The most basic question of design: form or function? Make something look appealing or pack as much functionality into a product as possible? The obvious and easy answer is that it’s a mix of the two as one could hardly argue against either of these goals. Even the most bland functionalist appreciates things that are aesthetically pleasing. And the art appreciator wants their products to be functional.
I contend that there is no dichotomy between form and function. It is not a matter of either/or. Neither is complete apart from the other. The true goal of a designer should be to create a great user experience. UX is the product of form and function. Here are a few keys to making that experience the best it can be:
Test your app on real people
You may have just designed the best app in the world… or the worst one. Thing is, there is no way for you to know without asking someone else. You designed it. It’s your baby. Everyone’s baby is beautiful to them. You are much too close to the situation to be objective. You are going to have to let outsiders use your app for a while and see how it really works for real people in the real world.
If you only give it to friends and family, you still may not get the best feedback because, presumably, they all like you, and want to encourage you. They may not feel comfortable telling you that your painstakingly crafted touch-targets are a little too small, or that the main page is a bit too cluttered for easy navigation.
The good news is that using an app analytics platform like those built by Appsee provides you with actual user telemetry. That means you do not have to rely solely on what testers say. You can see what they do, how they do it, and how long it takes them to do it. This is the kind of data that helps you transform design into user experience.
Eliminate the Unnecessary
One can hardly get better design advice than from the world-renowned, Dieter Rams. One of his ten principles of good design is that “good design is as little design as possible”.
This is often translated as simplicity is better than complexity. But it really isn’t about simplicity for the sake of simplicity. It is more about eliminating the unnecessary. It is not about “less is more”. In truth, less is less. What you want is enough, and no more than that.
In practical terms this may mean, don’t put a single element on a screen that is not required to advance the narrative. Don’t ask what more you can add. Ask what you can take away. This insures against the unnecessary clutter that makes an app or website too visually challenging to quickly grasp and navigate. Let these be a cautionary tale.
Make Everything Obvious
Intuitive is the buzzword often thrown around when discussions of Apple products come up. We often hear stories about how someones toddler is able to use an iPad. These stories never seem to feature Android tablets. Apple tends to build obviousness into their designs.
It is very difficult to build something that is both intuitive and powerful. Even Apple misses the mark sometimes. But consider this: No matter how powerful you make your app, if people can’t figure out how to use it, then its power is wasted. It is better that customers get 100% use of 75% power, than 0% use out of 100% power. The goal should almost never be to make it powerful, but to make it useful and usable.
It should be obvious when items are tappable or swipeable, and in which direction. Press and hold is not obvious. Double-tap (but don’t press) is not obvious. When such gestures are needed, clear instructions must be present. The longer it takes a person to figure out how to use the app, the less chance they will spend enough time to make it through the learning process.
Which is more important: form, or function? Yes.