The Lipsticked Pig: The Problem of Focusing on Aesthetics First
Many products don't offer the set of features users need to really help them. Sometimes they do, but figuring out how to use the features can be a real pain. Some products with missing utility and questionable usability try to ease the pain by investing in cool visual design. I won't name names here, but we know they're just lipsticking the pig.
I use a Windows-based product to scan expense receipts and prepare expense reports. While not perfect, the product does its job.
Recently I switched to a Mac computer and purchased the Mac version of the same product. Since the "aesthetic bar" seems to have been raised by Apple, I find the Mac versions of Windows products seem to be trying a bit too hard to reach aesthetic parity. The publishers of my receipt-scanning product warned that the Mac version didn't yet have all the features of the Windows version, but it did have a sexy and intuitive user interface. After a couple hours of frustration, I grabbed my old Windows notebook to use the old version of the product. I simply couldn't figure out how to use this new, sexy Mac version to finish my regular routine of scanning a couple weeks of receipts and preparing expense reports. But it certainly looked good not doing what I needed, and it does sync with my iPhone—although I'm not sure exactly what I'd want to sync with my iPhone.
How to Make Your Software a Success: Looking beyond the Beauty
When people ask how I can help make their software look better, I'm pretty sure that's not all they're looking for. The expression that best applies here is "beauty is in they eye of the beholder." My first set of questions to them are, "Who is using your software, and why? How does the product help them?" By starting with these questions, teams can focus on the most important components of their software and begin moving up the pyramid. When you're looking to improve your software, I recommend you look beneath the surface level aesthetics and assess the utility and usability of your product.