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Functionality Over Aesthetics – Striking The Balance In App's Design

Written by: Elin Sjödahl


As users, we interact with mobile apps daily. We encounter different interfaces, assess design choices, and explore new features. But when it comes to creating app designs, many CEOs and product owners get caught in the trap of overconfidence.

Top view asian ux developer and ui designer brainstorming about mobile app.

This overconfidence makes us believe that, if we use mobile apps every day, we have enough understanding and visual savviness to direct and accurately evaluate designer work. Such delusion often complicates the design process and results in costly redesigns.

A study by UserTesting highlights a significant disconnect: 81% of digital experience professionals say their executives understand the importance of good UX, yet only 59% of these leaders are actually able to assess it effectively.

Design decisions based on personal bias rather than the project needs can lead to poor outcomes. So, how do we bridge the gap between designers and clients to prevent misunderstandings (or even clashes, in the worst scenarios)? That’s what we’re going to discuss further.

Profit always comes first

As a product owner, you naturally have a clear understanding of how your project will help you make money. However, the realization of how the UX/UI of the application will contribute to that is the task of the designer.

A good designer is capable of "listening" to the client's needs. But it is important to use the right words. A client who enthusiastically tells the designer to increase the size of the "Buy" button by a certain percentage is on the path to a poor result and an indignant specialist. And that is completely justified. The contractor may not understand whether their expertise is required or if they are blindly following, at times, unreasonable instructions.

At this point, it's crucial to communicate your recommendations without micromanaging every detail. Share your project's profit-making goals and the challenges you're looking to overcome without mentioning specific solutions. Then, invite the designer to tackle these challenges in their own way.

Example: Say, you’re developing a mobile app for a retail store. As part of your user engagement strategy, you plan to regularly feature promotions, deals, or discounts. When you communicate your vision to a designer, I suggest you avoid stating specific design details like “all banners should have red frames” or “it’s obligatory to locate pop-ups in the right upper corner”. Instead, simply convey the importance of making these elements eye-catching without overshadowing the overall design. And trust your designers to work their magic.

This approach not only aligns the designer’s creativity with the project's business goals but also fosters a more collaborative relationship between the customer and the designer. Thus, it’s easier for everyone to navigate from point A to point B without getting lost in unnecessary details.

Business needs beat personal views in app's design

Visual appeal is meaningless if your app's functionality falls short. To ensure the success of your mobile app design, it's crucial to establish goals based on your business needs rather than personal aesthetic preferences.

Design isn't just about sketching mockups. It begins with identifying and addressing user problems. As such, try to get the utmost out of the discovery phase. Firstly, you need to thoroughly research the preferences and pain points of your target audience. Additionally, pay attention to solutions your competitors offer – you can adopt some of their ideas and try to do better.

During the discovery stage, stakeholder input is also invaluable. I recommend conducting a series of negotiations with stakeholders so that they express their thoughts and vision of the final project design.

The design may follow certain standardized rules, but it's still a bit like art – everyone sees it differently through their preferences and experiences. That's why it's vital to create a clear list of business requirements, based on all the info you’ve gathered during the discovery. Plus, make sure to maintain objectivity on what the app should look like and be ready to explain your point to the designer.

When you can’t agree on certain design aspects, it's great to gather for a brainstorm with your designer. Prepare arguments and ask the designer to do the same.

Example: You're in the process of creating a healthcare app, and your designer proposes incorporating flashy animations to enhance user engagement. Indeed, animations can add a dynamic touch and make the app more visually appealing. But when users open a healthcare app, they seek important information and prioritize reliability above all. At this point, you can find some stats showcasing how excessive animations hinder user experience or cite examples of competitors who prioritize simplicity in healthcare app designs.

Likewise, if there's a discussion about including numerous buttons throughout the app interface, the designer might argue that more options provide users with greater control and functionality. Here, it’s crucial to emphasize that too many buttons can overwhelm users, leading to confusion and frustration. You can conduct user testing or surveys to get feedback on button placement and functionality preferences.

Turnkey development is the to-go way

When clients lack an in-house designer, they typically face two choices: hiring a freelancer or turning to an outsource provider for turnkey development.

While partnering with a freelancer offers indisputable advantages like direct communication without bureaucracy, there are still certain risks. Since a freelancer works in isolation from developers, this may lead to making app design challenging for further implementation and inconvenient for users.

Of course, you can immediately find a developer who can evaluate the design and tell you if it’s suitable for implementation. However, this introduces a new responsibility: you must not only outline specific tasks for each specialist but also facilitate communication among them.

In contrast, turnkey development offers a more streamlined solution. By entrusting the project to a trusted provider, clients gain peace of mind. Dedicated teams often have established workflows in place. They understand each other's roles and collaborate seamlessly. This integrated approach not only ensures smooth design but also reduces the risk of miscommunication and delays.

Example: When I think of a process that a freelance designer might find challenging, one thing that stands out is proper user testing of a prototype. In a dedicated team, specialists like usability testing experts work alongside UX/UI designers to create and refine prototypes. This involves tasks such as recruiting participants, designing test scenarios, and analyzing feedback to make the app's design even better. However, a freelance designer might not have all the resources needed to handle this entire process effectively. Eventually, the final design may lack user-centric features.

By choosing turnkey development, customers save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on coordinating freelancers. Plus, you can expect a higher level of consistency and quality throughout the design process, leading to better outcomes.

Bottom line

The journey of app design is a delicate balance between meeting user needs and achieving business objectives. Designers should learn to navigate any contradictions, striving to create solutions that are both visually appealing and functionally effective. However, they cannot do this alone. Clients should be the co-pilots in this process: it is important to guide and provide support, but allow professionals to bring the best of their experience to your project.

If opting for a less risky approach, I’d consider teaming up with a dedicated crew. With a full team onboard, you'll have the expertise needed to steer the development towards success, including the design stage.


About the author, Elin Sjödahl:

Head of Nordics at SolveIt, a tech-savvy entrepreneur and co-founder, former COO of Shortcut Sweden, contributed to its growth from a startup to over 50 employees. Currently, she is venturing into a new collaboration with SolveIt Poland, unveiling SolveIt Nordics—a project dedicated to providing cost-effective development services tailored for startups in the Nordics.



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