.
You lost me at showing me an ad of your ship product at the end of such an eye-opening piece.
tbf, that's the company's footer — it's on every page
Beauty is diverse. Your beauty is different from my beauty.
I like to use music as an analogy when thinking about aesthetics:
I personally enjoy loud music, like death metal, notably with indecipherable growling vocals, crazy fast drum beats, ear blasting distorted guitars...
It is true that not everyone appreciates this kind of music, some may even say it is not music at all, but I can explain to someone who enjoys classical music that good metal music has real craftsmanship, how they follow certain set of rules, or deliberately breaking them to make new sounds and so on. I think it's the effort and love you've put into the work that counts.
Beauty is not measurable, because trends shift. Remember our old friend skeuomorphism? What is now despised was once held as the beauty standard. I think beauty is the outcome of craftsmanship that lives under some set of rules in a certain time of the society. Some rules stay, like typography/color/space/form, some just doesn't. One may say skeuomorphism looks ugly in the year of 2018, but we can still trace the effort that was given in well crafted works to achieve beauty of that time frame. For digital products, we can measure usability, which in a way, is a kind of beauty.
Aside from the basic "functional beauty", is there a stylistic beauty that everyone likes? Maybe, but it'd be definitely boring.
So much of this resonates with me. I didn’t get in to design to do business