I'm a designer. I'm supposed to say aesthetics always matter. But the truth is that product development is a dance and product innovation is a full-on dance party.
When it comes to your product's success, you must step back to look at the big picture. While many design factors compete for your attention during the product development process, your strategy must prioritize which of these factors matter most.
Aesthetics aren't everything (GASP). Sometimes aesthetics should be a key factor in your design strategy. Sometimes they shouldn't.
Let's look at when you should be laboring over aesthetics and when your focus needs to be on other factors.
When Aesthetics Don't Matter:
When your product solves a problem that no other product does
Is your product a disruptor? First of its kind, new to the scene and satisfying an unmet need? First off, congrats. This is an extremely rare scenario. If your product is the one and only, you don't need to dwell over aesthetics. Let the utility of your product shine. For this is what will get people talking and buzzing over your innovation.
When your product hasn't first nailed the utility or usability aspect
Does your product fulfill a true need? Does it function flawlessly and deliver a delightful user experience? It is not that aesthetics don't matter in this scenario, it's more that if you have not yet resolved the utility and usability aspects of your product, then an appealing aesthetic will only frustrate your customer. It's kind of like false advertising. First, nail the foundations of your product's value before graduating to aesthetics.
When your product's aesthetic is formed by its function
Have you heard the phrase; form follows function? It's the concept that a product's forms should be the byproduct of how it functions. With certain products, like the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, a product's sole purpose is driven by functionality. In this scenario, the Stealth Bomber has a very distinct aesthetic, but it was derived automatically from the development of its utility.
When Aesthetics Do Matter:
When your product needs to stand out from its sea of competitors
Are there other products out there that perform the same job as your product? In this case, your product won't stand out on utility alone. To differentiate from the other products on the market, you need to craft an aesthetic that is unlike all the others. TyPuglia's olive oil packaging is a perfect example. Surrounded by an enormous variety of competing olive oils, it stands out as the only red ceramic bottle in a sea of dark glass bottles. It's easy to reach for the one option that’s different.
When your product needs to get noticed
Say your product is a true game-changer, possessing some groundbreaking utility. No one will ever know your innovation exists if they don't first notice your product. In this scenario, aesthetics should be used to catch the eye of your ideal customer, inviting them in to take a closer look.
When your product needs to be irresistible
To be irresistible, your product needs to first and foremost solve a painful problem for your user. Second, it must offer a delightful user experience. If your product successfully achieves these first two value foundations, it must incorporate the third, an enticing aesthetic, in order to achieve irresistibility.
There you have it. While I'd argue that aesthetics should always be thoughtfully handled, they're not a key factor in all scenarios. Take an honest look at your product strategy and determine where your top priorities should lie.
The ultimate goal is irresistibility. What will it take to get there?