The BOLTGROUP, located in Charlotte, NC, offers some insight into when in the design process should people consider aesthetics. The short answer is right away.
On their website, they offer a slew of insightful articles about design practice and other ideas. One short essay, called “When to Address Aesthetics in Your NPD Process,” stood out. Quite often, people design something new in order to solve a particular problem or provide a particular function. The creative process focuses on the directly practical component. Aesthetics often become an afterthought in the design process.
Think of aesthetic appeal as an attribute in a user’s evaluation of preference, along with durability, ease of use, cost, and safety. Aesthetics are a big part of what creates a satisfying user experience. All those other attributes being equal, the more aesthetically pleasing product will win every time.-BOLTGROUP
Trying to conjure up aesthetics for a new product that is near completion is rarely successful. When aesthetics are an afterthought, then the product lacks the cohesion that comes with all parts of the design process working together. Imagine someone designing a house without thinking about where to place the doors and windows, until after the house is mostly built. Then the builders attempt to fit them in wherever there is space, but this likely results in a haphazard appearance and functionality, as the options were more restricted.
One might think that doors and windows are functional, which make them more important than aesthetics. Many people, it seems, hold this opinion. BOLTGROUP, however, asserts a contrary view. They write: “To be considered great design and desirable to users, a product must both function well and exhibit good design with attributes like beauty, smart ergonomics, and a form that aids in function.” Aesthetics functions by aiding and enhancing the primary function.
It is true that a product could function well, even if it is unsightly or even ugly. To show that idea is incomplete, BOLTGROUP writes that good aesthetics signify invisible attributes of a product, such as “quality, reliability, and innovation.” Sometimes if a product looks shoddy, even if it works well, people might prefer similar products that appear better.
The way people perceive things matters, influencing our decisions and actions. To take an example from a different context, I turn to free throw shooting in basketball. People know that shooting free throws with an underhand shot increases their percentage. But famous players, like Wilt Chamberlain, admitted that they feel ridiculous shooting that way. Shaquille O’Neal stated that he would rather shoot zero percent than shoot underhanded because it didn’t look cool. A product that doesn’t have the right look will similarly be perceived negatively.
Regardless of industry, people often overlook aesthetics until late in whatever process, product, or purpose they are working on. The BOLTGROUP pushes the value of aesthetics as an intrinsic component of the design process, rather than something thought about only after everything else is resolved. Considering aesthetics up front may not solve all the issues, but aesthetics strengthens the final result. The way people perceive your product(s) influences their decision to support your company.
In addition to reading the above-mentioned article by BOLTGROUP, I also recommend reading this research article in Frontiers in Psychology that address product design, “Effects of Design Aesthetics on the Perceived Value of a Product.“