Functional Vs. Beautiful Design

I'm a huge fan of design. I'm not talking about paintings and art, I'm talking about product design. Be it something physical such as an external hard-drive or a set of beautiful speakers, or something software based like a website or Numi, my favourite calculator app. However, as I've been immersing myself into the world of design and development, I've learned that you can't really forgive bad functionality in the name of good design. Sure, design is pretty to look at, but sometimes you have to stop and think, what's been sacrificed in order to achieve this design?

As another example, let's look at Wire, the messenger app. Wire is probably the cleanest and best looking messenger app available today. It's clean and minimal, and doesn't try to do too much. It focuses on clean typography (although they've since switched to using system fonts) and large, beautiful imagery. It's probably my favourite messenger app. However, no one in my family uses it, and I don't expect them to. I got a few of my friends to give it a shot, but they ultimately left it behind as well, and I don't blame them. Wire is great if all you want to do is text and call, but that's literally all it does. There's a reason everyone I know defaults back to WhatsApp or Messenger (other than because everyone is already on it), and that's because those afformentioned apps have much better functionality. Sure, whatsapp doesn't look as good as Wire, no wear near as good, but its image sharing is superior, it has more features and its just more reliable overall.

There are of course times where design can trump a lack of functionality, but it's not really that common. Medium is one of those examples. Sure, you could start a blog that gives you more control or you could even use tumblr and gain access to more functionality as compared to Medium, but it's Medium's clean aesthetic and focus on design that makes it so critically acclaimed. Medium, in tandem with the excellent design firm Teehan+Lax, managed to do what most people just can't afford to do.

As my final example, let's take this blog. Yes, the one you're reading this post on. Most of you might find that this blog has a very plain and boring feel to it. This may be true, especially in contrast to the last design. The last design was a fork of the standard ghost theme, with the addition of some beautiful fonts from the Google Font library, along with a heavy focus on high resolution imagery. It looked great, almost Medium-like in a sense, but here's why I had to move away from that. The load time for my blog on mobile was 14 seconds on a 3G connection, that may seem fine, but try and picture yourself staring at a blank screen for 14 seconds waiting for my content to load. Chances are, after 5 or 6 seconds, you're likely to just close the tab. Sure I miss my old theme a lot, but it just didn't make sense to keep it. People come to my blog to read the content I put up, and before, I believed that part of the appeal was the typography. Here's something you need to know about using typography from stacks such as Google Fonts, when someone accesses your webpage, those fonts have to be pulled in from the CDN first (aka the place they are stored). This causes an impact to your load time. What I'm doing now, is using a system font known as Monaco, so the browser doesn't have to go somewhere else to pull a font, because your device already has that font. Of course I'm still using a Google Font for my headings, cause that doesn't really impact load times much, but using a system font for the huge chunk of body text has really improved my load times by quite a bit. So yeah, maybe my blog doesn't look as pretty as it used to, but now, there's a heavier focus on the quality of my content, and for a blog like this, that's really all that matters.

So why doesn't my website look as plain as my blog?

Well, as much as I believe in keeping things as functional as possible, my primary source of income is that I'm a freelance web designer, so my homepage has to be an example of the skills and talents I possess, I guess we could consider that functional in it's own right.

Now yes, there are definitely a lot of people who are willing to overlook a products functionality in favour of how pretty it is (I'm looking at you, Macbook One) and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. There are also situations where no matter how functional, sometimes you really do need to think about a better design. Which is why no one knows what Apple was thinking when they released something as ugly as this. So what do you think, does beautiful design trump functionality? Tell me what you think!

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