Aesthetics are a Means to an End, not an End in Itself

  in  Web Design
People confuse the word "design" with "aesthetics" as if they are synonymous - they are not, though their meanings do overlap. In web design, it can feel like it's enough just to fall in love with the aesthetics of your site. If you think that's enough, then just wait until your beautiful new site goes live and you wait...and you wait...and you wait...and your sales just aren't coming in. Then you start to think: what's wrong with my site? Why isn't everyone else falling in love with my site like I have? If you ask that question, then you need to understand both usability and accessibility.

Look at Amazon, eBay and Google. Are they aesthetically pleasing works of art? Would you describe them as "eye candy"? No you would not. And yet, these sites spend millions on tweaking their designs each year. Their focus with design is mainly on usability. Usability concerns itself with how humans actually use something. They monitor eye movement and mouse clicks. When it comes to general purpose websites like information or e-commerce websites, nobody is taught - and nobody SHOULD be taught - to use such a kind of website. Such sites should be easy to use, intuitive...offering the user a frictionless experience, allowing them to do what they need to do easily and quickly. That is surprisingly hard to do, and it's often outright impossible if the designer (or whoever is paying the designer) decides that no matter what, aesthetics are the most important thing. Aesthetics ARE important, but they must work in harmony with usability and accessibility.

A website needs to be accessible to one and all, no matter their disabilities, no matter what device they use. It's easy to be mislead and think "but my site is already accessible, it looks great on my desktop!". We tend to fall into that illusion that everyone else sees the same site that we see. Not at all. Many view websites on smartphones now. How easy is it to access and navigate your site on a smartphone? To buy something from your site? To fill in a form? Accessibility is all about making things as accessible as possible. For the disabled, it's important to make navigation possible without using a mouse, and also for graphics to be described via alt text (screen readers can read the alt text).

Looks aren't everything
A website's goal isn't to look as a good as possible - unless it's literally designed as some kind of concept work of art. The vast majority of sites have a purpose other than to merely look good - it might be to maximise a profit for a company, or to inform people. Aesthetics isn't some "opposite" of usability or accessibility - everything can work in tandem to give the visitor a pleasant, smooth experience. However, never compromise on usability and accessibility - because your visitors care more about doing what they want to do quickly and easily than what your site looks like.

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