Design: Aesthetic vs. Function

As a graphic designer, the line between necessity for functionality and aesthetic is a blurry line. Designers make things ‘pretty’ but we have to make the design functional and easily understandable for the users. Designers are a median between the user and the backend creator. Website coders solely look at the functionality and users like to look at something that is ‘pretty’. Being the median between the two can be a complicated process. First, let’s break down the fundamentals of design aesthetic and functionality and why both are important.

What is design aesthetic and why is that important?

Design is the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books. We take words and turn them into works of art that people are drawn to and want to read. Designers take (sometimes boring or uninteresting) information and spice it up. They have to understand the coder’s point of view alongside the client’s to find a happy medium between the two.

Design is important for several reasons. Designer Ingrid Fatell states, “A closely held belief of mine is that it’s easier to change things than it is to change people. People may want to exercise more, be more creative, or share more with others, but we have ingrained habits that make these things difficult. Design can help by making it easier to live up to our aspirations: by making stairs a more accessible and enticing option than escalators, for example, or creating open spaces where people want to gather instead of being trapped in their cubicles. By shaping the objects, interactions, and environments we live around and within, design literally changes the world.”

What is functionality and what makes great functionality?

Functionality is the quality of being suited to serve a purpose well; practicality or the range of operations that can be run on a computer or other electronic system. Essentially taking information and making it easy to access. Let’s break it down a little farther.

Functionality includes:

  • How well something serves its purpose – for example, Facebook an app specifically for messaging your friends. It’s a single purpose app that otherwise takes up space when you are not messaging a friend.
  • Practicality – Let’s dive further into the Facebook messenger app example. Is it practical to have two separate apps under the same heading? Not really. It’s cumbersome and difficult to navigate between the two.
  • The range of computer or software operations – Facebook is a great app for connecting with friends and staying up to date on their lives, but the range of the Facebook messenger app itself is limited to simply messaging.

Designing for functionality is essentially taking information and making it easy to access. This can be tied into user experience. The more work a user has to do, the less likely they are to continue to use your product. To learn more about user interface click here.

Why not combine aesthetic and functionality into one critical feature to create an awesome experience?

In my opinion, I don’t think that design and functionality should compete with one another. They both are great tools, especially with eLearning. You want your users to love what they’re looking at and easily navigate the information.

When thinking about eLearning, what is one idea that you use in order to maintain that fine line between design aesthetic and functionality? Comment below! We would love to hear what you have to say.

Ashlee is an Intermediate Instructional and Graphic Designer on the Learning and Professional Development team and has a background in Graphic Design and Photography. With over eight years of Photography and Graphic Design experience, Ashlee brings a unique talent and perspective to the team. She joined the Learning & Professional Development team in 2014 as a student worker and now works full time as an Instructional & Graphic Designer. She primarily works with Adobe products and is using her knowledge to help develop exciting new trainings. This opportunity allows Ashlee to reach out to the NAU community and create interactive ways students and staff can learn.

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