Design is more than a visual thing

Many moons ago, in my early years of software development, I was obsessed with minute visual details. I would spend hours experimenting with gradients, shadows, rounded corners, and effects. While I still appreciate the impact this has on the final product, I’ve come to realize that design flourishes are just a minor part of the overall design process, and one that can eat countless hours without proper self-discipline.

Nowadays, when I design an application, I try to intentionally avoid focusing on visual polish until the end of the process. Typography, color, animations, and polish are still essential – they are what give your product its own unique feel and branding. But design is so much more than polish, and if one focuses too much on it they may do so at the expense of the more critical components.

My mockups are now mostly grayscale and with a default font. This allows me to focus on the key aspects of design:

  • What is the primary purpose of each page?
  • How should a user flow through your application?
  • What are the primary and secondary calls to action for each page?
  • How can we make it easy for a user to know what they should do next?
  • How can we improve the onboarding process for a new user?
  • How can we make an experience that works as well on a mobile device as on an ultra-wide monitor?

I still enjoy the polish phase of the design process, but nowadays I am far more aware that it is just that – polish.