Utility vs. Beauty (useful vs. pretty)

Joshua Brewer knows what it's all about. His latest post to reinforces the whole premise of my pretty+useful concept quite clearly.

A good designer always works to keep the form, function and the aesthetic quality of a design in balance throughout the life of a project. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean its useful. And just because something is useful does not make it beautiful.

If you have yet to check in on their site, go there straightaway and subscribe to the feed, it's a great resource that will give your fuel for internal debate when someone from your marketing team wants you to add some "pizazz" or your CEO asks you to "make it pop." Our jobs are to police the line between usability and beauty so polish off your deputy badge and hop to it.


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Honda's instrument dashboard designers have done an incredible job on the Odyssey's speedometer. Not only is it super easy on the human eye to scan the dial for your speed without looking directly at it, but they've introduced a blue atmospheric gradient that is just darn beautiful and soothing to look at. Anyone with any interest in color theory knows that blue is a calming color, and is quite happy taking a back seat in the visual hierarchy (think about the sky, it's just up there, not calling too much attention to itself. In fact, it doesn't care at all if you go about your entire day without noticing it) Also, notice that when reading km/h in the inner circle, the eye is quite happy remaining there without being pulled by the visual demands of the mph outer ring. The designer's wisely chose a smaller font size and subdued color to keep the data secondary in the visual hierarchy so as not to compete with most driver's data needs.

This is a fantastic example of a design that is pretty+useful. The designer could have kept the background black, and it would have worked, since the MPH numbers and tick marks are significantly larger and thus take top biling in the visual hierarchy of information. The subtle touch adds a bit of personality to an otherwise 100% utilitarian tool. When I'm driving my Honda Odyssy—especially at night—I feel like I'm piloting a space craft. If you squint at the dial, try not to imagine that you're witnessing a lunar eclipse!

Kudos to the Honda design team for designing something that's both pretty and useful.



Architect Magazine: Clean & Modern design



 The other day an architect friend passed me his copy of  Architect Magazine, and I fell in love with the visual design system for the publication. Overall, it's an incredible balance of white space, bold sans serif display type (haven't identified it yet!) and just makes you feel smart as you read it. The main piece in this month's issue uses data visualization in a fresh way, incorporating vector illustrations related to the theme of the article (sustainabiltity) and unconventional charts that make it fun to read, while still conveying the survey results. I'm not sure how Edward Tufte or Stephen Few would feel about it—probably would criticize the approach—but I give the designer a thumbs up for creating an experience worth reading through.


Unsolicited Redesign of the Week: Fixing the iTunes account sign in screen

This screen makes me think every single time. Am I stupid? No. It's just the way the information is presented that makes me do a double—sometimes triple take when signing in to manage my account?

Here's the screen. Notice how the Apple icon is to the left of the username input field, and then the AOL image is to the left of the password input field? That's what drives me nuts about this form.


After giving it the 15second PrettyUseful once-over, never again will I or anyone else be confused by it. Well, not true. A simple holding box around the selected service and a connection to the input forms will go a long way to improving this. Next step is to get Apple to incorporate the tweak!



Unsolicited Redesign of the Week: Time Magazine

First in my series of quick and easy redesigns that can be done in 10 minutes or less to dramatically improve a site. Hey, maybe they'll even run into these posts and adopt the change. Free of charge!



When the page loaded for me, the first thing I noticed was the red border around the main content of the site. Yikes, when good branding goes bad. It's totally unnecessary and distracts the reader from what their primary activity on the site is: reading!

So, here's the page as it is online:


And here it is after literally 25 seconds of design work to tone down that red border to keep the readers eyes comfortably on the content area, and extended the header strip to be full-width. Ahhhh. Now that's better. Another thing I'd recommend by not going to waste the time doing is to decrease the left-margin of the post content, it's way too far into the page, thus reducting the span of the content. Plus, it just looks bad. I suspect that the content was indented to get it away from the red border that is screaming out for attention.


And that wraps up the first installment of the "Unsolicited Redesign of the Week."


Have a great weekend folks.