Why Your Digital Product Needs a Visual Designer

Tae Sayama, Vice President, Digital Experience

Tae Sayama

Vice President, Digital Experience

A man working with a designers pad

As user experience professionals, we’ve been trained to put the user at the center of everything we design. To that end, we’ve developed techniques and processes to help keep us focused on the user. We conduct user interviews, observe users in the wild, draft customer journey maps, compose user personas, and test our designs with users again and again — all with the ultimate goal of creating something that’s usable and functional, so that our clients don’t waste money building something that no one will use.

But there’s something beyond usability and functionality that makes an experience one of a kind: desirability.

Why Desirability Matters

Desirability is what entices someone to engage with a brand. It creates an emotional connection, and gets people to come back. It makes an experience memorable. It drives people to take action.

Visual designers are engineers of emotion.

Desirability isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about generating excitement or curiosity, or conveying attributes like sophistication, trustworthiness, tranquility, friendliness, fun, or luxury. How you convey these attributes is where visual design comes in. Visual designers are trained to think about how the things we look at make us feel. So if desire is what you want people to feel when they engage with your product, you’ll need someone on your team who represents visual design thinking.

A good visual designer can also enhance your product in the following ways:

  • They think about visual elements systematically (but know when to break the rules). Good visual designers won’t arbitrarily introduce a new design pattern into an existing system. They keep a running inventory of visual elements, and know how to combine them to create a coherent experience throughout. Experienced designers can also anticipate eventualities and work those contingencies into the visual lexicon.

But they also understand that a rigid adherence to rules results in an insipid display of visual clutter. The design may have to deviate from existing patterns depending on the context, content, and the objective. Good visual designers know how to make those judgment calls.

  • They think about your brand. If your product is digital, then the user experience (and thus the user interface) is your brand. At Modus, we find that our clients expect more than a generic interface that’s been pieced together using boilerplate templates available from free UI mockup sites. They want a unique experience to reflect their brand personality, culture, and spirit. This is why it’s so crucial to involve your visual designers from the beginning of the project. Speaking of which…
  • They’re good for agile. If you’re running an agile project, be sure to involve your visual designers from the discovery phase of your process. First-­hand exposure to client objectives, user pain points, and other upfront research helps designers to make a visceral connection with the product’s vision —much more effectively than a 2-page creative brief can. When your product is going through multiple iterations or requires additional features, this emotional connection will enable visual designers to make informed recommendations that preserve the spirit of the original vision. Visual designers are engineers of emotion. Don’t deprive them of the opportunity to exercise their empathy by leaving them out of the research process.

Focusing on usability and functionality will increase your chances of creating a product that works well. But once you’ve removed the glitches and made way for something that’s usable and functional, a good visual designer can guarantee an experience that will make people want to come back for more.

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