Beauty vs. Function: On Redesigning


The thought of producing the best possible design, either from scratch or redesigning something, gives jitters to the heart of many designers. Even professionals in the field can’t quite balance beauty and function.

A few days ago I saw a comment here on 1stwebdesigner that says most of today’s web designing is just like recycling old designs. That several years ago, when CSS was first introduced, people were really ecstatic to see “new” designs which were totally one-of-a-kind. With the rise of CMS like WordPress, Joomla, and others, there are already ready-made themes that, if I may say, are used by thousands of people. Nothing unique, nothing fancy.

I am among those people who buy ready-made themes. Partly because I don’t have the funds to hire a professional designer/developer to make me a website and half the reason is it’s easier that way. I know, hold your pitchforks and listen first!

It’s pretty hard to come by a design that equally serves both beauty and function. This applies to logo, website design, illustrations, posters, and almost anything that has lines, curves, colors, and is artwork.

Let’s agree that there are certain facets of designing that take longer than others. An example is website design, it takes a vast amount of time to produce the optimal result the client wants. There are designers who have really bad experiences dealing with clients because the purpose of the website does not jive with the design the client wants. In which case, the two need to strike a bargain.

Designing for Beauty

Looking at a website, logo, or a poster and telling yourself, “well, it could be better” should always be followed by thinking about the users. Are they already accustomed to the current design, that if a change is made they’ll hate it?

Designing to solely improve the beauty is quite tricky. Trickier than adding functionality or information because a redesign means a change of identity. Now we’ll focus on web design, but keep in mind that this applies to all things that can be designed. In web designing, why do people have to redesign? For two reasons: 1. the existing design sucks, and 2. a fresh look is needed.

Reason one is the most used reason for redesigning, and is somehow less tricky because people will see the improvement and most likely love the new design. Just keep in mind that you are redesigning for ease of access, to make things better than what they used to be.

Reason number two is the trickiest. Redesigning just to keep things fresh is not really a good practice. There is a 50-50 chance that if the previous design is loved by people and a sudden change is introduced, people might hate the change which could result in a drastic decline in readership, like what happened to Digg and the Gawker Network (fairly recent).

Designing for Function

Nothing fancy here, just straight to the point like most news websites. Actually, if you look at news websites you might get dizzy at first because everything appears to be scattered. These websites take quite some time to get accustomed to, but once you know the basic navigation, all is well. A perfect example is Reddit. Over three years ago, when I first arrived on the website, I said to myself, “man, this website’s design blows” but as I spent several minutes and hours there, when I’m already accustomed to things, I’d rather have it stay that way than to have fancy colors and logos and things. Why? Because the purpose is to read, share, and view different media from external sources.

Another perfect example are management systems and eCommerce websites like eBay. I think you already know where I’m headed, designing for function is more about serious business.

The problem with redesigning

The problem with redesigning usually isn’t actually about how hard the existing design is to manipulate, but the problem is “can it still be improved?” Yes, the problem is a question of whether redesigning will improve things.

In art, there is no such thing as a finished piece. Everything is abandoned. No art is finished and perfect. But when is the right time to pull out that brush and stroke the canvas once again? I’m afraid that’s a grey area even for most designers I know. Why redesign? It looks good and it already serves its purpose, doing more may confuse your audience with the sudden change.

As you may have experienced, people have the propensity to reject changes. But there is a way to introduce change without irking people, and that is by gradually changing things, not a full-blast update. Take for example Facebook. For several years the layout has changed incredibly, there were fiascos (like the recent chat box update) and there were several successes, all without alienating the existing users.

But I didn’t answer the question, “why redesign?” You redesign when a function is needed and it changes the layout of the entire design, but only redesign if it will complement the site well. As I have stated in my previous article, the purpose of redesigning is to make things easier for the users.

Why can’t it be both?

photo by: cobrasoft

Like people, artists and their masterpiece are unique creations. These artworks have their own personality, and that their “purpose” may or may not be positively taken by the audience. To the artist his/her creation might be a masterpiece, but is it for other people?

Take for example Digg’s redesign. It was big news a few years back because they lost a big fraction of their users because of the redesign which they thought would be good, but really isn’t for “old timer” Digg users. That is how severe the redesigning process can affect things if it isn’t done right.

One thing to remember

Designing can be two things: for beauty and for function. It’s like saying “beauty and brains,” only it doesn’t work that way. One thing you need to remember when faced with a design project is that you need to figure out what is really needed. Does the material need to call out to people more or is it for a specific function.

