Everyone has heard the old adage 'Beauty is only skin deep.' While this line usually refers to the importance of a person's personality, this can also be applied to the focus that should be placed on a website's user experience over its visual aesthetics. Don't get me wrong, a beautiful website is not a bad thing. In fact, attractive visuals can assist in accomplishing a website's objectives'attracting users, intriguing them to go further into the site, making their next action obvious, etc.'but it is important to ensure that usability does not fall to the wayside of building a pretty site.

In an article by Louis Lazaris called "A Design Is Only As Deep As It Is Usable" on Smashing Magazine, Lazaris warns against the surfacing beauty pageant of web design and encourages designers to remember the most important aspect of web design: the user.

The attractiveness of a site can certainly make it more enticing, but once the user is there, do the visual design elements distract from the site's function and navigation? Again, a site can absolutely be made to have a unique and interesting look while also proving effective in functionality.

Lazaris suggests that when adding 'beautiful' enhancements to designs, designers consider two things: (1) they create a user experience that is more responsive and intuitive, and (2) they are consistent in theme and reinforce branding messages. These considerations give meaning to visual executions and improve user experience.

As the first point describes, visually attractive design elements can help guide the user around the site and enhance usability. Brightening a search box on hover or creating buttons that move when clicked give the user confidence in their interaction with the site. It lets them know that they are using it correctly, that they are moving in the right direction to continue on. If aesthetics can enhance this experience, then they are by all means necessary. It's important to make sure that any visual appeal that is added at the very least does not distract from the site's intended purpose.

The second point is another way that visual design can make a website more successful in achieving its objectives. Lazaris writes, 'If an element contributes to a website's overall branding, image or reputation, then it's safe to say that it contributes to its usability.' A company's website should certainly reinforce its branding initiatives, and visual elements can assist in ensuring that it does. Adding in design enhancements that are consistent with the look of the company, its logo or color scheme will brand the site in an instantly identifiable manner.

'Usable doesn't have to mean ugly.' Neither Lazaris' article nor this one is intended to discourage against creating beautiful and visually stimulating websites; instead, it is to encourage the implementation of design techniques that enhance the user experience'that which is truly beautiful. Functionality, purpose and contribution to a website's intuitiveness, usefulness and branding are the real factors behind a site's beauty.

We believe in the power of amazing design built on a foundation that applies design thinking at every stage of the process – the user is always at the heart of our efforts.

-Savannah Harper, LB WordsmithImage courtesy of Smashing Magazine.