Recently I was browsing some blogs and design sites and came across someone who said they had just spent 20 hours designing a login modal.

At first, I was really frustrated with this, and then I was a bit sad. Today there is huge misunderstanding of what “design” means when it comes to creating a website or product. Why can’t we put function over form and avoid the temptation to do the opposite?There is am imbalance of focus on what it looks like and how it works. I hope to help change that, and help people focus on function over form.

I have to say, spending over 20 hours (that’s two and a half 8 hour days) doing the visual design on a login modal is a little excessive in my opinion. Please know that I myself do visual design and so I really do understand the temptation to spend hours and hours and hours trying to get it p-e-r-f-e-c-t. However, examples like this are the exact reason why so many entrepreneurs and companies think that when they hire a user experience design, they are going to spend weeks on end creating and debating pixels in Photoshop. This makes it harder for everyone who doesn’t just work in Photoshop to really do their jobs and get clients to spend time focusing on the things that aren’t so pretty.

I am all for beautiful design. I really do believe that the visual aesthetic of what a site looks like can truly help enhance the user experience and create a connection between the user and the brand.However, sometimes beautiful design is no design at all.

Take Craigslist for example. There’s nothing special about it. It’s plain, doesn’t have much color, and isn’t what you’d label as pretty. But, we all know that Craigslist just works. I even found my apartment on Craigslist. From a design perspective, maybe they actually made it plain on purpose in order to mimic the classifieds of a physical newspaper – who knows because I just made that up! The point is that sometimes, the best design is the design of the functionality and not the design of the interface. Again, visual designers please understand that I am not de-valuing what you do because I am a designer too.

Of course, another example outside of the Internet could be the early models of electric cars. When electric and hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius came out, many people labelled them as being ugly. However, there was clearly a reason for that. The cars were designed to be efficient, they were created to function better than gas vehicles. As a result, part of making the cars function more efficiently changed how they looked. There was purpose behind how the cars looked, even if at first the cars were not as visually appealing. However, to the people who were looking to drive the electric and hybrid vehicles, they cared more about the function, than the form. Therefore, the form took a backseat to the function.

As tempting as it is to focus on the design, do yourself a favor, and don’t talk about design until you have determined your website or product’s true functions. Before you talk about colors, talk about content and what the site will be about. Don’t talk about form until you’ve nailed your website or product’s functions, and more importantly, a timeline of which functions occur now versus in three months.

The reason you need to put function over form is that you need to have specific goals or tasks that you want your users to achieve. Then, once you get to the visual design, these functions, goals, tasks serve as points of accountability so that every design decision can start with “How does this design decision support the goal of ______”. You will save yourself many hours, dollars, and headaches during the visual design phase if you first clarify the functions of your website or product.

So, no matter if you’re a solopreneur working on a blog, a small team working on creating an initial prototype, or an established team with funding working on building your product out, don’t let the allure of what it looks like take away form your focus on how it works. Trust me, it will make your experience of creating your website or product much more delightful for you and everyone involved!