One thing to remember: never use the color blue just because it’s your favorite color.

The problem with users

Audience are fickle creatures. Most of the time it only takes one angry reader to cause a large avalanche of people to follow them. We’ve seen this happen on the internet many times now, even outside the field of designing, where someone convinces people that Company X’s service is not good, then the whole internet brigade of justice brings out their pitchforks (or are they internet mobs?).

What do you think?

Have you redesigned a website? What was your experience? We’d love to hear!



  1. I think the beauty vs function solution comes down to the goal of the website. If the goal is to be a portfolio for a designer you should focus on beauty, if it’s a information website then focus on function.

  2. Naveen Tripathi

    wonderful article…i do agree with you that in art there is no finished piece there always remain chances for improvement. Beauty and function both should be balanced in a website. These days people get fascinated by creative designs.

  3. Michael Francis

    ALL TRUE! But I agree, function AND beauty can exist together- It takes skill/understanding.

  4. Brooks

    I love templates! As a designer, I think about design. But when I’m a user, I don’t give a rats a**, I just want to know how much your widget costs, or are you open this afternoon? Style is entertaining, but I’m going to buy my widget at the nearest store that can answer my questions. I think it may be only other designers that notice templates.

  5. Tim

    Also, in speaking to brand, I wonder if you realize that you’ve had the line in your logo noes for many months “new logo coming soon @ 1stideas”
    Are you ever going to update the logo?
    Why as readers do we care anymore?
    Why haven’t you removed that line if you’re not going to update the logo soon?
    Instead of having a useless line like that, put an h1 tagline in there explaining what this website is about. It will mean more to search engines as well as your readers.
    Just something to think about, 1stwebdesigner.

    • There have been some complications. For the past months we’ve hired graphic artists to do the design, but so far nothing good has come from it. And then complications entered. I’m pretty sure that before this year is out we’ll see a new one!

  6. Jessica Rosengar

    Great post. Definitely makes you think. My following comments are from the perspective not only as a graphic/website designer, but as a consumer and frequent web surfer. I speak as a business owner AND someone who is exposed to other people’s brands/websites, etc.

    Beauty vs. Function is always a challenge b/c there are certain needs the site has to meet, but we also want it to look good. More often than not, the site that is going to be “redesigned” doesn’t look very good to begin with so anything will look better. Getting things to function the way you want isn’t always as hard as you think.

    Now, speaking to the whole “buy a template b/c it’s easier and cheaper” concept bugs me, personally. I am approached often with requests just like yours “I can’t afford a design from scratch but I bought this template… can you modify it for me?” The problem here is that every time I have to do try and modify a a template theme, it takes the same amount of time (if not longer) to customize/modify the theme to the client’s specifications. When you purchase a template, it’s really not meant to be totally changed, turned around and modified as much as some people want. Not to mention: You purchased a template that about 100 other people have also purchased. You are no longer standing out from the crowd.

    Having a website designed specifically for YOUR business is a crucial part of your business identity and brand. It costs money to make money and in these modern technological times, a website is the first place people go. Do you REALLY want to have a $35 template as your base look? I know I don’t. I always want my own things to look as though they were made for ME. Sure, I’m a designer so I see things a lot, but I can spot a template a mile away. I think consumers are also seeing this same phenomenon: so many of these websites all look exactly the same! What’s so special about them? There’s too much competition out there to rely on templates that so many other people are using. You have to work even harder these days, to stand out from the crowd and show what makes you better.

    Just my thoughts. ;)

  7. Sarah

    We have to remember that most websites are about the content and while usability is a big issue a design can be made unique purely by putting in the company logo, pictures of products, services, and staff.

    The big corporates can afford the innovative designs, and the designers need to have them too but most of us don’t fall in that category. Our sites sell books, plumbers, and craft stores. The clients of our clients want an easy to use, dependable site where there isn’t “hidden meat” and unexpected popups. Or pages that loop around as you search for an answer.

    That said, I am inspired by the beautifully crafted sites but they are high fashion couture while most of end up in the High Street stores.

    • Tim

      “a design can be made unique purely by putting in the company logo, pictures of products, services, and staff.”

      Only if time and money was spent on the logo design and photography for the products, services and staff. You can’t use stock stuff here. You need a Brand Identity!!!!!!