The Ugly Duckling: Is it worth sacrificing beauty for results?
Let’s be real here — out-of-the-box, Salesforce isn’t particularly pretty to look at. Its products are solely based on functionality, meaning aesthetics tend to take a back seat. But does it really have to be this way?
Throughout the most of the 20th and 21st century, beauty has gotten a bad reputation. Most respectable designers claim to not be interested in it, the contemporary art world has almost completely abandoned it, and you can sit through hours of lectures on architecture without hearing the term uttered once.
This musing comes from a talk titled ‘Why Beauty Matters’ by Stefan Sagmeister, a designer who believes beauty is a vital part of humanity. He says beauty has the ability to change our mood, and gives an example of the two train stations in New York — the run-down Penn Station and the ‘beautiful’ Grand Central Station. Based on research, the mood of the people who ride in Grand Central Station are significantly better than those in Penn Station.
But this is just one of his reasons. Another, he says, is that beauty also improves functionality. The example he uses for this point is a wall which used to just smell pretty bad of urine, but was transformed when it was painted with a creative execution of the word ‘yes’. From then on, it became a popular spot for engagements and weddings.
He concludes that if you embrace beauty, ‘the stuff that you do will be better.’ So is there really a need to sacrifice beauty for results when designing a Salesforce Community or website? Let’s explore that.
Some of the most successful websites and Communities have sacrificed aesthetics for sole function. They might not be much to look at, but their users find them incredible easy to navigate. Here are some examples of the most successful ‘ugly’ websites:
ebay knows that the only reason you visit their site is to sell or buy stuff quickly. That’s why their pages are designed to take you to what you want to do, fast. It might not be anything special aesthetically, but even my 80 year-old grandma understands how to use it. And you know if my grandma can easily sell her bizarre collection of creepy china dolls on there, it must be doing something right.
Google isn’t particularly pretty. The only colour involved is the bright logo above the search bar, and that’s the extent of it. But again, Google knows exactly what its users want to do, and have made that the prime focus of their site. There’s no complications, no clutter, no excessive extra imagery. Just pure, unadulterated function.
I remember when I first visited Reddit searching for threads on my dissertation subject I thought “eesh, this design sucks.” But as I navigated around, I realised how incredibly simple to use and immersive it was. It works just fine as it is, and any changes to improve the aesthetics now are likely to just confuse its users.
Beautiful but unusable sites
The trouble with designing with only beauty in mind is that it can completely miss the mark on User Experience (UX). Some issues include:
There are websites out there which focus so much on producing something which is visually stunning that they forget about how long it’ll take for all these special effects will take to load. As bounce rates increase and attention-spans become shorter, it’s more important than ever to make sure your website gives the relevant information to its user, fast.
An unclear Call-to-Action and too much to look at also confuses users. This goes for things that look clickable but aren’t, too. The time it takes to understand the purpose of the site ends up being 58 seconds too long, and users drop off.
I once visited a gorgeous website which decided to hide its navigation in sporadic clusters on the page to blend in with the beautiful design. It took me a good while to figure that out. So while it was visually impressive, it missed the mark on UX.
Don’t make me think
It’s been said that UX is simply helping users to not have to think too hard about what they’re doing. And for that, your website or Community has to make effortless, logical sense.
Gestalt psychology laws state that our minds tend to look for certain features in a composition – similarity, proximity, closure, symmetry, common fate, and continuity – to identify a message. This is the reason similar properties in a user interface like navigation elements get put together, appear and function similarly, and ultimately allow the finished product make sense as a whole. It’s just a fancy way of saying the small parts make up a bigger picture, so it’s pretty important to focus on these smaller elements.
How human behaviours play into UX
We want safety and familiarity
Using easily recognisable forms to create a feeling of familiarity is another way to improve your website’s UX. Making sure the user doesn’t get lost or confused on your site is crucial. Let the user know how to take their next action with familiar elements.
We’re all very, very lazy
It’s just fact that people will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done. It’s better to keep things simple by throwing people a little bit of information, then giving them the option to learn more. The fancy term for this is ‘progressive disclosure’. Also, you need to pay attention to the affordance of the objects on the page. If something is clickable, make sure it looks like it is! Make it as easy as possible for your users to navigate your site.
We have the attention spans of goldfish
In fact, the average human attention span has shrunk by nearly a quarter in just 15 years, leaving it at an embarrassing 8.25 seconds. For the record, that’s actually shorter than a goldfish. It turns out that a visitor will typically leave a web page in just 10-20 seconds, which isn’t really enough time to convince them that they should be using your services, is it? Draw attention to the things you want them to engage with, but keep it simple and uncluttered.
Best of both worlds
Here are some examples of websites that are beautiful AND have great UX:
The idea of iFly KLM is to bundle 50 of the most breathtaking places on Earth. Nominated for best UX at Webby Awards this year, this attractive site seems to get everything right from a user experience point of view. Of course, the gorgeous imagery helps!
This website negates copy-filled pages and instead uses a creative recipe of animation and video to create a really immersive experience. The navigation also doubles as a scroll progress bar! It’s so simple to use, making it both beautiful and functional all in one.
This footwear website showcases clearly what they’re selling, without any other distractions. It’s a clean, slick, and sophisticated website which knows exactly what users are there to do — buy shoes. And it makes it as simple as possible to do that.
It’s a scale
Your website doesn’t strictly have to only be functional without beauty. Aesthetics have the power to add to UX, not just take away from it. Think of the hand-crafted stone tools we’ve found, once belonging to our stone-age ancestors.
They didn’t have to look this way; all it needed was a sharp edge to be functional. But the axe looks symmetrically beautiful because that meant it probably felt beautiful to hold and use. Jump 1.76 million years later and the same goes for the iPhone, if you really think about it.
So in order to create a stunning website or Salesforce Community that works for your users, you need to consider balancing UX, design and results. Our advice would be to think of functionality first, then aesthetics. It’s the same reason why we often create wireframes before design. We first need to think of why we’re creating the website… What do we want users to do? What results do we want to see?
Beautiful Salesforce Communities
At the risk of blowing our own trumpet, here are some Salesforce Communities we’ve designed here at oe:gen that definitely have some ‘wow’-factor to ’em:
Ambition School Leadership
So you see, Salesforce can, in fact, be beautiful — and without costing you results! You just have to be thoughtful about the UX first, meaning all your design choices become based on data and you can work in a more agile way.
A CTA isn’t getting clicks? Tweak it. Your fancy navigation is confusing users? Try simplifying it. If something is getting in the way of users understanding your website or Community, you’ll find out why and be able to change it. It won’t be a finished masterpiece destined to stay stagnant for years until the next redesign; it’ll learn and grow in small sprints based on the results you see.