Sorry, People Do Not Buy Products Because they Look Good

One of the most important and significant things that I have learnt in the last few years working with businesses is that people don’t buy your products just because they look good. People buy your products because it benefits them; or it has something that is of value to them.
That’s right. Good Design is really more about providing benefits and less about aesthetics.
Now as designers, this is actually a very hard thing for us to wrap our mind around, as it goes against the very fundamentals of our profession. As such, if we don’t add identifying benefits to our consciousness when we design, we will naturally fall back into our old ways.
Granted that a product might look so good that we just love it or perhaps we buy it just because we enjoy its beauty. Unfortunately, such situations happen few and far between, unless you are buying a piece of art. Then again, we are not talking about art here.
Lets look at this in another way. If you have two products that look equally good, you would probably go for the one that either makes more sense to you or provides you with better value (not always monetary). But this is no simple example, but the harsh reality of the design industry today.
We now live in a world where good design is abundant, and just making something look good is not enough. You have to imbue it with a meaning that resonates with the user. Easier said than done, as designers do not realize that by simply saying “having a good design will allow you to sell more products at a higher price” actually starts the designer sliding down a slippery slope.
Here are a few more thoughts about what happens when designers forget about benefits:
1) The Design becomes easy to copy.
2) If you are lucky, the Design does well, but it quickly runs out of style.
3) The Design’s aesthetic becomes very subjective.
4) The Design fails to resonate with the target user and will very likely miss the mark.
Pick a great product and think about why it works well and what it does for you? Why do we use iPads when there are tons of other more powerful alternatives? Not only that, why do you keep on coming back to it, or even better still, recommend it to your friend?
Now it starts to get interesting.
If you can understand how products you love resonate with you, you’ll start to see why identifying benefits are important to your design. Suddenly, aesthetics now play a much different role. They have become a language, a language to communicate meaningful value to your user.

12 Comments
  • Joseph Turner

    June 17, 2011 at 3:18 am Reply

    Totally agree with you. I’ve actually had this in my head for a while. I’ve got this theory that aesthetics only make up half of design. The other is, I guess, value. I didn’t really have a word for the other half until now. Thanks!
    Great read.

  • Cameron

    June 17, 2011 at 3:27 am Reply

    I have to disagree with the title. People do buy products because they look good. Granted, functionality and features are best when holistically integrated into a design, but in many cases (sadly), designers are not the ones creating briefs or framing the problem. There are a lot of non-designers out there, some are as good as us at creating briefs and uses cases. But I still think our chief job is translating value into visuals.

  • Cameron

    June 17, 2011 at 3:29 am Reply

    I would also say that of course not ALL people buy things because they look good. There are probably 3 tiers of how much a customer cares, ranging from not at all to very much. Certain people will just buy the cheapest crap because it’s cheap. Designers are creating stuff for the upper two tiers.

  • Brennan

    June 17, 2011 at 5:52 am Reply

    It’s a tricky balance, since you can stand outside of any computer store and ask people why they bought the laptop they did and probably 7/10 (or more) will have chosen it because it was the colour they liked or something aesthetic.
    It’s not a useless trait. I’m as minimalist and spartan as anyone – I value function, but I think the average consumer is less about the specs and more about how the item fits into their lifestyle.
    Also, designers shouldn’t be artists. Design to solve a problem, not to create a style. Aesthetics are important, but probably only 40% of an item.

  • Ben

    June 17, 2011 at 11:51 am Reply

    To be honest people usually don’t buy products simply because they look good, and they usually dont buy products simply because they work well. There are always exceptions, and everyone is different but its usually a mix of the two. And designers shouldn’t avoid that lowest price point category. Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t mean it has to be poorly designed. Remember that “cheap” and “inexpensive” have different meanings.

  • ryan

    June 18, 2011 at 12:26 am Reply

    It sounds like we are all falling into the trap of imagining how we respond to the appearance/ functionality of an object rather than using research. I think what DT was getting at is that if you focus all or most of your energy on creating a beautiful object you will miss the opportunity to create a meaningful, lasting design. He is right, good looking design is plentiful and it doesn’t take much copy these days but meaningful design happens very rarely

  • James Buckroyd

    June 18, 2011 at 6:37 am Reply

    I like this blog post, it seems over simplistic but really has a lot of depth and discussion behind it. I found it hard to hold my tongue in the beginning of it, but at the end the sentence “Suddenly, aesthetics now play a much different role. They have become a language, a language to communicate meaningful value to your user”
    I have been looking at two charts recently, both equate design to maslows hierarchy of needs. I have been looking at these through the eyes of a product designer, even though they might have been written for UX or UI design. Not sure if it’s cool to quote them, but here they are:
    http://www.challishodge.com/from-experience-to-trust
    http://holykaw.alltop.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-for-design-0
    The reason I mention them is because I feel Esthetics along with other solid attributes of design can become a powerful language to reach the top tiers of the pyramids. Especially when the product is being sold in a very competitive environment where there are a lot of similar functional items that address the lower tiers of the pyramid well.
    cheers for some great articles – Jbucky

  • Chris

    June 20, 2011 at 12:56 am Reply

    If beauty isn’t a concern, cars should look like a rectangular boxes or maybe they should look like a coffin since people do get killed in car accident.

  • Omer @ Outlines Design Studio

    June 20, 2011 at 8:55 am Reply

    For a graphic designer these were hard words to read at first but I agree 100% – design must be built on top and in support of real useful products with good client focus. Good design is just the cherry on the cake but it won’t replace a bad tasting cake, an expensive bakery and most of all not sell it to someone on a diet.

  • Paul Mckay

    June 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm Reply

    We live in a society where we don’t buy products because we need them or they’ll improve our lifestyle, we buy products because we’re made to think we need them. The media is a powerful tool and the majority of us our sheep following ‘Big Brother’ in what to buy and when. Apple and the i-pad for example, in the adverts the viewer is made to think their life will be greatly improved with an i-pad, that there’s no other way than to get this piece of technology, but the truth is, this piece of technology can’t actually do that much and we would be better off spending our money on something useful, we don’t, why?
    I have to agree with Cameron when he mentions that “designers are not the ones creating briefs or framing the problem”. Sadly we have to try and make a great solution to a poor product.

  • Suzanne Litzenberg

    June 24, 2011 at 5:08 am Reply

    Great timing on this article as I have been thinking along these lines recently myself, you have put into words what I have been struggling over….. I agree as well coming from an illustrative stand. People don’t purchase an illustration because it looks good, they purchase it because it works within an environment that is special to them (I’ve seen a lot of crap art sell because of color and subject met the requirements). So I find myself reevaluating my art so it will be more beneficial to the buyer. I still don’t want to loose the integrity of my art (making sure it looks good), but it needs to work within the environment I want it purchased for. Most people don’t create an environment around an illustration, an illustration is to enhance an already existing environment. Making my art benifical is something I have not been doing since breaking out on my own and am having to learn all over again.
    love this article

  • Cameron

    June 25, 2011 at 5:42 am Reply

    Not that I wouldn’t love to be the one framing the problem and creating the brief, it’s just that probably less than 5% of corporations trust designers with that.

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